"Do you remember Dana?" Benoît Monier, sommelier at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Taipei,
asked me a few months ago over dinner. Seeing a puzzled look on my face, he added, "She used to be a cook here. Now she is the chef of a new restaurant and you should go check it out sometime." Before I was able to make a reservation at the new restaurant for myself, I was invited to dine there twice by friends - lunch and dinner in a span of three days.
The name of the restaurant is 風流小館 L'Air Café Néo Bistro and it is a collaboration between Chef Dana Yu and Susie Lin of Boite de Bijou. The restaurant is located on the ground floor of an apartment building in an alley behind Xinsheng Elementary School and next to Jinhua Park.
Lunch was via the invitation of my architect friend who helped designed the restaurant. Given the limitations of the site, program and schedule, he did a great job. I particularly like the fact that he put in a new glass facade allowing views of the adjacent park from the inside. The look of the restaurant from the outside with the black window frames and awning actually remind me a bit of L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Saint Germain. The space of the restaurant is rectangular with the tables spread out along the windows. Part of the kitchen is open at the back of the restaurant. A small staircase leads to a room in the basement that can seat around 10 people. While the space in the main hall is simply designed with a limited palette of black, white and grey, the atmosphere is cozy and quite comfortable.
For both lunch and dinner the restaurant offers the same tasting menu and à la carte. The tasting menu consists of five courses for around NT$2,200. For à la carte there is around five starters and five main courses that range from around NT$200 to NT$800. I ordered à la carte for both of my recent meals, mainly because my friends did as they didn't want to eat too much with the tasting menu.
The meals started with bread and some nice butter. The bread is nice and warm but served only one piece at a time. This was followed by an amuse bouche of salmon topped with roe. For the lunch I went with the salad with fig and proscuitto as the starter. The ingredients were fresh but a little under seasoned for me. Moreover, the lettuce was cut into too small of pieces that made them hard to eat with a fork. For my main course I ordered the duck breast, which was served with a piece of foie gras and raspberries. This was a very nice dish as the different components were perfectly executed with nice flavors. For the dinner I started with the foie gras terrine that was layered with eel and served with toasted brioche. This was good and reminded me a little of a similar dish served at Robuchon. My main course was a fish filet that was also cooked well with crispy fish scales. The fish was accompanied by ham, squid, mussels, endives, all very beautifully plated. The savory dishes on the menu show the ambition of the chef and the restaurant, which is certainly more than a café or bistro as the restaurant's name suggests.
In contrast, the dessert selection on the menu is not as interesting as it only consists of crêpes. For my two meals I had the crêpe Suzette and crêpe with banana and chocolate sauce. Both of the crêpes were nice. It would have been more fun if the crêpe Suzette was lit up at the table, which it wasn't. There were actually more choices for bottled water than desserts on the menu. Even with just crêpe one can play with things like mille crêpe as a variation. Given that the restaurant is associated with the pastry and bread shop Boite de Bijou, I expected a bit more diversity of choices with the dessert.
Service is friendly and attentive but with one big problem: dishes don't come out together. For my two-person lunch, my duck came first and my friend's side of the table remained empty. My friend asked me to just eat first and I was a quarter of a way through finishing before my friend's fish was served. Our two orders of the crêpes for desserts also came in succession instead of together.
L'Air is a nice addition to the western restaurant scene in Taipei. I can quibble about the small size of the napkins and the light fixtures hung a bit too low above the table blocking views of my dining companions. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my meals at the restaurant. The chef is good and the place is quite pleasant. The restaurant has been opened for about four months and I am sure it will only get better. I look to go back and try the tasting menu soon.