Tag Archives: food

Taiwan 2010 – Torn Between a Steak and a Vomitorium

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“At no point in this story is actual vomit involved.”

Honestly, I am seriously torn about how to “pitch” this particular blog post. It all relates to a single story and it has two different facets, it has the comedy vomit angle and it has the high praise for excellent food angle. You’d think they’d be utterly incompatible and yet they are one and the same story. Should I write the article and tell how amazingly wonderful the No. 168 Prime Steakhouse in Taipei is or go with with the “gosh, they sure are different in Taiwan” angle and get the cheap laughs? I am torn.

I’ve decided I’ll just tell the story as it happened.

Longtime readers of my blog will know that I have a very short links list. I read from over 150 blogs and newsfeeds daily, but there are only a few that, for some reason or another, I choose to promote. (Whether or not that promotion is appreciated is another question.)

One of them is A Hungry Girl’s Guide to Taipei. This is a blog that reviews restaurants in Taipei. It’s in English. I speak English. It’s about eating. I eat. it’s about Taipei. I go to Taipei. It’s uncanny. It’s as if it was written just for me.

I corresponded with her a little bit on Twitter and she recommended No. 168 Prime Steakhouse, saying that their “steaks were wonderful”, which is all I need to hear about any restaurant. I admit, I didn’t even go see if she had a review, I just passed the info along to my wife saying, “If your parents are looking for restaurants to take me to, I hear No. 168 Prime Steakhouse is ‘wonderful'”

And so it was on my final night in Taipei, they took the entire family to No. 168 Prime Steakhouse, which, it turns out is in the five-star Grand Victoria Hotel. (To be honest, I couldn’t find any documentation that said it was actually a five-star hotel, but if it isn’t, they’re trying really hard.)

I packed very light for this trip, getting my entire kit inside a piece of luggage could, if lucky, be considered carry-on. I had 4 pair of shorts, 4 t-shirts, one pair of pants, one polo shirt, 2 pair of sandals and 1 pair of tennis shoes. I got all dressed up in the tennis shoes, pants and polo shirt, thinking the place was probably a little more upscale than sandals, shorts and a Loch Ness Monster Adventure Club shirt, which was my typical daily wear. I was; however, still seriously underdressed for the No. 168 Prime. Luckily we had a private room, where they waited on us hand and foot and constantly served us expensive bottled water. Their prices were… high, and I was a little embarrassed to have suggested this restaurant because I knew my father-in-law was paying.

But, he had checked the place out first, so he knew what he was getting into. I only found out when I saw the menu and started doing exchange rate calculations in my head and going, “That can’t be right. US$ 90 for a steak?”

My father-in-law had already decided on their monthly special, which this month was a 45oz American Kobe Beef Ribeye (serves 4-5 people). This was their special for the month and it was, by their own statement, “The best piece of meat we have in the restaurant.” It cost US$ 150.

My mother-in-law doesn’t eat much meat, and my father-in-law can be a fairly moderate eater (except at all-you-can-eat places), so when he suggested that we get the special, I figured that would work out just about right for the four of us. The kids could order a dish and share and my bother-in-law and his girlfriend could get whatever they wanted.

Wrong, my father-in-law ordered the steak with the intention that all eight of us would share it, and then if somehow we we still hungry after each consuming 5.6oz of steak, we could order something else.

I can tell you, unreservedly, it was the best chunk of steak I’ve ever had in my life. It was sublime. I managed to get three strips of it, as did Michelle. Neither one of us got enough, and I can hardly see how there was enough to even get a start for the others.

When it was clear it wasn’t enough, they suggested I pick something else to order, like a New York steak. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. How do you follow up the best steak you’ve ever had? You don’t, and you certainly don’t follow it with a “lesser” piece of steak. (Typically, I’d never call a New York Strip a “lesser” piece of steak than a ribeye, but in this case, it had to be.)

So I am left with the all-too-brief memory of this wonderful steak, which has set the bar very high indeed for future steaks.

