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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Miramar by Muji

Browsing the Muji website for some ideas for Christmas stocking stuffers I came across Taipei in a Box. I was surprised to find our project, Miramar 美麗華百樂園, was chosen as part of the collection of buildings that represents Taipei.

Below is a picture of Miramar:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Back from the Ball

I just came back from the Ivy Ball in Taipei. It was not an Ivy League only event nor was it a real ball. Nevertheless, I enjoyed hanging out with my fellow Princetonians.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dinner with Robuchon at Robuchon

Chef Joël Robuchon was back in Taipei again, and similar to last year, we made a reservation at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon to meet him and to eat some of the new dishes that he was planning. Given it is the season for white truffle, Robuchon devised a few dishes that were topped with thin slices from a sizable piece. Needless to say, dinner with Robuchon at Robuchon was amazing.

The dinner was also fun as the restaurant was fully booked and there was palpable energy emanating from the kitchen crew and the wait staff. Chef Angelo Aglianò was busy manning the pass and being watched over the shoulder by Robuchon and Chef Eric Bouchenoire and Chef Philippe Braun. Since Antoine Hernandez, the chief sommelier of the Robuchon group, didn't come this time, Benoît Monier was quite busy pouring wines for the different diners. For the wait staff, it was all hands on deck as even the staff from the 3rd floor Salon was present.

Throughout the dinner service Robuchon also went around the restaurant and greeted every guest. When he came by our area of the counter, I asked him with my rudimentary French to sign two of his books that I owned: Simply French: Patricia Wells Presents the Cuisine of Joël Robuchon and The Complete Robuchon. He was happy and probably a bit surprised to see the old book that he did with Patricia Wells. I thought he was just going to quickly sign the books and hand them back to me. Instead he took a little time and wrote two different short messages for the two books. After he finished he asked the wait staff to take the books and keep the signed pages open to ensure the ink dried. Robuchon's attention to this little detail for the care of the guest made me realize why he is such a great and successful chef.

Below is one of the two books that he signed:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Zoca Pizzeria Caffetteria

While I haven't tried every pizzeria in Taipei, I have eaten my share and resigned to the fact that one cannot get a decent pizza in the city. Some of the pizzerias just don't know how to make the dough, producing one that is crunchy instead of chewy. Others either don't have a hot enough oven or don't cook the pizza enough, resulting with a pizza that lacks a crisp and charred dough at the bottom and without a puffy crust (cornicione as the Italians call it). One would think pizza, flatbread with flavorful toppings, should not be so difficult, yet most of the pizzerias in Taipei cannot produce a decent one.

When my wife, Maria, asked me recently to go try another pizzeria, I was initially a bit reluctant. However, she assured me this one, Zoca Pizzeria, would be different and it turned out she was right.

Zoca Pizzeria is located at 臨江街149號 in the Da-an district of Taipei on the ground floor of a nondescript building. Up front there is a small terrace that allows for some semi-outdoor dining. As one walks inside the glass storefront, the first thing one sees is a counter and a display of house-made Italian pastries. Behind the counter is the work space of the pizzaiolo and one of the owners, Federico Zocatelli. Every time I go to the restaurant, Zocatelli is there in front of all the customers stretching the dough into shape, adding the sauce and the toppings, and baking the pizza in the oven next to his worktop. Above the opening to the oven hang two clocks, seven hours apart, one set to Taiwan time and other to Italy, Zocatelli's home country. The rest of the interior of the restaurant is very simple, light yellow painted wall and dark colored wooden chairs and tables. A few pictures of the chef's home town, Verona, seem to hang randomly on the walls. Decor is not the strength of the restaurant.

The main attraction is really the pizza, in fact the menu doesn't offer much else; there is a salad, a soup and a lasagna. There are over 40 different types of pizzas to choose from; some of the differences between the different pizzas are simply an additional ingredient or two. The pizza is usually served not too long after the order is placed. The pizza comes with toppings that are bubbling. The cornicione and the bottom of the crust are nicely charred. We typically order Margherita, Salamino, and Pugliese, all of which are very good. Occasionally we will order a Fagottino, more an open-face calzone than a pizza, which is also quite good. The only ones I tried that I don't like are the pizzas with mascarpone cheese. I prefer the more savory ones.

After the pizza, we always order some desserts, Tiramisu, Millefoglie, Sacher, Torta di Verona, all of which are made by Zocatelli. Sometimes, he even makes baba au ruhms. All the desserts are fairly good: not fancy, simple, and just sweet enough with good flavors. Together with the good espresso, our meals at Zoca always end on a happy note.

So what's not to like about Zoca? Since I am an architect, I wish the interior can be a bit more designed. Some acoustic treatment on the wall or the ceiling will help reduce the noise a bit. The other thing I don't like about Zoca is that there are simply too many choices for the pizzas. I am not sure this amount of variety is really necessary, considering a pizzeria like Da Michele in Naples only serve two types, and Motorino in New York City serves less than ten types.

While there are fancier pizzerias in Taipei, Zoca is the best place I have eaten so far. Until someone shows me a better place in the City, Zoca is where I like to go for pizza.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Taiwan Tower

Sou Fujimoto Architects + Fei & Cheng Associates have won the competition for Taiwan Tower.

Monday, October 10, 2011

It Just Works

With Steve Jobs' passing, it seems everyone has something to say about him and Apple. Therefore, I will share one story as well. I bought an iPad when it first came out and it has become an indispensable device that I use everyday. This is no surprise since I've always liked Apple's products, starting from the Macintosh, especially for their design and ease of use. Steve Jobs once said, "This is what customers pay us for - to sweat all these details so it's easy and pleasant for them to use our computers. We're supposed to be really good at this."

What has surprised me is the iPad is so easy to use that even my two-year old daughter, Ava, can use it. I only have to show Ava a few times and she is able to learn to use the iPad to watch her cartoons. She knows to press the home button to turn on the screen; slide the tab from left to right; press the home button again to see the icons; swipe to find the Videos icon; tap and find the cartoons in preview forms; choose and tap the video; and hit the play tab. Now at three years old, she even knows how to adjust the volume from the screen and hit the small button on the top to turn the iPad off.

