Monday, May 04, 2015

western/drinks: i strongly recommend DIARY


53 Dong Feng Street
(02) 2706-3553


website: Diary's FB page (hasn't been updated since 2013)

hours: 3:30PM - 1AM

$$ -$$$ (NT$600-1000+/per person with drinks)

Kid friendliness: maybe for an early dinner, but menu is probably suitable only for foodie kids

Visit reviewed: 4/27/2015

Once you see Diary's handwritten coaster notes for their drinks or its ink black bowl of "fried rocks," you won't likely forget it. Even though it had been years since my last visit to Diary, those images had made a distinct impression on me, which is not easy to do given the cluttered landscape of Taipei's restaurants (and I've had a lot of forgettable meals among them).

I hadn't planned on going to Diary when meeting up with a few new friends-- we had actually planned on meeting at a ramen shop, but it turned out to be closed on Mondays. Luckily, Diary had available seats for us at last minute's notice and I was curious about how Diary was since my last visit years ago. Diary has been doing bistronomy before it was a buzzword in Taipei, serving modern, creative food and drinks in a cozy, industrial space since 2009. Diary is easy to miss along Dong Feng Street since it doesn't have an obvious sign, but there's a lot worth exploring on this street (as well as the nearby Siwei Road).

The handwritten menu is more expansive and polished than I remember, with lots of tempting options for shared plates, like lobster soufflé, crab cakes or roasted spring chicken. We end up ordering a crab meat ravioli, a risotto, the fried rocks and lamb shank to share between three people.

Complimentary smoked rolls of turkey are brought to the table, with smoke dispersing when the glass cover is lifted. (Unfortunately I was too slow with the camera to get the cool part of the action before this shot)

Predictably, I order the mojito (NT$280). As indicated on the handwritten note under the glass, Diary's recipe for a mojito is Havana Club 7 year old rum, mint leaf, brown sugar and fresh lime juice. It's a more serious version of a mojito- not as cloyingly sweet as some other bars and a distinct brown color instead of clear when it's made with sparkling water and white rum.

The Crab Meat Ravioli (NT$320) was a hearty enough portion to share with bite size pieces bathed in cream sauce and black pepper. The ravioli dough is a bit gluey for me (maybe underdone a tad?), but we still clean the plate. I was pleasantly surprised with the portions of all the dishes at Diary that night as I remember the dishes being smaller on my last visit, and I dislike it when restaurants serve only four to five pieces of ravioli in an order, especially when it's not part of a set tasting menu.

Mushroom Risotto (NT$300) also delectable and fragrant with mushroom and cheese flavors.

Paired with the bright yellow saffron mayo, the Fried Rocks (NT$320) is the most striking dish at the table. I couldn't stop eating the crispy, squid ink battered, fried fish, squid and shrimp. Perfect amount of coating and crispiness and the seafood inside was still moist and sweet. Darth Vader of fritto misto. If you try one thing at Diary, you must order this signature dish.

The only other restaurant I had seen do black battered calamari in Taipei was the Spanish tapas restaurant Cocina de Jackie, who took the theme one step further and served it in a faux plant pot with a flower. 

Braised lamb shank with fennel (NT$1380) - I was getting quite full by the time the lamb shank and mashed potatoes came to the table, but it was still a happy addition to our stomaches. Some parts were fork tender, and some parts were a little bit tougher, but again, a good sized portion to share. I might try other dishes next time rather than reorder this again.

Reservations recommended for Diary, as the space and seating is limited. 

Saturday, May 02, 2015

snapshot/dessert: MISTER DONUT ICE CREAM

I am a sucker for cuteness. 

When I spotted the bright yellow Mister Donut pon de lion mascot peeking out at me from the freezer ice cream section at 7-11,  I had to give it a try. I mean, it's Mister Donut Ice Cream (NT$55) !! 

Not quite an ice cream sandwich, the Mister Donut ice cream's thin exterior is like a ice cream cup cone meets waffle hybrid shell in texture and taste, with one bite revealing the vanilla ice cream inside. The vanilla is a pleasant flavor, not too artificial tasting or cloying sweet- probably the same level of sweetness as a McDonald's soft serve cone. 

I can imagine it would be a matter of time before you make the same type of ice cream bar but with different molds like they do with the red bean cake at the night markets. 

Reportedly you can also buy them at Mister Donut shops (though the number of Mister Donut shops has shrunk considerably in the last few years.. There's one in Hankyu Mall..) and there's also other flavors like strawberry. Have you guys seen them at 7-11? What other flavors are good? Or what other ice cream treats from 7-11?

