Monday, August 8, 2011

YEN Restaurant

This year, according to the lunar calendar, the Chinese Valentine's Day falls on August 6th. My brother's birthday is on August 7th, and the Chinese Father's Day is always on August 8th. So, what is the easiest solution to having to celebrate 3 holidays in a row? Host a large meal with close family and numerous friends, replete with Chinese delicacies and complete with a spinning Lazy Susan, of course.

Obviously, we'd have to do it in style. And right now, there's no place more stylish in Taipei than the newly opened W hotel with it's YEN restaurant serving Cantonese-style dishes. We'd feast not only our stomachs, but also our eyes as we enjoy an 11 course meal with a bird's eye view of Taipei. I've already visited the restaurant two times prior, but this time, we reserved one of the private rooms for our large party.

It was a monstrously large room, with floor-to-ceiling windows, and it's own private bathroom that also offered a vertigo-inducing view as you did your business (awkward?). The room itself was beautifully decorated, seamlessly interweaving elements of Chinese culture with the W hotel's signature modern style. Needless to say, we lingered long after our meal to take pictures in the room, of the room, with the room. It's okay, we're Asian ;)

Halfway through our meal, the skies cleared after an afternoon shower, and we were treated to pale blue skies, lingering clouds and a rare crystal-clear view of the usually smog-laden city. Gorgeous.

For the private rooms, the restaurant offers table menus, starting with 18,000 NTD per table of 10 people. This comes out to about $550, which I think is rather reasonable for feeding 10 people 11 courses in a beautiful setting with impeccable service. The cherry on top? There's no corkage fee.

YEN Restaurant
@The W Hotel Taipei, 31st floor
10 Zhongxiao East Road, Sec. 5, Xinyi District
Taipei, 110 Taiwan
tel: 02-7703-8768

yen's appetizer
pork spare ribs plum sauce, drunken chicken, vinegar-cured jelly fish, smoked-soy mackerel

While I find a lot of Chinese appetizer platters to be a nightmare, this was quite tasty. The jellyfish was actually edible--not the usual rubbery strands that come in ping pan appetizers. There was a very prominent black vinegar flavor that I loved. The pork ribs fared less well. I found it a little tough so I generously sneaked the second piece on to my brother's plate. The sweet and sour glaze on top was enough to satisfy him. The smoked soy mackerel would have been good with a bowl of steamed rice, but it was a little salty on its own. The best part was the drunken chicken, rolled onto itself into a sort of roulade with solidified collagen-rich juices, pleasantly "Q" skin, and the flavorful, "drunken" thigh/leg meat marinated in shaoxing wine.

fish maw, prawns with almonds, fish cartilage soup

The soup was rich and thick, much like the broth you'd find in a quality bowl of shark's fin soup. Except here, you'd find snappy pieces of sweet shrimp (instead of inhumanely harvested shark fins) and and chewy pieces of fish maw (apparently also called a swim bladder and is what allows a fish to float?). There were also pieces of raw almond halves that have a really concentrated almond flavor. Really nice.

steamed garoupa with fish sauce, crisp bean crumbs

My grandpa had a habit of always ordering whole live fish if we were ever at a Chinese restaurant. Genetics are a scary thing, and my dad has the same tendency. Thus I've eaten quite a few steamed fish, usually topped with curly strands of scallions and doused with a soy-based sauce. I rarely enjoy it. So that was the mentality I had going into this piece of fish that they had portioned off the bones for us. With the first bite, I questioned it's freshness. With the second bite, I questioned the texture. With the third, I loved it. The fish was, without a doubt, fresh and though the meat was a little soft and flaky for me (typical of a garoupa), the topping of crispy bits of fried soy bean was sensational.

crisp fried prawns, wasabi mayo, kumquat

This seemed to be a play off of the more traditional "honey walnut shrimp" with a similar fried texture covered in a mayonnaise based dressing, though this version was infinitely more enjoyable. There was a slight creeping heat from the wasabi in the mayo, though it seemed to add more flavor than spice. The candied kumquats and a fine dice of fresh mango added a touch more sweetness to the perfectly cooked prawn.

classic roast duck, pancakes, condiments

I've had this roast duck 3 times within the past two weeks. No, I'm still not sick of it, and each time I've had it has been even better than the last. This last time, was near perfection. The whole duck was carved tableside into thin slices of crispy skin--not fatty, not chewy, just crispy--and tender slices of meat. One slice of skin, one slice of meat, crunchy sticks of cucumber, and a generous smear of a house made plum sauce inside a thin, "Q" wrapper makes for a truly heavenly bite.

baby abalone braised with sea cucumber, greens

This was an example of how bigger is not always better. This was no rubbery, bland piece of abalone the size of a hockey puck. The abalone was indeed a "baby," no bigger than the size of a petite madeleine, which perhaps is why it was so tender and why the flavors from the braising had penetrated it so well. The same went for the sea cucumber. Usually I'm not a fan, but this preparation was so flavorful, I actually enjoyed it gelatinous texture. Two bites into the dish I stole a glance at my brother's plate, wondering if I could steal a piece of his abalone of his plate. Sadly, by the time I looked over, his piece was already gone.

slow braised pork trotters, peanuts, lotus root

By this point, I was getting full, but I can NEVER say no to pig's feet, and neither can my dad, who couldn't go three consecutive bites of this version before praising, yet again, how well cooked it was. I would've done the same but I was too busy eating. The peanuts which usually accompany a white braised version of pig's feet were also very pleasant here--adding not only a textural contrast, but also a nutty flavor. The braised lotus root served a similar function.

seafood stir-fried with thin rice noodles, sweet basil leaf

This went into a little plastic container, which then went into a little bag that said "to go"...

three dim-sum in a basket

Though I skipped the previous course, I couldn't resist the little bamboo steamer of dim sum. The entire thing was still steaming when it was set down in front of me. Of course I had to eat it. The sui mai and the har gow were both very well done, but my favorite was the one with the green wrapper. I don't know it's name in English, but the green color comes from a kind of dried grass that gives it a slightly herbal flavor. So good and such a good way to end the savory courses.

cream of mango with sago pearls, pomelo, lime sorbet
fresh fruits

Dessert was a little disappointing for me though the fruit was beautifully cut. The cold mango "soup" tasted fresh though a little bland. The only criticism I have of this restaurant is that it's dessert offerings could really use some help. I know it's typical of a Chinese restaurant, but if you can do everything else so well, why not put a little more effort into the desserts? I think how a meal ends is very important.

So, while the food is definitely Cantonese in style, there were also welcomed aspects of creativity that slightly strayed from the traditional. Rather than serving all the dishes family-style, the servers would portion out the large dishes onto individual plates for us. Thus the Lazy Susan in the middle of the table was rendered rather useless, but if you ask me, I preferred this western-style of serving. This way, everyone gets an equal amount, and I don't have to eye that last piece of duck meat, wondering if it would be impolite of me to dart out my chopsticks for it. I would recommend this Chinese restaurant over the ones at the top of Taipei 101 any day. Though you may not be dining as high up in the atmosphere, the view is stunning enough and the food is beyond comparison.

P.S. I have to say, this meal also put the dinner menu at Lung King Heen to shame in terms of just overall taste...