Review: Tai Ke
Snuggled into a tiny strip at the corner of McKnight Road and Olive Boulevard, Tai Ke bills itself as the only authentic Taiwanese restaurant in town. Much of the cuisine will seem familiar, with stir fry dishes, noodle soups and sizzling entrees. But there are subtle differences here and there, and several dishes that offer flavors largely foreign to Westerners (pork floss, pork ear, pork blood curd).
It’s a small and simple place that appears to be a family affair, and you may encounter a language barrier that varies from server to server. Especially appealing is a small section on the menu entitled Taiwanese Street Snack. That’s where I found two excellent picks: Gua Bao ($5.99) and Sticky Rice Cake ($4.99). The first, of course, is steamed buns, which are very well done here with cilantro sprigs, ground peanuts, pickled mustard greens and a big slab of pork belly. It was also my first encounter with ‘house sauce,’ which was an excellent red concoction of sweet and savory. Be prepared, however, to lop off some of the pork fat as one of the two buns was mostly fat.
The Sticky Rice Cake is simply a mound of sticky rice flavored with dried shrimp, shiitake mushrooms and ‘pork floss,’ which is shaved dried pork. It was intense pork and salt flavors, as well as umami (no doubt from MSG), and a powdery texture that explains its nickname: ‘meat wool.’ The rice cake comes topped with ‘chef’s dressing,’ which looked and tasted like the appealing house sauce.
Tai Ke is known for its Signature Three Cup Chicken ($10), a hot pot of bone-in chicken pieces cooked with the traditional ‘three cups:’ one cup each of soy, oil and rice wine. The result is quite tasty, but be forewarned that the chicken is hacked into irregular pieces, bone-in, with sharp shards pretty much everywhere. Roasted garlic, ginger and basil additionally flavor this dish. Notice also there are no veggies in this dish (or in many others).
Hakka Stir Fry is a traditional Taiwanese offering, and we ordered a version of that here: Triple Shredded Stir Fry ($10). It was an amazing plateful of matchstick slivers that were indistinguishable, one from the other, although it was a mix of shiitake mushroom, pork and dried tofu. These were stir-fried with a considerable number of dried red chili peppers (you can ask them to moderate the heat). The result was excellent in flavor, the relatively bland tofu tempering the heat and the pork and mushrooms adding the savory—all in plenty of oil.
Most familiar-tasting was Chili Stir Fry Shrimp ($14), a generous serving of lightly coated and fried whole shrimps with a spicy flavoring sauce (not liquid-y at all) of chili peppers, roasted garlic and scallion; it was hot and sweet and quite delicious. A few ‘celery’ stalks were in there that didn’t resemble the usual, but rather were thin slivers, intensely flavored, that looked like the celery tops Westerners cut off and discard.
It was an interesting and tasty meal all around.
the scene | Authentic Taiwanese restaurant
the chef/owner | Brian Hsia
the prices | $4-$11 soups and sides, $8-$14 noodles and entrees
the favorites | Signature Three Cup Chicken, Sizzling Tenderloin Beef, Pork Belly Bun, Sticky Rice Cake, Triple Shredded Stir Fry, Chili Stir Fry Shrimp
chef chat » brian hsia
pedigree | I spent many years cooking at Fu Hua, a famous restaurant in Taiwan.
favorite ingredient | Soy paste
favorite st. louis restaurant | I don’t have one, but if I go out to eat, it’s at a steak house.
favorite dish on the menu | Gua Bao (pork belly bun)
the most popular dish on the menu | Gua Bao or Signature Three Cup Chicken
8604 olive blvd. | 314.801.8894