The Witch House (女巫店)
7, Lane 56, Hsinsheng S. Rd., Sec. 3 (新生南路三段56巷7號); tel 2362-5494. 11am to 2am Average meal: NT$200. Credit cards not accepted. English menu.
In four years, the Witch House has transformed from a university pub to one of Taipei's hottest live houses. This is a place where record producers find their starlets, where many winners of the Golden Melody Awards gave their first show, including Pur-dur (Chen Chien-nien, 陳建年), Samingad (Chih Hsiao-chun, 紀曉君) and bands like Backquarter.
But another trait that attracts the performers and big crowds is the food, especially those dishes invented by 27 year-old owner Peng Yu-ching (彭郁晶), who found the place from the help of FemBooks upstairs. Most popular is the "Thai Nose-bleeding Chicken Leg with Rice." The spicy chicken leg is marinated in orange juice and orange peels before being grilled, adding a tangy juiciness that mixes well with the homemade Thai hot sauce. Another of Peng's inventions is the "Plum Sauce Salad with Grilled Chicken." The sauce is made of olive oil blended with the sweet-and-sour flavor of plum paste. It's a healthy and refreshing dish that goes well with one of Witch's most popular drinks, among women particularly: Menses Ice Tea. Needless to say, the drink is crimson red, made of cold strawberry and raspberry fruit tea and rum. Old customers also recommend Peng's homemade chocolate cheesecake, boasting that it's no less tasty than that of five-star hotels.
Peng's originality doesn't stop at strange names for her unique dishes, either (by the way, the garlic pasta with cream sauce is called "Garlic Big-boobs Noodle"). Any female customer who does 10 push-ups gets 20 percent off her bill. And every month, there are women's arm-wrestling competitions, certainly a fine way to work off a meal.
The Graveyard (墳場)
2F, 169 Hoping E. Rd., Sec. 2 (和平東路二段169號2樓); tel 2704-7918. 8pm to 4am. Average meal: NT$200. Credit cards not accepted. English menu for drinks only.
Rock singer Chang Chen-yueh (張震嶽) calls this place the Secret Base, where singers, music workers and record company staff gather for chats, inspiration and, of course, nice wine and food. The laid-back staff sitting at the dimly-lighted bar serve up Joy Division and Radiohead as easily as they do an order of savory Wu-shi Spareribs.
"Lonely but easy-going" is how owner Ah-C describes the late-night restaurant. "We care least about formality. If you are the kind who always gets annoyed by waiters constantly asking if you want soup, drinks or side dishes, you can come to our house," says the long-haired owner, who also DJs at Roxy 99 and the Underworld.
Most of the Graveyard's menu mirrors that of Talking Heads (談話頭), a Shanghai-style restaurant run by the Graveyard's former owner, Hsian Tzu-long (向子龍). But there are at least three dishes different or better than Talking Heads. The Wu-shi Spareribs are more tender and more juicy than those at TH; the Stir-fry Glutinous Rice has a stronger flavor of mushroom and dried shrimp; and the original "Spicy Dry Noodles" mixed with sesame paste and hot chili sauce makes it tempting to throw back the house red wine a little faster than is advisable. It matters little, however, because the red wine flows easily in the Graveyard. With dozens in stock, the most pricey doesn't exceed NT$3000.
27, Lane 86, Hsinyi Rd., Sec. 2 (信義路二段86巷27號); tel 2351-0406. 6pm to 3am. Average meal: NT$200. Credit cards not accepted for meals; accepted for CDs English menu for drinks only.
Call it minimalism or futurism, it matters little to owner Jack Mu (穆希文), who just wants a quiet and simple cafe with good music. These days 2.31 has a clinical look, with its tables, chairs, floor, wall, and windows being starchy white.
Japanese experimental musician Otomo Yashida once called 2.31 the best cafe and record store in the world during his visit to Taipei four years ago. And Taiwan director Ho Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢) is also a frequent customer here. So with fashion and music magazines that are rarely found in Taipei, and a great music store tucked into the corner, there is little doubt that 2.31 is one of the favorite cafes among arts and media circles.
The food menu here is relatively minimalist, too, but what they do have is done well. Homemade dumplings with two choices of stuffing (sailfish and leeks) are the most welcomed dishes by old customers. The sandwiches are also good, best eaten hot when the bread is still soft and the half-cooked egg runs freely. If you prefer sweets, try 2.31's rich Irish cream coffee that includes a chocolate bar for the more decadent.
Finally, a footnote for the more curious: 2.31's name originates from the cafe's investors, two 31 year-old men, who are also the initiators of the house's changing styles. In five years, the decor has changed from wood, to an all-black theme before settling on the present all-white motif. "We are thinking about changing to another color soon," says Mu.
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