Sunday, December 16, 2012

Taipei Eats - Heping East Road area Part II (和平東路, Picture heavy!)

Just a few more snack stands and a review for a couple of restaurants on Heping East Road (和平東路) here. 

This little cart selling fried scallion pancakes was at the mouth of my alley at the intersection of Heping East Road and Roosevelt Road (羅斯福路), right outside MRT Guting Station (古亭站) Exit 6. 

Adding an egg and/or spicy sauce and you have you'll have a yummy, satisfying, and filling snack. There were a couple of times when hubby and I had a huge lunch, so for dinner we each got one of these scallion pancakes and called it a night. Not the healthiest way to eat, but it worked for the time being. Better than instant noodles!

This Two Peck Chicken Pie is a fried chicken chain, also right outside my alley at Heping East and Roosevelt Roads, MRT Guting Station Exit 5. I loved their boneless chicken nuggets with spicy seasoning. Fried to a perfect crisp, fragrant, and well flavored, not to sound cliche but sin never tasted so good T.T

This little hole in the wall shop here serves up some of the best Cantonese BBQ pork (叉燒), roast pork (燒肉), roast duck (燒鴨), and roast chicken (燒雞, *not* soy sauce chicken 油雞, although they have that too) I have ever had! Hubby insisted he liked the place over at Yongkang Street better, but after a second try he too swore on this place's roast duck LOL! To make sure, I took my sister here too when she visited and she promptly concluded their roast pork has the best crackling ever, in addition to the meat being succulent and well seasoned! 

Just look at the color of that BBQ pork!

There is a Mos Burger near the intersection of Heping East and Xinsheng Road, and of course I had to try it once, just to satisfy my curiosity (that, and I miss Japan T.T). 

Too bad neither their burger, hotdog, or nuggets tasted anything like they did in Japan. In fact, they were pretty crappy. I can't believe I'm saying this, but here in Taipei, McDonald's made better fast food than Mos, and yes, I had McD's once too, also out of curiosity.

Dante Coffee in Taipei is like Starbucks, well, everywhere in the world. As in they're ubiquitous and there is one at every corner you turn. So resisting it the whole time hubby and I were in Taipei, over the course of my final Taiwanese project and my classmates finally dragged me there a few times. Their quesadilla was alright, although the BBQ chicken sandwich tasted like, well, chewy "something" rather. 

So after the first visit I stuck to just tea and soup. Their milky Earl Grey was very good and I liked it enough to order it twice! Their corn soup was way better than Mr. Onion's too. Not only it didn't taste like it was made from instant corn soup powder, it actually had, well, corn in it! Not too shabby for a chain coffee shop. And oh, hubby liked their mango smoothie ^.^

Towards the end of our trip, hubby got really homesick. Again, thank goodness for my classmates, one of whom introduced me to The Diner (樂子). According to M., it's almost always crowded, so either come at an off peak hour or make a reservation in advance. And sure enough, the afternoon we went, it was past 2:30PM on a Tuesday and the place was still packed, I guess because their lunch specials, which comes with soup and unlimited refill of tea and coffee, doesn't stop until 3PM. There are several locations, but the one we went to was conveniently located right behind my school building on Heping East Road, just one block past Jianguo South Road's intersection. Needless to say, there were lots of international students every time we went, ourselves included.

Here with V. from Indonesia and M. from Ireland. As you can see, we were studying really hard ^.^

V. wasn't hungry and only ordered biscuits and a cinnamon roll. M. ordered a fish sandwich, and I got a chicken quesadilla (yeah, I have a thing for chicken quesadilla) and a cup of New England clam chowder. Both of mine were very decent. Of course I've had better, but these are still more "American" than anything hubby and I had up to that point ^.^

Hubby was really happy to have found The Diner, especially when they offer a "Denver Omelette" ^.^ Too bad their buffalo wings sucked, which was surprising since fried chicken is such a popular Taiwanese street snack (see Two Peck Chicken Pie above). They can make excellent fry chicken, but not excellent fry chicken doused in buffalo sauce? Harh?!?

