Shi-Yang Culture Restaurant
Address: 7, Ln 350, Xiwan Rd Sec 3, Sijhih City, Taipei County (台北縣汐止市汐萬路三段350巷7號)
Telephone: (02) 2646-2266
Open: Tuesdays to Sundays noon to 3pm and 6pm to 9pm
Average Meal: NT$1,100 per person
Details: Reservations recommended two weeks in advance on weekdays and six weeks for weekends; credit cards accepted
On the Net: www.shi-yang.com
A Zen-inspired decor and slow food approach to cuisine makes Shi-Yang Culture Restaurant (食養山房) the perfect place for burnt-out city dwellers. Diners don’t even have to bother deciding what to eat, as the prix-fixe menu (NT$1,100 per person) is simply based on whatever fresh and local ingredients are available.
Shi-Yang’s 10-course meal, a healthy interpretation of the traditional Taiwanese banquet, emphasizes seafood and fresh vegetables. The Taipei Times also found other delightful surprises, from the homemade peanut tofu and a savory mochi (麻糬) filled with mullet roe to the home-brewed rose and pineapple vinegars served between courses to cleanse the palette.
Presentation is as important as the food itself at Shi-Yang, where many dishes are decorated with fresh flowers and leafy sprigs from the restaurant’s garden. The meal culminates in a fragrant chicken soup, which the waiter brings to the table with a lotus flower on top. The petals open up before diners’ eyes and practically melt into the soup.
Shi-Yang has just moved to a new mountainside property in Sijhih City after 10 years in Yangmingshan, but is as busy as ever. Reservations on weekends need to be made at least six weeks in advance.— David Chen
Osmanthus Farm (桂花農園)
Address: 4 Sinsingkeng, Longsheng Village, Shihding Township,
Taipei County (台北縣石碇鄉隆盛村新興坑4號)
Telephone: (02) 2663-4011
Open: 11am to 9pm
Average meal: NT$400
Details: Chinese menu; credit cards accepted
On the Net: www.osmanthus.biz
Osmanthus Farm is located in one of the many nooks in the hills around Taipei that with a bend in the road seem to take you deep into the countryside. It is a scenic restaurant where visitors can sit on verandas and enjoy the view and the breeze, but it has the distinction of actually being an osmanthus farm, with food that draws heavily on its own produce.
The farm serves up a menu of more than 20 dishes and 12 types of blended tea featuring osmanthus. Considerable ingenuity is exercised, creating a wide range of very different tasting dishes. Some of these are twists on conventional Taiwanese cuisine, while others are inspired flights of fancy.
The main dining area is rather dingy, in the manner of many mountain chicken establishments (土雞城), but there are terraced verandas out back that overlook the hills of Shihding (石碇) and Shenkeng (深坑). This area, though simply furnished, is extremely pleasant. Service was fast and unfussy, and presentation was invariably elegant, though the use of disposable paper rice bowls somewhat spoiled the effect.— Ian Bartholomew
Address: 53 Dongfeng St, Taipei City (台北市東豐街53號)
Telephone: (02) 2706-3553
Open: 3:30pm to 1am
Average meal: NT$1,000
Details: Chinese and English menu; credit cards accepted
Taipei’s bistro and tapas-style dining dernier cri reaches a new apogee in the form of Diary, a stylish bar-cum-restaurant whose fusion menu focuses on bold combinations and striking presentation.
One good example is the chicken meat balls (炸雞肉球, NT$180) served disguised as a plate of Ferrero Rocher chocolates. The fried rocks (炸岩石, NT$300) are wow-inducing chunks of seafood coated in a batter colored by cuttlefish ink and deep-fried to look like small stones.
Populated by tattooed young wait staff, including experienced trendsetters from popular nightspots Mono Mono and Binchotan (備長炭), Diary offers a drink list that’s as exciting as its food menu. Apart from reasonably priced white wine from Italy, France and Chile, the bar serves a nectarous selection of cocktails priced between NT$200 and NT$300.
Diary’s menu changes with the seasons and according to the creations of guest chefs.— Ho Yi
Just In Bistro & Wine Bar
Address: 33, Ln 181, Zhongxiao E Rd Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市忠孝東路四段181巷33號)
Telephone: (02) 8771-9297
Open: Noon to midnight; opens at 5:30pm on Mondays
Average meal: NT$900
Details: Chinese and English menu; credit cards accepted
Opened last April in the East District (東區), Just In Bistro & Wine Bar is the new project of chef Justin Quek (郭文秀), who runs French restaurants in Shanghai, Taipei and his native Singapore. Just In offers French comfort food with a few upscale twists. It serves bistro basics like steak — from premium Wagyu beef — and pommes frites. A comprehensive wine list, posh but intimate setting, late opening hours and a menu with a range of price points add to the bistro’s versatility as a gathering place for different occasions.
