Tuesday, March 30, 2010

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon


L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon--Taipei
5th floor, Bellavita luxury department store
28 Songren Rd
tel: 02-8729-2628

When I heard that Joël Robuchon--currently the most decorated Michelin starred chef in the world--was opening his latest restaurant in Taipei last November, I immediately called my dad and asked if it was true. It was. The next question was, "Can we please eat there the next time I'm in Taipei?" We can. We did.

For the opening of his newest restaurant, Robuchon assembled some of his best staff from his other restaurants. Robuchon has restaurants in Hong Kong, Las Vegas, London, Macau, Monaco, New York City, Paris, Tokyo, and now Taipei with a total of 25 Michelin stars between them. The executive chef at the Taipei L'Atelier is currently Yosuke Suga--previous executive chef at the New York City L'Atelier. Although the night we had dinner happened to be Chef Suga's night off, the meal was still phenomenal. On a subsequent lunch visit, I met the chef himself...but that's for another post ;)

Our dinner at L'Atelier was everything I had hoped it would be. Being the meal that I was most highly anticipating during our trip to Taipei, it had a lot to live up to. Every dish was above and beyond what I was expecting--with only the flavor outdoing the presentation. Plate after plate of beautiful dishes arrived in perfect timing.

The champagne and wine that my dad brought with him only elevated the meal even more. We had a bottle of 2000 Dom Perignon that was the perfect start. I am only now realizing how rare and amazing the 2001 Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes we had was. My dad had told me it earned a full 100 points in Wine Spectator but it didn't really register in my mind at the time. I really wish I knew more about wines so that I could fully appreciate them. I knew it was delicious and the best sweet wine I've ever had but only after research do I now know that
"For centuries Yquem has been unchallenged as the finest example of Sauternes and the most famous sweet wine in the world. A dramatically rich wine of dizzying complexity and extravagant depth, it is capable of aging effortlessly for several decades."
...I need to call my dad...and thank him again.

We started off with the most amazing basket of bread. There must've been at least seven different varieties including croissants, miniature baguettes, and a pain de epi studded with smokey lardons. They were all perfect and delicious. Just the variety itself was satisfying. I loved that they were all in miniature form. I was able to try at least a bite of every kind without being too full for the rest of the meal.

Steamed Egg Custard with Chicken, Wasabi Foam

The little glass it came it was piping hot and the texture of the custard was basically identical to that of a Japanese chawanmushi. There were bits of chicken that provided a nice little surprise. The custard mixed with the wasabi foam created a wonderful sensation in the mouth--with the wasabi providing just the right amount of it's characteristic heat.

and then the meal really started...

Menu Decouverte [NT 5,880]
Degustation Menu

Spiced crab meat with red bell pepper mousse and tomato water jelly

So beautifully presented. When they lifted off the gold-leafed glass dome of the little bowl I swear I let out a little gasp of delight. The servers cleverly reminded us that the tiny pearl sitting on the rose petal is strictly ornamental--not for eating. The red bell pepper mousse was distinctly just that but not so much that it overpowered the incredibly sweet pile of crab meat. We were advised to just dig straight down into the bowl to get a little bit of everything on the spoon at the same time. It was sound advice. Each bite was delicious.

Fresh herbs mixed with seabream and scallop tartare topped with cavier

Again the presentation took my breath away. The caviar provided a nice briny saltiness, the cucumber a subtle crunch, and the yogurt sauce a nice creaminess, although the seabream and scallop tartare was already perfectly seasoned on its own. The purple leaves--I'm assuming they are radicchio sprouts--provided an interesting peppery and bitter bite. Such a perfectly light, yet rich dish.

Cream of cauliflower soup with pancetta wrapped Breton oyster

The soup course started turning on the richness factor a little more. The cauliflower soup was delightfully creamy. The single piece of charred cauliflower was perfectly cooked--not at all mushy. I saved the pancetta wrapped oyster for my last bite and it was sublime with the black truffles. The juicy oyster burst in my mouth and the salty pancetta only made the oyster that much sweeter. Delicious.

Seared lobster with stewed morel and asparagus

I love lobster--especially well-cooked lobster. Overcooked lobster can be the worst. The morsel of meat inside the claw was amazing--slightly undercooked but perfectly so. The tail meat had more of a chewy texture but also delightfully so. It was so sweet and tasted like the ocean. Again, the preparation was light and not at all heavy. The morels imparted a surprising, yet nice, woody flavor to the dish.

