If you are constantly wondering why, despite there being so many dining establishments, it is so difficult to find a place that not only meets your gastronomic needs but your decor desire and budget limit, Grass Mountain Chateau is the place that will give you access to an unforgettable culinary experience.
Located at Yangmingshan (陽明山), Grass Mountain Chateau is frequented by many locals not only because of its nostalgic Japanese furnishings and spectacular views overlooking Taipei, but also because of a food menu that features the favorite dishes of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his wife Madame Chiang (蔣宋美齡).
Chiang moved to the 1,300-ping (4,300 square meters) guest house built by Taiwan Sugar Corporation after retreating from China in 1949. The restaurant, along with a small-size museum, opened in late 2011, following years of reconstruction after a fire.
The restaurant today serves meals in sets ($488), using locally grown vegetables and targeting health-conscious customers. Chiang’s favorite style of meatballs (獅子頭), for example, is steamed rather than fried or braised. The hearty ground pork and crabmeat, drenched in pork stock, is tender and soft and melts right away when put into mouth. Not a lot of artificial seasoning goes into these dishes, so the freshness of the ingredients really jumps out. For those who prefer a more robust flavor, the braised spare ribs in brown sauce (紅燒無錫嫩排骨) and ginseng lamb stew (雙蔘精燉羊肉煲) are highly recommended main dishes.
The side dishes change depending on the season. I found the ones I had both creative and delicious. Black fungus topped with white sesame (芝麻木鬚) tastes much better than it sounds. The vinegar dressing added a further dimension of taste to the earthy fungus. Simmered for five hours on the stove, the translucent crystal pork (水晶肴肉) had the texture of jelly. The gamey flavor was ingeniously complimented with slices of fresh ginger. It was said that Chiang favored the dish in his later years because his teeth was too fragile to chew hard food.
The chicken soup (元盅雞湯) features large, juicy shiitake mushrooms and different chicken portions. The meat, cooked for hours, fell delicately off the bones. The meat was moist and tender and the soup was rich in vegetable flavor.
Although the set meal came with osmanthus taro cake (桂花甜芋) and selected teas from Nantou County’s Sun Moon Lake (日月潭), I greedily ordered apple pie (NT$280) frosted with powdered sugar. The filling was robust and generously portioned. Although I would have appreciated a stronger cinnamon and spice scent, I found the large chunks of freshly chopped apples pleasing enough.
The dessert menu also serves a selection of Chinese signature sweets (NT$250), including mung bean cake (綠豆黃), pumpkin pancake (南瓜煎餅) and osmanthus jelly (桂花凍). Since Madame Chiang, who was educated in the West, had a sweet tooth for apple and chocolate, the restaurant also serves chocolate mousse (NT$280).
After dining, I found many customers strolling around the Grass Mountain Chateau to appreciate the fresh, unpolluted air in the mountains. Some even took the chance to exchange opinions on Taiwan’s history and politics. The place is crowded on weekends so reservations are a must. And with any luck, you might also get to dine in Chiang’s former bedroom.