Thursday, May 30, 2024

Speakeasy in the Alley

"Do you serve any food?" It's probably a bit rude to walk in to the bar and immediately ask for food, but then we were desperately hungry (and thirsty too, but in this order) after the concert late evening so we got to have our priority straightened out first. 

Bar Zeshan in Taipei's Zhongshan District came highly recommended by a local friend of ours and the speakeasy bar sat in the quite side alley not far away from where we stayed. The name of the place may sound Japanese (Takusan) but owner picked this name out of a hexagram in I-ching, an old Chinese book of divination. The bar setting was intimate and cozy, dark with only a handful of seats over the counter plus a few tables at the back for bigger groups or those who wants more privacy. We didn't make a booking but luckily we got the last 2 seats at the bar when we arrived at the door at around 11pm. 

Turned out we did come to the right place to fill our appetite as they have a serious menu for both food and drinks. In fact, their menu started with food on top and then drink pairing recommendations at the bottom. Just like their name, it's hard to pinpoint the exact style of their cooking but it's more like a fusion between Japanese, Chinese and Western cuisines, and on the playful, adventurous side, and the menu changes frequently to keep things interesting. 

We started with a couple cheesy dishes. The fries looked ordinary but with grated goat cheese it's far richer and punchier than the normal version with parmesan. Our second course of Cheese "Tofu" looked like a normal bloc of soft tofu but was mascarpone cheese mousse topped with oolong tea powder and a slightly sweet honey-maple syrup sauce underneath. What an interesting appetizer with such unusual combination of ingredients and flavors.

Another playful "tofu" dish was served next, this time, a variation of the classic Sichuan "Jidouhua", or chicken "tofu". Chicken was finely minced and steamed to the texture of "Tofu" and served with a rich broth prepared with dried scallops and kombu and dusted with dried ham powder. Not as sophisticated as the most authentic version one would have at a proper restaurant, but tasty nonetheless. The chicken liver and apple puff pastry was served in generous portion with the buttery, golden crust with the creamy and rich peanut butter sauce on the side.

The eggplant "spring roll" was a twist to Nasu Dengaku with the grilled eggplant glazed with miso and served in a crunchy pastry roll. Chicken Karaage was perfectly done, served piping hot straight from the kitchen with excellent textures, and I also love the tamarind sauce. Our last savory course of rice was said to be done in Tenshindon style; it's more like a kamameshi with crab meat and scores of other ingredients mixed into steamed rice cooked with dashi. Only one dessert available on the menu, and it's the house-made velvet cupcake with nice moist texture. 

They offered drink pairing recommendation for each of the dishes, but at the end I managed just two cocktails. The classic Manhattan with the hint of smoke and sweetness worked well with the cheese "tofu", and after seeing their Mezcal selection on the rack, I asked Hank their bartender for a Mezcal-based cocktails so my second drink is a Naked and Famous with equal parts of mezcal, Aperol, chartreuse and a splash of citrus juice. Another smoky drink with slight bitterness that I love with my chicken karaage.

Happy to discover this hidden gem (thanks Deb for the recommendations) and it's an enjoyable spot for late night eat and drink.

When? Apr 13 2024
Where? Bar Zeshan, No 19 Lane 65 Section 2 Zhong Shan North Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei, Taiwan Bar澤山 台北中山區中山北路二段65巷19號,
Menu Highlights? Chicken Karaage with Tamarind Butter Sauce
Web: (Instagram)

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