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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.