Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Taipei Sushi Lunch

We are always on the lookout for decent sushi-ya in Taipei and this time, we checked out Shunsai, considered one of the higher end ones with two branches in Taipei. We went to their newer Xinyi branch located in Da’an District, about 10 minutes away on foot from our hotel and reservation was made easy via WeChat about a couple of weeks ago, soon after we finalized our itinerary. Certainly saved us the trouble of making that long-distance phone call.

Going through the traditional Japanese storefront, we were led into the sushi section at the back of the restaurant with a huge U-shaped counter table which can seat around 20, divided by partition, with 4-5 chefs working at the same time. (there’s also a separate shabu-shabu section closer to the entrance) As we settled down at our seats on one side of the table, our chef Lin introduced himself and explained to us the menu, which was based on omakase with a number of courses in different price point. On his recommendation, we chose the one in the middle.

The omakase menu started with appetizer, then sashimi, cooked, grilled and deep-fried dishes, then moved to the nigiri sushi and ended with soup and dessert, pretty much following a proper kaiseki-style meal. We began with a small cube of tofu topped with ankimo (monkfish liver) – it’s mild, creamy and smooth, served with a dab of wasabi and dashi-shoyu in a small bowl.

A few of sashimi courses were then served in order, starting with a few thin slices of samekarei (roughscale sole), then shimaji (striped jack), aji (horse mackeral), kaki (oyster) and akami-zuke (marinated tuna). The samekarei was the one with the lightest flavor, but I thought it was delicious with a touch of yuzu zest. Aji – which Chef Lin quipped as the little brother of shimaji which we had right before – was my favorite of the afternoon. It was cut into thin strips, mixed with grated ginger, green onions and myoga, then drizzled with soy sauce, and had great texture.

The oyster from Hokkaido was decent too - super creamy but not briny at all, but I wasn’t too sure about the marinated tuna pieces served with Tororo, or Yama Imo/mountain yam paste. It’s interesting but I guess I just wasn’t a fan of the slimy texture of the whitish paste, mixed using a combination of Japanese and local yams.

Then we had a series of dishes being brought out from the kitchen, and all of them I liked. The chunks of satoimo (taro) were deep-fried and served in a bowl with a rich dashi broth, finely diced scallions and grated spicy radish. They were crispy on the outside and soft inside. The grilled nodoguro (blackthroat seaperch) has good oily meat though I wished the skin was a bit more charred and crisp. The deep-fried course was a mini tempura platter – while they weren’t at as high standard as in a proper tempura house, I quite liked the katsuo (skipjack tuna) with a crispy, deep golden batter to go with the firm, rich meat (and on the other hand, I thought the cod shirako was only so-so, despite that being in its prime season around now)

Only five pieces of nigiri of sushi were served, all geared towards the richer taste. All of them were beautifully made to a perfect shape by the skillful hands of Chef Lin, and in particularly I loved the buri (wild yellowtail) and sanma (pacific saury) served with grated ginger and scallion and given a light blow-torch action on top. I wasn’t too fond of the two gunkan-style sushi served that afternoon – to start with, the nori was soggy and became hard to chew. The ikura (salmon roes) was a bit over-seasoned, overpowering its true flavor, and bafun uni (sea urchin) lacked taste somehow. The chu-toro (medium fatty tuna) was on the leaner side but the taste was fine.

Overall I thought the lunch was decent – definitely more hits than misses, and it's all proper, relaxed and comfortable. I am impressed with chef's skills and that he took time explaining to us in details of the food he served, so it was an enjoyable afternoon to us. I was personally expecting more sushi than the rest of the cooked dishes but it’s just my misaligned expectation (they posted their menu online so I should have known better what they offer) While I agree the restaurant probably offered better value for money than places of similar caliber in Hong Kong, but only just slightly so I reckon. Not enough incentive to go out of way just for it, but I would be happy to come back for dinner some time, maybe to see the even better side of the place, and definitely ask for more sushi next time.

When? October 16 2016
Where? Shunsai Japanese Cuisine Xinyi Branch, Number 3, Lane 199, Section 4, Xinyi Road, Da'an District, Taipei, Taiwan
旬採鮨処-信義店 台北市大安區信義路四段199巷3號

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