Here's my Denver Omelette with a side of french toast, which was delicious, by the way. Hubby opted for the healthier wheat toast with his Denver Omelette. What a goodie two shoes!

On another occasion, I also tried a conventional breakfast, also with a side of french toast. I liked the Denver Omelette better.

After the final exam, my Chinese (language) class decided on a lunch together, also at The Diner. From left to right is my teacher, Ms. Z., my classmates R. from Indonesia, M. (who's also in my Taiwanese class, see Dante Coffee above), T. from France, and R-san from Japan. Both of my Taiwanese and Chinese classes were great fun, although for different reasons. In my Chinese class, between an Irishman, a Frenchman, and an American, there was always a good supply of jokes and teases to go around, all in good fun of course. In fact, R-san lamented after our lunch that she will miss laughing so hard every day. Me too, R-san, me too.

This time, I ordered something different, like this nachos for everyone to share and shrimp fajitas for myself. They both were okay, nothing special though.

Saying our last goodbyes before everyone went their own ways. 

R-san is so cute!

My Taiwanese class had an entirely different dynamic. It was more teacher driven with that class, as in we had a riot of a teacher! Let me tell you, there was not a class went by that we did not laugh our heads off. And yet somehow he whipped us though the materials at a dizzying pace and kept us on the tip of our toes. It was one of those classes that you fear skipping out on because you'd be so lost the next day. When I did miss a class, I would come in an extra 15 minutes early to ask questions and catch up what I could. Damn, how come college wasn't like that? 

Anyway, after classes end, he took us to his favorite home-style restaurant. If you haven't figured it out, the place is Muslim friendly - they serve halal food, i.e., no pork and pork-product whatsoever, do not allow alcohol, etc.

From left to right is M., J. from Vietnam, my teacher Mr. X., A-san from Japan, and V. This is actually just a fourth of our Taiwanese class as the rest of our classmates were either working or returned to their home country and could not make the goodbye lunch.

The dishes were indeed homestyle, and although they look "Chinese" they tasted nothing like Chinese food! It was quite an interesting experience!

Mr. Papa Waffle & Cafe opened up exactly one week before we left Taipei. I know because I walked by it every day to school, watching it being built from a black hole to a cute little shop.

Of course hubby and I had to give it a try. So on a rare sunny afternoon just a few days before departing, we poked our heads in and ordered ourselves each a waffle. And mind you, that frothy cup is actually a milk tea and not a cappuccino.

Hubby ordered a strawberry and banana waffle and I got a pudding waffle, as in a waffle with a dollop of pudding on it, but I didn't realize this until I got it ^.^ Both were alright, a tad too sweet even for me. Also, we found it very strange that they made the waffle crunchy like a cookie. We were expecting them to be crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside, but nope, they were crunchy through and through.

***Disclaimer: You are about to come upon a major rant, so spare yourself and turn away now. Otherwise, buckle up and hang on tight. And oh, please do not get upset and throw flames at me. You have been thoroughly warned.***

Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at Wang Steak (王品). I swear they forgot the "house" after the "steak," and if you don't get why I'm being snarky, refer to definition B, or better yet, watch Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Anyway, Wang Steak is a famous upscale steak house in Taiwan, owned by a celebrity chef and known for its "Taiwanese style" steaks. I don't really know, or care, what is meant by "Taiwanese style" steaks, but I was all ready to chomp it down. Not only I'm from steak country, my hubby can grill a damn mean steak! So I love steaks, and I've been pretty spoiled with supreme steaks my whole life. A steakhouse offering "Taiwanese style" steaks? Hell, yes! Serve it, baby, and I will eat it!

Prior to changing her mind to Shin Yeh, my college friend A. had her heart set on Wang Steak. She said the place is so famous it makes news all the time, and everyone she knows said it's good. Along with my sister's friend J., they told us of a joke, that if you ask a friend for a big favor you'd better prepare to treat them to a Wang Steak dinner. It doesn't matter either way, because me, hubby, and my sister were totally sold on the place. After spending our afternoon at the onsen in Beitou, we brought hubby's Japanese colleague A-san who was visiting from Tokyo to the Wang Steak location on Heping East Roat.

