Taiwan Cafe - a little funky...?
We stopped in late on Friday night to Taiwan Cafe based on what I perceived as near-universal acclaim on the board.
House-style noodles with eel
Sauteed pea greens
Maybe poor choices, but we struggled to enjoy the food.
The oyster pancake was just too funky...runny eggy "pancake" with unidentifiable gelatinous bits and lots of oysters, which I am guessing were canned? Slathered in redish-brown gravy. Did not look particularly appetizing. I guess I was thinking, "Cool...scallion pancake with oysters..." but this was rather different.
The noodles were good (flat variety) but the eel was in slivers and tasted just slightly...off...somehow, as in from a can, rather than unagi-style eel, which I guess is what I was expecting.
The pea greens were delish! Thoroughly enjoyed them, simple preparation with chicken-based broth (I think) and garlic.
Based on the other reviews, I am guessing that the food must have been all very authentic Taiwanese, properly prepared and so forth, which so happened to be just a little too unexpected for my Sino-Americanized palate. Thoughts? Other ordering recommendations? I mean, let me be clear that when I say off, it was to a degree that made me think it was my experience level that was being tested, rather than food that was spoiled. Although I thought for the bounty of oysters and eel that was in each dish respectively, I thought it had to come from a pre-packaged source and was not fresh. Perhaps also the time had something to do with it? It was midnight when we rolled in. Oh, and cash only...? Bother.
Anyway, I welcome your feedback.
I remember getting the eel dish on 1 of my first trips to TC..None of us went nuts for it and I haven't had it since so that says something. I much prefer the eel/black bean or maggei prep of the eel at other Chinatown favorites.
I occassionally get the oyster pancake, but Ms 9 agrees with you..too runny. Ther recent version at Potluck Cafe is far better..and worth trying if you like that dish.
My "always order" TC dishes are the poblano beef, basil eggplant..often the soup dumplings or pan fried ravioli. They also have a pork belly/taro root..that's on the lunch menu or specials page that I like a lot..also a seafood clay pot..good sliced kidney dish. Soft shell crabs are good..not quite PFS. I'm probably forgetting a few more of my favorite; but I'm sure others will weigh in.
I have eaten there twice. My impressions were the food ranged from fair to awful. Can't agree with Chowhound consensus all the time.
Edit: It's possible I just don't appreciate authentic Taiwanese food, because I also disliked Mulan. If so, this would be the first cuisine I can think of I really don't like. But I love Shangri La and it's supposedly Taiwanese, so...?
Oyster pancake means oyster omelet, at least every time I've ever had one. I've never had it at TC.
Eating at TC makes me feel like eating in someone's kitchen- the food is simple in flavor, often unbalanced, often a little funky. Taiwanese food generally makes me feel like that. It's also sweeter than most Americans are used to.
I think you can't go wrong with the salt and pepper pork chop bits, the greens, the eggplant with basil (although this is one of those super-sweet dishes), and the beef with peppers (which is sometimes a little bland).
I think TC gets a lot of points here for being different, since there aren't that many Taiwanese places around, and they tend to be equally hit-or-miss (MuLan, May's Cafe).
If you're interested, I've had a series of good meals at Wisteria House, though I am no expert on authentic Taiwanese. Fantastic yellow chive and leek/pork dumplings.
I will say that my first visit to Taiwan Cafe was not a success. That was about 10 years ago, and thank heavens we gave it a second try, as I've probably been there on average once a month now for the past 8 - 9 years.
All I remember from my first visit was thinking that the clams with basil were way too garlicky and salty.
What I can tell you from the 100 or so subsequent visits is that I have never been anything less than thrilled with:
"mini steamed buns with pork" - a.k.a. soup dumplings, xiao long bao, or xlb. larger than those I've had anywhere else, but very tasty.
salt & pepper fried pork
Taiwanese style pan fried dumplings
Taiwanese fried rice with chicken
Noodles with ground pork and broad bean sauce
Noodles with beef and sa cha sauce
Homestyle braised eggplant with basil
Beef with poblano peppers (sometimes listed as longhorn peppers)
Beef with sa cha sauce
Pork or beef with bamboo shoots
Pork with mustard greens
I guess we lean towards non-seafood items, but I've seen many a fish come out of that kitchen, so don't take my experience as gospel. Just don't give up!