When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Henry's Taiwan Location: 119 East Southern Avenue, Tempe Open: About a month Eats: Taiwanese Price: $11 to $30 per person
Taiwan-born chef Henry Ku, who owns three restaurants in Seattle, makes traditional Taiwanese dishes from French techniques.
And if that isn't enough of a curve ball for you, he started his career flipping hamburgers.
Last month, Ku brought the classics of his homeland -- a kind of mash-up of the foods of the Min Nan, Teochew, and Hokkien Chinese communities as well as Japanese cuisine -- to Tempe, in a tiny welcoming spot called, appropriately, Henry's Taiwan.
Given that snacks (xiaochi) are a cherished tradition in Taiwan, you'll most likely want one -- perhaps several if you've settled in for a meal. Not a problem given Henry's three-page menu of starters, dim sum, soups, noodle and rice plates, and specialty dishes to mix and match as you please. And since most are under $10, your journey of Taiwanese cuisine is a decidedly affordable one.
One of the best things on the menu might be the black pepper chicken tenders ($6.95), a gratifying meal-in-a-bowl featuring crunchy, lightly spiced and battered chunks of chicken along with pork belly, bok choy, an egg, pickled mustard greens, and rice. Simple, but no less satisfying, is Ku's delicate version of Tainan DanZai noodle soup ($5.95), a light broth of egg noodles interspersed with minced pork, bean sprouts, bits of coriander, and an egg.
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You should have the Taiwanese sausage ($5.95). Made in-house, the chewy, juicy, and sweet pieces of pork sausage get even more flavorful with the addition of raw garlic. There's also an oyster omelet ($5.95). The island country's nod to seafood in snack form, Ku's version features a peanut sauce atop oysters thickened with starch and fried eggs for gooey and chewy bites with a sweet and nutty flavor you may wish had more of a kick.
The most polarizing plate at Henry's Taiwan may be the love-it-or-hate-it stinky tofu ($5.95). Pinch your nose, and it's very good fried tofu -- crisp on the outside and soft in the center. Dare to inhale its fermented brine and you'll either come to love the initially off-putting fragrance or, as my dining companion so eloquently noted as I popped a piece into my mouth, liken the smell to that of a rotting corpse.
Hardly a secret to the multi-generational Asian families who've been packing the tiny room since it opened last month, Henry's looks to be a very good option for Taiwanese eats in the Valley. I'm looking forward to going back soon for more.