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Taipei Cafe, Rockville, MD January 17, 2014

Posted by hslu in Restaurants.
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Rockville, MD  has many Chinese restaurants and most cater to Chinese customers. Taipei Cafe, 顶鲜台湾料理, is no different from the others. The fact that we drove more than 20 miles from VA to sample its food says something about the allure of a new Chinese restaurant. Their ads started to appear on free Chinese Newspapers about 2 to 3 weeks ago. We took our Dad there because he likes to try new Chinese restaurants too.

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I have to give Taipei Cafe a thumb up because it is difficult to make it in Chinese restaurant business because All-You-Can-Eat buffets squeeze out all the margins from the top and rising costs, seafood and labor cost in particular, eat their profit, if there is any, like it is a free lunch.

Taipei Cafe probably didn’t cost the owners very much to open because there wasn’t any decoration to speak of. Well, most of the Chinese restaurants are like that. I was surprised at the size of the restaurant: 3 separate sections including a 30-40 people party room, a main dinning room with 60 to 70 seats and some tables in the front. But the latter probably won’t get used other than lunch time on Saturdays and Sundays.

It was somewhat busy when we were there on a Thursday evening about 7:20 PM: there were about 50 customers in the dining room before us. A few more came right before we left the restaurant at 8:20 PM or so. I know people come for 台湾料理 “Taiwanese cuisine” but they won;t come back if it is not authentic. There is another Taiwanese restaurant about 1/4 of mile away.

Well, competition is always good for the customers. They are cut throat among restaurants; especially Chinese restaurants. The reason is simple: not very many Americans will come and there is no Latinos at all. Very few Indians come for Taiwanese food either.

I hope they can make it.

Now, let’s take a look of the restaurant and their food:

I have seen similar display at a popular Taiwanese restaurant in Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan.

I have seen similar display at a popular Taiwanese restaurant in Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan.

You see this when you walk in the restaurant. It means:"When you are having a meal, you are as big as an emperor."

You see this when you walk in the restaurant. It means:”When you are having a meal, you are as important as an emperor.”

I am not too sure what this means. It's Taiwanese.

I am not too sure what this means. It’s Taiwanese.

It says: "I am afraid of my wife." I am not sure who the "我“ it is referring to? Is it trying to make a statement? Hmmm....

It says: “I am afraid of my wife.” I am not sure who the “我“ it is referring to? Is it trying to make a statement? Hmmm….

We had four appetizers and three main dishes, My wife also ordered a bowl of 尤鱼羹 “squid in thick broth.”

As usual, we ordered way too much for the three of us.

The four appetizers were:

1.   豆腐干 Sliced dried bean curds in soy sauce with sesame oil, some vinegar and sugar. I couldn’t taste any special spice in this dish. Kind like what I had 40 years ago at a food cart, usually after midnight with a friend or two, not far from our university in Tainan. This dish reminded me of those days when we had a bottle of 高粱, a small plate of 豆腐干, a small plate of 卤海带, a few pieces of duck neck 鸭脖子and a bowl of 阳春面 plus a 卤蛋。

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2.   臭豆腐 Stinky tofu. There are four things that need to come together to make this a memorable dish: a) the stinky tofu shouldn’t be fried for too long, 2) the pickled cabbage (with some carrots) should be on the sweet side so that it would complement the deep-fried tofu, 3) the sauce that goes with the tofu shouldn’t be just some soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil, and 4) it own;t complete until hot sauce was added right before you eat them together. The stinky tofu was okay; slightly on the side of staying in the deep fryer a little too long. The pickled cabbage was bad: it was under marinated and I could taste the raw cabbage in my mouth. It was too spicy and there wan’t any sweetness, at least I didn’t taste it. We has to ask for hot sauce because it wasn’t offered on the plate.

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冰镇蹄膀 Cold Pork shoulder meat: nothing to write home about and will not order this again. The slices were too thick and poorly seasoned. The name was better than the dish itself.

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凉拌海蜇 Jellyfish cold plate: A good dish to order but it came after we already started our main courses. If I have to complaint, I’ll say the sauce wasn’t sophisticated enough.

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Three entrées were:

1.   香芹豆干 Dried bean curd with Chinese celery. I knew I has dried bean curd for appetizer already but I couldn’t pass this dish on because I like the combination a lot. I like this dish and the Chinese celery wasn’t tough to chew either. Not overly salty and the bean curd had the right firmness.

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2.   韭黄牛肉 Yellow Chinese chive with shredded beef. Again, lightly seasoned like what it should be and beef was tender too. If a few slices of red bell pepper would make it even better.

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3.   砂锅鱼头 Fish Head in a Clay Pot: It is important to prepare this dish so that it doesn’t smell like a fish dish to begin with. I think Taipei Cafe accomplished that. The hearty soup was not salty but quite tasty, the fish meat, if you could find it, was so tender that it almost melted in my mouth, Chinese cabbage was well cooked, a few pieces of taro root were also well-cooked, the deep-fried tofu was a bit small and to my disappointment, there wasn’t any green bean cellophane noodles at the bottom. When the big clay pot was bought to our table, it didn’t come with a ladle  and three small bowls. We had to ask for them and the wait staff was very quick to bring them to us though.

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My wife also order a side dish of squid in thick broth: 尤鱼羹。Well, I didn’t like it because it wasn’t like what I had at any of Taiwan’s night markets. The squid wasn’t coated with fish paste and the broth was too dark. It also need more black vinegar and white pepper too. I may be picky because I like my squid coated in white fish paste floating in alight colored broth with cilantro coarsely cut in similar lengths. To Taipei Cafe’s credit, some enoki mushroom was added to the broth which was a plus.

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The quantity was very good. The prices were reasonable. The service was quick. The kitchen was very efficient putting out dishes. The wait staff was courteous and friendly. A couple of Latinos were very friendly as well and they did smile a lot.

We will for sure go back to try more dishes at Taipei Cafe even though we have to fight the awful traffic on the north loop of the notorious Washington Beltway. It would be a good place to have some lunch too.

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