Saturday, November 9, 2013

Japanese in Taipei - Gyodoike

I keep hearing friends singing praises to Japanese food in Taiwan, saying it's much better than that in Hong Kong and at a fraction of the price, so I was eager to find out during a recent short business trip to Taipei. I consulted the blog by my friend Peter, aka The Growing Boy, before setting sight on Gyodoike (魚道生), which he recommended as "one of his favorites". So I gave them a call a few days in advance and make the reservation for dinner on my day of arrival.



I arrived 30 minutes before my original reservation after making a quick stop at a niche grocery store nearby to shop for something. Gyodoike was located on a side street just behind the main road in downtown's Xinyi District and it's not hard to find. The interior features a spacious setting, avant garde decor with the long sushi bar being the focus of the dining space (with additional tables and private rooms at the back). The table setting followed the same minimalist trait, with a slab of marble as the serving plate set on top of the wooden counter, and a red maple leaf as decoration - which was picked up from the mountainous region nearby, as explained by the Chef-owner Ji-an Liu. Felt like I have been transposed to Japan already.

For dinner there's no menu being offered - you let Chef Liu know your budget and he will deal with the rest, but he's happy to take account into any preference or special request you might have. Menu started at 1800 TWD and I told Chef Liu to go just a bit above that it would be fine. Most of the fresh ingredients were flown in from Japan and on display in front at the sushi bar so you sort of know what you will be getting. With more work to do after dinner I opted not to go for sake - a bottle of Asahi beer worked just fine.


I started off with the small dish of ankimo (monkfish liver) with chives and grated daikon in citrus sauce - it has a clean taste and firm texture. It's followed by the bite-size "hassun" course served on a wooden log - with cucumber-wrapped anago (sea eel), dried citrus skin with cheese and konbu, poached white fish with sesame sauce, steamed South African abalone, and shrimp "sandwich" with kani-miso (crab roes). They even had a straw of newly harvested grain of rice as garnish (which was edible, by the way). Afterwards, I had a few sashimi dishes, then some more cooked food, followed by more sushi and then dessert... pretty standard.

I am not going for a dish-by-dish description here but quite a number of courses were remarkable. The sea grapes and kinmedai served on the sashimi platter was wonderful, and the buri served aburi style with kama-miso and wasabi on top was flash-grilled just right, and the combination of taste of the kama-miso and the richness of the fish was heavenly. Two pieces of tuna was served right after - chu-toro and akamai-zuke (marinated with soy sauce, grated ginger and wasabi) - and both were delicious. My favorite was a white fish (of a local variety called 紅沙魚) grilled with a wrap of thinly-sliced yama-imo in open fire - it was an incredibly crafty dish and the result was spectacularly good, even when I wasn't the biggest fan of yama-imo (mountain yam). Almost like it's cooked En papillote except even the "paper" was edible!


Chef Liu's knife skills were impeccable - you can tell just by him holding the knife and with such focus behind the kitchen counter. The skin of the aji sashimi was scored carefully to reveal the flesh and turn into a beautiful rolled shape. That was my favorite sashimi item of the evening. Apparently Chef managed to score the piece of ika - my first sushi course - 30 times front and 30 times back - and this did enhance its texture and taste greatly.

The chef stressed the sushi he served was of edomae style for which the fish was pre-seasoned, the rice was served slightly warm (almost body temperature) and well-mixed with vinegar. My dinner course leaned more towards the sashimi and cooked dishes and seemed a bit light on the sushi, but the few I had were all very nice. Apart from the ika, I also had botan-ebi, bafun uni and nodoguro served negiri style, and a fancy bowl of chirashi to end the meal. I think the uni (sea urchin) more than redeemed the terrible piece I had to endure at Gaddi's 2 weeks ago, and the chirashi was said to be a signature dish here and it didn't disappoint - I didn't really count, but there must be 5 or 6 different ingredients all spread out on a bed of rice in a fancy bowl. It's such a "picturesque" dish and every bite was well-planned and well-executed in terms of taste and texture. Even the soup - what looked like a simple shiro-miso soup - was marvelous with a gigantic hamaguri clam inside.



Dessert was a slice of apple with egg custard sauce and crushed peanuts. All in all the service was very nice. I came about 30 minutes before the rest of the sushi bar was filled so I got Chef Liu's 100% attention until the middle of my meal. The groups sitting next to me left and right did get rowdy at times (typical Chinese customers - I hate to say that but it's true) but it's not terribly bothersome. Everyone's essentially having more or less the same thing with little variations here and there. Generally the portion was generous and I was filled after all food's served.

Now I know what my friends meant - Japanese food in Taipei is really better in terms of quality and value. Okay, there is another reason to visit Taipei more often then.

More photos on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/g4gary/sets/72157637415511325/

Where? Gyodoike Japanese Cuisine, No 13, Alley 199, Xinyi Road Section 4, Taipei, Taiwan
魚道生美學日本料理, 台北市信義路4段199巷13號


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