RESTAURANTS : Hsiaowei Chuantsai 小魏川菜

By Catherine Shu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Fri, Mar 26, 2010 - Page 14

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Located on the third floor of a non-descript building near Taipei Main Station, Hsiaowei Chuantsai (小魏川菜) is equally bland on the inside. The restaurant’s reasonably priced Sichuan food, however, is another matter.

Its kongpao chicken (宮保雞丁, NT$158) is one of the best versions I’ve had in Taipei. Hsiaowei’s liberal use of Sichuan peppercorns left my tongue tingling. The peanuts are fried until they are slightly browned and rich in flavor, their crunch adding a counterpoint to the moist chunks of meat.

Another fiery dish is the sauteed eggplant (魚香茄子, NT$96), which is cooked until tender with a liberal amount of diced garlic, black bean sauce and ground pork. The garlic is so soft that it melts in the mouth and most of its piquancy had been absorbed by the rest of the dish (if I hadn’t known what the ingredients were, I would have assumed it was made with firm tofu). If your taste buds need a rest, however, consider the much milder huobao sanxian (火爆三鮮, NT$220), which comprises slices of sea cucumber, abalone and cow stomach stir-fried with snow peas, carrot, mushroom and other vegetables. The seafood and meat were cooked just right and the vegetables perfectly crispy, but the dish was bland compared to our other orders, even though it was listed among Hsiaowei’s signature dishes.

Another way of soaking up the spices is an order of Hsiaowei’s fried bread (酥炸銀絲卷, NT$40), a slightly sweet mantou with a crispy golden crust.

Hsiaowei’s service is curt but efficient. All our dishes arrived within eight minutes of our order (though that might have been because we arrived half an hour before the kitchen closed). There are three private banquet rooms in the restaurant, but drinks are limited to tea, beer and a selection of whiskeys.

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