By Lana L. (’22)
YEN makes an impression from its entrance to the dining table. Perched on the 31st floor of W Taipei, the Chinese and Cantonese restaurant has nine-meter-high ceilings and window glasses, beyond which lies a breathtaking view of the Taipei skyline and Taipei 101. This spectacle comes into view after you walk past the open kitchen, where professional, uniformed chefs are ardently focused on their own crafts. A collection of dimsums are prepared in the steam-filled corner, while a row of roasted ducks are hung on display closer to the spacious dining space away from the entrance.
As you enter deeper into the restaurant, you will immediately receive a spacious feeling even though it holds more than 200 seats, which are almost always fully packed. Servers lap the dining room at a fast pace because it’s so big. Modern, vibrant decorations of various shades of purple fill the ceilings and walls to create a highly photogenic ambience for visitors of all ages.
Alongside the main menu and drink assortments, an explicit menu exists for dimsum dishes, a testament to the confidence and pride the restaurant has in them. The magnified fresh natural flavor of the premium ingredients rescues them from cliché.
The prawn spring rolls wrapped in steamed rice flour (NTD$ 280) led the pageant of dimsums. Fresh, plump shrimps satisfy the anticipated first bite with both its fleshy flavor and texture. The rice flour wrap unknowingly melts in your mouth and highly complements the main ingredients. The layered net of fried flour in between them retains its crispy texture even after long exposure to air. As the opening dish, it succeeded in creating a lasting first impression that roused my curiosity and excitement for the following dishes.
In contrast to the spring rolls, whose complete combination of various ingredients make them commendable, the crystal shrimp dumplings (NTD $240) heavily accentuate the fresh shrimp as the sole main character. The occasional chopped cabbage bits curb the intensity of the crustaceans to the right level without creating distractions away from the shrimp.
I ordered one of their most popular dishes, the fried turnip shreds with cheese (NTD $210) as per the waiter’s strong recommendation. The delicate, flaky filo pastry shaped like a gourd — a Chinese auspicious symbol — is not at all oily, and instead wonderfully embrace the fatty flavor of the filling. The molten cheese filling, which stretches out on every bite, was in harmony with the smooth grated radish. The crunchy radish bits compensated for the texture pastry that dissolved in the first few munches.
The Iberico pork and matsutake mushroom dumplings (NTD $240) concluded the splendid parade of dimsums. Both the pork and mushroom flavors are both extremely rich yet neither overpowers the other. Not as liquid as soup dumplings, the Xiaolongbaos were still juicy enough to satiate. Its skin is relatively thick, but the texture and flour flavor do not overwhelm the ingredients contained.
Shortly after, the staff hastily arranged a makeshift table beside us to receive the restaurant’ renowned signature dish, YEN roast duck with pancakes (NTD$2,180 for whole, NTD$1,300 for half portion). The slices and wraps were carefully prepared by the chefs with great dexterity; the performance entertained my eyes and built up my anticipation as much as the taste satisfied my palate. The manager first served us the pancake wraps, which he had just crafted with the meat and skin slices, fresh vegetables and cheese — which was unexpected — along with a generous amount of sweet and savory black sauce.
Though I relished the delightful synthesis overall, the one critical flaw was the pancake wrap itself, which was too thick and chewy, and disproportionately large to complement its contents.
After distributing two wraps to each of us, the manager made six additional wraps accompanied by 5 different condiments — black sauce, sweet Southeast Asian sauce, sugar, western and Taiwanese pepper— and dried taro chips, as well as the remaining meat and skin slices. I highly recommend you taste the combination of the western pepper with both the skin and meat. Though the meat, even without the crisp, savory skin, was neither too oily or dry, the flavor of both parts are optimized when enjoyed together.
Wok Fried Seasonal Vegetables (NT$480), lightly oiled and cooked, were refreshing in between bites of the duck. Unlike typical Chinese restaurants where your vegetable dish is limited to either cabbage or water spinach, the variety of fresh green this dish offers automatically enhances the dining experience. The green beans and black fungi, in particular, add a pleasurable crunchy texture to the otherwise overwhelming meatiness, so this dish is highly recommended for any visitors ordering the roasted duck. However, the order in which this dish was served was ill-planned; the vegetables could have paired well with all of the dishes served prior to when it was served — after we had finished half the pile of slices.
Every individual dish at YEN is prepared delicately, with the utmost attention to beautiful presentation. It is unsurprising that reservation is a must, several weeks in advance, to dine at this restaurant on a weekend.
Servers are diligent and attentive to our needs at all times. When the server who took our order sensed our struggle, she boasted her expertise in hospitality and familiarity with the menu by giving us detailed recommendations according to our preferences and appetite.
However, you may be greatly disconcerted like we were if you make your reservation through W Taipei hotel’s website. We had already pre-paid a fee of NTD$1,500 online but almost missed the restaurant’s failure to deduct this amount from our total price of the meal until after paying the bill.
Yet even with this mishap, my companions and I were planning our next visit on the 31-floor elevator ride down.