Saturday, December 23, 2017

Très Bon Tairroir

With a few other Hong Kong friends happened to be in Taipei for the weekend, we met up for lunch at Tairroir on Sunday. I felt like we have booked out the whole place when the eight of us took up the two big tables in the cozy dining room of the restaurant.

From convenience point of view, Tairroir definitely wasn’t in the best location in the tip of Zhongshan District in a newly developed neighborhood called Dazhi, which took us a 30 minute ride on the metro (or slightly less if we took a cab) The restaurant took up the top floor of a building which also houses a few other high-end dining establishments. I love the sleek, contemporary style of the décor, with gray and white being the main color scheme with a touch of bling-bling in the form of copper panels covering the ceiling. One end of the dining space is the floor-to-ceiling window and the bar, and on the other end was the open kitchen separated by the glass window and door - so customers can see what's going on inside without the noise and heat. There were only 5 tables or so in the main dining area, with additional private room facilities available at the back, we were told.

For lunch service, only two tasting menus were available, namely Yang Chun and Pong Pai, a play on the two local Chinese terms which meant "Basic" (陽春) and "Sumptuous" (澎拜) respectively, with slight variations of dishes in between. The menu was filled with Chinese puns with the description of the dishes in English and occasional French terms, which was kind of cute. But for those poor souls who felt a bit "lost in translation", they would have to rely on the wait staff to get the details of what the dishes were about.

We picked the basic menu with 6 courses and took on the waiter's suggestion for the wine pairing option. We began with the first course of "Pacific Pomfret in Sauna" - a few small pieces of Pacific pomfret fillet was slightly cooked with steam (hence the name of the dish) then skin crisped. On the side was dots of lemon mayo and avocado puree, then assorted puffed grains for the added texture plus the tiny halved cucamelon for the mild sweetness and a touch of acidity. It's a light and refreshing course to start, while we munched on the bread commissioned by the famous Wu Bao-chun bakery served with butter and grains of salt, both locally made.

The second course was the soup. Underneath inside the espresso cup was the sweet corn veloute and on top, Sanxing scallions espuma (named after the district which produces the best green onions in the country) and the smoky paprika powder. I enjoyed the sip of the pure tastes from the ingredients combined with minimal seasoning. (or as our waiter described, "just like grandma's cooking") What was listed as "Salted Yolk and Comte Polenta" on the menu was presented as the piece of polenta bread on the side with a firm texture and mild starchy taste. A bit blend and tough in my opinion (I was expecting something like a cornbread kind of texture), but it's still decent as the accompaniment to the soup.

I wouldn't expect to see "Taro en Puree et Kueh" on a fine-dining menu anywhere so I was curious to see what it is in the next course. Turned out it's not exactly the Teochew Kueh I was thinking about. Inside the lidded bowl was taro espuma and the 65C egg and on top was a medley of ingredients - deep-fried taro mochi cake (the kueh), diced pressed smoked duck ("Ya Shang", or 鴨賞 which is a specialty in Yilan County) and small dried sakura shrimps. The course was to be eaten by mixing everything in the bowl for a spoonful of different flavors and texture combined. Interesting choice of cooking temperature for egg (as one often uses a slightly lower temperature for the runny egg yolk) but I could only speculate it's done such that the there's some variation in texture with the soft and airy taro espuma in the same bowl, and the toppings provided the additional crunchy and bouncy textures (or in local Taiwanese terms, the QQ texture) and rich flavor while paying homage to local street food.

There's a choice of main - either the re-interpreted "Kung Pao Chicken", or the "Les Poissons du Jour", which was filefish on the day of our visit caught in nearby waters. (I am more familiar with its Japanese name of kawahagi or the Chinese name which literally meant "skinned fish" 剝皮魚) We split the choices so we each got a taste of both. So many things went on to the plate in front of me. The filefish fillet was prepared two different ways, one cooked with the skin (fried to give the crispness) and one without (the skin was replaced by a crisp made with small shirasu fish) Similarly, zucchini was presented in ribbons and puree form and so was aubergine (dehydrated crisp and puree piped in zigzag shape across the plate) Completing the presentation was the red capsicum sauce like how it’s done romanesco style. A bit over the top in terms of complexity, but overall all the flavors and textures worked well together.

One concept emphasized by Chef Kai and his team at Tairroir is to take advantage of the unique landscape of Taiwan with the availability of many local ingredients (that's why the name of the restaurant is the combination of Taiwan and the French term Terroir) Throughout the meal our waiter spent considerable amount of time introducing the dishes, highlighting the origin of the ingredients used - eggs from Changhua's free-range Silkie chicken, taro from Tainan, scallions from Yilan, etc - and how some of the cooking traced back to traditional Taiwanese family cuisine.

While the food is local-focused, paired wines were all old-world classics with a glass of cava to start then two glasses of white from Loire Valley. Nothing too fancy but worked fine with the dishes served - I particularly enjoyed the off-dry chenin blanc paired with the signature taro course. After our main course dishes were taken away, a small cup of cucumber and Hendrick's gin sorbet (with lemon foam and rose water jelly) was served as palate cleanser, then it was our final course of dessert of "Black and White" being brought to us, with the lightly toasted brioche, soymilk-flavored icecream, coffee sabayon and rice crackers garnish, for another twist of local street flavor.

Overall I think the menu was well-designed and well-executed. As the talk of the upcoming Michelin Guide Taipei heating up leading to the first release next spring, Tairroir was regularly mentioned as one of the star contenders. Judging from our lunch experience, I would side with those who cheer them on on the day of the announcement.

More photos on Flickr:

When? October 29 2017
Where? Tairroir, Level 6, 299 Lequn 3rd Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei
Menu Highlights? 65C Silkie Egg, Taro "en Puree et Kueh", Yilan "Ya Shang", Sakura Shrimps
Frank Massard Mas Sardana Cava Brut Nature NV
2014 Domaine Gilles Gaudron Les Pierres Rousses Vouvray Chenin Blanc
2015 Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Les Baronnes

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