Below is a picture of Ava watching Elmo at a friend's wedding banquet in Hong Kong; the iPad allows the parents to eat in peace.

While I like to think of my daughter as really smart, the truth of the matter is the iPad, like many of the products by Apple, just works. It still amazes me that a two-year old can use the iPad by herself. This is really a testimony to Jobs' philosophy about design, as he once said, "Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it's really how it works."

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Abu's Brasserie

My friends have accused me of only going to a handful of restaurants in Taipei and writing too much about L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Therefore, with a meeting in the late afternoon around Shing-Yi Road and Dun-Hwa Road, I decide to go to Abu's Brasserie nearby for dinner with my wife. This is my first time at a restaurant by Chef William Bu 布秋榮. Abu, as he is known, first opened a fancier place in 2009 (I have not been to yet) and then late last year opened the Brasserie, his second and cheaper restaurant.

The Brasserie is located in an alley off Shing-Yi Road. The exterior of the restaurant looks pretty good; I like the playful graphics of the signage. Unfortunately, the interior left much to be desired. The foyer is unnecessarily large for this small restaurants. A glass wine cellar is located to the right of the front door, which would have looked nice except boxes of wine are littered on the floor. Instead of an elegant display of wines it is more like an messy closet. We are seated just to the left of the foyer. The table is too narrow for comfort. The green bread plate took up more than a quarter of the width of the table. Next to our table is a Nuvola Rossa bookshelf by Vico Magistretti which acts as a space divider that is completely unnecessary as it makes the small room look and feel even smaller. The wall behind our table has a wood wainscot without a baseboard. A couple of art pieces are hung in a seemingly random fashion on the walls. The interior design just looks a bit haphazard.

The menu is essentially in three parts: chef menu, set menu, and à la carte. The chef menu seems to be too long, hence we choose to try the set menu as it seems to offer good value with six courses. Some of the courses in the menu have choices and the price of the set menu depends on the choice of the main course.

The restaurant starts us off with some foccacia bread and a strange white sauce. For my first course I order the pork terrine, which is a thin and small slice served on a large plate with a small salad. The plating is quite nice. The flavor of the terrine is satisfactory but the texture is too hard and too chewy. The terrine is also sliced too thinly and stingily. The second course is the mussels, which is quite good with a flavorful broth. The third course is a choice of a small soup and I have the porcini cappucino. I prefer a creamier soup, but it is acceptable. This is followed by the raviolo stuffed with chicken. The pasta is fine but the filling is just too dry; it was not a good dish. My main course is the braised beef cheeks. The meat is cooked well with good flavor. I only wish the sauce is further reduced as it is too thin and more like soup. The last course is the Dessert du Chef, which sounds grand, but is actually a small jar of panna cotta and a mini macaron served on a rectangular tray.  This is less like a dessert course and more like some mignardises. The panna cotta is a little bland and the macaron filling is too hard; both are made worse by the watery coffee. The meal ends in a very unsatisfying manner.

The pacing of the meal is inconsistent. The appetizers come very quickly yet there is a long wait for the main course. The service is also lacking at times, especially at the end of the meal. We wait for a long time for someone to deliver the check to our table. We become impatient and finally decide to just get up and pay at the cashier like we do at a New York diner.

Overall the experience at Abu's Brasserie is so-so. The pricing of the meal seems very reasonable. The cost of the menu I ordered is around NT$1300. Frankly it would have been fine to have one less course or pay a bit more for a real dessert. Will I go back? While I have issues with some of the dishes, the flavor profiles are okay and the restaurant is pleasant enough. So maybe I will go back, but not eagerly.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Recently I downloaded the iPhone app Instagram and it is just a fun program to play with. With careful cropping and the use of filters provided, any photo can take on a dramatic new look. After the image is processed it can then be shared publicly. Through Instagram one can also browse photos from users all over the world.

I have used Instagram to rework some of the images I took a while back with my iPhone. Most of the images are of architecture and below is a sampling.

Beijing Airport by Foster and Partners

Staircase at the Qingdao Grand Theater by GMP

The Atrium at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City

The Sculpture Gallery at New Canaan by Philip Johnson

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 Remembered

Today is the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The New York Times has a section asking readers where they were on that day and another section showing the things that people kept. Instead of posting my responses to the Times' website, I am sharing them here.

On 9/11 I was at 14 Wall Street.

I was working at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. By the time I entered the building from Pine Street and rode the elevator up to the 23rd floor, the two airplanes had already hit the twin towers. At that time I didn't really know what happened. I watched the towers burn from a window on the 25th floor of our office. When the towers collapsed, our building shook as if there was an earthquake. Together with others we walked down the fire stairs and waited inside the Equinox gym on the ground floor. It was only then with the televisions above the treadmills that I learned what happened before I stepped into the office.

That day I stayed at the gym until around 4:30pm. I decided to leave when someone said there were buses to take people uptown on Broadway. When I stepped out of the building onto Wall Street, the sidewalk was completely covered in a thick layer of dust, like a sandbox in a playground. As I looked towards Broadway the sky was dark. I didn't think it was possible there would be any buses so instead I turned east and walked towards the East River. As I got closer to the river it was eerie to find a perfectly clear sky as if it was a normal day.

I ended up walking home like everyone else and what I kept are the pair of shoes that I wore on 9/11.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Taipei: À La Carte

Fifteen minutes before the time of our reservation at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Taipei, my friend calls me and says he is stuck in traffic and running late. He says he still needs to go home and change since he is in shorts and t-shirt. Knowing my friend, it is not some fashionable shorts. My friend asks if L'Atelier will mind if he shows up as is, because if he doesn't have to go home he can conceivably show up on time. I reply that I don't think they have a dress code. While you may be the first person to show up in athletic shorts and Kristene at the door may have a good laugh, but she probably won't refuse to seat you. Why don't you just come. We will be sitting at the bar and perhaps not too many people will notice. Five minutes past the reserved time, sure enough my friend shows up looking like he'd just come from the gym.

While my friend is severely under dressed, just about all the other patrons in the restaurant are dressed casually; I don't remember seeing anyone with a jacket, though it is 30-plus degrees Celsius outside. L'Atelier is not a formal place but the food served over the counter is expertly prepared and very refined. Herein lies the great thing about L'Atelier: it is fine dining in a convivial setting without the formalities.

