February 10, 2004
Their cultures may not have always melded through history, but China and Japan merge quite nicely at Carbondale’s “Taipei-Tokyo,” where one of the first things you notice is the comprehensive menu with strikingly reasonable prices (like $7.95 for the mixed veggie dinner).
But it would be wrong to think those prices come with skimpy quality — in fact, the relatively new eatery should go on your list of good food at good prices. The concept here is fairly simple: Merging Chinese and Japanese cuisine on the same menu. It means you get a selection of sushi rolls along with the classic “General Tso’s Chicken.”
Longtime locals may have some adjustment problems as they recall the antique store that used to be in the building. That store had a pleasing ancient feel, but inside Taipei-Tokyo the feeling is all modern in a decor best described as urban oriental restaurant.
A nice addition is the small bar area placed well away from the main dining room. Two-person tables offer a nice cafe feeling for the lunch crowd, which is an important part of the Taipei-Tokyo business.
The main dining room is sparse, highlighted by wall-mounted candles. It’s a versitle room, with plenty of space for larger groups up to a couple dozen people.
Our dinner investigation included several appetizers and three entrees, but the clear winner was “Dragon and Phoenix,” which combines jumbo shrimp in a chili sauce with General Tso’s Chicken. We have no idea who this military chef might be, but he would likely be proud of this bird.The entree is beautiful to behold, coming with a great wall of orange slices to separate the two meals.
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And let’s be honest with the shrimp-lovers among us, we all know the dangers of ordering jumbo shrimp in a dinner entree that rings in at $14.95. Relax. The shrimp were large enough to support the “jumbo” title and the chili sauce turned out to be a garlic-laden fluid that won the RCH.
What’s the RCH? It stands for “rice covering honors.” Ever noticed how somebody’s sauce always ends up being the one mixed with the steamed rice — that makes it the winner. Another dinner of note was the “Treasure of Sea,” which included fresh lobster, shrimp and crabmeat with an assortment of veggies. Frankly, it stood out from the menu because it’s always good to order something that comes on a sizzling plate.
We also tried the Kung Pao Shrimp, which was moderately spicy (they can crank up the heat on request). It was a good example of the classic dish, and at $11.95 a real bargain. Let’s run through the menu: 15 house specialties, six Chinese appetizers, five Japanese apps, 10 chicken dishes, five beef dishes, four pork choices, eight seafood choices, four veggie (two with bean curd) … well, you get the picture and we’re not even into the choices of chow mein, moo-shu, fried rices and egg foo young and several tempura and U-Don menus.
And there’s sushi rolls and sashimi. Although not the extensive seleciton of a sushi restaurant, it’s a good offering that includes a “Chef’s Combo” of four types of sashimi for $17.95. The rolls go for about $5.25 and there’s this note at the bottom of the sushi list “special orders will be considered if time allows.” There’s also lunch specials — both Chinese and Japanese — for $6.25 per person.
Frankly, all this is beside the point. My judgements of such places hinges on the hot and sour soup, and this is perhaps the valley’s best. The soup is relatively thick with good sourness — I’m going to ask if they can make it a bit more vinegar-prone next time around, but that’s a personal taste not recommended for normal folks.
There’s even a local’s discount card at Taipei-Tokyo, and I’m gonna have one soon. This is a reasonably priced eatery with a menu that makes it fun to explore.
Oh, and a couple more things: That yellow mustard is hotter than you might think and don’t panic when they bring the rice — they bring more, although it’s a good idea to get it off the serving dish onto your dish so there’s no lag time in restocking.
After all, you’ll need more rice for the RCH.