Left to right: my sister, me, hubby, and A-san.

The menu was huge - it was a 6 course meal for NT$1,430 per person (~US$49)! Doesn't sound much to us, but in Taiwan anything above NT$1,000 is considered premium. For each of the course, there were at least 5 choices to be made, each with description and whatnot, all in Chinese, and that wasn't the problem. The problem was that our waitress pretty much breathed down our throats to make our choices. Despite us telling her we were not ready, she kept coming by every couple of minutes to ask a million questions in lightning speed Chinese. Poor hubby was scrambling in between 3 languages - English to me and my sister, (I can survive, but the waitress was speaking like a TV ad disclaimer and I gave up trying to understand her after a while +.+), Japanese to A-san, and Chinese to, well, the waitress. Let's just say the ordering process was so stressful we threw our hands up and just pointed randomly on the menu.

Thankfully, the freshly baked and piping hot croissant and wheat roll calmed our nerves a bit. The croissant was particularly delectable, fragrant with butter, delicately crispy on the outside but fluffy and soft inside. That said, for a table of 4 they served only a thin slice of butter and pâté (yes, what you see in the picture is it!), both of which were delicious and expectedly disappeared in a flash. We asked for more butter several times, and the waitress kept saying yes and that she would bring us more, but she never did. And by the time she did, about 15-20 minutes later, our breads were cold and stiff. WTF?!?

Me, my sister, and A-san all ordered the smoked salmon and shrimp salad, because, well, our waitress smothered us to order. How was it? In A-san's words, the shrimps had "no taste." Hubby had a fruit and shrimp salad, which was alright. 

Another hilarious thing was that when we were seated, the waitress asked if the night's dinner was for a special occasion, like a birthday. We all shook our heads dumbfoundedly, only to learn as the night proceeded almost all the tables around us, we counted 7 in total, had a birthday. Again to quote A-san, "Unbelievable!" We even joked quietly among ourselves whether we should call the waitress back and tell her we changed our minds and it was actually hubby;s birthday, which was the very next day, so we technically weren't really lying xD

My sister and A-san both ordered the oxtail soup, which was bland. I ordered the seafood bisque, which came in 2 separate soups of 2 colors! The waitress explained I could either eat them separately or mix them together. Unfortunately, they were both bland too.

Hubby ordered cream of corn soup, which came in a huge bread bowl and tasted like it was made from instant corn soup powder (hello, Mr. Onion?). The funny thing is that as hubby just began to eat his soup, several different waitresses/waiters had came by trying to take away A-san's oxtail soup even when he was only half way through. Each time, he kept saying no and that he was still eating it, and yet they kept coming after a couple of minutes or so. Dammit, Wang, leave your diners alone to eat their goddamn meal!

To give the restless waitstaff something to do, A-san and hubby picked a bottle of red wine from the wine list. However, aside from the date printed on the bottle (2007), our waitress knew nothing about the wine or even where it came from! Worse, she struggled to open the bottle and came this close to breaking the cork. Hubby graciously offered to help, but she declined as he and A-san stared at the barely intact cork holding their breaths. Finally, she gave up and brought the bottle back into the kitchen for help. After pouring our glasses, we watched curiously as she re-corked the bottle. As soon as she walked away, A-san quickly grabbed the bottle and uncorked it again to aerate the wine. But the same damn waitress didn't just stop there. She kept re-corking our bottle every single time she walked by our table, and after the third time hubby just took the bottle and stashed it against the wall on his left side, as far away from her reach as possible. At this point, we were all pretty frustrated. Seriously, Wang? For "Taiwan's best known high-end steak house chain," do you even train your staff? The cherry on top was that the wine tasted like sh*t, worse than table wine! T.T

The restaurant was busy, the tables were densely arranged, and having an enormous waiting staff didn't help. There was literally a traffic jam every time the main entree came out and the waiters had to "get in line" and wait around the corner to get through to their table. When my sister's entree came out, our waitress was busy pouring wine for hubby and A-san (after which she re-corked the bottle, yet again!). Having waited "in line" for so long the server got frustrated and returned to the kitchen, presumably to reheat my sister's now cold plate. And sure enough, it returned to her hot while ours came to us cold. And when the plate was set down in front of us, instead of just setting it down the server kept spinning the plate in circles to get it just right. 

