Friday, October 17, 2008

TW Tour: TW Intellectualized @ C'est Bon, Taipei

One of the advantages of our itinerary of going to more rural, old Taiwan before coming to the modern, capital of Taipei is that it gives one an understanding of Taiwan's past and how it led to its present and its extrapolated future culturally. To save C'est Bon, a modern Taiwanese restaurant employing molecular and Western techniques, for our last "Big" meal of the trip allowed us to have experienced all the down-home, historical tastes and dishes that have lent themselves to this crystallization of modern Taiwanese. C'est Bon is located in a tiny alley street in the Song San district of Taipei. It is a spot of modernity amidst a block that looked more like Taiwan of the '70/'80s.

It's a set menu for NT2000 per person. We also ordered some wine which we'll cover at the end of the post. The space was modern and sparse and we spotted another table eating there which we later found out to be the owner/head chef and some folks dining with her. It was a little too brightly lit for our tastes, but the lighting helped us to see very clearly the beauty of each dish presented.

Course 1: Bamboo and Fried Oyster
The frying on the oyster was perfect. The insides were barely cooked and sweet. The bamboo was really fresh and spring-like.
Course 2: Shrimp 2-Ways (Head with Uni and Body Wrapped with Pineapple with Coconut Shavings)
The server shaving freeze dried coconut over our dish.
The beautiful presentation. I had forgotten to inform the staff prior to our meal commencing that I am allergic to pineapples so I didn't have any of the body portion. I will say the head was divine... the sweetness of the flesh and the musty of the uni really offset each other. I will allow others who ate the full dish to comment here. I think it was Wil who also said he liked the symbolic meaning of the dish: shrimp cooked whole with the skin edible is very Chinese, the head is covered with uni (very Japanese) and the body is covered in the tropical elements (very SE Asian). The sum of which is Taiwan in a nutshell.
Course 3: Abalone with Caviar and Seagrass in Aspic
This was another combination that was amazing to taste. The abalone was perfectly tender and its oceanic flavours brought out by the caviar studded on top. The aspic was light and seagrass.. well, all I can say it's unique and you gotta taste it to believe it.
Course 4: Steamed Fish Stuffed with Salted Winter Melon
Again, very much the flavours of Taiwan combining its love affair with seafood and vegetables. The texture of the fish was silky beyond belief.
Individually plated.

Course 4: Jade Melon
This melon had been poached in liquid for days in low temp. The result is something that you can eat and pierce wit ha spoon but not mushy. The broth was exquisite. I wanted to lick the bowl. This was my favourite dish of the evening.

Course 5: Pineapple Stewed Pig Trotter
I couldn't eat this and will let others comment but it looked amazing.

Course 5: Lion's Head Meatball
My "entree" as I couldn't have the pig trotter. The meatball had the most succulent, juicy pork mixed with chunks of crab meat and roe. The broth was a crab reduction. Eat your heart out, Shanghainese restaurants everywhere.... this is what Lions head was destined to become!
Course 6: Egg Flower Chicken Soup
The most refined egg flower with a thickish, guen (Taiwanese thick pottage) style broth.

Course 7: Sweet Potato with Honey and Preserved Plum Sauce
As Janet said, "This is Taiwan on a plate." All the down home flavours of all the fruits, vegetables, tea beverages, smoothies, shaved ice was distilled into this one plate of perfection.
The inside of the sweet potato.

The lowest points of the meal were the wine service and selection. Our first bottle was not what we ordered but we decided to stay with it.
We went to a red later in the progression of the meal. Neither were anything to be excited over.
Our cost for the entire meal was NT12,100. Remembering that the food was NT8000 total, that mean we spent NT4100 on these two bottles of mediocre wine. This meal was admittedly our most expensive of the trip.... but it was also the most memorable. I would definitely love another visit to C'est Bon in future TW trip - maybe this time taking my relatives and seeing what the natives think.

In case there was any doubt - this was one of our Top 5 Fav Meals of the trip too. Oh, and the NY Times thought a lot about C'est Bon too. They wrote about it shortly after we came back from TW.

23 Lane 33 Chung-Shang North Road, Section 1
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