Australian Strip-loin steak with foie gras, slow-cooked daikon, and miso-ginger sauce

This is one of the best preparations of hot foie gras I've ever had. The pairing of the rich liver with a simple piece of sweet daikon is genius. Eaten together, the daikon cuts the richness of the foie gras and makes it perfect. Top it off with some truffles and I'm speechless. The piece of steak was also perfectly cooked. I asked for medium rare and a beautiful medium rare was what I got. It was wonderfully marbled--it cut like butter and melted in my mouth like butter. However, I will have to say I am not at all a fan of Robuchon's famous pomme puree. The pureed potatoes tasted too much like butter and overpowered the dish it was only supposed to accompany. The only bite I took was the bite in the picture.

Selection of fine imported French cheese

I can't remember the names of the cheeses. The server presented them in Chinese and I can't remember what they said at all. The blue cheese might've been some kind of Roquefort? I'm not sure but they were both nice and pungent and paired well with the nut and raisin studded bread they were presented with. We also enjoyed the Sauternes with the cheese.

Passion fruit mousse with run granite and coconut foam

I always enjoy the flavor of passion fruit and this was no exception. The coconut foam was also very nice. However, the run granite was a little too strong for me. Eaten all together, this was like a miniature tropical frozen cocktail in a shot glass--appropriately entitled "the flavor of the islands"

Red berry sugar sphere with milk ice cream and blackberry sauce

This dessert was truly a work of art. I couldn't stop marveling at the delicate sugar sphere. I had no idea from the description in French that this was what we were going to get. Afterwards, I saw some photos on the internet of similar sugar spheres but with other flavors from other Robuchon restaurants. Perhaps it's one of his signature desserts? Anyways, once I worked up the courage to break the sphere, I was rewarded with a delicious berry cream/foam and fresh, perfect specimens of berries. The crunchy texture of the sugar pieces with the creamy berries and cold milk ice cream was a perfect combination of textures and flavors. The milk ice cream tasted literally like frozen milk--it was not overly sweet or creamy. So orgasmically good.

Coffee and pistachio macaron

The pistachio macaron and Americano coffee ended a perfect meal. Robuchon's macarons are divine! We sat there enjoying the little macaron--completely satisfied and awed.

The bathroom was almost as nice as the restaurant...

My signed menus were printed on shimmery gold paper and tied with a black Robuchon ribbon. Luckily Chef Suga stopped by to check up on things on his day off and was able to sign the menus for me :)

This meal was spectacular not only in terms of flavor and presentation, but also the atmosphere and service. We were able to enjoy the food and each other's company so much throughout the meal. A meal is not just about the food itself--it's the whole package, and this is definitely a meal that will remain in our family memories for years to come.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Orchid Room

I always go to the dentist when I'm back in Taiwan. I feel bad for taking advantage of the socialized medicine here when I don't live in Taiwan all the time but it really is pretty damn amazing. It's so easy to see a doctor here and it's so cheap! Going to the doctor's or the dentist is such a long, expensive, inconvenient process in the US.

So after visiting the dentist the other day, I had a pretty sore toothache. I won't go into details. Just know that it was painful. I was incredibly upset because 1) my tooth hurt and 2) we had reservations to eat at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon but now I could barely close my mouth. A rescheduled reservation and two power painkillers later, I realized that even though I had a toothache, I was still hungry. The only solution...congee.

Orchid Room Taiwanese Cuisine
@ Brother Hotel
255, Sec. 3, NanJing East Rd.
Taipei, Taiwan
tel: 02-2712-3456


The Orchid Room at Brothers Hotel is an oldie but a goodie. We used to come to this restaurant with my grandparents when I was little. It's been around for a while. The best part of this restaurant is the congee with sweet potato. I think its complimentary if you dine-in and it's basically just a bottomless pot of rice porridge with delicious golden pieces of sweet potatoes. The second best part is that most of their dishes come in three sizes--small, medium, or large. This is perfect if you have a small party yet want to order multiple dishes. Everything is served family style and everything is delicious! My favorite...the soft, gelatinous braised pig's feet paired with a hot steaming bowl of congee. It was perfect for my poor tooth-aching self.

Congee with Sweet Potato [NT 35 per person]

Wined Chicken [NT 290]

Deep Fried Oyster [NT 230]

Dried Turnip with Omelette [NT 130]

Braised Pig's Feet with Brown Sauce [NT 190]

Fried Loofah [NT 230]

Fried Red Seabream with Soy Sauce [Market Price about NT 825]

Complimentary Dessert [Sweet Red Bean Soup and Taiwanese Peanut Mochi]

Such a wonderful sight--a table full of authentic, comforting, and delicious Taiwanese food...almost made me forget about my toothache.

