But that doesn’t mean fine dining doesn’t exists here. On the contrary, Taiwan is a modern country that competes for a cosmopolitan reputation, especially in the large cities such as Taipei (the capital) and Taichung, just southwest of Taipei. During my vacation, I made arrangements to dine at two of the country’s stellar restaurants known for their French techniques but paying homage to the ingredients of Taiwan or classic Taiwanese dishes.
In Taipei, my sister and brother-in-law joined me for dinner at Tairroir, a 2-year-old restaurant that opened in the building next door to another popular fine-dining destination RAW. When I couldn’t get into RAW, I was happy to get a table at Tairroir, which I imagine offers just as fine of a dining experience. Its eight-course tasting menu we had with a supplemental dish cost about $160 (including tax and tip) per person.
The menu designed by Chef Kai Ho showcases the flavors of Taiwan, including the discovery of complimenting dishes with kumquat tea (the fruit that’s been boiled down and served with a bit of honey). The supplemental dish of a 62-degree egg (a popular technique found in a lot of Bay Area tasting menus) gets mixed with a taro puree and topped with Taiwanese smoked ham and vegetables.
Tairroir’s pastry selections are also eye-openers. A cart comes out at the end where you get to choose three as your mignardise for the end of the meal. It was tough to choose just three, but I enjoyed each tiny bite, leaving a sweet taste as we left.
In Taichung, a city that attracted me because of its new buildings and creative slant, is also the home of Le Mout restaurant, named one of Asia’s 50 best restaurants by the Pelligrino organization. It’s headed by Chef Lanshu Chen, who was also named Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2014.
The tiny dining room is a serene stop for Chef Chen’s French stylings. The six-course tasting menu for the three of us, including a wine pairing for me, was about $500 (including service charge).
The flavors were distinctive and pronounced in all the beautifully plated dishes, but I was confused about some of the concept, including a dish called “paella,” which actually didn’t look like a paella but was just the ingredients often found in paella, including squid and rice.
Looking at the two restaurants, they were both on the same level for professional and friendly service (the servers all spoke English well to describe the dishes) and refined presentation. But I have to give a nod to Tairror for a more complete and slightly more innovative tasting menu than Le Mout. Still, both were enjoyable evenings and represented Taiwan well to make both cities a destination for degustation.
A complete view of both tasting menus can be found in the gallery above.
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