Sat, Jul 06, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Restaurant review: No.1 Food Theater

Housed in a historic granary, No.1 Food Theater churns out confident Taiwanese fusion cooking

By George Lee  /  Contributing reporter

Bone-in beef short rib noodles (NT$780) are the signature at No.1 Food Theater.

Photo: George Lee

Once the first granary in Taipei, No.1 Food Theater is a farm-to-table restaurant in Songshan District (松山) that may well be “No.1” in fusion and innovation too.

The granary was repurposed as a restaurant in 2013, 68 years after its construction. While the exteriors and interiors have been renovated, the building’s high ceiling remains. Its first floor retails the best of local organic produce; its second floor houses the restaurant.

Amid the wooden furniture, over-sized ceiling fans, stone walls subtly scarred by bullet holes and brightly-lit ambiance marked by black barn lights, shopping and dining here is truly a step back in time — I could almost smell the aroma of the rice once housed in the granary.

The chefs are not shy about differentiating their cuisine from the norm. You almost think you know what to expect, being familiar with Asian-American fusion food, but the first dish arrives and throws your tastebuds an uppercut.

Beef short rib noodles (NT$780) are the restaurant’s signature dish. Six-day slow-cooked 425g bone-in short rib sits proudly atop a bed of thick, firm, tangy hand-pulled noodles, beside half a Chinese baby cabbage. The smoky, smooth broth is poured straight from a basket-like jar, evoking a rustic quality. The tender beef fell right off the bone as I bit into it — totally expected, but so satisfying every time.

The risotto (NT$420), dubbed “Local Champion,” exudes a familiar briny fragrance. Taitung rice, diced Taichung taro, pickled Miaoli mustard greens, sweet shrimp, scallops and squid are all cooked al dente in shrimp head broth and topped with chopped chives.

The smell was reminiscent of the air in a fish market — I personally enjoyed that, although some might find it overwhelming.

I didn’t think I could be more impressed, but the dishes that followed proved otherwise. A curry of oxtail and beef cheek (NT$299), influenced by Japanese, Thai and South Asian cuisine, is braised in red wine and served alongside a garden of potatoes, crisp broccoli, bamboo and beef tomato. While its heat is mild for a curry, the intense flavor demands a healthy serving of white rice, which is dutifully provided.

The XO sauce linguine (NT$420), spicy but not too much so, is tossed with buttery pan-seared scallops and olive oil, mildly scented with garlic chips and fresh herbs. It’s assertive, forthright and a must-order for XO sauce fanatics.

Arguably the most distinctive dish is the mushrooms and squid (NT$320). Thick cuts of red and yellow bell peppers, mushrooms and squid rings, juxtaposed with golden-brown deep-fried burdock strips, are a piquant Western twist on the traditional Taiwanese three-cup sauce of rice wine, soy sauce and sesame oil. Eating this dish convinced me that three-cup sauce might just pair better with seafood.

The food is almost too rich and hearty, but then there’s the cool, refreshing No.1 Food Theater salad (NT$380). Boasting each day’s freshest produce, you will not recognize this salad the next time you have it. The dressing stood out to me — the mixture of peanut oil and honey oat vinegar cuts through every bite with fat and acidity.

Finally, for dessert, the chef’s special (NT$280) consists of French toast and caramelized banana laden with cream, perfumed with coconut butter and chili pepper and sprinkled with hazelnuts. I couldn’t have been happier to find such a harmony between the savory sweetness of the toast and the fiery chili pepper flakes.

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