Memories of hot pot have always involved family and friends around one or two boiling pots of broth on hot plates, set upon the dining room table and enjoyed over conversation, often during the holidays such as Lunar New Year. Sometimes, it was simply the way my mom handled a meal when there were going to be a lot of people coming over for dinner. Raw cut meats, vegetables, bean thread noodles, and tofu were laid out on the table, waiting their turn to get dunked, cooked, then retrieved before being dipped into a personal bowl of XO sauce beat with a raw egg, and eaten.
It’s not enough, these days, to simply give a pass to vegetarian and vegan food. Going past crunchy, granola stereotypes often attached to a plant-based diet, I imagine, has to be a welcome option for those having adopted conscientious lifestyles.
Good thing there’s Dr. J’s Vibrant Cafe, a place you’ll want to visit for their teas and shakes but also their food – no matter what your diet. Because even if you’re an omnivore in Los Angeles, you’ll still eat out with some friends you might oblige with a more than the couple options than, say, what you might find on a menu at a BBQ place. (I know. The sacrifices you make.)
Over the past year, Lazy Ox Canteen has been one of my favorite spots to drop in and dally atÂ the bar with a glass of wine and a couple small plates. I very much enjoy the energy of the place, thoughÂ I prefer to not beÂ in the middle of it – or the dining room as part of a 6 top, for example.Â So when Michael Cardenas talked of his upcoming project immediately next door that would be a Japanese eatery, I was instantly curious. I could sense that he alsoÂ wanted a lot of energy pulsing through this adjacentÂ space, and I can now vouch that he’s successfully achieved this element.
There are not one but two bars at Aburiya Toranoko. One, of the spirits variety, rests opposite the restaurant’s trademark brick wall mural – complete with an oversized, looming mirror so diners and drinkers not be deprived of its view.Â This is where theÂ flatscreen is should you want to keep updated on the LakerÂ game.Â The other bar, of the sushi variety, is along the back wall. You’ll receive multiple laudatory andÂ exuberantÂ greetings in Japanese on your way back there, or wherever your seat may beÂ -Â and enjoy it. It’s an induction intoÂ this restaurant and a tone-setter for your meal.
You may find yourself having a hard time narrowing down whichÂ izakaya dishes to order. The courteous and knowledgable waitstaff are an important resource to aid you in doing so. When we ordered uni sushi, our helpful server instead suggested the Yanagita Farms Uni Goma Tofu. I’m glad she did, because itÂ was a perfect starter and a great little dish of savory topped with fresh uniÂ to kick things off.Â
The New UnionÂ FarmsÂ Sizzling Mushrooms with TobanyakiÂ is a must-order. Sizzle, those mushrooms did. You’ll find yourself licking the broth out of the bowl before it’s bussed away. Another one of my favorites happened to be off the special menu: Hakata-style tripe. It had a ton of flavor and I was only used to experiencing this profile with ramen noodles. But the tripe just soaked it all up with its extra soft texture. Its savoriness made me forget that I used to consider tripe as one of those weird things my parents ate…along with chicken feet.
Another favorite was on the regular menu, the braisedÂ Colorado Black Pork Kukuni, which came with a couple broth-soaked daikon slices and was so tender the cut fell apart at the…chopstick. Though you would have to try pretty hard to screw up braised pork, I loved that it wasn’t too sweet with veryÂ little fat and came with a little sliver of extra-potent mustard that broke up the richness withÂ its kick. (I also saw itÂ garnishing other dishes.)
Besides the izakaya, Toranoko also offers kukuni – or yakitori. That is, vegetables and/or meat on skewers. Those of you in the foie gras cult can appreciate the Duck with Foie Gras in White Balsamic Soy Sauce Reduction…on a stick! There’s also a selection of oden, or objects in broth, as our server explained. This was new to me, and we got a tofu purse bundle with mochi inside. It was good yet unsurprising and struck me a bit as a novelty, but I clearly have more to learn about oden. For those more bowl-inclined, there’s aÂ “rice/noodle/soup” section for that home feel. I hope to try something from this section next time on maybe a cold (for LA) dayÂ – perhaps a bowl of porridge.Â
On my visit, we also ordered a delicious sushi roll but I can’t confidently comment on Aburiya Toranoko’s rawÂ fish without a whole meal of it, and the focus was on the small plates for the night. The outlook on their sushiÂ is auspicious, though, since – for starters – the sushi chefs are indeed Japanese.
