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The Who Café

I’d seen 3D latte art in Taipei on Instagram so when I visited I asked my hotel to suggest where I could find a café that offers it and they came up with The Who Café which is a couple blocks from the Taipei 101 MRT station, exit 2. It’s hard to find as it’s on the second floor and the stairs are between a garage and a cake shop.

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When I went there, I passed it the first time I went up the street. I did find it, but didn’t know they didn’t open till 11:00 am so my plan for breakfast there was out. (I wound up going back up the street to a Starbucks.)

Later in the day I returned and got the cat latte above. I got the brown sugar latte which was sweet but not too sweet. The Who Café is best to visit when you’re not in a hurry because the artful lattes do take time and it also seemed like the staff wasn’t all that organized. So though I had to leave in a rush, I would go back and was happy with my drink.

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A Shame

Recently to celebrate a friends’ birthday, four friends and I went to eat at Bon Appetit, an Italian restaurant which used to be run by an Italian American married to a woman from Jinan. About a year ago he returned to the US so his children could have a better education.

The last time I went, which was a while back, the food was good, but the service wasn’t what it used to be. This time my food and the food that two of my friends ordered was fine. Unfortunately, two other friends got terrible food poisoning and were up all night in the bathroom. The birthday “girl” was so sick that she had to cancel classes the next day.

The last thing a restaurant should do is make people sick. I emailed them and never got a reply. I would have let this problem go, but I don’t want Bon Appetit to make other people sick. I wouldn’t wish food poisoning on anyone. Last weekend I got a Chinese friend to call them. The response was very disappointing. They insisted that none of the other guests got sick. Well, we were the only table in the restaurant that night. There were no other guests. We weren’t looking for freebies. I just wanted to tell them about a problem so they could correct it and build their business. I used to want to see them succeed. Now their defensiveness has completely turned me off. I’d never return to Bon Appetit, which used to be a gem.

Those days are over and neglect has ruined a once good restaurant.

Guild Hall Dining, #1

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While on a walking tour of Beijing’s Tienanmen Square and environs, I learned that from way back when each province of China has had guild halls where envoys from the provinces would stay. These halls also have restaurants where anyone can sample the best cuisine from each province for a relatively low price.

I found a list of these spots on a blog called Eileen Eats and have wanted to visit some for quite a while. This past weekend I had a friend who was game and we went to Xingjiang Fanzhuang Urumuqi Muncipal Office for lunch.

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Since the blog contains the addresses in Chinese as well as the romanized pinyin, we could show a taxi where to go. Urumuqi is the capital of Xinjiang, a western province with a large population of Uighurs, an ethnic group that differs from the Han Chinese in language, culture and politics. I’ve had good Uighur food in Beijing at a restaurant that’s disappeared and on my trip to Urumuqi.

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Lamb & onions

After a 15 minute taxi ride from the South Cathedral at Xuanwumen, we arrived in a neighborhood and weren’t sure we got to the right place, then we saw a Central Asian facade on a building set back from the street. Sure enough this was the right place.

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Potatoes

Upon entering we where struck by the noisy bustle of the restaurant. The place was busy and the wait staff scurried about. Soon someone noticed us and gave us a card with a number. Then after awhile someone was shouting a number in Chinese and was getting frustrated that no one was responding. I guessed, correctly, that they were calling for us. We were shown to a table and given a menu with English and with photos. Since it seemed we were the only foreigners there we were surprised, and delighted that there was English. The menu featured a lot of lamb dishes and some exotic items like braised camel’s feet. We chose a lamb and onion dish, some meat pockets, which were a lot like what a Mongolian friend would make, and Xinjiang vegetables, which turned out to be potatoes in a spicy sauce.

The food was fine, but not spectacular. Our tab came to 62 rmb (so less than $10 USD). The decor was Central Asian with a touch of Russian.

I think we should have followed Eileen’s advice and gotten the “polou rice.” I was just delighted that we found a place off the beaten path. I’d definitely try another provincial restaurant and possibly go back to this one if a friend was eager. It was easy to get a cab back to the city center.

(Tip – If you don’t speak Chinese, just say Tienanmen or Wangfujing and you’ll get to a place where you’re likely to find something to do or hop on the subway.)

Restaurant Review

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Dianne, her student Emma and I went to Daming Lake on Tuesday for what’s become a weekly evening walk. Before the moon came out, we found a new, intriguing restaurant in a refurbished old shop by the canals downtown. The name is in Chinese and I can’t

While the exterior looks traditional, inside there’s a crisp, bright, artsy look.

Restaurant marked in red

Restaurant location marked in red

With Emma’s help we ordered mixed vegetables, fried tofu and what we thought was tempura rose petals.

The tofu was served in a dramatic manner. The server brought us a black plate with a circle of salt and the tofu stuffed inside foil. She lit the salt and flames heated the tofu before they went out. Then she cut a cross through the tofu to open it.

The tempura rose petals turned out to be tempura mashed purple potatoes, with rose petals as a garnish. Probably tastier than the petals we thought we’d get. I admit I first thought it was red bean paste inside and I turned up my nose at the dish. Once Emma said it was purple potatoes, I liked it. That says a lot more about me and psychology than the food itself.

The mixed vegetables, while not innovative were a tasty addition to the meal. We’d definitely return.

New Restaurant

Perhaps you remember that one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants, The Red Door Restaurant, was demolished a year ago. It was sad to watch it get knocked down day by day.

I’d hoped that they’d build a new restaurant, a bigger one on that spot, but alas they didn’t. The neighborhood got a cheap love hotel instead.

