Located near Spot - Taipei Film House (光點-台北之家), Hanabi has found favor among the city's growing tribe of sake lovers as an evening retreat. Its power to soothe and amuse derives from a respectable sake menu and a famed selection of Japanese tapas and kamameshi, a rice dish of broth and vegetables, meat or seafood that is cooked and served in an iron or ceramic pot.
Painted black and brown, Hanabi has the comfortable atmosphere of your friendly neighborhood tavern. The accommodating young wait staff makes the 10 percent service charge worthwhile.
There is, however, one major flaw, unless that is if you're anosmic. No sooner were we, a group of six, led to the seating area in the back than we hit a pungent wall of grilling odors from the semi-open kitchen. A few minutes after we complained, though, the air cleared.
Hanabi's range of premium daiginjo and ginjyo sakes is limited but priced reasonably, with most 720ml bottles costing between NT$1,280 to NT$2,680.
As for the food, we ordered almost every signature dish recommended by foodie blogs. Soaked in a marinade made of more than 20 ingredients, the chicken wings (密傳手羽先唐揚, NT$120) had the sweetness and saltiness of both miso and teriyaki sauces while the sesame seeds on the skin accentuated the grilled charcoal flavor. The fish egg omelet (明太子蛋捲, NT$280) was a fine combination of tastes and textures; the fluffy exterior contained a savory soup of fishy spheres that burst in the mouth.
Sea urchin (NT$240 each), which wasn't listed on the menu but written on a blackboard along with other seasonal delicacies, was the one dish that earned a unanimous seal of approval. The oversized globular sea creatures, fresh and shipped in from Penghu, are served split open. The gleaming orange flesh inside was extracted with spoons. The taste is light, sweet and slightly saline; just right for a raw piece of flesh recently plucked from the ocean.
Address: 1-3, Ln 20, Zhongshan N Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市中山北路二段20巷1-3號)
Telephone: (02) 2511-9358
Open: Tuesdays through Fridays from 11:30am to 2pm and 6pm to 11pm; closes at midnight on weekends
Average meal: NT$1,100
Details: Chinese menu; credit cards accepted
Other specialties include grilled items marinated in a noteworthy black miso sauce. Believed to have originated from Nagoya, the brochettes are first grilled then stewed in a pot of the sauce flavored with sake. We had chicken (雞肉串, NT$120) and beef brochettes (牛肋條, NT$180); both had a novel sweet-salty combination of flavors.
Our last order was kamameshi bowls. The dish comes with a small hourglass so that the rice can be simmered precisely. The mushroom and truffle rice bowl (野菇松露釜飯, NT$300) and the gomoku rice bowl (五目釜飯, NT$280), which contains burdock, chicken and carrot, won praise for their sophisticated symphony of flavors. The sapid rice was halfway between fluffy and chewy.
Reservations are advisable as the sake bar seats around 30. Ravenous diners should expect to leave a dent in their bank balance.