In my recent meals at L'Atelier I tend to order from the various set menus, which provide good values and a set sequence. However, the set menu provides only a limited number of choices for each course. For this meal, I want to order à la carte. In a certain way we are following the original intent of L'Atelier, which is modeled after the tapas bar where one can construct a meal in any manner that one likes.

Chef Angelo Aglianò starts us off with a Robuchon classic, Le Caviar Oscietra, which consists of layers of crab meat, lobster jelly, and caviar served in a tin. This is actually the first time I am eating this wonderful concoction; just delicious and a dish, actually a tin, that makes one smile in both presentation and taste. After this course, my friend and I go off on different paths.

I order another classic dish, the langoustine carpaccio, translucent slices arranged in a thin disk shape topped with roasted poppy seeds. This is as good as I remember it from the last time I had it, which was over a year and a half ago. I follow up with a fried polenta-coated soft-boiled egg topped with caviar and placed on a small bed of lettuce with smoked salmon on the side; a beautiful dish with seductive combination of colors, shapes, textures and flavors. I then order the risotto with sea urchin and tomato confit. As always the risotto is cooked wonderfully al dente and all'onda. My last savory course of the night is a tête de veau with the combination of veal cheeks and tongue. The garnishes are arranged as a red circular line around the meat, almost like an art piece. This is served with the classic pairing of ravigote sauce. I just love this dish. The ability to cook offal is actually the true test of the chef's skills.

My friend selects the crispy frog legs which were beautifully fried into a golden color. He follows it with some Hokkaido scallops served in the shell. When this dish is served my friend offers to let me try one of scallops. Before I have a chance to stick my fork in his dish he finishes all of them. I assume it is very good. My friend then veers into his beef mood as he orders the burger with fries follow by the Kobe beef. I wouldn't have ordered two consecutive beef courses myself, but there are no rules at L'Atelier.

It is clear that Chef Aglianò has the kitchen crew operating at a high level. We order a variety of dishes that require a wide array of techniques, ranging from raw seafood, risotto, burger to offal, and everything is expertly prepared.

As usual I ask the sommelier Benoît Monier to pick a wine for us. He always asks me what do I want to drink and stresses that it is more important to drink something we like instead of worrying too much about pairing wine to food. I tell him I am in the mood for some white wine and he picks out a nice Meursault for us.

After finishing the wine we order desserts. My friend chooses the dessert of the day while I go with a classic: Crepe Suzette, a dish that was invented in the late nineteenth century. I haven't had this dish in a long time and it is nice to see it on the dessert menu. Grendy, the manager, set the alcohol on fire at the counter side and pours it on top of the cooked crepe. Not too many restaurants do this dish anymore. For me this dish always conjures up images of a very serious waiter in a very formal but old fashioned restaurant. Here we are in 2011, the dish is still delicious and a dramatic way to end a meal, yet we no longer feel constrained by the rules and formality of an old way of dining.

After we finish our coffees and macarons, Benoît treats us to some Chartreuse to end the night. As my friend and I comment on the alcohol level of the liqueur, Benoit jokes what do you expect from reclusive monks. We all have a good laugh, which is really one of many we share throughout the night. As I get up from my seat to leave the restaurant, I cannot help but smile and think how enjoyable and fun the night is. It really doesn't matter that my friend looks like a gym rat. What matters is eating delicious food, being in a friendly ambiance, and having a great time.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


While I wait for clients to pay my fee, I figure I make some "bullion" for myself first; actually financiers, little rectangular cakes that resembles gold bars.

Ever since I bought a so-so financier from my local bakery a while back, I have wanted to make some. I kept thinking that I must be able to make it a little better. Recently I bought some rectangular financier molds and got to work. Financier is a little more difficult to make than madeleine because the recipe for financier requires making some beurre noisette. However besides the butter, the recipe is quite minimal: just some sugar, almond powder, flour, and egg white. The large quantities of egg whites required make the financier a good dessert to do when one makes other desserts like pots de crème which requires a large amount of egg yolks.

The time required in the oven is around the same as madeleine. The cakes are done when they crown and are springy to the touch.

The financier is a rich cake, ideal with coffee and as a little snack in the afternoon or as petit four after dinner. Even without the money from the clients, at least I feel more well off after eating some financiers.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Del Posto

Since Del Posto opened in 2005 I have tried the restaurant several times. Frankly I never had a great meal as there was always something that wasn't right. In 2009 my sentiments were echoed by the Michelin Guide, which downgraded the restaurant from 2 stars to 1 for its 2010 guide. The lost of a Michelin star shook up the restaurant. In an effort to regain the star, the owners decided to reduce the number of tables and invest more on quality. Their efforts paid off when in the fall of 2010, The New York Times gave the restaurant four stars, making it one of the top six restaurants and the only Italian restaurant in the City with that distinction. Clearly Del Posto has changed and is worth another try.

Del Posto is located on the corner of 16th Street and Tenth Avenue near The High Line (the City's latest landmark), thus an ideal place for lunch before or after the visit to the new park. Besides the location, Del Posto offers a great deal for lunch: a three-course menu for $29. Del Posto has now replaced Jean Georges as the cheapest place to get a four-star meal.

I made the reservation after getting assurance from the restaurant that I could bring our two kids and they would make some simple pasta for them. When I walked in the restaurant, the decor hasn't changed and the piano player is still there, but I could sense it was a bit more spacious with less tables.

The restaurant started us off with a trio of amuse-bouches: small sandwich, speck with sauerkraut, and a shot of tomato soup. Our server then brought a bread basket accompanied by very good butter and even better house-cured lardo.

Instead of asking the kitchen cook a simple pasta for the kids, I actually ordered the Garganelli Verdi al Ragu Bolognese on the menu for them to share. Both kids ate the pasta silently, which is usually the sign of a very good pasta. I tried one bite of the pasta and it was indeed excellent. After the kids finished their pasta they played with my two iPads, which have the magical ability to keep them quiet through the rest of my lunch.

