Taipei: Beautiful Japanese Feast at Mitsui Cuisine

Taipei: Mitsui Cuisine

Taipei: Mitsui Cuisine

Since living in China, the food I miss the most is sashimi and sushi. I have had unfortunate reactions after eating sushi in this country– so I avoid it like the plague. When the best friend, Anne, suggested Japanese food in Taipei, I was all too eager. Anne’s mother recommended Mitsui Cuisine for their set lunches.

Hand rolls, sashimi and abalone salad

Hand rolls, sashimi and abalone salad

I wasn’t expecting Mitsui Cuisine to be so modern and posh-looking with its dark interior and marble counters. We went Saturday for lunch and I highly recommend making reservations because the entire place filled up. Anne and I both ordered the set lunch which came with sashimi, abalone or shrimp salad, cod fish, beef or lamb, nigiri, fish soup and a small dessert. I was anticipating a bento box and was absolutely starving so we both ordered an additional hand roll.

Steamed fish, nigiri and beef filet

Steamed fish, nigiri and beef filet

That hand roll was completely unnecessary. The portions were really generous and we got such high quality food at a reasonable price. The sashimi was beautiful and melted in your mouth with every bite. The abalone was also fresh and came with a small salad with corn. Anne ordered the fried fish and I ordered the steamed fish. I definitely thought the fried fish was a lot tastier than the steamed one (the steamed one also didn’t look super appetizing).

Fried fish and lamb chop

Fried fish and lamb chop

For our main dishes, I ordered the beef filet and Anne ordered the lamb chop. My beef filet was nothing special, but Anne’s lamb chop was absolutely amazing. It was tender, marinated well and had a beautiful caramelization since the fat had been rendered. I would have gladly eaten a whole rack of them. Our nigiri was just as good as our sashimi, but I almost wished it had come earlier (because I was getting really full and couldn’t truly appreciate it).

The last course (besides a small serving of fruit and apple crumble) was a clear fish soup broth that was the perfect end to the meal. The broth was so incredibly clean with no fat in it whatsoever and I was enjoying the slivers of ginger too. The soup with the ginger helped to digest the meal.

Judging by their business card and website, there are quite a few different Mitsui-related restaurants in Taipei. If they are all as good as Mitsui Cuisine, I would gladly eat at all of them. If I ever go back to Taipei, I will definitely make it a point to try and eat there for lunch again!

Delicious Eats in Taipei

Taipei 101's food court is home to the best fried chicken

Taipei 101’s food court is home to the best fried chicken

My best friend from back home, Anne, came to visit me and we decided to go on a mini-vacay to Taipei. I’d been to Taipei before, but only for the weekend, and was looking forward to spending a few days relaxing and eating our hearts out.

From my last trip to Taipei, I remembered having the best fried chicken of life in the basement food court of Taipei 101. The bestie wanted to go to Din Tai Fung for our first meal and it seemed to be kismet that the closest one was in the basement of Taipei 101. The line for Din Tai Fung was going to be a 45-minute to one hour wait so it was the perfect opportunity to get fried chicken!

I was so happy to be reunited with my Ji Guang Xiang Xiang Ji 继光香香鸡. The fried pieces of chicken are a mix of dark and white meat and slightly larger than KFC’s popcorn chicken. The batter isn’t super thick and I still don’t know how they fry the chicken without it being super oily. When you order, you can choose the level of spiciness (we got mild). We also decided to try the deep-fried squid, which was disappointing. While the squid was cooked well and had a nice consistency, the batter was different from the fried chicken. This caused the squid to be extremely oily and I didn’t think the batter stuck on as well. I wouldn’t recommend getting the fried squid and just stay with the chicken goodness.

Taipei: Fried Chicken at Ji Guang Xiang Xiang Ji 继光香香鸡

Taipei: Fried Chicken at Ji Guang Xiang Xiang Ji 继光香香鸡

Do you know how sometimes you remember food being super good, but when you eat it again, it disappoints? THIS WAS NOT THE CASE. The chicken was served piping hot with a slight crunch and just wonderful flavor. I was still marveling at how they got the chicken so tender too. If you are ever in Taipei, I would highly recommend it!