My sister and I ordered the prawn and steak entree.

Here comes the most shocking part - after our food was laid down, our good ol' waitress returned and asked A-san if he would like to have the "steak service" without explaining what it was. Not knowing any better (none of us did!), A-san nodded, at which point the waitress picked up his eating utensils and proceeded to cut both of his steaks (a steak and a rib, picture below) for him into bite size pieces!!! O.o Our jaws dropped watching, and the rest of us was just quick enough to shake our heads, "No thanks," when she turned to us. Poor A-san, having to be the guinea pig :( 

Aside from our plates served to us cold, all of our steaks were completely cooked through and were more like rubber than steaks. And this is coming from someone who prefers her steaks medium-well (yes, leave me alone)! We should have known when they didn't bother asking us how well we wanted our steaks cooked T.T What kind of steakhouse would cook their steaks this way, Wang? I don't believe that *famous* Taiwanese style steak = rubber steak! To quote A-san again, "Unbelievable!!!" Anyway, our theory was that the steaks weren't actually cooked through but were reheated several times, becoming well done by the time they made their way to us. To confirm this, I went home and googled Wang Steak online and found tons of pictures of rare steaks. So my guess is that the kitchen had probably prepared our entrees way before our table were finished with the prior courses (soup, salad, whatever), or perhaps the constant "traffic jams" we witnessed had something to do with it.  

Hubby and A-san ordered the steak and rib entree.

Back to the food, my steak was so tough I struggled just to cut it, and the waitress offered to warm it up for me. It came back warmed and sliced, and surprisingly tasted much better! Hmm...And I really liked my yummy sour plum smoothie ^.^ It didn't go well with dinner at all but I liked it nonetheless :P I finished mine in a heartbeat and the waitress got me a refill!

Anyway, we all were stuffed and decided to wrap up what we couldn't finished. Each person was served 2 pickled plums on a small separate bowl, and they were yummy! Since hubby and my sister didn't touch theirs, I wanted to wrap those up and take them home with me. But our waitress smiled, "I will bring fresh ones for you," and proceeded to dump all the untouched plums into her clean up tray! What the...?!? I was so pissed off because I didn't want to waste them to begin with! Garr...Wang, train your goddamn waitstaff!!! 

Fresh fruits were served before dessert, which was pretty nice. 

My crème brûlée was served in a sea shell, which was pretty neat but was so damn big I couldn't finish it! Even if there wasn't so much of it, I probably couldn't finish it anyway. Let's just say it wasn't very good at all. It was very thick and much firmer than it should be. As a result, it tasted more like super thick custard rather than cream. Wang, dude, how can you possibly screw up something as common as a crème brûlée?!? Hubby, A-san, and my sister all ordered the Chocolate Lava Cake, which was okay.

My sister ordered the Tiramisu Milk Tea, which I thought was delicious! My Darjeeling was alright. 

And here is the most absurdly hilarious thing - by the end of the night, after having paid our bill we started wondering where our leftovers went. Turns out it was sent home with another guest because the waitress had written the wrong table number onto the bag LOL!!! We wanted to just forget it and leave but the hostess kept trying to keep us because they had sent another waiter out chasing after that party to retrieve our leftovers. Are you f*cking kidding me, Wang?!?  

Our conclusion? For a "high-end" dinner, the food was meh, the service was shockingly clumsy and awkward, and the whole dining experience was disastrous at best. I refuse believe this is the best Taiwan can do, after all we have had some fantastic meals here!!! Come on, what happened there, Wang? Have you done your due diligence? Seems like you need dire investment in a restaurant consultant!

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