I started with the Cotechino and chose the sliced duck breast as my main course. My dessert was the chocolate tartuffo. My wife, Maria, went with the Primavera della Terra salad followed by the wild salmon. Her dessert was macerated strawberries with gelato. I won't go into details about the dishes except to say all of them were wonderful.

With our coffees the restaurant brought out mignardises that included some great bombolini. On our way out, we were given more chocolates to take home.

At Del Posto the food was great and the service was professional and friendly. It is definitely a much better restaurant than I remembered. I still don't really like the decor and I cannot tell whether or not the piano player has improved. Nevertheless, Del Posto is now a great restaurant and the lunch is a fantastic deal.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Al di Là Trattoria

When we visited our good friends and their kids in Park Slope, Brooklyn, we decided to stay in the neighborhood for dinner. I have always wanted to try Al di Là Trattoria in Park Slope since I saw Chef Anna Klinger featured on Mark Bittman's book and TV show, as well as the glowing 2-star review from The New York Times. Al di Là, which means "beyond", doesn't take reservations except for a few tables for parties of 6 or more, hence our two families made one for the first seating at the early bird hour of 5:45pm on a Saturday.

I arrived at the restaurant first by myself five minutes before our reservation. When I walked pass the front door, I found the restaurant to be almost fully occupied already, except for a table for two and our reserved table for 8. The host greeted me and asked if my party is all present. I said no and the host refused to seat me at the table and even suggested that I wait outside in the heat. Frankly, I didn't see why I couldn't be seated at the reserved and empty table. I understand the policy of not seating incomplete parties later in the evening as there is no reservation at the restaurant and often a long wait for the tables. However, it didn't make sense when my reservation was the first seating of the night. It is puzzling why the restaurant cannot be more hospitable to someone who came a long way and made the reservation three weeks in advance.

The rest of my party arrived shortly after the reserved time and the host finally agreed to seat us. We were a party of four adults and four kids. My friends who live in Park Slope told me that it is a super child-friendly neighborhood and the restaurants all welcome kids. Given that two of the kids in our party are still small and typically sit and eat better in high chairs, we asked the waiter for a couple of them. To my surprise, the restaurant only has one high chair and it was already being used by another kid. Maybe the restaurant is not as child-friendly as my friends purported it to be.

For my kids I ordered a Tagliatelle al Ragù which was so-so. For myself, I started with the Trippa alla Toscana that was slimy but too spicy. This was followed by the Tortelli di Piselli, homemade ravioli filled with spring peas, butter, mint, and Pecorino. The pasta was mushy and the dish was a bit under seasoned and tasted a bit bland. I didn't finish either of my two dishes and we all skipped dessert and went home.

Al di Là was a disappointment. It certainly did not go beyond the expectations, rather quite the opposite. Maybe the restaurant had an off-night or perhaps the standards have slipped after so many years; the restaurant opened in 1988. Given that Al di Là does not take reservations for small parties and the food is only so-so, the restaurant only makes sense for people who live in the neighborhood. In comparison, a few days before our meal at Al di Là, we ate at Osteria Morini in SoHo. The food there was simply better, for instance, the Tagliatelle al Ragù was more satisfying both in terms of flavor and texture and it was only $1.50 more. The restaurant in SoHo not only takes reservations but even have more high chairs. In short, I cannot see a reason why I will ever go back to Al di Là.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

New York Eats 2011

Recently we spent a few weeks back in New York City. Similar to last year, one of the main activities I did was to eat. With the limited amount of time, I went to a few of my favorites: Jean Georges, Daniel, and Per Se; revisited Del Posto and Eleven Madison Park and found both restaurants have improved; ventured into the outer boroughs with a great lunch at M.Wells in Queens and a disappointing dinner at al di la in Brooklyn; tried a few new places: Michael White's Ai Fiori and Osteria Morini, Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster, Jonathan Benno's Lincoln Ristorante, Mario Batali's Eataly, Danny Meyer's Maialino and Untitled, and Angelo Sosa's Social Eatz.

Below are the places I went:

View New York Eats 2011 in a larger map

Monday, June 13, 2011

Danny and Company

A good friend of mine wanted to try Danny and Company and asked me to join him. The restaurant is located in an alley between Si Wei Road and Da An Road. The public space in the restaurant is essentially divided into two parts, table seating on the inside and teppanyaki bar up front. My friend insisted that we book seats at the bar because he heard the food and the experience are better.

For dinner at the teppanyaki bar there are only three seven-course tasting menus with prices at NT$3,000, NT$4,000, and NT$4,800. I went with the middle one since I liked the items on that menu.

The restaurant started us off with an amuse bouche and one warm bread on the side. Then came the seared crab cake followed by seafood consomme. I would have preferred some acidity with the crab cake. Nevertheless all four items were fine, but nothing to really write home about. Seared foie gras was next on the menu and this was the first dish cooked at the teppanyaki bar. The foie was cooked well, but the presentation was a bit too fussy. I didn't see the need for the chef to drizzle olive oil on top with a small squeeze bottle. Also, the caramelized apple below the foie was a little too sweet. It would have also been better if the plate was warm.

The fish course was a poached small fillet of snapper. Instead of using a pot, the chef used a transparent oven bag tied up with a string. I wasn't sure if the oven bag helps with the cooking at all; it seemed more like a gimmick. Furthermore, I wondered about the safety of using the oven bag on the teppan. The chef claimed the oven bag can withstand a heat of over 200-degree Celsius, but it seemed to me the teppan was probably over 200 degrees already. Maybe the chef placed the bag on a cooler part of the teppan, but frankly I wasn't all that comfortable. Nevertheless, the fish was well cooked. The sauce on the other hand was a bit too sweet and not terribly interesting.  

After the fish we were served what was essentially a Caprese salad. This was a bit too simple and almost in a home cook kind of way. The flavors were only so-so and it was strange in terms of the sequence in the tasting menu.

The final savory course was a duo of beef, top sirloin cap and wagyu New York Strip, cooked on the teppan. Chef Danny personally cooked the steaks for us; this was actually the only dish that he cooked. He has often been referred by many blogs and publications in Taiwan as the "godfather of steak." I must say, Chef Danny did not disappoint as the steaks were well cooked to the desired temperature. Unlike the other hot courses, the plates that the steaks were served on were actually warm. I only wish the portions of the steaks were bigger. As I finished the steaks I also asked myself why bother with the other items on the tasting menu? We might as well just order the steak next time.

