Sat, Mar 11, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Commune A7 will perplex foodies — and not in a good way

Taipei’s latest outdoor market, while conceptually intriguing, fails to deliver in terms of food quality and ambiance

By Dana Ter  /  Staff reporter

Commune A7 in Taipei’s Xinyi District fuses the concept of food trucks and outdoor markets.

Photo: Dana Ter, Taipei Times

Commune A7 might leave foodies scratching their heads. Opened last December in Taipei’s posh Xinyi District (信義) as an outdoor food market, the entrance is sandwiched between an electronics showroom and a car showroom, both of which have cafes inside — just in case patrons wish to dine next to the latest Mercedes-Benz.

When I first heard the news of the opening, I had in mind a glitzier version of hawkers selling Taiwanese street delicacies such as beef noodles and oyster omelets, something like mobile eateries in Hong Kong which sell dim sum, revamped hawker centers in Singapore operated by young entrepreneurs or even something like the food trucks common in North America.

All of the food stalls are smaller outposts of mostly Western-style eateries such as PS Tapas and Alleycat’s and a smattering of Japanese restaurants around Taipei, rather than new enterprises selling, for instance, Taiwanese street food served in modern fashion. It would have made far more sense to employ a concept instead where enterprising vendors and up-and-coming chefs can display their talent — something like Smorgasburg on the waterfront in New York.

In any event, my friend and I are starving and our first stop is the stall of Japanese restaurant Wako. The waitress overhears us discussing the menu and informs us that they’re out of ramen, my preferred choice. A little dismayed, we head to Lobster Bar where we learn that they’re out of their specialty, the lobster roll. The waiter, however, suggests the lobster and crab roll, which is delightfully sweet and buttery and a little garlicy — though skimpy on the lobster at the somewhat pricey NT$500. My friend ordered a bowl of paella (NT$250) from the PS Tapas stand. I have a bite and am disappointed at the flavorless, dry rice, and how small the portion is. This is surprising as the paella in their restaurant is one of my favorite dishes.

Commune A7

Address: 3, Songshou Rd, Taipei City (台北市松壽路3號)

Open: Mondays to Thursdays 11:30am to 10pm, Fridays 11:30am to midnight, Saturdays and Sundays 11am to midnight

Average meal: NT$250 to NT$750

On the net:

We are seated at a regular outdoor picnic table, but around us are some interesting seating arrangements — there are pink swings made for two and giant bubble houses with small wooden chairs and tables inside. Of course, all of this also lends well to photography and most patrons are taking selfies instead of eating their food. In case that isn’t enough photo opportunities, some food stands even provide props — mostly cardboard cut-outs — for customers to pose with.

Normally, by now, I would have ordered a beer from Selfish Burger but it’s midday and I need to work later in the afternoon. Instead, we settle for taking a walk around the commune and checking out what else there is to do. In the middle of a field of fake grass is something that resembles a small, wooden lemonade stand decorated in red paper cut-out hearts that look like a third-grader had designed them. In front of the stand are the words “I Love You,” cut and strung somewhat haphazardly. Of course, the “O” in “you” is shaped as a heart. My friend comments that the stand was probably leftover from Valentine’s Day. After I take a picture behind the stand, I notice that other people have lined up to do them same.

We left feeling hungry and disappointed. Commune A7 seems like a missed opportunity in so many ways. Why not convert part of the commune into a flea market for local artists and fashion designers to sell their crafts and clothes, or have more interactive activities for children such as drawing sessions? This is what is currently being done with Common Ground in Seoul, where shipping containers are converted into a pop-up mall with individual stalls selling crafts made by local artists. Including stalls at Commune A7 that sell local fanfare and snacks would compliment nicely the already well-known restaurants that make up the majority of the existing culinary options. Instead, we’ll have to settle for flavorless paella and tacky photo ops for now.

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