Apr 1, 2012

Mitsui 明水三井

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Mitsui is a reknown high-class Japanese Restaurant chain with many locations around Taipei. Each location has a bit of its own flair. The Ming Shui Mitsui seems like a Japanese Supermarket-Restaurant hybrid. They sport a sushi bar on the first floor and have a normal grouped seating restaurant on the second. The freshness of their ingredients are on display on the first floor sushi bar area. The upstairs area serves course meals that are a very good value considering the amount and quality of the food with resect to its price. If you come during lunch, you can enjoy a nine course meal for only 1200 NT. Of course, if you rather eat better items you can order up. Their most expensive course meal is priced at 3200 NT. However, you can even grab their bento boxes for around 450 NT, there is something for everybody here at Ming Shui Mitsui.
Address: 台北市明水路602號2F
                No. 604, Míngshuǐ Rd, Jhongshan District
Phone #: 02-2533-8802
Business Hours: 11:30-14:30, 17:30-22:30
Website: http://www.mitsuitaipei.com.tw/
Accepts Credit Cards: yes
Price Range: $$$$
Attire: casual
Good for kids: yes
Take out: yes
Waiter Service: yes
Outdoor seating: no
Alcohol: yes

Rating
Food Quality: 4 out of 5
Decor:  4.5 out of 5
Service: 3.5 out of 5
Overall: 4 out of 5
Side Note: Go for straight nigiri or sashimi at bartop at this location.