A plate of grilled vegetables were served on the side after we finished the steaks. They seemed like an after thought, and were bland and not very good; I didn't finish them.

I read on various blogs that some customers get an extra course of pasta or rice after the meat course. We didn't. I suppose Chef Danny wasn't that fond of us; then again, he only saw us for one course out of the whole meal. Frankly it was just as well since eating pasta after the meat course would have been awkward anyway. Moreover, we were actually quite full.

For dessert I ordered a molten chocolate cake, which was nicely executed with good flavors, but not terribly exciting.

While we were seated at the teppanyaki bar, only three of the seven items were cooked at the bar in front of us. The rest were done in the back kitchen. Therefore, I am not sure how much difference there really is between sitting at the bar or at the table.

The dishes at Danny and Company were fine. The ingredients were good and were well executed. However they were a bit too simple and too expensive. Let's consider the cost. The menu we had was NT$4000 + 10% service charge. NT$4400 is the equivalent of a US$122 menu in NYC (assuming a 15% tip plus sales tax). For US$122 one can have the 7-course tasting menu (US$115) at Adour by Alain Ducasse or the 4-course prix fixe menu (US$115) at the three-Michelin star Le Bernardin. Danny and Company's food is not at the level of Ducasse or Eric Ripert, yet Danny charges like them.

The saving grace for the overpriced meal was the cost of the wine. For our dinner, I ordered a bottle of 2004 Château Montrose. The restaurant charges NT$3,600, which is around 1.5 times the retail price. Besides the price, the wine was also very good.

Overall it was an enjoyable experience, however, I will only go back if someone else is paying.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Interview with Ralph Lerner

Recently I was informed that Ralph Lerner died on May 7, 2011 after a battle with cancer. I was very sad to learn the news. Ralph was the Dean of the School of Architecture at Princeton University when I was there as an undergraduate. While Ralph was a practicing architect, I knew him mostly as a great educator. He was always very supportive of my projects in reviews. Eleven years ago, I interviewed Ralph for Dialogue magazine on the School at Princeton. I have reformatted the interview and posted it online as a page in my blog.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

135°F Beef Tenderloin

After experimenting with fish, it was time to try cooking beef sous vide. As Thomas Keller said, "Cooking meat may represent the pinnacle of sous vide technique; it's a category where sous vide really soars". With this first try I thought I'd use a more tender cut of meat that requires less cooking time. I found a recipe by Jean Georges Vongerichten on Food & Wine magazine. The recipe calls for the beef to be marinated for two hours prior to cooking. Afterwards I sealed the meat in individual bags and warmed up the water bath.

The cooking temperature was set at 135°F, or around 57°C and the cooking time was 45 minutes.

The results were extraordinary. Unlike the traditional technique of roasting where often times the exterior of the meat is well done while the center is rare, with sous vide the entire piece of meat can be cooked to the precise temperature. Since we still want a seared exterior from high heat, after taking the meat out of the bag, it was pan fried very quickly in a sauté pan. Following a short rest the meat was served and it was very tender and juicy.

There is no doubt that sous vide is an excellent way to cook meat. The only question now is whether I will go back to the traditional way of using high heat to roast meat. The short answer is probably not.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Taipei MRT Signage

The MRT in Taipei is one of the great things about the city. The subway is clean, fast and efficient. All the stations have public restrooms, which is unimaginable for subway stations in New York. However, the signage system for the restrooms in Taipei's subway station is ridiculous and hideous.

Below is a picture of a restroom in a MRT station. For now, let's leave aside the design of the translucent screen and the potted plants, and just focus on the signs. For this little men's restroom, there is a total of 5 signs on the walls, plus one hanging off the ceiling not too far from where I took the picture. While Taiwan probably has the highest percentage of people with myopia, there is absolutely no need to plaster every surface with signs. Furthermore, why bother designing the walls when the signage contractor will "decorate" them anyway?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

122°F Salmon

Reading about sous vide on the internet, it seems the easiest thing to cook is salmon. Therefore, that's what I decided to do. I used a cooking temperature of 122°F (50°C), based on a recipe I found. Some people such as Heston Blumenthal, Joan Roca, and Nathan Myhrvold use lower temperatures. I didn't because I was afraid my wife and kids will find the fish to be too rare.

I always like to get my two kids to be involved with the cooking. Often times, when the kids help make the food, they tend to want to eat it. With sous vide, since the temperature is low and there is no fire, the kids can actually be more involved: press the button to seal the bag, put the fish in the bag, press to seal and vacuum the bag, and drop the bag into the tub with warm water.

The salmon took around 12 minutes to cook in the water bath.

For the salmon I simply used some salt and pepper. Since I don't have a chamber vacuum sealer, I didn't want to add any liquid, such as olive oil, which would require the additional step of freezing the oil first.

The result of the salmon cooked sous vide was very good. I used to pan fry, steam, bake, and poach salmon fillet. With sous vide, the result is definitely different. First of all, the color of the cooked fillet looked raw. However, the fish was definitely cooked evenly throughout, which produced a soft and succulent texture. The texture is actually closer to smoked salmon. The flavor was very good and certainly more intense.

My two-year old happily ate the fish. I am not sure if it is because she helped with the cooking or because she actually likes salmon. Nevertheless, I cannot help but wonder if she gets accustomed to eating salmon cooked precisely by sous vide, will the texture and taste produced become her standard.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Quote | Future

With my eyes turned to the past, I walk backwards into the future.

- Yohji Yamamoto on his approach to design.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Modernist Cuisine

I cannot remember when I first heard about Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine, but since late last year I have been casually reading Modernist Cuisine's blog. I finally decided to pre-order the books on in the middle of February; one of the few times I purchased an expensive item without seeing it first in person. The books arrived in Taipei on April 11 via UPS.

Typically when I order books from to be delivered to Taipei, I don't have to pay import duty, as the costs of the books are usually small. With Modernist Cuisine, I was actually charged with a little tax, hence the orange C.O.D. sticker on the box in the above image. UPS said the shipment was too big and it didn't help the list price of the book was shown clearly on the box.

