More on JJ Taipei
I know there are at least two threads on JJ Taipei to which I would like to add my 2 cents, but the search engine has not responded well to my efforts so I am starting this new one. If one of the watchers can add my comments to an existing thread, I would welcome their intervention.
Went there last week with two serious Chinese food eaters. One has spent a lot of time on the mainland and on Taiwan and the other is a veteran eater on the local scene.
From the panchan style appetizer tray, we ordered spicy bamboo shoots, baby octopus, and crispy fried fish. From the menu we ordered dumplings, stinky tofu, three cups cuttlefish, and and pea pod leaves (?).
First warning, the appetizer tray is misleading. Contrary to the marketing norm, the portion size on the display tray looks much smaller than what is actually served. We planned to order three appetizers plus dumplings and four mains (three protein and one veggie). When the appetizers arrived we cut our mains to two proteins, with the result that we did not get the precise balance I would have liked.
The dumplings were ordered before I got to our table so I do not know what they were called. The dough was thick and almost spongy. The filling was porky with a bit of green (cabbage?) thrown in. Unlike some fillings it was not minced to the point of indistinguishability. On their plate of 4, they looked a bit like fat soup dumplings, with that elegant twist to their top. I would have pushed for soup dumplings instead, but these were fine.
Of the appetizers the fried fish was the favorite. It was cold and still a bit crispy with a thick sweet sauce. I liked the spicy squid and bamboo shoots as well. We were told both were spicy, but at the table neither rang any smoke detectors.
As for the tofu, cuttlefish, and peapod leaves, we enjoyed all of them, but two of the items needed a bit of help. First the stinky tofu does indeed smell like sweat socks that have hung around too long in a locker room. They very much need the accompanying hot sauce to cut the taste. They also need something that JJ Taipei cannot provide. As our China-dwelling friend described, they should be eaten on a hot sticky evening accompanied by a lot of cold beer. The contrast of the hot weather, the refreshing soothing beer, the spicy sauce and the sinky tofu makes the experience work. Unfortunately the resto lacks a license, the weather had not yet turned hot and so we were left with only two of the necessary ingredients. Since Boston frowns on BYOB, it will be difficult to replicate the ideal conditions for eating stinky tofu at JJ Taipei. But we can at least wait till the summer heat and then smuggle in some beers in discreet brown bags or go for take-out. Until I can try that, I suspend judgment on stinky tofu.
The cuttle fish portion is huge. I have thought that one of the elements of its proper preparation is the prior removal of its long thin bones. Those however were left in and so delayed the eating as one fished out the long cartalagenous (sp?) tendrils. Some of the pieces were tender and soft; some required more chewing. If I had to do it over again I would have ordered the chicken. The sauce was good, but the bone removal as well as the texture and taste were not worth the effort.
The pea pod leaves were excellent. It was the only main dish that our table of three completely demolished. BTW I have often been confused by what this is called. I cannot remember how it was named on the menu, but whatever its nomenclature it seems to come in two forms: one the thin, tooth clogging tendril shoots, the other the soft leaves. I prefer the latter, but don't mind the former. However I never know what I will get because Chinese resto menus seem to mix the two names up. Any help out there?
Once I did ask and was told that the restaurants themselves don't know which of the two forms they will get from their suppliers so they use a one-size fits all naming policy.
As the evening drew to a close, we started to discuss where to get good ginger beer and that led us to Blanchard's, but that will have to wait for a separate and later thread.