Had dinner tonight with 7 strangers at the Taiwan Cafe on Chinatown's Oxford Street. This place has been praised by many on line reviewers. Some people who say they know claim it to be authentic Taiwanese food. I don't know Taiwanese food, so I can't say one way or the other.
The good news - A nice group of people arranged through Meetup.com. There were 18 RSVPs for the event, but only 8 of us showed. No matter, a perfect number for one large round table and a good size for conversation. I enjoyed meeting these folks. And I learned things. More diversity of age than I had anticipated.
Now as to the food - I was disappointed.
We had two dumplings - one pan fried and one steamed. The dipping sauce supplied carried more vinegar and malt and less spice than I would have preferred. Not bad, but not balanced and not exciting. The dumplings - both types - also failed to deliver any real excitement. Copious filling, but not much flavor.
We ordered 7 assorted entrees - Pork with Yellow Chives, Eggplant with Basil, Braised Spareribs in BBQ sauce, Squid and something, Jumbo Shrimp in Chili Sauce, String Beans with Dried Shrimp, and Spicy Salt and Pepper Chicken. Every item with the possible exception of the string beans was either way salty, way sweet or both. None exhibited any real clarity of flavor. The great thing about good chinese food is the way it allows the flavors of ingredients to really pop. None of that here. Frankly, the particulars don't even merit detailed analysis. I will however call out the string beans - which may not have been too salty (who can even tell at a certain sodium saturated point?) for some special attention. They had a generally dimpled appearance I associate with less than fresh vegetables and a musty character that I found unattractive. I've had the dried shrimp treatment before and don't recall feeling similarly, so I'm not sure what accounts for the mustiness.
Overall, well - nice people. Meetup Group seems like a good thing.
Taiwan Cafe - well...I'll try somewhere else next time.