While the weight of the books is over 40 pounds, they were packaged extremely well for the shipment. With several layers of boxes, the books arrived in pristine conditions.

There are a total of six books with over two thousand pages. So far I have managed to just flipped through all of them and read a few parts.

Anyone interested should look through Modernist Cuisine's very informative website. I won't go into the details about the books except to say they are just stunning.

I will enjoy this set of books for years to come. For now, I cannot help but just marvel at this extraordinary achievement.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Arbitrage: Jean Paul Hevin Macarons

Jean Paul Hevin recently opened a boutique in Taipei. I was quite excited about it until I read on the news that a single macaron is priced at NT$138. I don't know who came up with the pricing, but that is just ridiculous.

A macaron at the Jean Paul Hevin boutique in Hong Kong costs less than NT$75 (HK$20). Below is a box of six macarons I recently purchased at the IFC branch, and they were delicious.

There is no reason the price in Taipei needs to be almost double the price in Hong Kong. I am tired of shops coming to Taipei and treating the people here like suckers.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Forchetta: Stick a Fork in It

Recently a few of my friends held a birthday dinner at Forchetta (叉子餐廳), an "Italian" restaurant in Da-an district of Taipei. Though I have never been to the restaurant, I heard good things about the place from some friends. Hence, I was actually looking forward to trying it. Unfortunately, after the dinner I don't think I will go back again.

The dinner started with a soup that was lukewarm with flavors that were okay. However, the soup contained a small but whole lobster tail. Since I didn't want to be seen chewing off the lobster with my hand, I had to use a knife to cut it up. This must be the first time I ever used a knife to eat a soup. My feeling is the chef didn't want to cut up the lobster, he was afraid his customers wouldn't notice the ingredients that he was using if he did. The soup shows the chef doesn't think about how his customer will eat the food. The soup was also a sign that the chef cared too much about perception and was self-indulgent. It was not a good start.

The second course was a ravioli with a piece of abalone on top, served with a gorgonzola cheese sauce. The pasta was gummy, the abalone was rubbery, and the cheese overpowered everything. There are good reasons why most of the time Italians don't put any cheese on their seafood, and even when they do, it is not with a strong blue cheese. In this case, I just don't understand what the concept was behind the dish.

A sorbet was then served in a Chinese teapot filled with dry ice. It was a bit gimmicky, especially considering the size of the teapot in relation to the portion size of the sorbet. The presentation reminded me of the mango pudding dessert served by Yuji Wakiya at the defunct Wakiya restaurant in New York City.

My main course was a braised wagyu beef cheek, which lacked flavor. Different vegetables were served individually around the perimeter of the plate. One of them was a baby corn served in the husk. It didn't look good and didn't have much taste. The plating of the vegetables suggested the chef was looking for refinement, but didn't succeed. He should have started by serving tomatoes that are peeled.

After the main course, they served us some pasta with Chinese pickled cabbage and chicken. I was told this is the restaurant's signature dish. Having the pasta after the main course was another first for me. It was just weird; if the idea is to serve things in reverse, we might as well had the soup at the end like a Chinese meal. I didn't quite understand the pasta dish either. The pickled cabbage and chicken didn't do much for the pasta itself.

For dessert, my friends brought in cakes from an outside pastry store. The restaurant served the birthday cakes on paper plates with plastic forks. This was unfortunate, as people in Taiwan would say, "no fu." If one brings a wine from the outside, no restaurant would serve it in plastic cups. I just don't get it.

From what I gathered from many blogs, the restaurant has changed quite a bit from its early days. Rather than cooking simple dishes well, now it seems the chef is just trying to be "creative." The ingredients may be organic but the cooking wasn't. It doesn't feel like an evolution from his own career. Instead the dishes are reminiscent of other places, yet with flavor profiles and presentations that don't quite make sense. The dinner was not fusion, but confusion.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Precast Concrete Panels

I visited the construction site of my project in 中和市 a couple of days ago. The construction crew from Ruentex Group was in the process of installing the precast concrete panels.

There are two types of concrete panels on this project: bush hammered and image.

I have always liked the bush hammered finish, which provides the building with visual and tactile textures, like the fluting on a classical column. This type of finish was often used by Paul Rudolph on his buildings, the Art and Architecture Building at Yale, completed in 1963, is probably the most famous example. Bush hammered concrete seems to have gone out of fashion with the brutalist architectural style; recently people are more interested in the smooth finish of bare concrete. Hopefully, with this project there will be some renewed interests in bush hammered finish, as well as the architecture of the 60's and 70's; what's old may be new again.

The other type of panel is a newer type of finish. With the current technology, any image can be transferred on to the surface of the concrete. In our case this is done by casting the surface of the concrete with a computer-carved mold, which has grooves of varying depth and width. We are using an image of trees, which is meant to relate to the adjacent park. The image panels are conceived as an oversize frieze.

The building is scheduled to be completed by the end of the summer.  

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Popover with Apricot Jam

Whenever I want to make a last-minute dessert, I often turn to Jacques Pépin's Popover with Apricot Jam. The ingredients required for the dessert are usually found in my kitchen.

The dessert is quite simple to make: melt 3 tablespoon of butter in an oven-proof non-stick pan; mix half cup of flour with 2 tablespoon of sugar and a pinch of salt; then whisk in 2 eggs, half cup of milk, and 1/4 cup of sour cream (when I don't have it, I substitute with some yogurt); mix in the melted butter; pour the smooth batter back into the pan and bake at 400 degree F for around 20 minutes.

When the popover is done, warm some apricot jam in the microwave. Use a little cognac or some water (if the kids are eating) to thin the jam and spread onto the popover.

To make it look a bit fancier, I dust a bit of powdered sugar around the rim. Slice, serve and eat.

A warm and satisfying dessert, especially on a busy weekday.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Monocle Subscription

From time to time, I would buy an issue of Monocle magazine to read. I enjoy reading the stories and, besides, I like the look and the physical feel of the magazine. Recently I decided to purchase a one-year subscription, which is ten issues for £75. The great thing about Monocle is it doesn't matter where one lives in the world, the subscription rate is the same. Tyler Brûlé, the founder of Monocle, said, "We didn't think you should be penalized because of where you live.”

