It’s no secret that there are many great places to eat in Taiwan, regardless of the kind of budget that you have. That being said, most of these places don’t need you to book a table as much as six months in advance, but that is exactly the case when it comes to Shen Yen Restaurant in Yilan County, about a 45-minute drive outside of Taipei itself.
One other major difference is that you don’t really get to order much at all, because Shen Yen operates with an omakase menu. You simply “trust the chef” and allow him to cook whatever happens to be in season and available, though there are a few staples that seem to hold up throughout the year. What’s interesting is that some of the ingredients are even grown by the chef’s parents!
The restaurant itself is actually not that large. There are two main tables that surround each of the two teppanyaki cooking surfaces, seating about a dozen people each. There’s a small handful of other tables, but it’s naturally best if you can get the front row viewing experience. Don’t expect the flashy theatrics of some other kitschy teppanyaki restaurants, as it’s much more about the food here.
You could say that the overall menu had a “surf and turf” kind of feel to it with many relatively small courses. We were treated to some great sashimi, for instance, as well as a grilled shrimp. The smoky flavor of the shrimp was quite nice and the shell was made crispy enough that it could be munched on along with the meat inside.
Perhaps one of the most unique dishes of the night was this piece of lightly seared fish (tuna?) wrapped in a cheese tuile. I found that the crispy cheese overpowered the delicateness of the fish, but I appreciate the creativity.
We were given three options for soup. I opted for the seafood chowder topped with a crispy pastry that almost had the same kind of flavor as a pineapple bun. It was nice and flaky on the outside with a slightly chewy underside. Cutting off a little piece to dip in the soup was quite enjoyable.
Now, I’m not sure how much our meal cost, as I wasn’t the one paying. It could not have been cheap and the uni-topped half-lobster certainly spoke to the premium nature of our dinner. If you’ve ever had an oyster motoyaki, this was similar, swapping out the cheese for uni and the oyster for lobster. Similarly, the Kobe beef-wrapped foie gras below was a wonderful melt-in-your-mouth treat.
Different people have different tastes. Even though the menu was omakase in its approach, our steak was accompanied by a range of condiments on the plate. Beyond the usual cracked pepper and sea salt, one of the more unique options was the house-made wasabi pepper. It doesn’t take much when the wasabi is fresh.
One of the more treasured condiments in Chinese cuisine has to be XO sauce and that was used as part of the fried rice toward the end of our meal. There’s just enough “kick” in there to accompany the otherwise modest rice.
When you factor in the fruit salad, soup, teppanyaki items, rice, dessert drink and chocolate cake, our dinner at Shen Yen Teppanyaki Restaurant consisted of some fifteen courses. As mentioned, each individual course was modestly portioned and they each brought something special to the table (no pun intended). I’ve had some disappointing teppanyaki experiences in the past where you could tell they were trying to sell you on the “show” element more than the food and that was not at all the case with Shen Yen.
This was a great culinary experience. The chefs were able to take great local ingredients, prepare them in a relatively simple way, and elevate each of the dishes to a new level. I can’t say for certain whether Shen Yen deserves the hype that it has received. I’m not sure if I would really want to wait six months to get a table. And some people may find the teppanyaki experience to be a little underwhelming.
All this said, each and every dish was beautifully prepared and you can hardly be disappointed with anything that hit the table. Treat your night like it’s something special and it will be.