I should also mention that their bread, made on the premises by some sort of low-termperature, 16-hour baking process, their Caesar salad and french onion were all also very good.

I will heartily shout the praises for No. 168 Prime Steakhouse. Exquisite!

(Oh, and the hotel had free wifi, so I was able to hook up on the iPhone while at dinner. Another plus.)

Hardly seems appropriate to drift onto the topic of vomit at this point, does it? Let me be very, very clear on this point: At no point in this story is actual vomit involved. There is nothing whatsoever in my opinion that should be associated with vomit and this wonderful steakhouse, or indeed what appears to be an excellent hotel, but they did bring it upon themselves.

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This is all because of a button; a wonderfully mysterious, enigmatic, lovely, classically red button.

If it isn’t painfully obvious, let me reiterate that I don’t speak much Chinese – certainly not enough to carry on a conversation, although I can sometimes pick up the gist of a conversation. I read even less Chinese, but I do know a few hundred characters (sometimes I know them from my study of Japanese, other times from my study of Chinese.) One of the patterns I can recognize is Chinese for “please don’t.” This is important to my story and not just me rambling, so keep that in the back of your mind: I am functionally illiterate in Chinese, but not completely illiterate. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

James, at 5 years old, as taken up what appears to be an obsession with squat toilets. Whenever he knows there a squat toilet, he wants to go pee in it. (What could be more fun that peeing in a hole in the ground to a five-year old?) Shortly after our arrival at No. 168, James had to go to the bathroom, and someone else took him.

It wasn’t long afterwards that he went again, and again, someone else took him. At this point, I began to suspect that the restroom had a squat toilet and that he was a little bored with the dinner proceedings.

On his third request to go, I took him because I also needed to use the facilities and I was curious if my hypothesis was correct. It turned out that I was only partially correct, because what appeared to be fascinating James was the sink.

As you walk into this immaculately clean restroom, there are sinks on the left, ahead and turning a corner is a wall of urinals and behind them are the stalls. In the corner, next to the last urinal is a large sink. it’s not uncommon for restrooms in Taiwan to have a large laundry sink in them, usually with a mop nearby, and ofttimes with a cleaning lady standing there waiting for you to belly up to the urinal so that she can mop around your feet while you’re urinating. (That takes some getting used to.)

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In this case, the “laundry” sink was spotlessly clean, oval shaped and all gleaming stainless steel, artistically lighted from above. It also had a curious grating at the bottom, which was elevated about one inch above the actual bottom of the basin. If it was a laundry sink (and I had no reason to doubt that it was) it was the most expensive, pretentious laundry sink I’ve ever seen.

It also had, immediately above it, the button. The pretty red button. And the button had a sign, and the sign said, “[gibberish, gibberish]! Please don’t [gibberish] hand.”

Oh, temptation, thy name is “pretty red button that says, ‘please don’t'” on thee!

James, upon finishing up in the stall, went to the “laundry” sink and was about to wash his hands. I stopped him, and explained that this sink was not for washing hands, and that he should go use the regular sinks which had soap and towels available. He seemed remarkably disappointed and I noticed that, while clean, the sink wasn’t dry.

Back at the table, I asked Irene if they had a similar sink in the ladies’ room. She said they did not, so I was no closer to knowing that the pretty red button said.

Throughout the evening, James continued to ask to go back to the bathroom, and every time I’d say to him, “Don’t use that sink” and his face would get all crestfallen.

Finally, I could stand it no more and I went back and took a picture of the sink and the sign and brought it back so that Chu-Wan could tell me what it said. At first she had the most odd look on her face end then she translated it for me.

It says, “This is the sink for vomiting, please do not wash hands here.”

The answer, rather than being satisfying, raised more questions than it answered. Not only does the sign on the button completely fail to tell you what the pretty red button is for, but now I wonder what a classy restaurant needs a vomit sink for??? (Apart from the obvious.)

I can only imagine that, because it is a classy, expensive restaurant, businessmen bring clients here to wine and dine them; mostly wine them, and in the Japanese tradition, get so drunk that they vomit and then sleep on the street because it’s too late to catch the train home.