While they tout their hand-crafted cocktail menu made only with fresh juices and no added sugar, I still found the recipes themselves to err on the sweet side. A good bet would be to stay with the sake. My dining companion and I actually discovered a really delicious, unpasteurizedÂ one that was pleasantlyÂ at the bottom of the price range: Rin â€œOrganicâ€ out ofÂ Fukushima.
Aburiya Toranoko is one of those places that you have to go back to try all the different dimensions of their playbook. If you come with a group, I guess you could play all sections of the field by ordering a little bit of everything. But one thing’s for sure, the place continues to carry out Cardenas’ insistance on playing with his food. Since everyone in partnership, management and the heads of kitchen are Nobu alumni, however, it tends to give the food a more refined take.
Mon – Sun: 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM Sun – Thur: 5 – 11 PM
It was one of my last nights in Taiwan when my mom and I met one of her old childhood friends at Su Hung, a restaurant surprisingly located in a shopping structure adjacent to a subway station. As we ascended the stairs, a hot pot restaurant caught my eye – but I was ever lucky that Su Hung was the one that came recommended.
I had decided to resist the hype of Din Tai Fung, further dissuaded by word of endless waits and an eagerness to avoid being lumped into the “eating tourist” demographic. After all, why settle for the merely better-than-Arcadian version of the restaurant chain, with possibly an even worse wait? I had a bloodline to honor.
Su Hung offers not pork soup dumplings, but rather loofah-greens-and-shrimp soup dumplings. You can eat more of these than the very popular pork version and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more specialized soup dumpling anywhere else in Taipei – much less in America. There is less soup in these, but they’re a nice departure for diners looking for something lighter, a little different and less obvious.
There are plenty of other dishes at Su Hung that will quench your appetite for the savory, including the very delicious tofu dish which comes in a stone pot immersed in a broth made with braised crab eggs. Though I enjoyed pretty much everything that came out from the kitchen, this was my favorite preparation of tofu during my entire Taiwan trip (and you can guess that with all the meals shared with relatives, vegetarian and non-, there were a lot). Never the brave one to crack the middle innards of a crab shell open (I’m a leg woman), I really appreciated this delicious sauce and barely fried tofu with a texture that was silken yet could hold its own to the temperature. Boiling stone pots never fail to excite me as they approach the table – and this one far exceeded even my expectations.
If you’re looking for a unique yet delicious noodle dish, order the Simmered Noodles – a simple bowl of wheat noodles-in-chicken-broth that attains its complex taste and texture by, you guessed it, simmering for a long time. It’s dressed with tiny dried shrimp and green onion, and was perfectly comforting for that rainy day we happened to eat at Su Hung. Divy up that medium-sized bowl with your dining partners, and your seconds and thirds will show you that you wished the portion was even bigger. Guess you’ll have to order another, or another of their specialties.
And of course, the title picture may evoke memories…of the East Village. Rather than being portioned out individually at Momofuku for $9 a pop, you’ll get enough green onion, wilted cilantro (just like New York) and braised pork belly to fill 6 “bao” tacos for NT $360 (USD $12). You actually are given only 4 shells to begin with, but the waitstaff will graciously bring you more should you have more honey-braised pork belly to stuff them with. Of course, this is an unfair price point and cost-of-living comparison, but it’s just one more reason this dish is a definite must-order when you dine at Su Hung. It’s your favorite Hunan-style hamburger, ever that much closer to the source.
No meal is complete without dessert, and Su Hung has the perfect version of your typical red bean-filled sesame rice balls you would otherwise see being wheeled around, cold, on carts at San Gabriel Valley dim sum. This version comes hot and flat, like a freshly-made, sweet rice crepe, with the red bean oozing out from all sides at which it is cut.
Su Hung offers unique and well-executed dishes that will surely enrich your Taipei dining experience. It was ironic that the Taipei Times’ review of the place published online on the very day I dined there. It had mostly favorable views, consistent with my pleasant experience.Â It seems as though the businessmen that line their tables are really on to something – and those looking for a solid meal, period, would serve themselves well to take their cue.
11:30 AM – 2 PM 5:30 PM – 9 PM
Su Hung Restaurant 2-1, Jinan Rd Sec 1 Taipei City, Taiwan 02.2396.3186