YEAR IN REVIEW: Restaurants

By Ian Bartholomew, Enru Lin and Ho Yi  /  Staff reporters

Tue, Dec 31, 2013 - Page 12

Enishi (麵屋緣)

Address: 12, Alley 45, Ln 81, Dunhua S Rd Sec 2, Taipei (台北市敦化南路二段81巷45弄12號)

Telephone: (02) 2708-9822

Open: 11:30am to 2:30pm; 5:30pm to 8:30pm

Average meal: NT$300

Details: Menu in Chinese and Japanese, cash only

The ramen revolution continued into 2013 in Taipei with some outstanding new outlets providing authentic flavors from various parts of Japan. It is no longer a question of which ramen house to visit, but whether you want ramen from Hokkaido, Tokyo, Osaka or Kyushu. Representing the minimalist end of ramen eating is Enishi, which is hidden away on a back street. Its frontage is so low-key that it is easy to miss. There is just a wooden door in a concrete wall and a small round window placed just a little too high to see inside. There is a tiny menu placed on a metal music stand outside, which lists the two main items offered and a couple of side dishes. Basically, all that you discover is that Enishi offers dipping noodles and soup noodles, which cost NT$250 and NT$280 respectively.

The noodles at Enishi are made of whole wheat. It should be noted that Enishi emphasizes that this is ground from the whole grain, thereby preserving all the nutrition of the germ that is lost with the use of commercially produced wheat flours. The noodle has an intense flavor with echoes of Japanese buckwheat soba noodles, as well as the firmness of wheat. The dipping sauce is notable for combining pork stock and stock made from dried fish. It is a heady mixture of strong flavors, and the noodles only need to be dipped in briefly before being sucked down. The texture of the noodles against the strong flavors of the sauce is a great gastronomic sensation, and for those who take their noodles seriously, it is the kind of experience that immediately has you planning your next visit.

Tonchin Ramen(屯京拉麵)

Address: 36, Ln 187, Dunhua S Rd, Taipei (台北市敦化南路一段187巷36號)

Telephone: (02) 2731-7897

Open: 11am to 11pm

Average meal: NT$350

Details: Chinese picture menu, cash only

Whereas Enishi is stripped down and understated, Tonchin has a big high-ceilinged glass dining area and a slate-tiled stairway with roped-off entry and exit lanes to manage the press of people.

The menu is an explosion of color, and it is easy to become overwhelmed by what seems a multitude of choices. An exploration of what was on offer began with the super value Tokyo-style pork ramen (NT$260), which packed an amazing amount of flavor and texture into a single bowl, but was not anything to write home about.

The spicy Tokyo-style broth with caramelized onions (NT$260) was quite a different proposition, and had the kind of impact, if you like spicy food, that gets people coming back for second and third visits. The secret is that it is not super spicy, but generates a gentle slow burn in the gullet that seems particularly soothing in the hot weather. Ordered in the version with additional roast pork (NT$270), it is a meaty, fishy, spicy, salty bowl of ramen heaven. Well-chilled water is available on the service counter, helping to wash down the heavily flavored dish.

Almost irresistible are the deep-fried chicken pieces (NT$180), which are incredibly crunchy and moist, almost worth the high price. Together with a bowl of noodles, they make a blowout meal for one.

7Yunnan(七彩雲南)

Address: 181-1, Jieshou Rd Sec 2, Bade City, Taoyuan County (桃園縣八德市介壽路二段181-1號)

Telephone: (03) 361-2425

Open: Daily from 11am to 2pm, 5pm to 9pm

Average meal: NT$400

Details: Chinese picture menu, credit cards accepted

The 7Yunnan (七彩雲南) chain is operated by a woman from a Chinese minority group and serves the diverse cuisine of her native Yunnan province at five locations in Taoyuan County.

7Yunnan has a few dishes similar to Sichuan food: firecracker-colored soups, meats showered with peppercorns that range from spirited to incendiary. There are also dishes that are sweet and sour, or intensely salty and savory, in the way of the better-known Vietnamese or Thai cuisines.

The butter-battered soft-shell crab (奶香黃薑蟹, NT$250) has Thai influences and came highly recommended by the server. This dish — steaming, flavorful and very tender chunks of crab — is very magical, though it’s also a shock of trans fats that could delete two days from your life expectancy. It consists of roughly chopped soft-shell crabs that are encrusted in a deep-fried spiced batter and topped with crispy fried basil.