Anyone who eats at this restaurant and has one of these wonderful steak and then vomits it up is committing a crime the culinary world, if not against humanity itself!!!

What does that damn button do?! Does it operate a garbage disposal and grind up the debris or is it a call switch so that someone from housekeeping can quickly come make the restroom clean and pleasant for the other customers? Why is there a grate at the bottom? Wouldn’t that prevent larger chunks of matter from getting into the drain? Is it to stop the neckties of drunken vomiters from getting stuck in the running disposal unit? Is it some sort of high-tech vomitus splash guard?

Why must my memory of this wonderful restaurant be eternally linked to questions about vomit?

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Bottom line – This is what you should take from this blog post: No. 168 Prime Steakhouse = excellent steak.

(But if you do happen to go there, and you visit the men’s room, don’t wash your hands in that sink, but if you do happen (perhaps by mistake) to push that pretty, red button; that incredibly tempting, wonderfully round and inviting, pretty, red button… post me a comment and tell me what it does.)

Taiwan 2010- Costco Menu in Taiwan

Like the US, Costco in Taiwan has a low-price food court, featuring products made from available ingredients at Costco.

The menu is similar but different:

  • Chicken ceasar salad
  • Clam chowder
  • Chicken bake Bulgogi (beef) bake
  • Hot dog (all-pork) & drink
  • Seafood pizza
  • Hawaiian pizza
  • Peking duck pizza
  • Bacon cheese hamburger & drink
  • Mango smoothie
  • Hokkaido ice cream

Taiwan 2010 – Part II – Of Eating Habits and Knowing When to Shut up

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Our first day in Taiwan passed somewhat uneventfully. We ate, we went to the park, we fought the insidious effects of jet lag – rather unsuccessfully, as, while I managed to stay awake until around 8:00PM local time (5:00AM AZ time) I awoke just before midnight feeling refreshed, wide-awake and hungry. The rest of the night proceeded in similar fits.

Yesterday as a bit better, as we’ve gotten out and about, did some shopping and did a bit of sightseeing.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today. I’m writing about food.

The Taiwanese, at least those I deal with, seem to have no concept of discriminating taste. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but what I mean is that they seem to completely embrace the concept of “eating whatever is set in front of you.” (My mother-in-law excepted, who will eat it, but will make sure you know that she doesn’t like it through nothing more than the magic of her facial expressions.)

My grandfather was the same way. He lived through the Great Depression and he would eat anything put in front of him. I wonder if, at least to some degree, this is true with the Taiwanese. It’s not so long ago that the prosperous island of Taiwan was only prosperous to the few “connected” individuals. The bulk of the island’s inhabitants were much nearer the poverty line than not.

Nonetheless, from Chinese banquets, to street vendors and everything in between, the idea of “special orders” or dietary restrictions seem alien to them. (Of course, they’ll do it, but they look at you like you dropped in from another planet and just asked for a broom for breakfast.)

I still remember clearly when my friend with a deathly egg and poultry allergy came to our wedding in Taiwan, more often than not, when we explained about his condition, they seemed almost to look put upon or not believing. In some cases, they served egg contaminated or poultry food to him anyway. Fortunately, he’s very cautious and avoided serious medical problems.

As a picky eater, I can’t claim a medical excuse, but I still don’t fit in well in this culinary world. You might just think it is picky, but I don’t think so. I just want to enjoy my food. Is that a crime?

Yes, it’s true, If I like pepperoni or sausage pizza, and you like vegetables and another person likes cheese pizza, in my book it is not an acceptable compromise to order a pizza with everything on it. That solution thereby guarantees everyone gets what they don’t want. If that’s picky, then so be it.

But here’s something I simply cannot imagine ever happening back home: Last night, it was apparently too late to go eat, so my bother-in-law was tasked with buying food. His remit was simple: Get food and remember Eugene is a picky eater. (I don’t think they yet realize that my kids are far more picky than I am.)