Taipei: Din Tai Fung

Taipei: Din Tai Fung

After our “snack” of fried chicken and squid, Anne and I were ready for steamed xiao long bao (小笼包). I’ve already discussed Din Tai Fung’s dumplings in great detail in one of my Shanghai blog posts so I will not repeat myself. I will say the the dumplings in Taipei don’t differ too much from Shanghai, but the meat does taste slightly different. It was my first time ordering the wontons with spicy sauce and I was totally digging the blend of garlic and chili oil. I wanted to slather it on everything I was eating.

SHAVED SNOW at Ice Monster!!!

SHAVED SNOW at Ice Monster!!!

Taiwan is famous for their shaved ice. The first time I had shaved ice in Tapei was a life-changing experience. If you get shaved ice in the U.S. or in China, they take a big block of ice and grind it into a icy pile with condensed milk and fruit/red bean/various toppings. The ice mountain doesn’t really have a lot of flavor because the condensed milk can’t really penetrate the entire ice concoction.

Taiwan Shaved Ice in Action

Taiwan Shaved Ice in Action

In Taipei, the blocks of ice are pre-flavored! You can order a variety of flavors like mango, milk tea, strawberry and so much more. They have a special machine that shaves the ice in a quick circular motion, making the ice soft like snow. That’s actually why they call it shaved snow instead of shaved ice. The bestie’s godmother recommended that we go to Ice Monster and we made a special trip hours before our flight back to Shanghai. The long line had already started to form, but I was so happy we braved the lines and heat for mango shaved snow.

Our mango shaved snow was served on a top of a bed of fresh mango chunks and mango syrup with a scoop of mango ice cream and pudding. It was the absolute perfect treat on such a hot day and I will be going back any time I go to Taipei in the future.

This is just a sneak peak of the deliciousness in Taipei and can’t wait to update you all on the rest of our trip!

Shanghai: Coquille

Superior Oscietra Caviar at Coquille

Superior Oscietra Caviar at Coquille

Coquille (29-31 Mengzi Road; 蒙自路29–31号) is a French seafood bistro and sister restaurant to its Italian neighbor, Scarpetta. Opened by John Liu in February 2014, Coquille has chef Anna Baustista at the helm, the former chef of Madera in Menlo Park (close by my hometown!). The menu boasts French dishes with a slight Vietnamese/Asian flourish. I’ve been wanting to try Coquille for ages, but my friends had warned me about the pricier menu. When my parents came to visit me, I thought it would be the perfect place to take them (and benefit from their generosity).

Coquille Seafood Bar

Coquille Seafood Bar

I had eaten at Scarpetta and really enjoyed the warm, trattoria environment with hearty pizza and homemade pasta offerings. Coquille is definitely a little bit more refined with a cute French twist to it. The restaurant is two floors and if you’re looking for a more private meal, I’d recommend requesting a table upstairs. We sat downstairs and I found it a little bit noisy.

Top: Foie Gras; Bottom Left: Escargots; Bottom Right: Garlic Noodles

Top: Foie Gras; Bottom Left: Escargots; Bottom Right: Garlic Noodles

We started our meal with caviar, foie gras au torchon and escargots. I rarely get to eat caviar, so it was definitely a special treat to eat it with all the fixings (egg white, egg yolk, sour cream, onions and chives). The foie gras was absolutely delicious, melting on my tongue like butter and causing all my taste buds to dance in delight. The escargots were served with a red curry and kaffir lime leaves sauce. While the sauce was flavorful, I was slightly disappointed in the consistency of the escargots, which I found to be too mushy. I expected more texture. I don’t know what caused the discrepancy in texture… perhaps the source of the escargots?

For our main dishes, we ordered the wild Icelandic cod, crispy duck leg confit and bavette steak frites. I couldn’t resist getting a side of garlic noodles. My cod was served in a light tomato broth with fennel and a medley of fresh seafood (clams, shrimp and scallops). The seafood was all cooked beautifully, but I found the dish lacking flavor. For my father, he had the crispy duck leg with a side of chicharrones. The duck was atop cassoulet, a classic French white bean stew. It was definitely a much richer and heavier dish– a complete 180 from my cod dish. My father ended up liking the garlic noodles best, which were spaghetti noodles cooked al dente with plenty of garlic and onions. While incredibly tasty, it is definitely not a dish where you want to dine and then kiss someone.

