Resting quietly in the lush mountains of Taiwan’s Yangminshan National Park, high above the outskirts of Taipei, Shi-Yang Culture Restaurant will not only nourish you with tea and an ornately creative meal, but also allow you to get in tune with nature.
Take a deep breath…and tuck in.
As the ultra-modern, ever-sprawling capital of a booming nation, Taipei, Taiwan is both fascinating and exhausting to explore. Eventually, you’ll probably want to escape the city to hunt down some peace.
Like, say, the kind you’ll find at Shi-Yang.
Reaching the restaurant’s 10 idyllic forest acres of palms, flowers and bamboo requires a 45-minute drive from the city center, including winding your delicate way up narrow mountain roads, but here’s where you’ll want to, um…give peace a chance.
(Or hire a taxi. Whichever.)
I’d suggest arriving at midday for lunch, verdant views, and a healthy wander, then heading back to your hotel before sunset. I mean, I like a steep downhill mountain drive as much as the next girl, but hey — maybe it’s not your thing.
Shi-Yang, which has been famous in Taiwan since the late 2000′s, requires reservations well in advance of a visit. Even when full to capacity, though, it still feels quiet, private and, if you’re here with your squeeze, romantic.
The restaurant’s main building is a Japanese-style compound of airy rooms with bare floors and low tables, separated from their soft, green surroundings only by tall glass sliding doors.
Here, you’re encouraged to settle in and invite the outdoors right to your table.
Shi-Yang only has one menu, an elaborate presentation of nine courses with both Taiwanese and Japanese flavors, focused on what’s both seasonal and local. Eating this way is referred to in Japanese as kaiseki, a multi-course meal which often includes a few artful appetizers, some broiled fish or poultry, a hot pot dish, a little rice, some pickled vegetables, and a soup or two.
One of my favorite courses? The lotus flower soup. It arrived at the table as a deceptively simple chicken broth with mushrooms, herbs and slices of lotus root, but what a difference a dried lotus flower made.
One course was a delicate egg drop soup, sprinkled with little more than pepper, but when served alongside a pristine lily? High art.
The showstopper, though, was this dazzling platter o’ seafood. Sea urchin, shrimp, squid, and some rice paper-wrapped rolls topped with salmon roe were rimmed with veggies and a few slices of yuzu citrus, then spread across crushed ice.
Deconstructed, this could be seen as a strange series of ingredients, but together, it’s not unlike a rainbow.
Once you both feel you’ve eaten enough to feed a republic (of China), be sure to head outside for a walk. Wooden bridges traverse a shallow, rocky creek (aside from monsoon season, anyway), which is bordered by spreading palms and tall stands of bamboo. Around every shaded corner you’ll find surprises like a tropical flower…or maybe some geese, posed just so.
A tea ceremony can be pre-arranged in one of Shi-Yang’s teahouses, the largest of which inspired me to rethink the retirement home of my dreams. Private parties are often held here, but be sure to ask if you can at least drop in for a look around.
Most of the restaurant staff are Zen Buddhists who consider a tea ceremony a pure extension of harmony, and great care is taken in the preparation of your cup. Simply watching the measuring and rinsing of Taiwanese tea leaves is enough to lower your heart rate; by the time you’ve had a single sip, you could be halfway to a nap.
And in napping, you can trust that you wouldn’t be alone. For instance, while I was inside enjoying my tea, this friendly dog had a snooze beside my comfy red shoes.
After spending several hours here, I found that a journey to Shi-Yang was more than just a tasty, colorful meal in a pretty setting. For me, it was a side-step from the sleek, modern overwhelm-age of Taipei and a brief immersion in the quiet, rhythmic simplicity of Zen.
Reservations are required well in advance,
and the pre-set menu is $1,000 TWD (about$35 US) per person
Number 7, Lane 350, Section 3, Xi Wan Road
XiZhi City, Taipei County, Taiwan
(click here for driving directions)