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Fu Yuan Restaurant Co. (Taipei, Taiwan)
||17 Lin Yi Street,|
Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Summer Volume: 2006 Issue: 13(2) page: 20 and 21
FU YUAN RESTAURANT is tops in our book; and we were lucky to have two special meals there. Taiwan has many wonderful restaurants. This one can best be described as Ming and magnificent. As a grand eatery, it is a five-story side-street sophisticated restaurant looking like it stepped into today’s Taipei directly from yesterday’s Ming Dynasty. The look of the place and the taste of its dishes are absolutely spectacular. Service matches and is in sync with its temple-palace-like ambiance.
We had two magnificent dinners there, both banquets, both repasts never to be forgotten. Their menus were selected by the most gracious of owners, Mary Yang. They were supervised by her caring brother Michael. The banquets, as Chinese lucky numbers dictate, had eight main dishes each. Though both printed menus began with 'Appetizer' and ended with 'Dessert' and 'Seasonal Fruit,' they were similar but far from the same.
Nor is every room or floor of this eatery identical; though there are similarities there, too. After the final dinner, we took a tour and saw the top floor where one table seats twenty-four or more. That room, shown below, has an indoor balcony for musicians and other entertainment, and ceiling, windows, lanterns, and other decor that look like they made the move from China, perhaps from one of China’s imperial palaces. The picture of this floor barely does it justice. Never have we seen such a grand Chinese dining room, and one day we do hope to live lavishly and dine there.
What is almost the same was one of this restaurant’s signature dish variations we dined on. We had it at the first banquet there called Braised Shark’s Fin with Chicken Soup. Then luckily we had a related dish at the second one. Though it was a similar-size shark’s fin, this dish came as Braised Shark’s Fin with Brown Sauce. Of course it did not look or taste the same, though the size of the fin virtually was. Twice we had an entire fin per person, that does make for comparison.
We were pleased with this almost repeat performance because these are outstanding shark’s fin dishes, both among the very best we ever had. As you can see from the picture of one of them, the one titled 'soup' came beautifully presented. Both actually were divine and delicious. We are still amazed that in each of them, an entire four-inch shark’s fin came centered in its deep bowl. Both were soft and sumptuous. How pleased we were to be indulged and gluttonous.
Starting at the beginning of both meals, when we arrived the tables came set with many appetizers. Not separating one banquet from the other, there are low-temperature long-cooked crispy crunchy and caramelized walnuts, delicious inch-long fried baby fish, fantastic deep-fried spinach spirals, and especially fine salted peanuts. These whet the appetite and tell of great things to follow; and they did!
Other appetizers included an abalone salad sitting on shredded lettuce, and one hot three-inch cube package per person of long-cooked belly pork with hot peppers and greens. A dish of stewed gluten comes tossed with snow peas, bamboo shoots, and cabbage; it is lapped with rich reduced sauce. An individual item resembling Lettuce Soong is brought in loaded with minced pigeon, pine nuts, and many kinds of minced vegetables. Lest we forget, the abalone comes drizzled with a mustard-wasabi topping to die for and several salmon eggs in a scalloped cucumber-looking leaf. What lovelies! All appetizers are plated on oval-shaped dishes made to hug the dinner plates; and all are blue, gold, and gorgeous.
Speaking of beauty, attention to detail is everywhere. Service attendants are costumed, magnificent paintings hang on every wall, silk cushions top all meant-to-be-sat-on furniture, antique ceramics grace all sidebars, even gold-tipped chopsticks sit at each place-setting. The room we are in Suzhou style, its ceiling warm and wood-covered; other rooms look like they recently arrived from other famous cities.
After appetizers at each of the meals, hand-crocheted doilies are placed on main service plates. Then, with not a sound to be heard, the bowls of shark’s fin arrive one by one. No small feat this, as they are serving about fifty people attending a phenomenal food conference. The dishes virtually sneak into the room. The shark’s fin dishes are long-cooked, accompanied by baby bok choy in one instance sitting in the most superior of reduced liquids one can possible imagine. The other one is no less luxurious looking and tasting.
Other dishes served at one or the other banquet include a center cut of what their menu calls Sauteed Fresh Grouper. It is lightly coated with several different flours. The Roasted T-bone Pork Steak sits among tiny intertwined pickled vegetables. There is also a super Steamed Wild Crab. My chef-seat-neighbor magically empties its body and roe, severs its swimmerettes, and makes my plate look decorated by a top notch modern food artist. The Filet Mignon another night is a circle under a perfectly prepared black pepper sauce. It is accompanied by baby corn and melting-mouth peas around it.
Dessert Refreshments include honey-sweetened Korean-type radish, a soft tofu custard, red dragon and other fruits including a half bell fruit, beautiful big black grapes, etc. These light endings leave everyone tasting them and every great item served. True to Chinese protocol, no one is stuffed, everyone deliciously sated.
During the meal, I notice one or two restaurant staff taking notes. Only later do I learn that management likes to keep records of what their guests like, and can then serve them these and other handsome, healthy, heavenly foods.
These banquets begin and end the Taiwan conference to which we were invited. Sandwiched between these two meals are other Taiwan restaurant treats in Taipei and in other cities. Several reports about them will appear in the next issues of this magazine. They are Chinese restaurants that the chefs and herbal doctors co-sponsoring this joint meeting own or adore. All of them are memorable, too. Every one deserves visits on every subsequent visit to Taiwan that we make.
One last item about the banquets. As we say farewell at the second one, we advise our hostess that the tea served matches their superb food. We wax poetic and honestly tell her it is the best tea we ever tasted. As we board buses to return to our hotel, she runs up to me, hands me a gift box, two lovely containers of their terrific tea. We had no idea it was sold there, did later see a blurb to that effect, and would gladly pay whatever the tariff is to enjoy it every day. It is illustrated below so you can see the box. Should you or we ever run across this Fu Yuan tea, take our advise; indulge yourself!