Dining Near Sun Yat-sen
Readers are kindly asked for their forbearance, as the author of this page wishes to end the week on a note slightly more uplifting than stories about Chinese military budgets or a possible terrorist attack in Canada. It being Friday, would it not be appropriate to turn to, say, a place in Taipei City where one can sit down in a sumptuous environment and enjoy food made out of this world? So please allow me to change hats this once and to turn, if I may, into a food critic. We'll see what happens. To pun: should this experiment prove unpalatable, I invite you to throw this wordy dish right back at me.
The Dozo Izakaya dining bar (www.dozo.com.tw), located on Guangfu Road South, a short walk from the Sun Yat-sen memorial in downtown Taipei City, first grabs the diners' attention with its solemn exterior and gigantic door. Once you step inside, you are immediately struck by the extraordinary mix of contrasts, both in colors and lighting, as deep reds mix with blues and well-lit areas vie for your attention with corners thrown in almost absolute obscurity. The centerpiece, a beautiful gray tree, bathed in light and resting in a big stone pot, sprawls over the dining room, with white flowers creeping all over its branches. One can hear rhythmic lounge music playing in the background, the perfect accompaniment to the hum of laughter and ongoing conversations.
On the left, a well-furnished bar offers single souls a place to sit and enjoy a wide selection of alcoholic beverages, including Tokyo Baby, Ninja, and Hokkaido Milk, to name just a few, along with a generous selection of sakes. Or, if beer is more to your liking, you can order the two-liter or four-liter taps, which for their tube-like shape, look like they belong in some type of scientific laboratory. Here and there, one sees those lying on tables, their levels going down as the night progresses.
As they are guided to their table, diners first need to walk down the catwalk which, accompanied by the spontaneous greeting in Japanese by all employees, never fails to make the newcomers feel like they're at home. The fact that all the tables in the dining room are set lower than the catwalk also puts the emphasis on the newly-arrived. There simply is no innocuous entrance at Dozo. You're a welcome guest, and the entire restaurant knows it when you're heading for your table. It is a place to see and to be seen, and the fashion is usually on the upscale side, though by no means is this an obligation.
As diners approach their table, they will notice, high above, a single private room which can probably hold no more than ten people. Opposite, a handful of big Japanese drums are bathed in red light. On Saturday evenings, patrons can enjoy a drum concert which is sure to awaken the appetite.
Once seated, a menu is brought to the table. A work of art in itself, its pages contain promising dish after dish of fusion Japanese cuisine, from varieties of sashimi to cod liver, rice balls to Japanese pancakes. The most challenging part isn't finding what to eat, but limiting yourself to what your stomach can take. Everything is delicious and looks sublime, as every attention is paid not only to taste, but to aesthetics as well. A friend of ours, a chef in Montreal, who visited us this past February, literally had tears in his eyes as he savored the cod liver—a true sign, if ever there was one, that the chefs there know what they're doing.
The price tag is slightly higher than one can expect in Taipei, but compared with similar restaurants in North America (or Japan, for that matter), it is more than reasonable. Diners can expect to pay between 1,000 and 1,500 NT per head, including drinks and service. It is the kind of culinary experience that haunts you hours before you get there, and makes you a little sad once it's over.
Refined, elegant with nothing to envy from Tokyo's greatest, Dozo is not to be missed by whoever happens to find himself in Taipei.