H O M E (almost)
We are SO happy to be back in Taipei. I remember the first time we landed in Taoyuan Airport, Avery and I were dripping in sweat. But after our Bali experience, we were barely sweating or complaining. Clearly, our minds and bodies have adjusted. We arrived to our Daan District apartment late and did our “usual”: picked up water at the 7-eleven next door and made a pit stop by the BBQ skewers food truck down the street. Ahhh - feels good to be back.
Of course we had Din Tai Fungi for lunch the next day. We met up with my Aunt and Uncle who were so excited to see us despite the fact that we left Bali a little earlier than planned. Honestly, I don’t even want to get into it but I’ll get into it briefly. To sum it all up, we didn’t feel that the trip met our expectations and there were multiple challenges that encouraged us to make the decision to leave. (I feel like I’m the White House Press Secretary in the briefing room). At the end of the day, we were not enjoying ourselves to the extent that we should during this journey. We alI knew there were going to be times when we would not be happy with a particular location. And that’s cool - that’s life and sometimes, it’s appropriate to walk away, and sometimes, it’s not. Most times, it’s not. But we had a choice and we made the decision as a unified duo.
Anyways, back to my amazing story. So later that night, Avery and I were craving sushi. I was doing some extensive research about the best sushi spots in Taipei and it seemed like there were two options: most places were incredibly fancy and expensive (no bueno), and the others were part of fish markets which would typically be okay by me but I wanted a bit more of an atmosphere. We had been cooped up in our hotel room from heat exhaustion so we wanted to be out and about.
I came across this sushi and japanese restaurant called Toku, located in the Xiyin district (where Taipei 101 is located). This district has really come up on the map with cool new bars, clubs, and restaurants. During my research, I learned that the chef was born in Japan but learned how to cook in San Francisco. He was famous for his dynamic personality. His name and restaurant, TOKU, was spelled in caps for this particular reason. Most people know his restaurant as a late-night drinking spot. Avery and I were not really interested in getting that sloshed but I knew the food was going to be good. And hey, I might order some sake. They just go together so well, like peanut butter and jelly.
We were the first ones to arrive and an awesome French Bulldog greeted us at the door. I never care about being the first one in a restaurant. To me, this just means we will be getting the best service. We sit right at the sushi bar. I had to take a few photos of the dog and he instantly posed for me. This must happen a lot. I didn’t see Chef Toku at first, but after a few minutes, he walked in asking us in perfect English if we were “part of Rebecca’s crew”. We obviously didn’t know what he was talking about but that didn’t matter. We started having a conversation and we told him we were also from the Bay Area and you could just tell that he was so stoked that we were there. He was really curious as to how we found him and I said my best friend, Google, told me. Even my family was surprised I found this place. Anyway, I look down at the menu and it’s all in Chinese. Pretty typical in Taipei despite our very westernized society. This guy could smell fear or something because he asked “do you guys just want me to start making you stuff?” And we vigorously nodded and said yes. We gave him no boundaries - I absolutely love doing that. Diving into the unknown with food - especially with a unique curated menu by Chef Toku himself. Apparently, he had his own cooking show but I never saw it. Gonna need to ask my homie, Google, about that. We ordered a beer, said cheers, and just grinned from ear-to-ear.
So, I’ve had my fair share of sushi. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert but I know quality. And this place was pretty damn incredible. It’s not just the food, but it’s his energy that’s infectious. It’s also very hard to have both excellent sushi AND excellent hot food. Both were INCREDIBLE! He started us off with fat pieces of Tuna sashimi that were just melt-in-your-mouth delectable. Then, he gave us the best sushi roll I’ve ever had in my entire life. It was a like a dragon roll but with the smoothest albacore on top, drenched with this amazing sauce from San Francisco, sprinkled with endless tobiko on top. I kid you not. It was the best. Thank god he gave us a spoon with the dish so I can gobble up every drop of that sauce. Oh and of course he served fresh wasabi - none of that pasty, fake minty green colored stuff. (Seriously, what’s in that shit?)
We decided to order some sake with the sushi and another round of beer. Good timing because the next dish was my favorite: fried chicken. But it’s not the typical American kind. It was a massive boneless chicken thigh with the crispest skin ever that was still so incredibly juicy inside. My family tells me constantly that the chicken in Taipei is the best and Americans just don’t know what good chicken tastes like. Not sure what the chickens do here - maybe they roam freely for days on the fields and come back refreshed after a pina colada or something. Whatever it is - damn, they are right. This fried chicken was sitting on this ponzu sauce and herbs that was just divine. (Thinking of you, Grammy).