In certain parts of the world, unlike a typical magazine, it is actually more expensive to subscribe to Monocle than to purchase the issues at the newsstand. For instance, in London, the subscription cost per issue is £7.5 versus the newsstand price of £5; in the U.S., the subscription cost per issue is around US$12 while the newsstand price is US$10. Fortunately, in Taipei, the situation is reversed, where a subscription cost per issue is around NT$350 and the newsstand price is NT$550. Since I am always looking for opportunities to "save" money, I signed up and spent £75.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

147.2°F Eggs

For my first attempt at sous vide cooking, I used Thomas Keller's recipe of Soft-Boiled Egg with Toasted Brioche and Bacon Marmalade in the booklet that came with the equipment. Technically, eggs are actually not cooked sous vide since they come with their own shells and don't need to be vacuum packed.

The recipe calls for cold eggs to be cooked in a water bath at the temperature of 147.2°F or 64°C for one hour. The circulator is very precise as it maintains the cooking temperature with ± 0.2°F stability.

While the eggs were cooking, I made the bacon marmalade: pan-fried minced bacon with blanched diced onions, cooked in a mixture of reduced vinegar and honey. I also toasted a store brought brioche.

I took the eggs out of the water after an hour. I cracked the shells open on one end and slipped the eggs out into a small bowl. Then with a large spoon the eggs were transferred very gently onto a plate. I also tried to make a quenelle of the marmalade and placed it next to the eggs.

The egg white is soft but relatively firm. The yolk is set yet very creamy.

The precision and consistency provided by the immersion circulator is really quite amazing. The blog, Cooking Issues, actually has a chart showing the results of eggs cooked at different temperatures. Now I understand why chefs are so enamored with sous vide cooking.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Arbitrage: Le Beurre Bordier

Ever since my lunch at Caprice in Hong Kong, where they use Bordier butter for the bread service, I have been wanting to buy some to use at home. The butter by Jean-Yves Bordier is often considered to be the best. The butter is made from organic cream of grass-fed cows, folded and tempered by handheld wooden paddles.

Just out of curiosity I did a google search and, to my surprise, it is actually available in Taiwan via 博客來. Unfortunately, the price is ridiculously high: NT$235 for 125g of butter.

In Hong Kong one can buy 250g of Bordier butter for HK$58, in other words, roughly NT$110 for 125g; less than half of what it costs in Taiwan. Of course it is still the cheapest to buy the butter in France, where the price for 125g is around 1.8 euro or NT$73.

I love Le beurre Bordier, but I cannot justify paying more than three times the price in Paris or double the price in Hong Kong. So, no gourmet butter for me anytime soon.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lung King Heen 龍景軒

Lung King Heen 龍景軒 in Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong is the first Chinese restaurant to be awarded three stars by the Michelin guide. Ever since then there has been endless debates on whether the restaurant deserves the ultimate distinction. In a certain way, it doesn't really matter. If Michelin says it is three-star then it is; after all it is Michelin's stars anyway.

Nevertheless, all the chatter on the web certainly piqued my interest. When we visited Hong Kong recently, Maria and I went for lunch with our two young kids. Normally when we go to a fancy restaurant, we leave the kids at home. However, on Lung King Heen's website, it said, "Lung King Heen is delighted to welcome families with children aged 3 and above." I was too happy to oblige and this would be our kids first three-star experience.

The restaurant is located on the fourth floor of the hotel. The room is nicely designed with tables and chairs nicely spaced; a very comfortable environment. We were seated at a table adjacent to a silk clad column, near the window with a fantastic view of Kowloon.

We had a starter of barbecued suckling pig and roast pork; both were excellent. The rest of the lunch, we mostly ordered off the dim sum menu, that included baked turnip puff, baked abalone with diced chicken puff, steamed rice roll with lobster, steam shrimp dumpling, and crispy spring roll. Every dish was very refined, well executed, and simply delicious.

The service was not only impeccable but also friendly and relaxed.

Lung King Heen is the first kid-friendly Michelin three-star restaurant that I have been to. It is such a treat for a young family to enjoy a high quality meal together. In a certain way, this befits the Chinese culture, where dining is often a family affair and about sharing and eating together. Unlike fancy French restaurants, where one often don't see kids, or one has to ask the kitchen to do something simple. At Lung King Heen, we didn't even have to order anything off the menu for the kids. They thoroughly enjoyed their wonton shrimp noodle soup, the stir-fried vegetable, as well as the roast pork.

We finished the meal with two desserts that we all shared. The server also brought out a plate of mignardises, which our kids probably ate more than us. Below is Ava enjoying her share:

The meal at Lung King Heen was not cheap, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, especially as a family. Frankly, I have no problem with Michelin's rating. It was delicious and extremely pleasant.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sous Vide: The Pressure Starts

Ever since I bought Thomas Keller's Under Pressure a few years ago, I wanted to try some of the recipes in the book. However, cooking sous vide requires buying some new equipment that were either very expensive or not readily available to the average consumer. Recently, PolyScience came out with an immersion circulator that is sold at Williams-Sonoma; the store also sells an accompanying vacuum sealer. With the new tools in hand, I am finally ready to do some low-temperature cooking.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Battle Egg Tarts

Before I went to Hong Kong, I read that there are two places to go for egg tarts: Tai Cheong Bakery 泰昌餅家 and Honolulu Coffee Shop 檀島咖啡餅店. Since the two stores make their egg tarts differently, some people prefer one over the other. When I did a quick survey amongst my friends who are familiar with Hong Kong, the verdict was split. Therefore, I decided to visit both places and to see which egg tart reigns supreme.

The two stores are located a few blocks from each other: Tai Cheong is at 35 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central 中環擺花街35號 and Honolulu Coffee Shop is at 33 Stanley St, Central 中環士丹利街33號

View Hong Kong Eats 2010 in a larger map

Tai Cheong is a just a bakery store without any seating and there always seem to be a line out the door. It is not a long wait, less than ten minutes or so.

Unlike the traditional egg tart, Tai Cheong uses a shortcrust pastry as the shell. The unique butter cookie-like crust provides more contrast in texture to the soft filling. We bought half a dozen to sample back at the hotel and they were really good.