Coquille: Main Course

Coquille: Main Course

My favorite of all the mains was definitely the bavette steak with fries. It probably sounds ridiculous, but I think I miss good red meat the most from America. This bavette steak was probably one of the best steaks I’ve had in China. It was incredibly tender and cooked to a perfect medium rare. The portion was also very generous and my mother couldn’t finish all of it (more red meat for me). In addition, the frites were crispy, hot and addictive. I would come back to Coquille just to order this dish.

Overall, I enjoyed my meal at Coquille, but it is definitely a pricier restaurant. I would only recommend it if you were trying to impress some guests or celebrating a special occasion. I enjoyed the ambiance and a small part of me felt like I was back in Paris. I think Coquille’s neighbor, Scarpetta, is a little bit more affordable and casual. I’d probably find myself frequenting there more often.

Shanghai: House of Lasagna, Henkes and Mr. X

Lasagna Bolognese with Garlic Bread

Lasagna Bolognese with Garlic Bread

The House of Lasagna (174 South Xiang Yang Road; 襄阳南路174号 opened in Shanghai a few months ago and I was eager to try it because lasagna is total comfort food to me. Growing up, I used to eat Stouffer’s microwavable frozen lasagna whenever my parents were on a trip and my sister used to babysit me. It’s a strange memory to have, but I instinctively link lasagna to good times with my sister. The House of Lasagna is in a tiny space with only about 4-5 tables and little stools. They offer the classics like Lasagna Bolognese while venturing out to some interesting combinations like Curry Seafood Lasagna.

Carbonara Lasagna at House of Lasagna in Shanghai

Carbonara Lasagna at House of Lasagna in Shanghai

I was craving a classic so I went with Lasagna Bolognese (classic ragu with mozzarella and parmesan) while my friend ordered the Carbonara Lasagna (bacon, mushroom and parmesan in cream sauce). We ordered the homemade shaken lemonade and Arnold Palmer. What I liked about the lasagna was that they served it in a clean beautiful plate with two delicious pieces of garlic bread. My lasagna bolognese was solid with plenty of cheese and a hearty meat sauce. I was only wishing there was more of the red sauce for me to dip my garlic bread in. Then again, maybe this is also just a personal preference because I always love a lot of sauce with my pasta.

House of Lasagna Delivery

Loving the cute delivery packaging! Carbonara lasagna on the left and pork belly and mashed potatos on the right.

The carbonara lasagna had a wonderful cream sauce with layers of ham and mushroom. I actually liked it better than my lasagna bolognese, but it is definitely rich and I don’t think I could have eaten an entire serving by myself. Since the restaurant is small, it’s not the most comfortable space in the world. House of Lasagna currently has free delivery and I have totally taken advantage of this service. When I ordered delivery, I tried their pork belly and mashed potatoes. I really like the pork belly. The meat was tender and actually tasted more like a pork chop and it came with worcestershire sauce to dip the meat in. I enjoyed the mashed potatoes but I felt like they needed more salt. I would definitely order the pork belly and mashed potatoes again.

Henkes Brunch in Shanghai

Henkes Brunch: Pancakes with Bacon and Bananas; Four Cheese Pizza; Eggs Benedict with Bacon

