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The Gossiping Gourmet: A taste of Taiwan in O.C.

May 09, 2012|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • Chef Chen has been serving fine Chinese cuisine since 1994 in the shopping mall at the corner of Walnut and Jeffery.
Chef Chen has been serving fine Chinese cuisine since… (DON LEACH, HB Independent )

China has a great variety of regional cuisines yet, locally, we only see a few of these represented, mainly Cantonese, Szechuan and Beijing, or a combination thereof.

We went in search of something different, and found Chef Chen, an attractive, small restaurant that serves a variety of Taiwanese dishes as well as an extensive mélange of more familiar fare.

We focused exclusively on the cuisine of this mountainous island, which has access to plentiful seafood. With the advice of our waitress, we were able to choose typical Taiwanese dishes.

After quite the conversation, we were so anxious to put in our order that we forgot to ask for the dishes to be staggered. So, we very quickly had a table full of goodies.

A huge clay pot of seafood combination soup was the first to arrive. The excellent broth got better and better and deeper in flavor as the seafood and vegetables released their juices into the mix. The huge bowl was brimming with soup, shrimp, calamari, fish, tofu, cellophane noodles, shiitakes, bamboo shoots and napa cabbage. Three of us barely made a dent in this Brobdingnagian basin before our scallion pancakes arrived.

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Legend has it that Marco Polo missed scallion pancakes so much when he returned to Italy that he got his chefs to make a variation. Some Chinese people believe that this is the real origin of pizza. No Italian would agree!

These wheat-based pancakes are primarily served in northern China and Taiwan. Chopped scallions are added to the dough; they're brushed with oil and fried. These were rather greasy and needed more green onion. Marco wouldn't have longed for these.

The restaurant serves two preparations of smoked duck. One is fried and has crispy skin; the other, of a Taiwan style, has soft skin. They also serve traditional Peking duck that must be ordered 24 hours in advance.

Because we were on a quest for Taiwanese dishes, we chose the soft-skinned version. The meat had similar seasonings to Peking duck with the addition of a slightly smoky flavor. The cooking method resulted in incredibly moist and juicy meat, more so than any Peking duck we've encountered.

However, there is a thick layer of fat between the flesh and the skin. We just peeled it off and enjoyed the succulent meat.

A steamer basket of pork dumplings was distinguished by the fact that a broth oozed out of the dumplings when you bit into them. After the first one, we were prepared and caught the juices before they ran down our chins.

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