Tuesday, March 30, 2010

El Toro @ ZhongXiao East Road, Taipei

The power of the Internet. A click to Google and a search that goes along the lines of "things to eat in Taipei" revealed that Chef Daniel who had a stint at El Bulli had just recently introduced molecular gastronomy in Taipei by opening his restaurant in Taipei.

If one can't exactly book himself for a flight to Spain and endure a year long advance reservation, El Toro actually sounds quite feasible.

Opposed to the impression that this place was all posh and fine dining, this place seemed rather relaxed and cosy. We found the place just before 12pm and we saw the man himself sitting outside with his computer and bubbly. Not overly desperate, we walked around and returned when everything was open and unfortunately that was the last we saw of Chef Daniel.

Going through reveals that the menu is more tapas like and it appears that amongst the chinese littered reviews, there must have been mentions that special dishes should be requested before hand via the telephone. Anyhow, they can accomodate with set menus starting from NT1,000 onwards if you trust your meal with the chef. We did just that with a NT 1,000 set and a NT 2,000 set.

To start things off, freshly baked bread which had some cheese blended in.

As a warning, majority of the staff will speak Mandarin as mother tongue and if you want, there was a lady that could speak in English but she didn't serve our table throughout lunch but only came once in awhile. We took it as a sign to just enjoy what was being served without knowing what was served.

Looked obvious enough to know that it was a honey coated chorizo sausage topped with oats. A solid and compressed piece of sausage that resembles the taiwanese sausage. It was about the best sausage i had in awhile and i swear i could eat the whole sausage regardless of whatever size it came in (in taiwan, sausages comes in foot long sizes too).

Thinly sliced salami served with diced tomatoes and bread. The relish-like tasted as if it had been doused with garlic, very pungent and unlike the usual bland ones which emphasises on the sweetness of the vegetable.

We tasted what seemed to be like mashed pumpkin with some nuts and a slightly sweet sauce. The dish was presented to us in Mandarin and we did catch the last word "chocolate". Further research online reveals that what we had eaten was infact pumpkin (thank god we weren't that bad), crab meat, nuts served in a white chocolate sauce! Resembles baby food and taste vaguely like that but a mile away in terms of flavours.

Mackarel sashimi or either lightly smoked with some nuts and tomatoes. Pop it in your mouth and sip on the fish broth that was surprisingly not too fishy.

The blood sausages. First sign of being fancy in terms of using foam. Unlike foams i have tried, the foam came with a hint of vanila and matched the deep blood sausage.

I have been lucky in terms of tasting good soup and we were served with beautiful pumpkin and cauliflower soup. Well made and wholesome, one cannot get enough.

I was hoping they serve us paella but instead we had risotto. Looked out of place in a Spanish restaurant. The mushroom risotto was slightly stodgy and didn't come across imaginative while the lighter flavoured prawn risotto was palatable with the fresh seafood.

The skate or the more common term used a.k.a stingray was a first for me in this form. Normally marinated with heavy spices and grilled in a banana leave, this was served simple with a passionfruit sauce. I didn't get it when another spoonful of what tasted like my pumpkin soup was served. The flaky fish was well cooked with a crispy skin top.

The sea bass was coated with nuts resulting in a caramelised sweet skin. At this point, we were wondering why the same items seemed to be recycled i.e. the pumpkin tasting sauce originating from the soup.

Apparently their special, a rolled chicken with pine nuts. We couldn't see what the hype of the dish, although it was well cooked and this time the sauce resembled the cauliflower soup.

Although the dish looks like a mess, we understood it was a pork belly with foie gras. Sounded like a formula that would strike gold but the belly was almost non-existent with 90% of it being fats and the foie was rather small in portion. However, what little meat i forked out was heavenly.

Desserts were served. The duo of chocolate mousse with pepper and lemongrass cotton cheese and the trio of chocolate mousse with pepper, their own version of tiramisu and a fig tart. The standout dessert was their tiramisu. At this point, the English speaking waitress came to tell us that the chef wanted to come up with his own interpretation and it was a damn fine version of cream cheese, peppermint and a thin layer of sponge.

A glass of white wine for NT150 completes the meal.

The meal, wine and a 10% service charge plus a complimentary coffee came up to NT3630, roughly under RM400.

Address and contact details:

110 Taiwan

508-2, Zhongxiao E Rd Sec 5, Taipei City

Taking the MRT? Stop at the station MRT Yong Chun, take the exit at no. 4 and walk straight ahead, crossing the pedestrian bridge. Follow the numbers until you find 508 and walk behind the building.

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. I think it was a case of overexcitement and a mile high expectation. The fact that i saw a few chinese looking chefs in their open kitchen and not seeing the Chef himself was disappointing and also didn't appreciate the flavours were recycled in some dishes. It would have been better if we looked at the ala-carte menu and splurged there instead. However I am glad to have tried it and didn't regret that decision to step in. People with a tighter budget will be glad to know their ala-carte prices are very decent between NT 150-500 a dish and their set lunch is only NT250!


J said...

Wah. Only 3.5 stars ah? - that's a pity! :(

Still, the food looks great! :)

"Joe" who is constantly craving said...

j: well for that kinda cult status the chef seems to have, a bit disappointing lor.

Christy said...

Hehehe, Joe is not just constantly craving but also constantly raving for high standards, eh? =P

Nice looking and such posh food, in Taipei...a distinctive change from the usual street food in most blogs ;)

Sean said...

non-halal molecular gastronomy is something we've never had in kl! heck, i've never even imagined foie gras with pork belly either. maybe we could ask a place like leonardo's whether they could whip up that recipe, since they have all the ingredients already :D

CUMI & CIKI said...

you arr.. damn high standards one arrr :P hehe. 3.5 chis, so low?!

the photos are great. your description of the seabass so kesian.. recycled? but it looks so lovely!

Jun said...

ah, the el bulli connection... no wonder having this kinda food in taipei as opposed to, say, stinky tofu by the roadside XD

"Joe" who is constantly craving said...

jun: one just cant resist the connection..and no stinky tofu, can puke while waiting for it to cook.

c&c: haha too high expectations, if not maybe higher

sean: im sure u can request the next time u go!

christy: yeah do the things local do, not eat street food every meal!

Bangsar-bAbE said...

Lovely pictures. I was expecting street food, but this is a pleasant surprise! How was the blood sausage?

"Joe" who is constantly craving said...

bbabe: well its not all about street food, but that should be next!

joanh said...

i was also disappointed when i went for lunch to see chef daniel at a nearby table on his laptop and then talking with someone outside. the raved about paella also had to be ordered in advance so we didn't get any of that. i felt like the food didn't meet my high expectations either, but didn't know if that would change if chef daniel was in the kitchen.

"Joe" who is constantly craving said...

joanh: looks like we had the same experience!

christina said...

looks like you got to try a lot more things than I did when i went! lovely pictures!

"Joe" who is constantly craving said...

christina: heeh i did