Since Honolulu Coffee Shop has seating, we simply went and ordered some egg tarts with a few milk teas. The egg tarts here are made more in the traditional method with Chinese puff pastry.

The egg tarts are also really good. The puff pastry is light and crispy and the custard is creamy. They were just delicious.

So which one did I like better? I am going to cop out and say I like both. I can't decide.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dinner with Chef Angelo Aglianò

When my brother and sister-in-law came back to visit from the U.S. in early January, we decided to treat them to dinner at my favorite and, in my opinion, the best western restaurant in town: L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Taipei. This would be our first dinner with the new chef, Angelo Aglianò, who took over from Chef Yosuke Suga late last year. Chef Aglianò has made some changes to the menu and I was eager to try some new dishes. In short, the kitchen was firing on all cylinders and the dinner was amazing.

Since we were a party of six, the restaurant preferred that we pre-order to facilitate the service. As with before, instead of the six of us picking individual dishes, I asked the chef to just cook for us; we would all have the same menu. This time, a couple in my party had some diet restrictions - no raw seafood and no crab. Unlike before, we sat at a table instead of at the bar as a couple in my party insisted. It is true that with a party of six, it is easier to have conversations sitting across each other than spread out along the bar. However, one is a bit detached from the actions in the kitchen.

For this blog entry I actually have pictures of some of the dishes we had. The pictures were all taken by my sister-in-law with her iPhone. While she took pictures of all the dishes, some of them didn't turn out too well due to the low lighting conditions.

The Chef started us off with an amuse-bouche of a mousse topped with nuts and mushroom signaling the arrival of winter in Taipei. There was also the excellent bread basket that I always enjoy.

The first course consisted of three things: a small salad, caviar topped with gold leaf, and a scallop. The scallop was beautifully seared with a nice caramelized outer surface. The sweetness of the scallop paired well with the saltiness of the caviar, and the salad provided a bit of contrast.

As with my previous visit, I asked the sommelier Benoît Monier to pick the wine for us. It is always fun to talk to Benoît and learn a bit more about wines. This time I found that his Chinese vocabulary has increased dramatically; I am afraid pretty soon, his Chinese is going to be better than my French.

The second course was a risotto with saffron topped with some red shrimps and fresh herbs. First of all it was a visually attractive dish with vibrant colors of yellow, red, and green. The rice was not only cooked to the proper chewy texture but with the creamy consistency that is all'ongda.

The fish course was a filet of amadai that was perfectly cooked with crispy scaled skin. Instead of serving the fish in a yuzu and lily bulb broth as Chef Suga used to do, Chef Aglianò served the fillet with a light mint sauce and pea purée. I must say I like both versions equally. The scales gives the dish a nice crunch. Benoît joked the dish was a play on the English fish and chip with mint peas.

The meat course for the night was a free range chapon from Landes. A chapon is a castrated rooster which is more tender and flavorful. The chapon was prepared as a ballotine stuffed with dates confit and candied chestnuts, served with a light sauce, vegetables, and a small herb salad on the plate, and the famous mashed potato, this time with truffle shavings, on the side. It was simply a delicious and elegant dish with great flavors; a dish not often seen anymore. As my brother said, the dish shows the chef has great fundamental techniques and he cooks with finesse. It was just a pleasure to eat the dish.

After the main course, a pre-dessert of grape sorbet with grappa flavored mousse and jelly was served. 

The dessert was a molten chocolate cake with coffee mousse and milk ice cream. As always the dessert is an architectural composition of different rounded shapes with contrasting flavors, textures, and temperatures. The chocolate tuile and different nuts provided nice accents to the dish. It was a beautiful dish, extremely satisfying for a chocolate lover like me.

As usual the dinner ended with a macaron and for me a double espresso. 

The service, led by Vincent Hsu, the manager, was impeccable and relaxed. The courses were also well paced. 

Every course of the dinner was excellent. All of us were extremely happy with this memorable meal. Before we left we chatted briefly with Chef Aglianò, who is just a very warm and engaging person; his personality and generosity really come through with his dishes. I hope to go back as often as I can.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Arbitrage: Lawry's

Recently good friends of ours treated us to Lawry's Taipei. It was actually my first time in a Lawry's. I followed my friends' suggestion and ordered the 7.5 oz English Cut: three thin slices of roast beef served with a salad, mashed potato and Yorkshire pudding. I quite enjoyed the roast beef, which was prepared simply and served without much fanfare. According to my friend, the quality of the meat in Lawry's Taipei is not too far off from the branch in Los Angeles.

While I can't compare the restaurants in terms of taste, I can play a little game of arbitrage and compare the prices. In the U.S., the English Cut is US$34, and adding the sales tax and the service charge, the total cost is around US$43 or around NT$1270. In Taipei, the total cost of the same dish, including 10% service charge, is NT$1650; quite a premium. At least the cost is about the same as the branch in Hong Kong, where the English Cut is HK$451 (410 plus 10% service charge) or around NT$1680.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Hong Kong Eats 2010

With Vera off from school between Christmas and New Year, we decided to take a short vacation to Hong Kong. For the kids it was a chance to visit Disneyland for the first time, and for me, an opportunity to do a little shopping and some eating.

Since we only spent three nights in Hong Kong, the numbers of meals were limited; one of these meals was spent at the food court at Disneyland. Nevertheless, I still tried to visit a range of places: expensive and cheap, old and new, western and Cantonese, and Hong Kong and Kowloon. For breakfast, we tried 黃枝記粥麵店 Wong Chi Kei, 翠華 Tsui Wah Restaurant, and 中國會 China Club. For the three lunches, we went to 龍景軒 Lung King Heen, 鏞記 Yung Kee, and Caprice. For the two dinners, we were at 國金軒 Cuisine Cuisine at the Mira, and 生記海鮮飯店 Sang Kee. In between the main meals, we made visits to 檀島咖啡餅店 Honolulu Coffee Shop and 泰昌餅店 Tai Cheong Bakery to compare the egg tarts, and to Sevva for some after dinner desserts and tea.

Below are the places we went with kids in tow on a map:

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