If location is the key to success in the restaurant business, then Chintai (金泰食堂), which is to be found in the no-man’s land between the Sun Yat-sen Freeway (中山高速公路) and Tiding Boulevard (堤頂大道) in Neihu, should have closed down long ago. Despite this, it is virtually impossible to get a seat without queuing, and Chintai’s signature dish of ultimate seafood on rice (無敵蓋飯), priced at NT$630, has become something of a holy grail for seafood aficionados.
Chintai is not inexpensive, but its portions are generous, verging on the lavish. You will see people in three-piece suits from the nearby technology park eating together with diners in shorts and flip-flops sporting tattoos as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The servers seem remarkably indifferent; although prices are above average, Chintai has no pretensions to being posh.
Having seen pictures of the imposing pile of seafood that made up the ultimate seafood on rice, I opted for the wimp’s version of the dish: the regular seafood on rice (海鮮蓋飯, NT$420).
Photo: Ian Bartholomew, Taipei Times
When it appeared at the table, delivered as if this was nothing particularly special, I was overawed by the huge heap of orange roe — a good ice cream scoop portion — that glistened on top. Then my eye was caught by the bright orange egg yolk, glistening in the middle of the bowl, and then the darker orange of a heap of sea urchin. Arrayed around the bowl were a huge scallop, a raw prawn and a selection of fish, with the whole rainbow-colored collection ornamented with shallot and a scattering of salmon roe.
The dish came with a bowl of the meatiest miso soup I have ever tasted. It was not the most subtle I’ve had, but it had lots of flavor and plenty of meat. In some restaurants it would constitute a dish in itself, but at Chintai, it was just a casual aside to the main event.
A leaflet in a plastic stand placed on every table provided suggestions about how best to enjoy the seafood on rice. Break the egg yoke and stir, add a little wasabi, then start eating from the light colored fish. Dredge up the rice from the bottom, but don’t mix it up, to prevent muddying the flavors. It was good advice, for Chintai does not only provide quantity, it also provides a high level of quality.
The mixed fish on rice, the most popular dish, is far from being the only option on what is a very extensive menu. All kinds of fish and meat are available, but I opted to try a regular of the night market: grilled cod (烤圓鱈定食, NT$370). What was offered up was a luscious piece of cod that had little in common with the usual desiccated teppanyaki cod. This was the wagyu version of cod, saturated with fish oils that made every morsel melt in the mouth, and so rich that the large portion would be too much for anyone not absolutely wedded to the flavor of fish.
If it weren’t for the crowds lingering outside, the restaurant would be easy to miss. The interior has the appearance of a diner with pretensions; the seats are set in little booths or separated by low partitions.
The staff members are efficient, but it is not the sort of place where they will chat about what you might want to order. Despite the relatively high prices, you order by filling out a form at the table, a procedure usually reserved for small snack shops offering much cheaper food. What you get, however, is beyond comparison.
Address: 34, Ln 121, Jiuzong Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市舊宗路二段121巷34號)
Telephone: (02) 8792-8167
Open: Tuesday to Friday from 11:30am to 3pm and 4:30pm to 9pm and Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 9pm. Closed on Mondays
Average meal: T$600 per person
Details: Menu in Chinese only, credit cards not accepted
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