Sunday, September 16, 2018

Late Night Fine Dining

Eager to explore more of the rising Taipei restaurant scene, we made a reservation to eat at Longtail, helmed by the young Chef Kin Lam. We have long heard good things about the restaurant and the chef and we regrettably missed out last year when he returned to his hometown Hong Kong for a brief pop-up to much acclaim, so this is how we made amend to that.

There’s no lack of contemporary restaurants serving modern cuisine combining Western and Asian cooking and use of ingredients in Taipei, but Longtail managed to stood out from the competition with its first star in the Michelin Guide’s inaugural edition last year. And they are probably one of the few fine-dining establishment that offers late-dining option, with kitchen stayed open past midnight. So we decided to push back our dinner reservation til 9pm to make room for more food elsewhere in the early evening before heading over.

The restaurant was only a quick bus ride from our hotel, in the same area of central Da’an District. The décor of the restaurant was an interesting combination of rustic and luxury styles – the subdued, wooden facade and furniture, cloth-less table and the long bar counter somehow reminded me of a classic saloon one would see in cowboy movies (don’t ask me why) but the leather upholstery, dim lighting and the bar cabinet with high-end liquors displayed like trophies resembled that of a upscale New York Steakhouse.

We arrived slightly earlier than our booking time so we dropped by the bar for a drink before being led to our table near the front of the restaurant by the window looking out to the quiet street. The menu was simple – either a la carte choices with a dozen or so dishes in three sections (starters, mains and desserts) or two different types of tasting menu with some variation of dishes. The restaurant pride itself of their cocktails more so than their wines so there’s only a handful of bottles available, but plenty of mixed drinks with some interesting choices, including the cocktail pairing option for the tasting menu, which we went for at the end.

Our tasting menu, called the “Longtail Experience”, consisted of 8 different courses served in tasting portion. The dishes followed the common theme of creative combination of Asian and Western ingredients with rich flavor. Some were more straight forward, like the amuse-bouche of a bite-sized tart with tofu espuma with chopped chorizo, paprika and scallions, or the fig toast with a dollop of soft ricotta cheese with cinnamon, lemon balm, and balsamic vinegar and port reduction. Or the kanpachi sashimi with beet, shallots and calamansi. Well, there were some fun elements to it and they were very enjoyable, but I wanted to see the chef pushed a little further to his creative boundary which I felt he's clearly capable of.

But as we moved on to more dishes, there were some truly special ones. The fatty foie gras dumpling was wrapped in pasta dough, slightly charred like gyoza, then served with a sweet corn puree, grated pecorino cheese and drizzle of lime juices. It has good complexity of flavor accented by a hint of chili kick somewhere. Then it’s followed immediately with a spicier dish of stewed Hokkaido oyster, served with a salsa-verde like sauce made with guomao 過貓 (an indigenous wild vegetable fern) and Thai spices, with the crunchy bits of water chestnuts and peas.

Our next course was tilefish, or amadai in Japanese, and predictably, it’s cooked uroko-yaki (sometimes known as Wakasa-yaki 若狭焼き or Matsukasa-yaki 松笠焼き) style like just about any new-generation Taiwanese chef would have done these days. It’s one of the Japanese cooking techniques in which scales were left on the fish and piping-hot oil poured on top as the last cooking step to crisp them up before serving. Cliché aside (there's nothing wrong with it), the fish was well-prepared with the crunchy scales, and a parmesan-fish broth poured on top with good acidity and sweetness from the candied lemon.

I also very much enjoyed the main course of beef tenderloin, cooked medium rare and served with baby leek puree and Sichuan mala sauce on the side, and paired with grilled carrot and baby leek bulb – the distinct spicy flavor from the sauce to go with the rich meat went surprisingly well.

The cocktails were tasty though I wasn’t sure about the matching part in a few of those to the dishes served. Nonetheless, they were good addition to our overall dining experience - better to think of that as additional courses in between the food rather than matching. My favorite one was the first drink called Charlie Chaplin – with the aged Taiwanese prune infused vermouth mixed with apricot brandy, sloe gin and bergamot puree for a good sweet and tart flavor. The red and sweet “Garden Variety” served on a stemmed glass loaded with strawberry flavor probably works much better for the foie gras dumpling rather than the oyster course (it’s meant to be paired with both). Similarly, the aged old fashioned was definitely meant more for the beef than the tilefish with the smoky hint of bourbon and bitters. The final drink of Cacao Pisco Sou was nice with strong chocolate flavor which was great as a desert cocktails, and paired well with our last dessert of a mini chocolate fondant with green tea icecream.

Overall I enjoyed the unique dining experience at Longtail and thought it's well worth its Michelin star. Liked the laid-back vibe of the restaurant and I thought the dishes and drinks were well-executed. Chef Lam’s multi-cultural background of spending time working in Thai and French kitchens showed in his food with some bold adoption of spices and ingredients in many of the unique dishes. I would be curious to see how the restaurant and his cooking will further evolve as time goes by and would love to try them again in the future when we are back to Taipei.

More photos in my Flickr album:

When? August 6 2018
Where? Longtail, No. 174, Section 2, Dunhua S. Road, Da’an District, Taipei
Menu Highlights? Charred foie gras dumplings, sweet corn, pecorino, kaffir lime

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