Tuesday was my birthday and we spent it at my favorite restaurant here in Taipei. Every time we visit, the owner and head chef, William “Abu” Bu never ceases to amaze me. He is truly a culinary master and I will bet that if Taiwan ever gets a Michelin Guide, you will find Abu in it. The name “Abu Authentic Cuisine” adds an air of vagueness, but suffice it to say – Abu definitely gives Robuchon a run for his money in upscale cuisine. When I leave Taiwan in a year, there will be a few things I will miss and Abu is definitely one of them – both him and his amazing culinary talents.
I’ve written several articles about Abu Authentic Cuisine thus far, both in my Asian Cuisine and International Travel columns, and I really cannot say enough good things about him and his mastery of fine French cuisine. His restaurant has been open about a year and he serves a packed house every afternoon and evening. You need to make reservations at least 5 days in advance and I would recommend longer for a special occasion or bigger party. The restaurant is small by western standards – the main dining room seats about 30 and there is a private room downstairs that can hold 10.
Abu is one of the nicest and most genuine people you will find in the restaurant business. His passion for his craft is evident in every aspect – from the trendy decor and regal place settings, to the extraordinary prix fixe menu offerings and his over-the-top dessert souffle presentation. Although he has been voted by some to be the best new restaurant in Taipei and serves local celebrities and wealthy businessmen, Abu remains very down to earth, always coming out to mingle with guests.
We arrived with one of our special wines – our signed 2004 Hendricks Reserve Cabernet from Hope and Grace Wines in Napa, California. We tried this Cab last May just before I left to move here to Taiwan and we were lucky enough to have the winemaker sign our bottle the day we were in tasting. This is a powerful Cabernet, with a dense fruit flavor and incredibly soft, silky texture. 2004 is one of my favorite Napa Cab vintages due to the early harvest year, which yielded less fruit, but with a more concentrated flavor. The wine’s strong nose, combined with the exceptional fruit on the palate, make this one of my favorite 2004 wines. With a case production of only 200, I am hoping we can get our hands on another bottle or two when we are in Napa later this year!
Since we had just visited Abu on our wedding anniversary less than two weeks prior, my husband asked ahead if there was any way he could make a special birthday cake since we just had the souffle. Mind you, I struggled with this decision since his decadent souffle is out of this world. When we arrived, we met the new manager Michael and quickly found out we were not only getting a special dessert, but a whole special meal as well! We entrusted our beautiful Cab with Michael to decant, and ordered a nice glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to start.
Sitting down, diners are instantly aware of Abu’s creative talents with the fancy place settings and signature silverware engraved with “Abu”. Completing the effect, every table at Abu is set with ingeniously displayed bread chips, perfectly spiced and just enough crisp to easily break apart.
After devouring the bread chips, the basket of evil carbs, err bread, always arrives. The variety of breads served is excellent and includes a wide range of flavors, from squid ink to sweeter berry or raisin breads, depending on the day. Included is a small dish of accompaniments – olive oil, rich French butter, and some type of spread. Previously, Abu made an exquisite eggplant caviar (which was also for sale in the restaurant), but due to some production issues, he did not have any at the time of this visit. Instead, we had a tuna spread, while still excellent, my heart will always belong to his eggplant caviar!
Our meal started with a large spear of white asparagus in a white truffle sauce with mixed greens on the side.
Next was a course of warmed lobster with a creamy cauliflower sauce. Normally, I am not a huge fan of cauliflower, but it was mild enough as to not overpower the softness of the lobster.
The warmed lobster was followed by a soup course – a mushroom cappuccino. Mushrooms have always been one of my least favorite things growing up, but I have learned to like them and appreciate their taste when served in something other than greasy delivery pizza! This soup was probably one of my favorite courses of the night. The rich and creamy consistency, combined with the subtle hint of mushrooms definitely left me wanting more.
The next course to arrive was Dover sole topped with risotto and a lobster foam. The sole was slightly crispy and the risotto absolutely melted in my mouth.
In between courses, Brett surprised me with a wonderful birthday gift! For Valentine’s Day he had bought me a Tiffany & Co. charm bracelet and tonight gave me another charm to add on! I get so excited whenever I see one of those little blue boxes!
The palate cleansing course was next. Abu makes a delicious organic rose granita, similar to a sorbet and popular in Italy. This is one of the my favorite and most creative platings I have seen in a restaurant.
Normally, this is when the main course arrives, but we were being treated to an extra special course. Foie gras and pasta – the holy grail! Although a controversial dish in many places, I have always liked foie gras although it is not something I eat regularly. Of the numerous times I have tried it around the world, no one does it as nicely as Abu. Two weeks ago we had a starter course that was a foie gras and quail sandwich – the blend of the crispy quail and the creamy richness of the foie gras was perfect. The pasta topped with foie gras was a delicious combination as well, as the mild pasta did not take detract from the rich, buttery foie gras.
We were told earlier in the meal that the main courses would be beef and duck. Brett loves duck so I let him have the duck and I would take the beef. The mains were excellent and were a great pairing for our hefty Cabernet. The beef was a steamed truffled tenderloin with red wine sauce and mashed potatoes. Brett’s was a roasted duck breast with a reduction sauce. I had a bite of Brett’s duck which was excellent, but I really loved the beef. It was so tender and cooked perfectly so it pretty much melted in my mouth.
After finishing our main courses, it was only a matter of time until I got to see what spectacular display Abu prepared for dessert. I had been told by several staff members it was definitely impressive. We started with the first dessert course, which was almond milk and a homemade orange cookie. I’ve had his almond milk once before and I could probably drink it in unthinkable amounts. I definitely do not want to see the nutritional content on something like that! Notice the plating – slabs of slate. I love it – such an edgy and fun way to serve these small courses.
While enjoying our dessert courses, I had to get one of Abu’s cappuccino’s. Normally I do not drink that much caffeine so late, but it’s such a great accompaniment to the richness of the dessert courses.
The next dessert course arrived shortly thereafter. It was a trio of sweet delights. The first was a small chocolate tower with mousse, topped with fruit. The center was a small jelly candy, and the last was a spoon of fresh pineapple with rosemary. We still had a little wine left and the rosemary in the pineapple stood up nicely with the last of the Cab.
After enjoying a short break and enjoying our coffee and cappuccino, I saw Brett smiling as Abu and a member of his wait staff were carrying a large display. On it was the most beautiful cake, complete with hand spun sugar strings extending high above the cake. I was utterly in awe at his creativity and the time he must have spent in preparing such an elaborate dessert for my special day.
After we cut the cake, Michael took it to the back so Abu could plate it. When he brought the plates back out – Abu had decorated each individual slice with chocolate and spun sugar curls. It’s important to point out that Abu’s plating for his souffle is nearly as extravagant as this birthday cake (see other articles for pictures of the souffle).
One would assume after all this we would be done, but Abu had a couple more surprises left. The staff brought out glasses of port for us to enjoy and shortly thereafter followed our last course – 36 month aged Gouda cheese, homemade raisins, and a special honey for dipping.
I cannot thank Brett and Abu enough for everything and making this one of my most unforgettable birthdays ever!
Abu Authentic Cuisine
28 Siwei Road in Taipei
Hours: noon – 3pm for lunch and 6pm – 11pm for dinner