In other news, I’ve been trying to find new brunch places in Shanghai (because I can’t go to Madison every weekend). I recently went to Henkes (1601 Nanjing Xi Road; 南京西路1601号), which is located on the 1st floor of the Reel Mall. Henkes serves brunch all-day on the weekends, which I really appreciate on days when I can’t get out of bed until 3 or 4pm. I ordered the pancakes with bacon and bananas and my friend ordered the eggs benedict with bacon. In Shanghai, when you see “bacon” on the menu, it’s normally more like Canadian bacon so non-crispy ham. This was literally the first time I’ve seen American-style bacon and my heart nearly skipped a beat. Truthfully speaking, that was the real highlight of the meal. My pancakes didn’t have much of a buttermilk taste and the consistency was too cake-y for me. I definitely enjoyed the eggs benedict more, which had perfectly cooked eggs and a nice Hollandaise sauce. However, after both devouring our meals, my friend and I were still hungry. We ended up ordering a 4-cheese pizza, which again was just OK. The pizza was soggy and disappointing. I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat at Henkes at brunch again, but it’s a reasonable option if you wake up late on a lazy Saturday or Sunday.

Mr. X Puzzle House

Mr. X Puzzle House

Finally, the last thing I wanted to talk about was Mr. X (550 Jumen Road; 局门路550号), an awesome puzzle/mystery house. They have 5 different themed rooms and you’re basically locked in a room and have one hour to try and figure out how to get out. Reservations are absolutely necessary and it’s best to go with a group of 6-8 people. I don’t want to ruin any surprises, but the rooms are super interactive and really fun. I’ve done three of the rooms and I’m totally addicted and want to beat all of them. I highly recommend it and it’s even a good team building event if you’re looking for something fun to do with your co-workers.

Shanghai: The Commune Social

The Commune Social

The Commune Social

I love the whole concept of Jason Atherton’s The Commune Social (511 Jiangning Road; 江宁路511号)– a tapas, dessert and cocktail bar. The Commune Social has different rooms for each course so diners can choose their own fancy. When you first walk into the restaurant, there is a small room with a few tables that also directly face the dessert bar. As you keep wandering through toward the back of the restaurant, you’re greeted by a warm, open kitchen surrounded by eager diners. When I visited this past weekend, the weather was cold and rainy, but I could see the open terrace, which would be the perfect spot to enjoy a fruity beverage on a warm summer day. Upstairs on the second floor is a cocktail bar. I really like the idea that you could come to the The Commune Social and fulfill any one of your cravings– a well-crafted cocktail, delicious tapas or a scrumptious dessert.

Top: Dessert bar; Bottom left: Duck empanada; Bottom right: Tomato tartar

Top: Dessert bar; Bottom left: Duck empanada; Bottom right: Tomato tartar

There were so many interesting items on the menu and it was actually hard to decide what to get. My friend and I started our meal with the duck empanada with pan-seared foie gras and one of the specials of the day, tomato tartar. The duck empanada was a beautiful stuffed pastry, chalk-full of shredded duck and it was served on top of a sweet onion relish. I couldn’t help but salivate when I saw the foie gras, which is one of my favorite foods in the entire world. While the empanada was tasty, the foie gras really stole the show and I ended up just taking my time and enjoying every single bite with the sweet onion relish. The tomato tartar was not anything special, but I wanted something refreshing since it was raining outside. I enjoyed the medley of fresh tomatoes, but some of the cherry tomatoes were still too raw and not ready to eat.

Top left: Suckling pig; Top right: Sangria popsicles; Bottom left: Peanut butter dessert; Bottom right: Dessert menu

Top left: Suckling pig; Top right: Sangria popsicles; Bottom left: Peanut butter dessert; Bottom right: Dessert menu

For our main course, we ordered the suckling pig, which was served with a sherry dressing with roasted pineapple and peppers. The skin on the pig was so incredibly crispy that it was almost hard to cut through. The meat was tender and fatty, but I was really digging the creamy, mashed apple sauce. I liked how it was a play on pork chops and apple sauce. The dessert was the probably my favorite part of the meal. We ordered the peanut ice cream with red fruit and salted peanut caramel, which the waiter told us was the most popular dessert on the menu. While there was a cylinder of peanut butter ice cream, there were also these scoops of peanut butter mousse. When I scooped a small piece, I heard the instant crunch when my spoon touched the mound. It was like they took wafer cookies, mashed them up and mixed them with this wonderful peanut butter mousse. It almost crackled in your mouth like Pop Rocks candy. Normally, I’m not the biggest fan of peanut butter, but I loved this dessert. By mixing it with berries and a fruit sorbet, I felt like I was eating a fancy peanut butter and jelly dessert.