Just In’s take on two French bistro classics, pan-roasted duck confit and sauteed mushrooms and grilled wagyu rump steak with French fries, are especially good. Meat from Wagyu cattle, originally bred in Japan, is known for its extensive marbling and superlative texture and flavor, all of which were evident. The steak, cooked medium rare, cut like butter. The waitstaff can also offer suggestions on wine, and the manager is a sommelier. — Catherine Shu
Hui Guan (回館)
Address: 15, Ln 265, Xinyi Rd Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市信義路四段265巷15號)
Telephone: (02) 2754-9924
Open: Mondays to Fridays 5:30pm to 11pm, Saturdays and Sundays 11:30am to 2pm and 5:30pm to 11pm; closed on the first and third Sunday of every month
Average meal: NT$400
Details: Chinese menu; credit cards not accepted
Close to the Tonghua Street (通化街) night market, Hui Guan (回館) occupies a rare niche in the city’s dietary landscape by serving cuisine from Ningxia, a Hui autonomous region in China. Li Hai-jung (李海蓉), a Muslim, opened the restaurant a few years ago primarily to observe her religion’s dietary code and satisfy her craving for a taste of home.
From a menu featuring a selection of meals that spare no part of the sheep, the cumin-flavored mutton with bread
(孜然羊羔烙饃, NT$280), a street food in Ningxia, is a good choice for first timers. Stir-fried with cumin, celery, onion and other vegetables, the mutton cubes are paired with slightly salted breads — a recipe from Li’s mother.
For those with little tolerance for spicy food, inform the chef beforehand as he doesn’t skimp on the red chili oil or peppercorn (花椒). The sour and spicy lentil noodles (酸辣扁豆粉, NT$120), for example, is a deceivingly mild looking plate of cold noodles — you’ll be grateful to the owner for serving ice-cold Taiwan beer in tin mugs.— Ho Yi
Address: 22, Alley 6, Lane 170, Zhongxiao E Rd, Taipei (北市忠孝東路四段170巷6弄22號)
Telephone: (02) 2711-8720
Open: 11:30am to 2pm and 6pm to 10pm
Average Meal: NT$400 to NT$600 per person
Details: Credit cards accepted
On the Net: www.papagio.com.tw
Papa Giovanni, a family-style Italian restaurant on Zhongxiao East Road (忠孝東路), was reborn earlier this year as PaPa Gio’, and for the better. New owners Giorgio Trevisan and Matteo Boschiavo revamped the menu to showcase their specialties, thin-crust pizzas and homemade pastas.
Trevisan and Boschiavo have been in Taiwan since 1999, and previously ran the kitchens at Osteria Rialto and Capone’s. They say PaPa Gio’ gives them the freedom to have a more traditional trattoria-style menu and atmosphere.
The pizzas are among the best in town. If there’s fresh arugula on hand, Trevisan will recommend the fresca (NT$450), which is topped with mozzarella and ricotta cheeses and cherry tomatoes. Those who like everything on their pie will want to try the pizza della casa PaPa Gio’ (NT$450), a house specialty topped with tomato, mozzarella, mushroom, ham, artichoke, salami, anchovy and olives.
Boschiavo’s fresh-made pastas include fettuccine, tortelloni and gnocchi (NT$280 to NT$400).— David Chen
Red Monster (紅魔王麻辣香鍋)
Address: 117 Yanji St, Taipei City (台北市延吉街117號)
Telephone: (02) 2775-2597
Open: Tuesdays to Sundays 11:30am to 9:30pm
Average meal: NT$220
Details: Chinese menu; credit cards accepted
Red Monster (紅魔王麻辣香鍋) offers a unique slant to “hot pot” dining by serving its spicy Sichuan concoctions “dry” in large stainless steel bowls. Patrons first choose their spice level on a scale of one to eight — from “not spicy at all” (一點都不辣), to “psycho spicy” (變態辣). Unlike the typical blood-red broth, the ingredients of which begin to taste the same after five minutes of boiling, dry hot pot retains the individual flavors of the meat and vegetables, which are briefly fried and come to the table steaming hot. The delicate hints of ginger and cardamom that were discernible through the spicy sauce were a delicious accompaniment to the contents of the bowl. Vegetarian hot pots are also available.— Noah Buchan
Rainbow Roll (紅彩壽司)
Address: Sogo Tianmu, 8F, 77, Zhongxiao N Rd Sec 6, Taipei City (台北市中山北路六段77號8樓)
Telephone: (02) 2833-2555
Open: 11am to 9:30pm
Average meal: Most rolls range from NT$180 to NT$280
Details: Chinese, English and Japanese menu; credit cards accepted
The inspiration behind Rainbow Roll (紅彩壽司) follows a boomerang trajectory. The chain was founded eight years ago in Tokyo, but its menu features “American-style” sushi-like avocado- and crab meat-stuffed California rolls and, of course, rainbow rolls (made with a colorful assortment of vegetables). Taipei’s branch is a sleek and elegantly decorated space in the recently opened Sogo Tianmu’s eighth-floor food court.
Diners who were first introduced to American-style sushi in the US might find Rainbow Roll’s versions surprisingly light (and perhaps a bit bland). The spicy tuna filling in some rolls doesn’t sear the nostrils and the California roll is crafted with only a smidgen of mayonnaise. But even though Rainbow Roll’s American-style sushi isn’t particularly American, the carefully balanced ingredients in each meticulously crafted roll are as pleasing enough to the palette as they are to the eye.— Catherine Shu
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