Monday, April 27, 2015

gastronomy/fusion: i recommend RAW

No. 301, Lequn 3rd Road, Zhongshan District
(02) 8501-5800

MRT: Jianan Road


hours: Lunch: Wed- Sun / 11:30 AM - 2:30 PM
Dinner: Tues - Sat  / 6 PM - 10 PM
Closed Mondays
$$$$ (NT$1850/per person plus 10% service)

Kid friendliness: only set menus available so only probably only foodie kids will appreciate

Visit reviewed: 4/7/2015 & 3/4/2015

Extremely happy and fortunate to have gotten to try RAW a few times since its opening late last year. It pays to have a group of friends that love food as much as I do to snag reservations and invite you along. Unfortunately I didn't get the chance to see or meet Chef Andre Chiang since I had heard he greeted diners and explained some of the dishes in the first few months after RAW's opening (as I saw photos on my Facebook feed). It would have been nice to hear directly from him about the food on my visits, but it's understandable that he's busy running his other restaurants in Singapore and Paris.  Taiwanvore has a great write up about Chef Andre Chiang and his recently published autobiography, which helped explain to me how RAW became one of the hottest reservations in Taipei and the cult of Chef Andre. 

Love the secret drawer in the table at each seat. It's where you'll find the menu, all the utensils for the meal and way in the back of the drawer, a napkin.

The menus come in English and Chinese and alternate between each seat, so if you get one you can't read, try trading with your dinner date. The 8 course menu is like a word puzzle to decipher at first glance- it's read across each row, and describes the main ingredients in that dish.

The bread (NT$150) is not part of the set, but I ended up getting it each time after I first tried it. Spread the whipped butter and buckwheat generously on it and devour. I probably ate half a loaf while waiting for my dinner date.

Toasted cauliflower / chicken masala / couscous 
on a crispy chicken skin chip. Like a fancied up gastronomic chip and dip. A lot of crunch and flavor and a great start.

Rose champagne/ Tomatoes / Ohba sansho
So many flavors at once from this dish- sweet, sour, shiso, the sea, floral, fruity.. Green, yellow and red tomato salad and an icy shiso sorbet to pair with the kanpachi sashimi hiding under the cucumbers cut so thin they are nearly translucent.

Perfect Egg / Praline / Wild Veg

The fun part of this dish was they brought a wreath of herbs for each person to pick and adorn and season your dish yourself. The pralines added a nice crunch to the slow cooked egg as did the zucchini and wild vegetables.

Always love an oozing slow cooked egg that melts in your mouth. 

Cappellini / Sakura ebi / CCC

Paired with a mushroom broth tea, the umami flavor (and smaller portion since it's part of a set course) of the capellini left you wanting more. 

Clam / Corn / Kelp Jus

The ingredients on the menu sound like a strange combination, but I loved the sweetness of the corn steamed egg along with the briny clams. Loved the crunch of the corn crackers too, like those fried shrimp chips mom used to make. Creamy, crunchy, sweet- hard to imagine the layers of flavors from the bowl of algae green seaweed purée. This dish might be too sweet for some, but I liked it. 

Burnt Cabbage / Cod / Soubise

Perfectly cooked cod, this dish was one of my favorites both visits. The cabbage was less burnt this time around and I found the soubise (onion béchamel sauce) a tad too sweet for me this time.

Mushroom Salad / Pork / Chinese Olive
On the menu, the mushroom salad and pork look like two separate courses, but they are actually one. While I enjoyed the crispy pork belly skin, I cut out all the fat in the pork belly 

Strawberry / Pink Guava / Roast Apple
There are inevitable comparisons between RAW and Mume, and even more in my mind with this strawberry dessert since I really enjoyed Mume's deconstructed strawberry cheesecake. I liked it more than this, since this tastes like something you could do at home yourself. Sliced strawberries, pink guava sorbet, a pouring of cranberry juice and the odd partner of a piece of roasted apple which at first glance I thought was a banana. I liked the sorbet and the strawberries were less sour this time than my last visit, but I haven't been crazy about RAW's desserts yet.

Pineapple Cake
More cake-like than the typical Taiwanese pineapple cake which is more of a shortbread, it's a playful interpretation that doesn't quite work for me.

Note that the tea and coffee is not part of the set and is an extra charge (NT$220), as is the still or sparkling water by the bottle. I'd skip the tea and coffee and get a lychee bubble drink instead if you have to order one drink.

It was odd to me that I liked many of the dishes more tonight than my previous visit, but a pleasant surprise. It goes to show that there are always so many elements that happen with a meal- the ingredients, the chef, the dining companions, the mood, the level of hunger- even eating the exact same dishes you can have different experiences. 

The following are photos from my previous visit with this menu, my second visit to RAW. They had just switched to this new menu in March which will go until the end of May 2015. Some of the dishes had subtle changes from one month to the next, such as more tomatoes and cucumbers in the second dish, or the cabbage not being as burnt in the cod dish.

Peeking inside the kitchen.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin