Fri, May 12, 2006 - Page 15 News List

Restaurant: 33 Rooms 三十三間堂

Address: 116 Kanding Rd, Taipei (台北市康定路116號)
Telephone: (02) 2361-0807/6
Open: 12pm to 2:40pm; 5pm to 11pm
Average meal: Starts at NT$1,000 per person, or prepared to your budget
Details: No menu; credit cards accepted
Web site: www.33rooms.com.tw (Chinese only)

By Chris Pechstedt  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Come for the `laobanniang,' and stay for the food.

PHOTO: CHRIS PECHSTEDT, TAIPEI TIMES

I'm sitting at a long, low Japanese-style table surrounded by immaculate white cats shorn like poodles. The owner of 33 Rooms -- an extremely loud and eccentrically friendly late-middle-aged Taiwanese woman who peppers her Mandarin with Japanese -- has just stuck her cheek in my face. I'm running through homophones for qin in my head in case I misunderstood what she just said.

"Um, she wants a kiss," someone translates.

Once the deed is done, laobanniang -- who gives her name alternately as Chen Min-ching, Olive ("like Popeye's girl-friend"), and Ringleader Chen (陳老大), and whom everyone simply calls laobanniang -- traipses off into the other room. A moment later a group of people yells in unison, "May you have youth and beauty!"

"Xie xie!" yells laobanniang.

This, it seems, is a pretty standard evening at 33 Rooms. Then Chen storms around the otherwise relaxing polished-wood interior, cussing out the staff and fraternizing with the customers. If you go (and if you don't mind dropping a big wad of cash), go prepared.

"People come for me, not for the food," she jokes in between kissing my hand and trying to set me up with another patron.

The food is excellent. Like everything else about 33 Rooms, it is a part of the owner's cult of personality.

There is no menu. When your group enters, you'll say how much you're willing to cough up, and whether there's anything you don't eat, and Olive will take care of the rest (read: make whatever she feels like). Typically, it starts off at NT$1,000 a head and goes up in increments of NT$500, but smaller budgets are accommodated.

The restaurant serves all sorts of Japanese food, especially beef, sashimi and other seafood, like chunks of a 50kg snow crab. There may be hotpot as well.

The results of 22 years of constantly changing the menu are apparent in the dishes, which are smallish but exquisite. The smallness isn't bad, either.

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