Founded in 1946, Meikuanyuan (美觀園) restaurant on Emei Street (峨嵋街) in Ximending hearkens back to the days when the area was a thriving theater district. The four floors of the restaurant’s original storefront (which stands diagonally across the street from a newer second location) look like they have barely been touched over the past 60 years, with bright fluorescent lighting, dingy tiles and tables with scrunched up pieces of newspaper shoved under their legs to keep them from wobbling. Dishes are also barebones — Taiwanese twists on Japanese home-cooking favorites like curry over rice, and seafood basics including sashimi and plenty of stir-fries.
Meikuanyuan may not score high in the ambiance department and its prices aren’t cheap, but it is a welcome counterweight to the trendy eateries and fast food restaurants that fill Ximending and it reels in a wide variety of people. The restaurant is filled with retirees chatting over bottles of Taiwan Beer on weekday afternoons, while evenings and weekends attract a range of age groups.
The restaurant’s largest sashimi platter (上乖綜合生魚片) costs NT$460 and includes a couple pieces each of amberjack, tuna, salmon, swordfish and squid sashimi, and a raw prawn. The slices of fish were fine, but nothing to crow about. The thickness of each slice was overwhelming and detracted from the flavor of the fish, but subtlety doesn’t seem to be one of Meikuanyuan’s selling points. In fact, the huge slabs of fish would probably go very well with a gigantic double-handled mug of draught beer (生啤酒天王杯, NT$180), one of the restaurant’s signature drink offerings. Another dish that would pair just as well with the beer is the vinegar-flavored raw oyster (醋物生蠔, NT$180), a huge specimen topped with grated daikon soaked with vinegar and sprinkled with chopped green onions. The size of the oyster, which is served with a fork and knife, was intimidating, but its flavor was pleasantly mellow and creamy underneath all the toppings.
Meikuanyuan’s sushi hand rolls are fine, but somewhat overpriced — a shrimp and asparagus roll (蝦蘆筍手卷) that was light on the shrimp but heavy on the asparagus and mayonnaise was NT$75. The restaurant’s other cold dishes are also very simple. The bamboo salad, for instance, is just a plate of cold bamboo shoots (竹筍沙拉, NT$170) served with a gigantic heap of mayonnaise. The shoots were wonderfully tender, however, and went very well with the sweet mayo. The dish isn’t exciting, but serves as a welcome palate cleanser, especially after one of Meikuanyuan’s very flavorful hot dishes, like the salmon and egg fried rice (鮭魚蛋炒飯, NT$120) or the sauce-heavy, oily shrimp stir-fry (熱炒蝦仁, NT$200). A more interesting alternative to the bamboo salad is the fish roe salad (魚卵沙拉, NT$160), which resembles pieces of tofu but upon closer inspection turns out to be sacs of pollack roe cooked and then sliced and served
with mayonnaise (which seems to be Meikuanyuan’s dressing
of choice). The roe was somewhat dry and the mayonnaise didn’t complement it very well. Its sweetness and richness cancelled out whatever briny flavor was left in the roe after the cooking process.
Address: 36 Emei St, Taipei City (台北市峨嵋街36號)Telephone: (02) 2331-7000
Open: 11am to 9pm; closed on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month
Average meal: NT$400 per person
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