The Community Services Center’s Annual Charity Dinner is the peak event of the expatriate social calendar in Taipei, and the 2012 event certainly did not disappoint. This year’s event had a Chinese-theme to celebrate the ROC centenary, with surprises such as fan-dancing Chinese performers and beautiful gilt bird cage filled with red roses on each table.
The charity dinner is the annual fundraiser for the Community Services Center, a non-for-profit center dedicated to helping people from overseas adjust to life in Taiwan. The Community Services Center produces several publications including Centered on Taipei magazine, the informative Taipei Living (the comprehensive guide for life in Taipei), ‘Taiwan A to Z’, and taxi cards to assist non-Chinese speaking people to navigate Taiwan. And the Community Services Center also provides western-style counselling, including crisis counselling 24 hours a day seven days a week. So the Community Services Center is an important resource for anyone wanting to learn more about Taiwan culture — or struggling with the feeling of being lost in translation.
The main highlight of the evening was the auction. For the past two years I have reiterated to Mr Taiwanxifu beforehand that we were not/not under any circumstances to buy anything. And then when we saw the range of items on display, I folded even quicker than him. This year we were relatively conservative: I wistfully said no to a limited edition pair of grape-like amethyst drop earrings, but was the grateful recipient of a beautiful jade-green stone necklace that Mr Taiwanxifu picked out for me.
But the food was also a stand-out event of the night. Held at the Grand Hyatt Taipei, the menu featured a five-course meal (plus pralines and macaroons) served with tea and coffee. Celebrating its 21st birthday this year, the Grand Hyatt is sometimes overlooked in favour of newer five star entrants in the surrounding Xinyi district. But having dined there several times, I am always impressed with the quality of their catering. And our gourmet meal at the Community Services Center’s dinner was tempting enough to make people want to hurry back from the silent auction items to their dinner tables.
Our meal started off with smoked salmon tartar and shrimp remoulade, with semi dried tomatoes, herb salad and pesto oil. Smoked salmon can sometimes be too salty but this was not overpowering, nicely balanced by the hint of salad and still-juicy semi-dried tomatoes. The salmon caviar was a nice touch.
Next came the mandatory soup course: this one a variant of a pumpkin soup (pumpkin bisque, roasted walnut with cream and chives). I am yet to experience a decent pumpkin soup in Taiwan, but this one is the best I have tried so far. And I might add that pumpkin soup is an oft-served item on Western-style menus in Taipei, so I have tried quite a few. I wished the cream was optional as I do not like heavy soups. But the hint of cream was in the right proportion and added some decadence to the golden soup.
A good friend likes to send me photos of bread rolls. It is an ‘in’ joke, in response to the many times I inconvenienced him by making him wait while I take food shots. While I avoided the bread rolls on this occasion (I knew there were several dishes to go), most people at our table enjoyed them — and more than one person went back for seconds.
The soup was closely followed by a palate cleanser of granny smith sherbet. It was pale green and delicately tart. I had been off socializing and checking out silent auction bids so it was a little soft by the time I returned to my seat. Well, not quite semi-freddo but it was close. Still, it remained deliciously refreshing.
The main course was a serving of tender-fleshed roasted cod fillet with herb crust, mushroom and goose liver mousse on a bed of leeks with new potatoes and a red wine reduction. There must be a major supplier of cod fillets to five-star restaurants in Taipei because I have been served this type of fish several times before. But I liked how the Grand Hyatt treated it: the roasting accentuated its natural sweetness, and the herb crust complemented the fish without overpowering it. (Nor was it too oily.) I love potatoes, so was happy with the firm baked crescents, which reminded me of a side dish to my Nana’s roast lamb. The stand-out was the leeks hidden underneath, which were mildly flavoured and hinted at something exotic.
My only regret with the dessert was that I was too full to enjoy every last spoonful. This white chocolate raspberry dome cake with forest-berry compote was beautifully presented. Look closely and you will notice gold leaf adorning the lace tuile, and the delicate work on the chocolate trellis underneath. The flawless white dome concealed raspberries hidden in a soft white chocolate mousse on top of a light layer of sponge. Heavenly, yet sinful.
The Grand Hyatt Taipei is next to the Taipei World Trade Center and diagonally opposite Taipei 101 — there is a walkway bridge to the shopping center. It is situated at 2 Song Shou Road, Taipei in the Xinyi commercial district. The Community Services Center Charity Dinner is an annual event that has been held for the last sixteen years. Tickets were sold out several weeks in advance.