Food for Thought in Taiwan

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Ching-Ling Liu

The longest wait for a table in Taiwan is at a restaurant run by a man who says he can't cook. This may be because Shi Yang Shan Fang, tel: (886-2) 2217 7875, is far more than a dining venue. "I really don't possess the techniques that take Chinese chefs a decade to learn — that's why most everything I serve is steamed or dipped, which makes it healthy," claims chef and founder Lin Ping-hui. A former property developer, Lin these days adheres to what he terms the ancient Chinese lifestyle of "humility and cultivating beauty from within." Amid the forests of Yangmingshan National Park above Taipei, in three sparsely furnished pavilions (in which Lin, sporting traditional tunics, meditates every morning with his staff), diners are offered "a chance to lower their voices, and get in touch with their true selves and an appreciation of simple things." (See for city guides, stories and advice.)

The 55-year-old Lin moved to the hills in 2003. Ever since, Shi Yang Shan Fang (attracting around 100 diners on weekdays, double on weekends) has been booked solid, with some customers reserving three months early. Served on knee-high tables amid found-wood sculptures, the lunches and dinners are dazzling, multicourse medleys of organic vegetables and whimsical tidbits — delicate molds of peanut tofu alternating with abalone on mashed potato; cups of herring, pumpkin and lotus root; baskets of raw corn, edible flowers and salmon eggs; slow-boiled medicinal soups; and passion-fruit compotes. These dishes are punctuated with palate-refreshing shots of homemade fruit vinegars. The price is modest (set meals start at just $33), presentation is painterly, combinations daring and ingredients haute rustic. Chef Lin plans to relocate Shi Yan Shan Fang by year's end to a nearby plot with waterfalls and four old stone buildings. On land he can finally own, he will make official his restaurant's extracurricular goals: supplementing the dining halls with spaces for meditation, exhibitions and dance performances. But it will always be his innovative cooking that lures the masses to such restorative heights.

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