We were so damn happy that we came here and honestly, by this point, I was fairly tipsy. I feel like the best nights are those where you were not expecting a wild night. And this turned into a wild night. At that point, we finished our sake and Toku immediately recommended another round, offering us two incredible sakes from Akita. He poured them into a shot glass and then into a wooden box - a very traditional way to drink sake. No one else was getting this special treatment. You are supposed to fill the shot glass so it overfills into the box - it’s supposed to be good luck. We were definitely getting the special treatment because he started giving us food on the house: fresh tomago with a critus aioli, squid sashimi that tasted like butter, Chinese risotto, and even whiskey on the house!! We ended up at this restaurant for 5 whole hours. Of course, we ordered more food in addition to all the above, but we were pretty throwed by the end of it all.
By the way, did I mention there was also a free magic show that happened that night at Toku? Apparently it happens every Thursday night. He did this awesome trick where he marked my right hand with an “X”, asked me to close it and open my left hand. And the “X” magically appeared on the other. I didn’t feel anything. It was pretty wild. I’m a sucker for magic, though.
All in all, the dinner was pretty affordable for all the free food and drinks we were given. In NYC, you would’ve paid double what we paid. We definitely want to come back again. But with less alcohol next time.
Funny enough, the night didn’t end there. At midnight, we decided we were going to go clubbing. That’s right. I said clubbing. Now if you know me, you know I hate clubs. I did the whole shebang when I was younger and was over it by the time I was 23. But I’ve never been to a Taipei club and we were just drunk enough. There’s an entire building in Taipei dedicated to shopping and nightlife, called ATT 4 Fun. In NYC, we’re used to hopping down 9th avenue for an evening of clubbing debauchery, but here, they had a building where you can hop up and down an elevator instead. Pretty neat and efficient I might say.
We googled a number of spots and we picked one of the clubs in this building. Honestly, I can’t even remember the name of it but it doesn’t even matter. We arrive there and it was DEAD. It’s really creepy to see an empty club at midnight. I’ve seen them at 4AM and that’s also weird, but this was different. So, obviously, we bailed. We went down a floor and noticed everyone waiting in a MASSIVE line for Elektro. I have this thing where I don’t usually like to wait in line for a club. I think the only time I’ve waited in line was for a cronut at Dominique Ansel bakery in Soho. I waited an hour for 2 donuts for my best friend at work for his birthday. Totally worth it after seeing his smile. (Gelbs, I see you!)
We met a couple whilst running around this place. She was from Buffalo, New York and he was from Dublin. They were a very cute couple celebrating their one year anniversary (side note: they met on tinder. Adorable!) We decided to have a drink at a different lounge at Franks until the line at Elektro chilled out. We sat outside, enjoyed the view, and paid an overly priced cocktail that tasted like sugar. Cool. We make our way down to Elektro, and my jaw dropped when I walked in. There were people passed out in the booths, girls on serious drugs laying on their guy-for-the-night, and high-school-looking-ladies in barely-there shorts dancing on tables. I screamed “DOES YOUR MOTHER KNOW YOU’RE HERE???” They didn’t hear me.
After a while, my cheeks started to hurt so much because my part-laughing, part-shocked face just couldn’t handle it anymore. In Europe and in New York, we just don’t party like that. Avery actually read online that this club was “classy and sophisticated” compared to the other clubs in Taipei. Interesting. And gross. Also, I should’ve brought my inhaler because the amount of smoke inside this club was just borderline dangerous. With our entry fee, we were able to have a free drink. The bartender was so incredibly rude that once he poured our drinks, he flickered his hands at us to shoo us away. I’ve never been treated like that before. I was probably older than that bartender. Gross. We left quickly after that. I needed my inhaler and I was spent.
So, learnings, people: go to Toku. Don’t go to the clubs. And whiskey keeps me up. Avery passed out at 3AM and I stayed up listening to music until 5AM. The hangover the next day was actually not the worst but it didn’t feel good. Probably because we actually drank high quality alcohol at Toku’s (Reason #36 for why you should go).
Regardless, I wouldn’t have changed a single thing…except I should’ve brought my inhaler. #imsocool