Review

At the outset I need to mention that I rated this restaurant a 4 in food quality, but it doesn't mean that they really are a 4 and comparable to other 4 level Japanese restaurants I rated. Mitsui is on another level. However, since I did not get the 3200 NT set meal and rather low balled with the 1200 NT set, that course meal I felt was only a 4 and fell short of my expectations and acclaim that may have originated with the high ticket price set. With that said, everything else about the restaurant was satisfactory. Their decor was very classy and austere. The lighting was dim and the coveted rays were focused on the table top to display the food in a good light. However, their service was not that great, but only mediocre. They did not dote on us as I would expect an expensive restaurant should, and if we lacked or needed anything we really needed to put in effort into flagging an available waiter down. Maybe they were understaffed or maybe it was just one of those days. My hunch is that it was because we ate until 4pm and they were supposed to go on break around 3 pm. In any case, the service on this trip was not worthy of a 4 or above. I think the ill service was directed toward me however because there was this instance where they refilled everyone's cup of tea at the table except for mine. Also, my order of sake took an inordinate amount of time to arrive even after I reminded the staff twice. But enough of my whining...on to the meal:
First up was the king crab salad. Well honestly, it was more like king crab leg on top of salad. Or rather, king crab leg unto big leaves of romaine doused in a japanese-ish vinaigrette. I don't expect a good salad and if viewed not as a salad, but as a pretty platter for king crab legs, then it would be more acceptable. The king crab legs were decent. They did not have too deep a crabby flavor, but at least it was meaty. Maybe it was precooked a while ago and frozen because the meat itself was kind of mushy and not sinewy and fibrous as fresh cooked crab should be. The vinaigrette was full bodied and crisp to add flavor to the salad and not take away from the crab. There was a slice of apple, a wedge of tomato, and a quartered log of cucumber offered with the lettuce. Salads are already a lazy dish, but they somehow managed to compose one that is even lazier than the average salad. If I were to make this salad i'd at least chop the romaine up to edible bite-sized pieces, cut up the apple, tomato, and cucumber into manageable pieces, and deshell the crab and place it on top of a evenly tossed salad. Which leads me to believe that they really just wanted to use the vegetables as some sort of organic pedestal for the crab. That is fine in and of itself, but I really loathe the Taiwanese concept of a salad.
Pushing unhappy thoughts aside, this sashimi platter was a great way to make me forget about the salad. It consisted of tuna, salmon, a prawn, some type of mollusk, and what i think was yellowtail. Plating it on crushed ice was a good touch. The slices were pretty fresh except for what I think was yellowtail. The cut was to thick and was too hardened. Maybe it wasn't yellow tail and was rather swordfish. It would explain the toughness if it was swordfish. Whatever it was I did not dig the texture. Later on the prawn head was deep fried and came back as a crunchy delight that tasted like shrimp crackers (duh~).
The next dish was some sort of fried fish. This tender morsel is accentuated by a drizzle of lime. The skin is slightly crispy and only coated with a bit of salt. It tastes like how you would imagine most fried fish to taste except that the texture is borderline mushy. At this point of the meal you begin to start feeling a little full.
 Next up are these fried taro ball and fried scallop. They have this tempura sauce on the side for you to dip these items in. The taro ball was very aromatic and crisp. You crunch unto the outer layer, which is made out of diced taro, and then make your way into the soft inner mound of mashed taro. The contrast of texture makes the taro ball interesting, while the sweetness and starchiness of the taro make it delicious. The scallop is also a fun piece. I think the shreddiness is due to strips of ginger. They deep fry the scallop over breaded ginger to take away the fishiness of the scallop. Inside the crunchy exterior is a scallop that is gently cooked on the outside and almost raw on the inside. The scallop is no doubt a worthy part in this set meal.
 These uni nigiris are not part of the set meal, but for a low price of 100 NT per piece, you can indulge in these canadian sea urchins. They are not as buttery and sweet as their Japanese counterpart, but they do the trick. If you compare this to 15 dollars for two pieces in california, you really can't complain. At least they were not bitter and liquidy. They hit the spot on my tongue and did not drain my wallet.
 I have more of an affinity to more traditional and raw Japanese food items. I appreciated this platter of nigiri and rolls. They were composed well with a good rice mound to fish slice ratio. The fish were sliced to a good thickness and seasoned with just enough soy sauce to bring out the natural fish flavor. The sushi rice itself was very good: slighty sour, not very sticky, and chewy. The roll was kind of like a filler. It was composed of things like egg, minced pork, and cucumber.
 This next item came to me as a surprise. Mitsui is probably more courageous and innovative, which make them more of a Taiwanese-Japanese fusion restaurant rather than a straight up Japanese restaurant. That which you see up there is deep fried durian. Last I checked, the Japanese are not that fond of durian and it a fruit that originates from south-east asia. The nature of Mitsui's cuisine aside...this was actually not that bad. It only took about 2 minutes from the moment the server plopped this plate on the table for the durian to waft its stank to my nose. For a person who does not enjoy durian either in raw form, drink form, or in peranakan shaved ice form, this deep fried form was a lot more acceptable. Somehow the oils dumbed down the pungent foul odor of the durian. The sweet and creamy notes of the durian were more pronounced and I did not mind the nail polish smell/rubbing alcohol/ass smell after a while. But I definitely needed to cleanse my palette after this.
 Thankfully and wisely, the next item is the miso soup. There is a piece of mystery fish, a portion of prawn, and some mixed mushrooms floating around in this miso soup. This is a soothing way to end the savory portion of the meal and helps wash down everything that might have been lingering in your mouth. There was nothing utterly amazing about this bowl of soup, but it was very timely.
 The course meal with many choices for desserts. I chose this macadamia nut mousse. It was very vanilla creamy, airy, and flavored by small bits of macadamia whipped inside the mousse. The slice was very dainty and got you wanting more. Good thing there was also this extra dessert:
Matcha icecream. I still has not failed me yet. No matter where I have been I could not complain about matcha icecream. I am sold as long as it has enough tea flavor, sugar, and creaminess. They top this with a single red bean, and it is served with some corn flakes. The flakes add the crunchiness, which is quite fun sometimes. The red bean?  Well, red bean does mix well with green tea icecream, but why there was only a single bean is beyond my comprehension. I guess it was just decoration, but they could consider giving more. They also serve coffee with the desserts. The coffe is very Japanese in that the coffee was very thin and light.

All in all, this is a great place to enjoy creative Japanese set meals. There are different prices to cater to a broad range of consumers. Even those of humble means can muster enough change to splurge on their low ball 1200 NT set meal. However, you get what you pay for. The 1200 NT is impressive in that you get so much for what you pay for, but there is a lack of wow factor in each dish that probably may only be evoked by rare and costly michelin star restaurants like L'atelier. Once I get enough hunnids, i'll try out the 3200 NT set. Hopefully, that will have enough whiz bang to pump the food quality rating up to 5. Unfortunately, my impression of each category from this visit is what it is.

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