El Toro

The other night we went to El Toro--a Spanish restaurant serving tapas tucked away in an alley off of busy Zhong Xiao E Rd. Located in a quiet and residential area, the juxtaposition of the Spanish and modern decor of the restaurant with the old buildlings and Chinese signage outside the restaurant windows was interesting to say the least. Luckily, despite its uninspiring location, its food was satisfying and service was impeccable.


Daniel Negreira Bercero opened El Toro in Taipei in April 2008. It became one of the first restaurants in Taipei to offer food using molecular gastronomy--not surprising, since Bercero had worked at the famous El Bulli before moving from Spain to Taipei. El Toro's printed menu offers mainly modern twists on Spanish dishes instead of those utilizing molecular gastronomy. To experience Bercero's molecular cuisine, you have to call ahead and have him prepare a customized meal. Sadly, the night we went Bercero wasn't in the house--he was out looking for a new location for the restaurant. However, the food we had was still very good--especially for being Spanish food in Taipei.


El Toro
Zhong Xiao E Rd.
Sec 5, No. 508-2, 1F
tel: 02-2726-4902

For wine, my dad brought with him a 2004 Mas de Daumas Gassac that went great with the meats and he ordered a 2008 Torres Fransola Sauvignon Blanc from the restaurant for all the seafood dishes we had.

Chorizo Roll and Multigrain Roll
All the breads are baked in house and they offer different flavors every day. I loved the chorizo one we had. There were little pockets of spicy, oily, chorizo goodness throughout the little roll.

Spanish Iberico Bellota Ham with Bread and Tomato
Tasty although I think I've had better Iberico Ham. The tomatoes weren't very flavorful--whether due to the variety or the season I'm not sure--and thus, weren't suited for this preparation.

Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Nothing special here--just a simple salad dressed in a sweet, aged balsamic vinegar and olive oil. My dad insisted we needed some fresh vegetables. Oh daddy.

Stuffed Squid with Confitated Onions and Black Rice
My favorite dish of the night. The squid was perfectly tender while still maintaining a nice bite to it. The black rice made with the squid ink was also very nice. Just overall I loved this this. I think it was also the most "Spanish" of the everything we had that night.

Grilled Giant Calamari with roasted garlic olive oil
Apparently the only giant calamari they had flown in that day so it was super fresh. It was HUGE. Almost too big for four of us to finish. Tasty but a little bit too similar to the previous squid dish we had.

Panfried "Anko" Fish Liver with Chickpea Puree
Also known as "Ankimo" or Frogfish liver, it is usually steamed in Japanese preparations. Panfried, it seemed even more like some kind of Japanese foie gras. This would've been great with some crusty baguette. The chickpea puree wasn't enough to help balance the heaviness of the liver.

Crispy Skinned Suckling Pig Ribs
Mmm this was delectable. I've never had anything like it. The meat was so amazingly tender due to the fact that the pig was still so young. The skin was VERY crispy and flavorful. The pig had been grilled for so long the fat inside had taken on a kind of gelatinous texture. Eaten all together and it was pig heaven. However, even in all my pig-induced bliss, I did spare a thought for the poor little pig.

Roasted Lamb with its own juices
Decent roasted piece of lamb...I'm not even sure what part of lamb it was. By this point in the meal I was already getting full and a little tipsy so I can't remember if I actually enjoyed the meat. I just remembered those little stacks of potato disks were really really good. They must've also been roasted in the lamb's juices for them to be that flavorful.

Nougat, Tiramisu, Fig Crumble, Yuzu, Pistachio Opera
The kitchen sent out a dessert sampler for our table to try. It was so nicely presented with the chef's interpretation of classic desserts. My favorite was the pistachio opera cake which came out on a second plate after we declared how much we liked the first.

Ajoblanco [Chilled Almond Soup] Foam with Yuzu Caviar
Just as we were getting to ready to leave--we were literally all halfway standing--the kitchen sent out their Ajoblanco for us to try. I had been talking to our server about Bercero and his molecular gastronomy and how pretty much all of the dishes we ordered were traditional and prepared simply. Maybe that's why the kitchen decided to show us a little of what it can do in terms of molecular gastronomy. Sadly, this soup was the only miss of the night. The texture of the foam was too grainy and the little yuzu caviar weren't enough to balance out the intense saltiness of the soup itself. However, even though we left with an awkward almond flavor in our mouth, the service and friendliness of the restaurant was what we talked about all the way home.