Hot pot goes upscale at Qimin Organic Hotpot (齊民有機中國火鍋), which offers organic produce and high-quality meats served in an urban chic setting.
Qimin’s minimalist, gallery-like interior is what you would expect on Zhongxiao East Road (忠孝東路): white walls and ceilings, wooden floors and retro tables, also in white.
The restaurant is a venture of Yuen Foong Yu Biotech Company (永豐餘生技), which specializes in organic fertilizers and runs an organic farm in Yilan County that supplies much of the fresh produce served at the restaurant.
The concept behind Qimin is an odd fusion: back-to-nature idealism and a fussy, elitist air given to this humble, communal Chinese cuisine. That said, “nature” prevails in this combination. The food is simple and simply good — the vegetables taste fresh and robust in flavor and the meats are choice cuts. Two persons typically share one hot pot, which can be divided in half.
Fine dining is the emphasis, with a ceremonial sequence of courses in the set menu. Diners start by sipping on “welcome tea,” which the restaurant’s Web site says is organic oolong (烏龍) grown in the mountains of Nantou County.
Next comes the appetizer, which changes seasonally. I was served a trio of small dishes: pickled cucumber and carrot, a slice of cold chicken soaked in rice wine and garnished with a date, and a chunk of taro topped with a savory cream sauce and slices of shitake mushroom.
For the consomme tasting course, the waiter brings broth in a stainless steel pot and turns on the hot plate, leaving you the soup before the vegetables arrive in a neatly arranged basket. Qimin offers three choices of broth: chicken, dried bonito or kombu (鰹魚昆布) and vegetable.
Address: 2F, 128, Zhongxiao E Rd Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市忠孝東路四段128號2樓) Telephone: (02) 2772-5123
Hours: Daily from 11:30am to 2:30pm and 5:30pm to 10:30pm
Average meal: NT$800 to NT$1,000 per person
Details: English and Chinese menu; credit cards accepted
On the Net: www.qi-min.com
While the broth starts out tasting subtle and fragrant, be aware that the meats and vegetables can thicken the stock quickly. By the end of my meal, the soup was too rich and intense.
My main course choice, prime sirloin (NT$920), was melt-in-the-mouth delicious. It was cut in eight slices thick enough to carry a tender, juicy flavor, but thin enough to cook in just a few seconds. The accompanying sauce was an earthy concoction made of cumin and chili oil.
Other choices include an “assorted seafood” selection (NT$980), Matsusaka pork (松阪豬, NT$780) and a house specialty, Huoshan Shihu chicken (霍山石斛, NT$2,500 for two). The restaurant says their chickens are raised free-range in Nantou County and fed herbal Chinese medicines and mountain stream water. A strictly vegetarian meal is also available (NT$680).
The waiters, dressed in Chinese-style uniforms, were attentive but cold. They announced and explained each course impatiently, as if they were sick of the routine and just wanted to move on to the next table.
All in all, Qimin lives up to it slogan “From Farm to Table,” but it’s a pricey table at that. Visit with a big appetite and in the mood to splurge.