Well, last week I was walking home and bumped into the woman who seemed to manage The Red Door. Through pantomime I got her to write down her new place’s address and phone number. I got someone in our Foreign Affairs office to find its location on the Internet. On Saturday I convinced three Australian teachers to give the place a try.

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I’d been told that the place was about a 20 minute walk and I only had a vague idea of where it was so I thought taking a taxi there wo uld be best. Good luck finding one. We waited by school and then by Di Kou Lu and after an hour were still waiting. (It’s always been hard to get a cab at dinner time.) We wound up walking. We zigzagged through the neighborhood right to the west of school, where parts are rather squalid. One friend kept asking whether I knew where I was going. She wasn’t used to the drab, old, concrete buildings in the little hutongs.

We eventually found the new restaurant, with the help of some Chinese people who lived in its neighborhood and had yet to try it.

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We got the famed feng wei qiezi, a dish I’d hoped was spicy chicken with bread pockets, a spicy tofu dish my friends like and broccoli with garlic. The chicken was the only disappointment. I hope I just ordered wrong. My favorite version had pieces of cut chicken without bones. This not only had lots of little bones to be careful of there were chicken feet in it too. Everything else was as good as I remembered.

The familiar employees weren’t on duty that night, but someone must have called the owners because the woman and her not-so-little-anymore girl came to say hello. I’m sure this was the first time foreigners had crossed the threshold of this out of the way eatery.

I had my camera, but forgot to use it till midway through the meal. I do have to go back and see whether I can get the ‘right’ chicken with bread pockets and a few other old favorites. The street is far, but they seem to have a few good restaurants that might be worth a walk.

Why I’m Not the Least Bit Hungry

For Thanksgiving a number of us went to the Hyatt Hotel in Jinan where we feasted on: turkey, cranberry, rabbit, beef, ham, beef stew, carrots, Brussels sprouts cooked with bacon, corn,  fish, prawns, clams, caviar, three kinds of cheese, paté, an assortment of breads, sushi, pizza, mini hamburgers, pumpkin soup, salad, and hot pot. I did not try everything, but most everything was scrumptious.

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For dessert there was ice cream, six flavors including pumpkin, which I’m told was delicious, pumpkin pudding, which I’ll say was outstanding, pecan pie, tiramisu, chocolate mousse, Napoleons, panna cota, pumpkin pie, which disappointed, peanut-chocolate brownies, mango cake, chocolate chip cookies, egg tarts, crepes, waffles, cupcakes that looked like turkeys, and fruit.

Time to exercise.

Breakfast at the Mercure

This morning some of us met a friend who was staying at the Mercure Hotel and had breakfast there. I think I like breakfast better than the brunch. Pancakes, French toast, sausages, bacon, as well as Chinese dough sticks, donuts, cappuccino various hot dishes and salads were all on offer.

Harbin, Russian Tea Room

Russian Tea Room, Harbin

Russian Tea Room, Harbin

Eating at the Russian Tea Room in Harbin is like eating in a Russian grandmother’s house. The decor is homey, full of antiques from former Russians who lived in Harbin in the early 20th century.

I enjoyed the Russian tea (14 rmb) and salad, but the chicken and rice (29 rmb) was bland. I don’t know much about Russian food other than borscht so I could be wrong, but the chicken and rice looked quasi-Chinese, though the menu offered Chinese chicken and rice as well. I’d definitely return, but I’d order something else.


C Rating

There’s a newer restaurant in the neighborhood that we call “Fahad’s Restaurant” because it’s the only one he’ll eat in. It’s got a rather up scale decor for this part of town with lots of red and gold. Fahad can’t bring himself to eat anywhere else around here.

Some of the restaurants in Jinan have posted a sign that shows how the food inspector has rated their establishment. Last week I saw that Fahad’s restaurant just got a C, the lowest rating symbolized with a red unhappy face. I’ve never been in that kitchen, but wouldn’t be surprised by anything here.

Needs improvement

Needs improvement

Yesterday I went to the “dumpling restaurant,” a hole in the wall with food I’ve always liked and a kitchen I’ve only gotten a glimpse of. I wouldn’t want to get a tour of that kitchen.

Guess what? Their inspection got the same result as Fahad’s restaurant. Hmm.

Any theories? I’ve got a few.

Jinan’s Irish Pub

Very Irish decor

Very Irish decor

Friday some of us celebrated St. Patrick’s Day early by going to the Irish pub here in Jinan, in the mall across from the old stadium. I was surprised to see a children’s birthday party in progess at the pub. There was a table with about a dozen 10 year olds. At the far end of the pub a big screen showed Despicable Me 2. So the atmosphere didn’t quite match the decor.

The woman who served us spoke English well and was very attentive. There weren’t many people there. I don’t think this mall gets the same traffic as more central shopping areas do and that affects business.

Since it was Friday and Lent, I had the tuna panini. The beef stew with mashed potatoes looked good, though the portion was on the small side. Other friends got shepard’s pie and fish and chips, which again looked good. I loved my indulgent Bailey’s milkshake. What a great idea! They had Guinness stout and lots of beers. One friend had a Belgian beer, Delrium Tremens, which came in a glass with the brand’s pink elephants. Another friend ordered a different beer and that came in a special glass. While I don’t care for beer, these unique glasses have captured my imagination.

The prices were on the high side, but that’s how it is when you go for imported food. It was a nice way to end the week. If you go, go for a restaurant rather than bar experience.

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