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First Time at Taiwan Cafe

EATTV May 8, 2007 02:03 PM

Ever since I traveled to Hong Kong a few years back I have been dreaming about Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings). It was the day the red Sox became World Champions which my friends in China called "The World Serious". It was and so were the Bao. I had them at the Jumbo Floating restaurant which has some of best and elaborate Dim Sum according to some. The Jumbo is just that...huge. Onboard I was introduced to dumplings filled with crab and pork and magically: Hot Soup. Genius! But how? In a tour of the kitchens I learned that a soup stock is cooked down until very concentrated then chilled until it gels into an aspic. When wrapped inside the bao with the filling then steamed the soup reconstitutes. To eat the Xiao Long Bao one must pick it up in a spoon and with chop sticks balancing the bao, daintily bite off a small corner and suck out the soup without causing a geyser o'broth to annoint you or someone you lunch with. Fun and flavor adrift in HK. So where do we get em' round here? Joe's Shanghai in New York does them but until I had them for lunch today at the Taiwan Cafe no bao has come close here in the Hub. There was a short wait but the friendly hostess took our order and it flew onto the table as we sat and went something like this:

tea
a clear soup
Crab Xiao Long Bao (bigger than your standard bao, hot and delicious with a perfect blance of crab and a flavorful but not too greasy broth. Run don't wok.)
Grilled Taiwanese sausage (sweetly spiced lap cheung w/lettuce and whole garlic cloves)
Sauteed Little neck clams w/basil and black bean sauce (nice'n spicy over white rice)
Oyster Pancake w/gravy (a little sweet but a perfectly fried crepe with plump oysters)
Pea tendrils stir fried w/the free world's supply of garlic (like butter)
Taiwan style flat noodle w/seafood & vegetables (caught enough of the wok fire to be fresh and tasty but get that bit of char.)
Tall Tsing Taos

Although Taiwan Cafe was very busy the service was cheerful, helpful and efficient. A perfect lunch on a beautiful day. Let's always go here.
(Note to self: Find a friend from Taiwan and return and really crack this gem open)

 
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  1. yumyum May 8, 2007 02:09 PM

    Thanks for that report. I really love those crab dumplings at Taiwan Cafe, although some hounds I trust claim the xlb at King Fung are superior. I also love the beef with poblano peppers -- spice level depends upon the pepper so it can be quite exciting!

    2 Replies
    1. re: yumyum
      wittlejosh May 8, 2007 02:12 PM

      Don't like that they're too big for the spoon, but they sure are tasty.

      I'm a huge fan of their
      Jumbo Shrimp With Yellow Chives
      Eggplant With Basil
      Ma Po Tofu
      Beef With Poblano Peppers

      1. re: wittlejosh
        EATTV May 8, 2007 04:13 PM

        I will get those. Thanks for the tip. Know anyplace for hand drawn noodles like the lamented Noodle Alcove? Stir fried with vegetables and wok fired chili paste...alas.

    2. Rubee May 8, 2007 02:21 PM

      Agree with all the above. I also like the salt and pepper soft-shell crab in season, the edamame with mustard greens and tofu, and the minced pork roll in tofu silk.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Rubee
        EATTV May 8, 2007 04:10 PM

        I almost got the minced pork with tofu silk. Next time. As it was the two of us had to move to a four top to accomodate the dishes. I've also heard the fried pork intestine can't be matched.

      2. MichaelB May 8, 2007 02:25 PM

        Nice report. You hit some of my favorites there - those littlenecks are excellent, and the grilled sausage is a weakness of mine. I haven't loved their xlb in the past but your review makes me think I should try them again. In addition to the beef with spicy green peppers that yumyum mentions, I'd add the pan-fried dumplings and the eggplant with basil (sometimes a little sweet for some tastes but I love them). They also have a number of good tofu dishes, although I can't think of specific ones offhand.

        Note that the staff are generally quite helpful about explaining the less familiar menu items- they're informative (as in "that's made with fatty pork") without trying to steer you away from good stuff.

        1. Dax May 8, 2007 04:23 PM

          The beef with poblano is my favorite dish there. I wish I knew how to make it.

          Although they can be a little thick, I like getting an order of scallion pancakes to dip into the oyster sauce.

          Also love both the S&P fried pork and the S&P fried calamari.

          Missing TC,

          Dax

          1. limster May 8, 2007 05:24 PM

            Not often mentioned, but the noodle dishes there are good comforts. I have a soft spot for the noodles with braised minced pork, boiled egg, fish cake, chives and bean sprouts. Very southern Fujian.

