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Mu Shu Tortilla Flats
Chinese restaurant needs better mu shu wraps

The Picky Eater, Feb 27, 2004

Taipei Restaurant
2666 Ocean Ave.
(between 19th Avenue and Beachmont Drive)
San Francisco, CA 94132
415-753-3338

Hours: Tues.-Sun.: 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; closed Mondays
Prices:
Appetizers: $3.75-$11.95
Soups: $4.25-$28.95
Entrees: $5.75-$24.95

Credit cards accepted.

Food: Fair
Ambience: Fair
Service: Good

“Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.”

I couldn’t help humming that familiar Cheers tune last Friday night at dinner. I was at Taiwan, a Chinese restaurant on Ocean Avenue in Lakeside Village, and I noticed that almost every customer that came in knew the staff and were greeted with, “Hello, long time no see,” or “Nice to see you again.”

This was the first time I explored Lakeside Village, a quaint area bounded by 19th Avenue and Junipero Serra. The restaurant’s décor is a hodgepodge of plastic flowers, porcelain cats and animal figurines and more plastic flowers. My friend and I sat at a table near the front of the dining room that had plastic grapes and vines hanging above. Asian scrolls and paintings decorated the walls as well as Chinese New Year ornaments and decals. Red booths, cloth roses and the red carpet definitely give Taipei a vintage look, which complemented the lounge-y, recorded, instrumental piano music.

The staff was polite and hospitable. The two servers seemed more eager to talk and chat about Hong Kong and bittermelon with several of the customers. It was odd because customers at the two tables that bordered us asked the staff about their immigration stories. They were older ladies. One asked whether the female server knew any English because she never spoke; the other asked our server when he arrived in the United States and how long it took for him to learn English.

Forgive me if I’m talking about this. I guess it just felt weird. This restaurant wasn’t in China or in Chinatown, but in the middle of a fairly “American” neighborhood. These customers were obviously regulars, but they acted as if this was their first time eating at the restaurant and blown away by the fact that the servers spoke English.

We started dinner with a small order of Hot and Sour Soup ($4.25). The broth was a bit darker than what I’m used to, but it was full of tofu, shredded pork, bamboo shoots, woodears and egg. The soup wasn’t too spicy and could have had a bit more bite to it.

I was surprised the Mu Shu Chicken ($7.95) was my favorite dish of the night. The stuffing was a stir-fry of tender chicken, white onions, cabbage, scrambled egg and bean sprouts. Everything was well and good with one huge exception: The mu shu wrappers were flour tortillas!

Talk about unintentional fusion. Maybe the restaurant ran out of the pliable, tender mu shu wrappers and bought a bag of tortillas. The tortillas did not go well with the hoisin sauce or the chicken mixture. We still ate it and managed to roll the mu shu despite having to maneuver a dry, stiff wrapper.

Sichuanese dishes are known to have interesting names, for example Pockmarked Tofu, Fish Fragrant Eggplant and Ants Climbing Up the Tree, or mayi shang shu. We ordered the Ants ($7.95), which was minced pork sautéed with red chili oil, soy sauce and garlic and mixed with vermicelli, or mung bean thread noodle. The pieces of pork are supposed to mimic ants clinging to the vermicelli, the trees.

Another popular dish I ate a lot while living in Sichuan was a simple stir-fry dish of tomato and egg. Taipei’s Scrambled Egg Tomato ($6.50) looked appetizing and comforting, with swirls of soft, scrambled egg mixed with chunky wedges of tomatoes, green peas and diced carrots. I asked to not have a lot of oil in my dishes, and the kitchen obliged to my request.

The Bean Curd and Vegetables Clay Pot ($7.95) arrived in a heated clay pot atop a miniature stove. The dish came with tofu triangles, snow peas, carrots, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, baby corn, mushrooms, broccoli, lettuce and zucchini. Although the clay pot had a nice medley of vegetables, this dish did not impress me because of the limp vegetables and tofu.

If you’re looking for a neighborhood restaurant, Taipei is a good choice. The food is basically Americanized Chinese food with a few authentic Chinese dishes. Ask the helpful staff for recommendations, and don’t be afraid to try foods that are unfamiliar. The restaurant’s staff may not remember everyone on a first-name basis, but they’re always glad you came.


Reach the Picky Eater at pickyeater@asianweek.com.

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