I definitely want to go back to The Commune Social again soon. I felt like I only tried a small snippet of their menu and there are so many dishes left to try. I’ve also heard really good things about their brunch. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations so it may be difficult to go with a large party. But if you and a friend are cool with sitting on stools for a relaxed meal, you’ll definitely be rewarded with a delicious meal. Just don’t forget to leave room for dessert!

Shanghai: T for Thai

T for Thai

T for Thai

A couple of years ago, I wrote about Cuivre, one of Shanghai’s hottest French restaurants. The same chef, Michael Wendling, recently opened T for Thai (1502 Huaihai Zhong Road; 淮海中路1502号2楼) right above Cuivre. Chef Wendling spent the past year traveling back and forth to Thailand, learning the local delicacies from the top restaurants and the down-and-dirty street food stalls.

When you first walk up the stairs to T for Thai, you’re greeted by two cute tuk-tuks with a backdrop of Thailand. Inside the restaurant, the mood is modern with dark lighting and a glowing green bar in the back. I was definitely digging the vibe. Looking around at the other diners, I felt like I was in one of the hippest restaurants in Shanghai.

Top: Nahm Prik Kai Kem (Salted Duck Egg Relish)

Top: Nahm Prik Kai Kem (Salted Duck Egg Relish)

Just like Cuivre, the menu is on a iPad. My friend and I ordered the nahm prik kai kem, yum som-o, pad thai gung sod and gaeng massaman nong gae. The nahm prik kai kem is a salted duck egg dip served with some raw vegetables/fruit and grilled calamari. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but it was a really interesting relish. It’s definitely on the salty side and tastes almost fermented, but the boldness of the dip paired well with the plain vegetables. My favorite combination was actually the relish with starfruit. I really enjoyed the sweetness and crunch of the starfruit with the saltiness of the dip.

The yum som-o is a shrimp and pomelo salad that is topped with toasted coconut, bell peppers and mint. With my first bite of this salad, my first thought was: “This is so flavorful.” My second thought was: “Everything tastes so fresh.” I really enjoy pomelo, which is like grapefruit but isn’t quite as acidic and has larger kernels. The tartness from the citrus complemented the spiciness of the sauce and I enjoyed the crunch from the coconut and fried shallots. The roasted shrimp was also cooked perfectly.

Top left: Pomelo salad; Top right: Pad thai; Bottom: Massaman lamb curry

Top left: Pomelo salad; Top right: Pad thai; Bottom: Massaman lamb curry

For our main dishes, the pad thai gung sod is solid but nothing incredibly unique. I always have a soft spot in my heart for pad thai, but I wouldn’t need to order this dish again from T for Thai. However, the gaeng massaman nong gae is incredible. This was a slow-braised lamb shank cooked in massaman curry with small chunks of potatoes. I loved how the curry was thick, signaling that it had been simmered for a long time. The lamb easily fell off the bone and was so tender. My friend and I were getting really full, but we couldn’t help but polish off the bowl of rice.

I really loved the food at T for Thai. While I’ve never been to Thailand and can’t vouch for authenticity, it didn’t really feel like “fusion” food to me and it also didn’t seem like it was a French chef trying to do a European take on Thai food. Everything was so incredibly flavorful and fresh. I actually think I like the food even better than at Cuivre (a bold statement, indeed). I do want to warn you that the restaurant gets really loud when it’s full. I think this is because the sound bounces really easily off of all the concrete surfaces. Of course, this is just a minor detail, but it may not be the best place to go on a first date if you want to have a meaningful conversation with someone.

My only other complaint is that I had a really difficult time eating the food with the silverware and plating given to me. The plates were small and curved in a really weird way. I kept finding myself crudely using my finger to get the food on my fork/spoon so I could eat it. Then, my bowl was really light, but my silverware was significantly heavier. It felt awkward to eat and the bowl even slipped out of my hand. Maybe, I’m the only who suffered from this problem. But, I’m willing to deal with it because I found my new favorite Thai restaurant in Shanghai.