            I find their xlb too big and slouchy, and the few times i've had it there, the broth was a bit oo dark, flavoured more like the braising stocks from Fujian (with dark soy sauce), rather than the lighter versions from Shanghai. The skins are too thick for my preference, but it's been a while since I've tried them. Will probably do a round-up when I get the chance.

            2 Replies
            1. re: limster
              Dax May 8, 2007 05:54 PM

              While I realize most of the cooks at TC have been there a while (especially the chubbier guy) and I have never asked what province the actual cooks were from, I was just listening to an NPR story this morning when they were talking about the huge influx into the US of people from the Fujiian province over the last 5+ or more years. The story revolved around their trying to get jobs cooking in "Chinese" restaurants all over the US (which apparently cumulatively outnumber the total number of McDs in the US). Perhaps this might explain the darker stock at TC? I have no idea, just a thought.

              1. re: Dax
                limster May 8, 2007 09:17 PM

                Yes - because Taiwan's just across from Fujian, the major group of Chinese in Taiwan are from the southern part of Fujian and Taiwanese food, while drawing specific dishes from many parts of Chinese, is very heavy on the Fujian (especially southern Fujian) side of things.

            2. Dr.Jimbob May 8, 2007 07:16 PM

              I've blathered on about this on another thread. I think the Taiwan Cafe XLB are a bit too big and chunky to have the delicacy that I associate with the best Shanghai style XLB. And I've been to a branch of Joe's in Flushing NY and was surprisingly disappointed by what I got there; similar went for Yeah Shanghai in Chinatown, though Shanghai Cafe is pretty good.

              But for XLB in Boston, my reigning champs remain Wing's Kitchen in Chinatown and Shanghai Gate in Allston. Though to be fair, I do agree that Taiwan Cafe will do in a pinch, and there's a lot of other really good food there.

              1. gini May 9, 2007 06:08 AM

                Nice report. I don't love the XLB at Taiwan Cafe, but have never found a suitable replacement in Boston for the ones I came to adore in NY. Other than all the fabulous dishes mentioned here, I'll also give a shout out for their soups and their weekend brunch.

                4 Replies
                1. re: gini
                  yumyum May 9, 2007 12:06 PM

                  Not to single you out, except I know you've had xlb at both King Fung and Taiwan Cafe. Besides the obvious size difference, can you compare and contrast? (Or anyone else who's tried both?)

                  1. re: yumyum
                    gini May 9, 2007 12:11 PM

                    Actually, I didn't have one at that KFG meal - there weren't enough to go around so I (graciously) gave mine to someone else.

                    Just appearance-wise, though, the ones at KFG were smaller. They didn't come with spoons though.

                    1. re: gini
                      yumyum May 9, 2007 12:13 PM

                      Oh rats. I thought *I* was the only one being gracious and passing on the xlb. Was it lissy who proclaimed them superior to Taiwan Cafe? Who's had both and can accurately compare? Hounds want to know!

                      1. re: yumyum
                        b
                        BJK May 10, 2007 07:05 AM

                        I've had both. While I agree that Taiwan Cafe's are too large, I do like them a lot. And while I love King Fung, I don't think their XLB are a strength. I prefer their other dumplings.

                        Wing's Kitchen has very good XLB too, but my local favorites are at Mary Chung in Central Square. Unfortunately they're only available during weekend brunch.

                        BK

                2. l
                  laotao Sep 2, 2008 10:40 AM

                  My family and I came to visit Boston from Chicago. After reading so many excellent reviews on Taiwan Café, we went there for lunch on 08/30/08 Saturday. We got there around 1:30 PM and the place was still packed. We had to wait for 20 minutes before we were seated. The place did not have air condition and it was like sitting in a sauna eating there. We ordered the Si Shen soup, meat soup(ro gen soup), Taichung meat ball, rice noodle stir fry, sausage fried rice, and oyster pancake. We had very high expectations but it was a huge disappointment. The Si Shen soup is good. The meat soup (ro gen soup) is so fishy and I hard ate any of it. The rice noodle stir fry is so greasy and all soft and lack of texture. The fried rice is so sticky and you can call it a congee. The rice used for fry rice should be cooked the first thing in the morning and let it cool and let the humidity out before you use it for fried rice. The sauce used for oyster pancake is from a commercial can or bottle, definitely not home made. The oil used for the oyster pancake is clearly not changed for more than two weeks. The oil is changed once a week at a good restaurant. The texture of the Taichung Meatball is like eating clay. I saw the breakfast items ordered by the next table, it is not authentic and does not look good by the look. It is quite a big disppointment for my family.

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