There’s a place with a fake duck substance that will thrill your chewing tastebud-place and astonish the mind with it’s oddly gamey succulent powers of … imitation seems like an ugly word, doesn’t it? What Chu Chai does is provide vegetarian versions of popular animal meats – fish, chicken, beef and duck all get the soy and gluten-based treatment and come out on top, thanks to some expert cheffing on part of the, UH, chef, but also – and I’ve believed this for a long, loong time – fake meat is good meat, and it’s not “meat” or meek or meat™. It stands to reason that when every molecule is designed from the ground up that all bits of it going to taste juicy and perfectly seasoned and if slightly chewier than the real stuff, well, I actually like that, and miss it when I haven’t had it in a while. Taiwanese groceries are awesome.
I couldn’t have been happier to join my friends for a birthday dine-out at Chu Chai, even if it is on the fancy side of the grounds that it shares with Chuch (the casual sister-resto that I’ve wanted to try for a long time.) When it’s the same kitchen cooking, but lower prices and a BYOB, I can’t help but yearn for the ability to try a few more appetizers and get drunker doing it. But that’s just me, and I’m a lush. ^_^
The appetizer we *did* get was beyond expectations, even better than the fried mushrooms I’ve had here before (those addictive umami buggers, sweet and crisp-chewy and nutty). We split a couple orders of the 5 Tastes plate, with fresh ginger, cashew, red pepper and coconut on a waxy squeaky tender lime leaf burrito that took it over the edge as the precious mouthful bouldered and crested around the mouth transforming and changing as you chewed. Four pieces for ten bucks is a bargain when sheer flavour is considered and it was my favourite experience of the night by far. Date food primando.
For ordering, I should mention that as delicious as the food here is, I have one complaint and that’s not even with the spice level, but with the lack of ability to get the kitchen to ramp it up. This is Thai food we’re eating, after all, but both times I’ve asked for spicy here have amounted to a barely perceptible added note of fresh chili, in fact I’m pretty sure the extra spice in my Fish with 3 spicy sauces was just a few extra bird chiles floating in the sticky brine. To the service’s credit, though, I think they liked that I’d asked that at all because my plate was just *groaning* with veggie fish, which is one of my favourite veg meats of all. I snapped it all up, a tad bit sweet for my tastes but absolutely yummy nonetheless. The brown rice that came with it was also steamy perfection, as it should be, the perfect foil and mop for the sauce.
Having been gifted with a plethora of plant-based pescafish, I did what any curious foodie would do: I traded. I traded for my neighbours cashew and pineapple shrimp (astonishingly shrimp like! I hadn’t had that before. Not snappy like the real thing but still oddly shrimpy. And tasty). I traded for some veggie chicken (good and safe tasting; again, very very chicken-like. How do they do that?). I traded for duck! And there’s a reason this place is known for it! MmmmmYAM that is good duckstuff. Whoever decided to manufacture a skin for it is a genius and somehow it inspires the same sort of primal scarfing that other less ethical meals spur forth. There’s a dish here that is basically just a big plate of crispy duck and yes, if you hadn’t guess by now I’m insisting you order it someday, it is just that good.
Being so many us it was easy to find room for dessert, especially when the options are such demure and refreshing things as mousses and tapioca puddings and matcha ice cream (a fave!). The ice creams were not so sweet, good texture and just slightly bitter from the tea and made a perfect end to a tastecoaster night. The tapioca was surprisingly redolent and special! I wish I had ordered that myself, actually! Pandan was used in large amounts, I’m sure. The mousse I didn’t get to try, but I can only assume it was delish, and look at that plating! It’s so ‘splodey! There may have been 3 layers in that mousse, too. Mmmmmmm.
Do I love Chu Chai? Oh absolutely, there’s no arguing for the taste factor here. The pricey isn’t even so bad when you make it an occasional indulgence and you are paying for art and pleasure and there’s nothing wrong with that. Granted, having Chuch next door still makes me curious for the casual version of all this, but all the more reason to go back and scope that out next I guess.
Oh veggie duck, we will meet again, bien sûr….