Friday, February 19, 2010

East Meets West... When Fusion Works

A few weeks ago, I posted lamenting some of the failed attempts that the Taiwanese have made at American food, and perhaps I was a little harsh. There are many times that fusion cuisine does what it was intended to do and joins the best parts of two culinary traditions into one mega-experience of gastronomic bliss. Last night was one such experience. Since Chinese New Year fell on February 14 this year, Chris and I opted not to brave the crowds at one of the few restaurants that were actually open. Instead, we celebrated our Valentine’s Day last night and we were oh-so-glad that we waited.

Knowing that I love all things French, and especially French food, Chris found a French restaurant that had been recommended to us by a friend. But, this wasn’t just your regular run-of-the-mill French food. The genius behind this establishment was that they fused French cuisine with the Japanese teppanyaki tradition of cooking on your table. I thought at first that this might be a little gimmicky and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Admittedly, French food can lean toward the heavier side since, as we all know, everything tastes better with more butter. But here is where the genius comes in. When these French favorites were prepared fresh, on your table, with very little fuss with sauces and spices, they took on a new lightness that was, well, life-changing.

It all started with the escargot. The thing with escargot is that when it isn’t prepared well, it is nothing but a chewy chunk of rubber soaked in grease. But, when it is prepared well, it becomes a soft pillow serving as the vehicle of garlic and butter sending the one blessed enough to enjoy it into a state of ecstasy. Last night’s experience was one of the latter. They brought special dishes to our table and we watched as our chef stirred and poured and whipped up one of the freshest and best servings of escargot I have ever had. My only grievance was that I didn’t have any bread to mop up the leftover sauce. So, I did the best I could with my utensils and was able to have enough self-control not to lick the plate before the wait staff came and took away the nearly spotless dish.

The next course was fresh fish perfectly steamed on a bed of French onions. This was followed by prawns and scallops that were seared before our eyes and served with a delicate soy wasabi sauce that we were almost afraid to try for fear of adulterating the tender sweetness of the seafood. Even the salad was exquisite with a sweet yet tangy dressing that escorted the vegetables across your palate. All of this was delectable. But it was the final course that sealed the fate of this meal to be one of the best I have ever eaten.

Chris and I both ordered our steak to be cooked medium and watched as our chef expertly carved the meat and let it cook on the table. I ordered the New York strip and Chris ordered the steak that was only described as “Japanese”. Once the meat was cooked satisfactorily, our chef graciously put half of each variety of beef on each of our plates. Now, the New York strip was wonderful and if we had enjoyed only that, we would have deemed the meal wonderful and not thought anything about it. But the Japanese meat, oh the Japanese meat, was transcendent. Perfectly cooked with a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness that made you have to stop and catch your breath. We lightly dipped the New York strip in the soy wasabi sauce but wouldn’t allow anything to come near the Japanese beef except our taste buds. In a blissful daze, our plates were cleared and we were instructed that dessert and coffee awaited us in the piano bar.

At this point, we knew that nothing was going to be able to top the aforementioned pièce de résistance but dessert sure did come close. Once seated in the piano bar, we were served a molten chocolate cake with ice cream and fresh fruit. The light and fluffy chocolate cake perfectly complemented the oozing chocolate decadence within. Sealed with a rich cup of coffee, it was indeed a very happy Valentine’s Day.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mary Poppins

So, I finally got the guts up (or maybe I just lost enough couth) to get some video evidence of one of our favorite early morning exercisers in the park. We have named him Mary Poppins because we think he looks like he belongs in the Chimney Sweep song accompanying ol' Dick Van Dyke. He comes out just about every morning doing variations of this. There was a short time at the beginning of the school year where he seemed to be teaching an exercise class to some of the elderly people who congregated in the park. Sadly, to the misfortune of everyone, this class was canceled due to lack of interest. I apologize in advance for the low quality video but, you get what you pay for people.

We also have a new addition to the morning crazies. This gentleman climbs some stairs that lead to the top of a hill on the edge of the park. He then commences to yell as loudly as he can for as long as he can. He then takes about five steps to his left where he yells again, as loudly as he can for as long as he can. He does this for the entire length of the park. Placing himself on top of the hill puts him at just enough of a distance to make the yelling more hysterical than obnoxious. Thank you, Taiwan, for always making my mornings interesting.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Best Prom Night Ever

By: Coach

For any coach or player the most exciting part about playing a sport is the tournament. I can still remember the excitement and drama of the state final four a few years ago. Every practice was crucially important; each day would bring a tension that you could not ignore. The same is true for the teams at GCA. The big difference is that here that is pretty much ALL we have to look forward to. In our league there are no season records or standings. You can contact other schools for games but they mean absolutely nothing in regards to the end of the year results. In the States a team will play anywhere from 20 to 30 real games before any type of elimination begins. If your team does not fair well in post season play it usually is not the end of the world because you have a lot of season memories and (hopefully) wins to hang your hat on. For our basketball team this year the weekend of the tournament was a lot like a high school prom. Allow me to explain.

Prom is arguably the most anticipated event for the senior class and many hours go into the planning, purchasing, tanning and stressing. Many seniors start planning who they will go to the prom with at the start of school! The build-up for this monumental (and at the same time utterly pointless) night is overbearing for most high-schoolers. The night comes and goes and memories are made, pictures are taken, rugs are cut and many a Waffle House makes their quota. Then comes the morning after. I distinctly remember what I mumbled to myself as I rolled out of bed that Saturday after the big night. “That was it?”

Our trip this year to our “Big Dance” (pun intended) was about 6 hours. One way. In rinky dink school vans. Sound like fun? Did I mention that in the past when we make this trip we sleep on the gym floor on Friday to save money? Oh I forgot that 3 other teams would be doing the same! This would mark my 3rd time to the south of the island and believe me I was about as thrilled as Walter Matthau would be to sleep on a hard gym floor once again. Our first game was scheduled for 5:30 Friday night against a team I have never faced but our school is 1-0 all time against them so we were hoping to have history on our side. Let’s just say that we are now 1-1 and more than likely trailing badly in point differential. Following our loss I remember thinking, “This is what we have been waiting to experience? A long, ipodless ride where I can only fall asleep long enough to lose the feeling in my legs because of the cramped space. We get pounded by a local team that will enjoy the comfort of their own beds. On the other hand not only will I lose sleep over losing (which I do no matter where I sleep) I get to lose sleep in the very gym where we suffered the loss! Is this is a cruel joke?”

Right then I must have felt like the guy who gets rejected when he asks his crush to prom. Maybe it was like the poor soul who spills punch all over his tuxedo, or even worse, on his date with the bright yellow dress. That’s when something magical and unexpected happened. I was informed that my assistant coach, my players and I would NOT be staying at the gym that night. Our principal had found a hotel that was “reasonable” and so off we went to check into our new quarters. I have to admit, I was not expecting anything amazing so when we arrived I was more than shocked. This hotel was, as my wife likes to say, “A Big Deal” and as I say, “The Real Deal”. Our rooms were on the 28th floor overlooking the city lights of Kaoshiung. Our pool and Jacuzzi were on the 8th floor where we decided to have a pizza party. The principal’s husband who is also the school chancellor volunteered to take all of the boys to a night market so the coaches could have some cool down time before we went to bed. I was able to catch an NBA game on the TV right after I watched the thrilling end of “Prom Night”, which I don’t recommend, but had to share because of the irony. It is safe to say that the tournament went from being dreadful to the best I have experienced. It is amazing what a 5 star hotel will do for morale! Winning the next day also helped but at any rate it was one of my most memorable tournaments. Our school here in Taiwan does not have a prom. In my mind, it does not need one.