Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mountainside Eats - Review

Ching Tsai Yuen (青菜園)- Dude Grade: A-
112 Taiwan Taipei City Beitou District
Phone: +886 2 2861-9165

One of the main places I wanted to eat at was in the mountains (yang ming san), since I had such a phenomenal mountain side meal during my first trip to Taiwan. Something about eating up in the mountains breathing that fresh air and eating all food grown/raised nearby makes for a phenomenal eating experience. Although expectations were very high, it met them in every way.

Our Menu
Mountain Chicken (San Gee) ***
Although I had this just a couple of days ago at the phenomenal Jabez Lohas, this was better. Flavor was so intensely chickeny and it was so awesome with the sweet soy, chili dipping sauce.

Cabbage (gali chi) *
Slightly sweet and a tad crunchy cabbage. Good textural contrast and almost palate cleansing qualities for the rest of the meal. The inlaws make their cabbage very soft and sweet, but all the cabbage I’ve had on this trip have been more this style.

Stir Fried Noodles (Chao Mien) *
Pretty good stir fried noodles with cabbage, carrots, and shrimps. This was similar to the stuff you get in NYC Chinatown, but definitely done better. The wife was a big fan of this dish.

Stir Fried Clams **
Delicious sweet baby clams garnished with almost thai style flavorings – basil, chilis, slightly sour/slightly sweet (nowhere near as aggressive as normal Thai food). I’ve been noticing this style of cooking a lot in Taiwan, which was kinda surprising to me.

Snow Pea Shoots **
Perfectly cooked veggies – tender with a little bit of crispness. The flavors were perfect, so delicate, nutty, and slightly sweet.

Taro and Taro Leaves **
I had no idea what to expect of this dish, but I ended up being blown away. I’ve had taro many a time and this was delicious (starchy, slightly sweet), but I’ve never had the roots/leaves of the taro plant. It was almost like the sweetest leek braised down completely. A big time delicious dish that I’ll never get stateside.

Chicken Soup and Bamboo ***
Whereas the chicken soup at Jabez Lohas was the rich man’s version – tons of expensive ingredients (shark fin, abalone, etc), the one here was the simple version which was still completely wtf phenomenal. Massive chicken flavor with this great sweetness throughout due to the incredible bamboo. This bamboo was lights out good – nutty, sweet, and texturally off the charts, slightly crisp but still very tender.

Sweet Potato Soup ***
The Chinese love their soups, so this was the second of the night and it was equally incredible. Such a light pure flavor of yams and it was so simple – just yams, ginger, and maybe a little sugar. The one thing I love about this soup is the texture is basically like water, not thick and creamy like most European style soups. This leads to a very pure focus of the star ingredient.

Rating System
--- What the F - in a bad way | (no stars - poor to average) | * Good | ** Great | *** What the F – in a good way

Overall Restaurant Experience
  • Food (A) – Awesome comfort food and so in my strikezone.
  • Service (B) – Food came out very quick and the servers were nice to our table since our guests seem to go there often. I expect most people would get the standard cold shoulder treatment there otherwise.
  • Atmosphere (B) – Super ghetto inside with cheap plastic tablecloths (think saran wrap) and cement floors. But looking outside and you have the mountains and a gorgeous view of Taipei. That negates any ghettoness inside for me. The place was 75% full when we got there and 100% when we left which was near closing time. All Chinese/Taiwanese in there and no English anywhere.
  • Price (N/A) - We weren’t allowed to pay although my wife tried which almost caused our host to judo throw her – she was furious unlike any anger I’ve ever seen before. It would have been entertaining except for the violence in the hosts eyes.
Closing Comments
Whenever I’m in Taiwan, I have to go back to the Mountainside for eats. It’s simple cooking with the best ingredients done incredibly well.

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