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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.