7Yunnan also serves foods native to the large population of minority peoples in Yunnan. The squid cold plate (傣味拌花枝, NT$180), borrowed from the Dai people, arrives looking like an inexpert onion-rich stir fry, though in reality it’s pretty thoughtfully composed. The sharpness has been drawn out of the onion with a vinegar marinade, and the onion combines with the celery and baby tomatoes to create a sweetly tart punch. The squid is springy, but with a flatlining saltiness on its own. When that’s eaten with a bit of the vegetable haystack, nearly all the flavors are there, in a funky, refreshing dish that’s a lot like ceviche.

Eieio Gastropub(咿呀咿呀呦新美式酒館)

Address: 8, Ln 14, Siwei Rd, Taipei (台北市四維路14巷8號)

Telephone: (02) 2701-6000

Open: Tuesday to Sunday from 6pm to midnight

Average meal: NT$700 to NT$900

Details: Menu in English and Chinese, credit cards accepted

ABritish creation that weds a bar with a restaurant, the concept of the gastropub has officially taken root in Taipei with the arrival of Eieio Gastropub, a tastefully decorated drinking and dining establishment.

With vintage furniture and an interior in warm tones of gray and wooden brown, the gastropub has a chic, refined atmosphere, but is devoid of the snobbish ambience of the city’s many fancy lounge bars where you feel underdressed in plain jeans.

As for the food, Eieio elevates pub grub to the level of fine dining and adds a decidedly American accent to its offerings. For example, the establishment’s signature fried chicken (香草炸雞, NT$460) is a world apart from the common bar snack. Marinated in buttermilk and brine, the meat is said to first go through the preparation of sous-vide — a cooking method that seals food in a plastic bag in a water bath for long hours — before it’s deep-fried. As a result, the meat is much juicier and tender, while the skin remains delightfully crispy. It’s accompanied by grilled lemon and roasted garlic. Equally impressive, the grand cru burger (Eieio 漢堡, NT$480) is formed with an eight oz patty of ground prime beef and spiced up with caramelized onion and arugula.

The young waitstaff is adept at helping patrons pick out alcoholic potions from the extensive drink menu, which is composed of high-end beer (NT$220 to NT$650 per bottle) and red and white wine (NT$180 to NT$360 by the glass, NT$900 to NT$2,950 by the bottle) as well as a long list of spirits.

Dolce & Crepes

Address: 31, Ln 330, Songjiang Rd, Taipei (台北市松江路330巷31號)

Telephone: 0910-202-340

Open: From 2:30pm to 8:30pm on Sundays, 9:30am to 8:30pm on other days of the week except Wednesdays. Closed on Wednesdays. Hours are subject to change; a call for confirmation is advised.

Average meal: NT$1,000 plus 10 percent service charge

Details: Menu in Chinese, cash only

A ndrew Huang’s (黃學正) Dolce & Crepes is literally in his home, with his two elementary school-aged daughters often seen doing homework on a round table in the living room that doubles as the dining area, where patrons eagerly await the feast they ordered from the menu scribbled on the wall.

It is under this domestic veneer that Huang works his magic. Using nothing more than the usual pots and pans, he produces dishes of a culinary refinement on a par with that of Taipei’s top fine dining establishments.

Huang’s menu contains only around a dozen dishes, but each is hard to resist. The chocolate duck leg confit (油封鴨腿, NT$380), for example, consists of lean meat cooked to tender perfection and seasoned in an appetizing vinegar-based sauce, while the aroma of cocoa delivers an exciting punch to the meat.

The lamb shoulder stewed with figs and apricots (無花果杏桃燉羊肩, NT$680) is another delicate composition which sees the divine match of fresh figs and succulent lamb exploding in the mouth, smoothened by the sweetness of apricots and sauteed vegetables.

Chinese culinary influences also have a strong presence on Huang’s menu. The Sichuan-style spicy chicken (川麻口水雞, NT$580) and king oyster mushroom (川麻杏鮑菇, NT$580) use various types of Sichuan pepper to create an enticing, tongue-numbing sensation, and the homemade pepper oil and sauce taste so good that it is almost a crime not to lick the bowl clean.