Taiwan Bento In Oakland

Last month I went to Taiwan Bento with the East Bay Dishing meet-up group and our goal was to order lots of dishes, eat family-style, and share everything.

The above photo is what our table looked like for six people!

They opened in the Fall of 2014 serving fast-casual Taiwanese fare in uptown Oakland right next to Ike’s Place and Umami Burger, which makes me wish I worked in the neighborhood.

This is Willy, one of the owners.

He’s waving at someone behind me, but it looks like he is waving for the camera.

His wife and co-owner, chef Sally Teng, is stirring a pot at the stove in the background (wearing the red sleeves).

According to the website, they met in college (Cornell U in NY), married, then moved to the Bay Area where Willy has a job in technology, and Sally wanted to popularize the foods of her native Taiwan and decided to pursue her passion for cooking by creating a hip and modern place that serves delicious homestyle dishes.

Chef Teng is a tech worker-turned-restaurateur whose dishes are made with recipes passed down from his mother and grandmother.

Before opening, she spent a few months of training with Pican’s executive chef Sophina Uong, one of my favorite local chefs who now runs the kitchen at Calavera!

The menu is written up on the base of the stairway up to the 2nd floor and includes photos, so we stood there perusing before we decided to try all of the bentos and a few other things.

The second floor has a lofty feel and a bright red wall…

Celeste is a regular and said that we had to have the Popcorn Chicken ($5.95), which was served topped with fried basil leaves.

The chicken is cut into bite-sized pieces, and marinated with soy sauce and fragrant five-spice powder, a quintessential ground spice mixture made of star anise, fennel seed, cinnamon, cloves, and Sichuan peppercorns.

They are lightly coated in a batter made with sweet potato starch that has a distinctly light and crackly texture that is different from any fried batter I’ve had before.

The crunchy bite-sized pieces are dusted with salt and pepper and are addicting.

We decided to try the Fried Oysters ($6.95), which were tender but bland.  In a side-by-side comparison, everyone preferred the more flavorful popcorn chicken.

We shared a couple of orders of the Sausage Skewers ($2.95) which were meaty and topped with minced raw garlic and green onion.

These went very quickly!

Spicy kimchi ($1), a ubiquitous side in any Asian restaurant, it is the perfect condiment, adding bursts of spicy garlicky flavor to everything.

We ordered a ton of food which arrived very quickly.  Bento was introduced to the Taiwanese culture during the Japanese occupation from 1895 to 1945.

They are served in a box with separate compartments and include a main entree, steamed white rice, half of a tea-soaked egg, pickled vegetables, and some edamame.

This is the Braised Pork ($9.65) topped with cilantro which is known as Lu Rou Fan and is one of the most loved dishes in Taiwan.

People are crazy for this dish of melt-in-the-mouth pork belly braised in a gorgeous thick sweet and savory sauce made from soy sauce, five-spice powder, fried shallots, and garlic.

 

This was my favorite bento, the Fried Pork Chop ($9.85).  It was similar to Japanese tonkatsu with a lovely delicately crunchy crust that is lightly flavored with the fragrant five-spice mixture.

The pickled vegetables add a bright acidity which helps balance the rich flavors of the pork chop which was served over rice topped with a layer of the braised pork sauce.

Beef Curry ($9.85) with big chunks of tender carrot and corn, was not too spicy and quite filling.  I gobbled up the pickled daikon!

Mama’s Roasted Chicken with pork sauce over rice ($9.65), savory and succulent slices of juicy chicken, this was one of my favorite dishes.

It was simple but flavorful and the luscious stewed pork sauce that was poured over the rice was like throwing delicious glitter overall.

Tofu Shiitake ($8.95) was a little bit spicy and is essentially a vegetarian Mapo tofu.  Willy said it is one of their most popular bentos.

Beef noodle soup ($10.85), or niu rou mian, is thought of as the national dish of Taiwan.

It is the quintessential comfort food, spicy and sweet with tender braised beef and pickled mustard greens, the scent of the broth is fragrant with soy, anise, and chilies.

I enjoyed the rich and clean-tasting soup filled with chewy noodles and the pungent flavor of the mustard greens.

There was so much food that we couldn’t even think about dessert…

There were so many delicious flavors and more dishes to come back to try, especially the Zha Jiang Mian (fried bean sauce noodles), pork belly bun, and an intriguing sounding Oyster/Chitterling Thin Noodles that is only served on Sundays!

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