I didn’t have much hopes, but, when food arrived, mine was excellent, but, and this is the part that makes me write this: look at that picture. They’re hamburgers. Excellent quality, gourmet-style hamburgers – and no two are alike, and no one was consulted on what to order. There’s a cheeseburger, a chicken burger, a bacon cheeseburger with a funny sauce, a jalepeño-laden spicy burger, a mushroom burger and hot wings. Never in my life would I think to walk into a restaurant, order a random assortment of different types of food and bring it home to a group of diverse people and expect anything but chaos as people jockeyed to find the burger they’d like. It seems like the Taiwanese wouldn’t think twice about doing that.

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Me? I had the bacon cheeseburger.

Australian Meat Pie Mk. IV

SN850910Tonight I tried my fourth variation of the classic Australian meat pie. I’ve got a good recipe for the filling, so I’ts just a question of getting the pie crust working. So far, that’s been a disaster.

This time, I’ve tried using pre-fabricated croissant dough and using muffin pans to shape the pies.

For once, they came out, fully cooked, nicely browned, easy to eat but… it’s still not right. Croissant dough isn’t right.

Surprisingly, the kids loved them. They don’t like the real thing which tells me that mine isn’t the real thing.

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Ginger Beer – Less Superficial

A few days ago, I posted some thoughts (barely that) on Ginger Beer vs Ginger Ale.IMG_0399

I had planned on it being a very thoughtful and thorough exploration of my introduction to Ginger Beer, but I just hated the way I started off on each attempt to write it and I finally ended up with a graffiti-like blog post instead of deep, rewarding essay on the subject.

Oh, who am I kidding? It’s soda pop. Mostly.

I’m going to admit that for at least 18 years of my life being completely ignorant of ginger beer, and being nearly completely ignorant of it for the next 26 years. (In fact, the only mention of “Ginger Beer” I’d ever heard was on Doctor Who – Android Invasion, if you must know – and I assumed (incorrectly) that ginger beer was just one of those quaint English renames of something that’s already got a perfectly good name in American English. Specifically, I thought it was ginger ale.

Rather than waste a lot of time, see wikipedia regarding ginger beer and ginger ale.

I don’t really like ginger ale (there’s a story there, too) and so I haven’t really given this whole thing much thought over the years; however, I can’t remember why, but two weeks ago, something made me curious about ginger beer. Curious enough to look it up in wikipedia, but not curious enough to look up ginger ale. My conclusion was that, if ginger beer is stronger than ginger ale and don’t like ginger ale, I’m certainly not going to like ginger beer.

Three days ago we stopped in Cost Plus to kill some time, and with that odd synchronicity that the law of large number throws at us and make people falsely believe in psychic powers, I found myself standing in front of a display of ginger beer bottles. I have never seen it for sale in the US before.

And so I decided to give it a try. There were several brands, none which came from England, but there was one with a kangaroo on the front (and, indeed it came from Australia) so I chose that.

(Everyone knows that Australian wines are so much superior to other countries’ because of the enormous size and hopping power of the kangaroo’s feet and legs when harnessed for the pressing of the grapes. It seemed logical that the advantage could be carried over into the production of ginger beer.)

Bundaberg Ginger Beer is awesome. Sweet, gingery and tasty.

The funny part was, as I said, on the whole, I don’t like ginger ale, but that’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed ginger ale. Sometimes I’d had a ginger ale and it was taste pretty darned good, but most of the time, it’s quite unpleasant to my palette. This ginger beer tasted of all the best in ginger ale, but stronger. Yum. (“Yum? Not Yum-O?” Yes, ‘yum.’ I refuse to say, “yum-o” even when it’s salaciously written across Rachel Ray’s breasts.)

This observation fired up my very natural and rather expansive sense of curiosity. (Just to be clear: Curiosity about the taste of ginger beer/ginger ale, not about the taste or any other attribute of Rachel Ray’s breasts. If it had, that would deserve a blog post all its own and besides, I try to keep this blog PG-13 at worst – unless it’s about the Seal People.)

So I started studying ginger ale a bit and that’s when I learned about “golden” and “dry” ginger ale. Dry ginger ale is most popular in America and tastes like slightly sweetened carbonated water – in other words, I finally understand why I don’t like ginger ale. It became popular as a mixer – in other words, its not meant to be drunk, just mixed with alcohol to try to kill he awful alcohol taste. The more awful the alcohol, the better dry ginger ale is. (See: Prohibition.)

Golden ginger ale, on the other hand is the more original form, sweeter, more flavorful and much harder to find in the US. Obviously these have been the rare instances when I’ve enjoyed ginger ale. Mystery solved.

So back to the ginger beer, which has more in common with golden ginger ale than dry ginger ale.

Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Another trip to Cost Plus and I loaded up with several bottles of each brand of ginger beer available.

Reed’s Jamaican Style Ginger Beer tastes like a bad white wine cooler, without the “benefit” of alcohol. Bitter.

Ginger Beer from The Ginger People. The bottle says are the winner of the “Most Outstanding Beverage” award from Nation Association for the Specialty Food Trade. It was sweet, gingery tasty and very reminiscent of the Bundaberg ginger beer, but with a curiously odd aftertaste that reminds me of the smell of an auto parts store. That’s a bit off-putting. I’ve never been too keen on drinking things that remind me of industrial manufacturing and chemicals.

(Let me be clear, I’m not opposed to foods that are industrially manufactured or full of chemicals, I just don’t want to be reminded of it with every taste.)

Finally there was Fentiman’s Ginger Beer, from England. This one was different because it was alcoholic, although just barely. I had to tip this one down the drain as I couldn’t finish it, nor could I describe the flavor.

In conclusion…3 out of 4 I didn’t really like. Perhaps I don’t really like ginger beer after all.

Pointless Food Tech

IMG_0310 I just love technology! And one facet of technology that fascinates me is food technology. I love the great lengths that mankind is willing to go to to try to balance convenience vs taste/quality.

Let’s face it, the microwave oven has transformed our world more than we can probably quantify. It’s a modern miracle of science, but… I think we can be honest here… it doesn’t bring out the best textures and flavors of food, does it?

So I’m always interested in attempts to improve the taste of microwave food. Take for example, Marie Calendar’s new line of Al Dente frozen pasta dinners.

The problem: Frozen pasta, recooked in sauce, turns soft and textureless, and absorbs too much of the flavor of the sauce.

The Solution (according to Marie, anyway) is a new cooking tray. It’s hard to see in the above picture, but this sealed, frozen meal is in a bowl within a bowl. The sauce sits in the bottom, the pasta and meat is in a suspended colander. During cooking, the boiling sauce steams the pasta without turning it to mush.

IMG_0312 After cooking, the inner bowl is tipped into the sauce, mixed and the happy consumer consumes his/her mass-produced goodness.

So what’s the real verdict? As advertised, the pasta was properly cooked, and I applaud their ingenuity.

On the other hand, the sauce and italian sausage were OK, and the meatballs just so-so. Frozen pasta foods still have a ways to go in the taste department, but at least they’ve got the texture right… and we only had to double the plastic waste and carbon footprint of production to achieve it.

Indoor Sonic Boom?

Sonic Drive-ins are an interesting bit of Americana. Emulating old episodes of Happy Days, these restaurants are designed fir you to drive up, park, order through a speaker next to your car and then your food us delivered right to the car where you proceed to eat it.

Personally, apart from the novelty, I hate that arrangement. I don’t like eating in a car, which makes the experience a non-starter for me.

On the other hand, the have an interesting drinks selection and a couple food items that I quite like. Net result: I probably eat at a Sonic once a year. Considering that I eat at McDonald’s 15-24 times a year and I like Sonic’s food a lot better, I consider them to be a failed concept in fast food deployment.

Today we spied something new: a Sonic without the drive-in. It was actually an indoor restaurant with a drive-through.

You order through red Soviet Hotline looking phones on the tables and the “carhop” brings the food to your table.

Weird, but if they had these closer to my home, McDonald’s would be loosijg some business.