I went into this evening thinking of this dinner as the “5 Chefs, 5 Farms, 5 Stars” dinner. When I saw the line-up, I was thrilled. I admire and highly ...
It never fails. When I’m talking to someone and I tell them that I’m a restaurant critic, their reply is always, “Oh! That’s a dream job! You’re so lucky that you get to eat amazing food!”
Yes, there’s amazing food. But there’s the other side of the coin. Critics have to eat the mediocre and disgusting food just as much as the good. It’s like thinking a dentist only has to check out clean, well-maintained mouths. Nope! There’s a lot of cavities, gingivitis, and root canals in the mix.
Taipan is my root canal. It’s a mess of a restaurant that I suffered through and fortunately, now that this review is over and done with, I’ll never have to return to. The infected tooth will have been removed (it’s as appetizing as it sounds).
Taipan’s history is a bit of a challenge to track down, mostly because there have been so many different management changes. It started in 2000 with John Yuan, but there’s new management (again, after many times over) as of May 2014 according to city tax account records. The Larimer County Health Inspection database confirms that new management started June 1st.
This is important to note because if you read reviews on Yelp, Tripadvisor, Urbanspoon, and Google (and the plethora of other peer review sites), you’ll find a bevy of positive reviews claiming that this is the best Chinese restaurant in Fort Collins. Well, I’m here to tell it like it is – it’s not. It’s far, far, far from that. I’m sure at one point throughout the 14 years it has been around it was great. That’s certainly not the case now.
Located on the corner of Mason and Laporte next to the Mason Street garage and across from the courthouse and other government buildings in Old Town, I’m sure it’s city employees who are keeping this restaurant afloat. Lunch rush is busy because of that, but outside of lunch, the place is dead. I’ve visited on three separate occasions and I was essentially the only person there each time for dinner. However, there’s a lot of delivery business that seems to flow in and out from OrderUp. It’s not exactly an appealing dining atmosphere with a dried out fountain, dated decor, and leaving you with the feeling of a run-down hole in the wall. So, delivery makes sense.
My first visit was for lunch on May 5th. Looking back over the various visits, it seemed like the same people were managing it then as they are now. The food was mediocre – typical cheap Chinese food, but it was nothing I would turn people away from.
I ordered the Basil Shrimp. It was filled with various vegetables like red pepper, snow peas, celery, carrots, and large basil leaves. The savory sauce was flavorful and decent, but certainty nothing extraordinary that would result in a claim of “Best Chinese Restaurant.” It came with a side of hot and sour soup and an egg roll. Both were fairly standard, and I can see how if you’re looking for a cheap and quick lunch on an hour break, this might end up being one of your choices. It was satisfactory.
I returned again on August 6th with my friend Matt who was visiting town for a few days (he’s the one who designed our event posters this month). During a recent Feasting Fort Collins Facebook conversation with readers about fried rice, someone suggested I try the pineapple duck fired rice from Taipan. It wasn’t listed on their menu, but I asked about it. The server, who is always the same Asian woman rushing around taking all of the orders by herself, ran back to check with the chef. They said, “no problem!” which leads me to wonder about the management changes? It’s an old menu item, either way.
Unfortunately, this is where the tides turn from satisfactory to “what in the hell happened to this place?” I took a few bites and realized that the duck they used for the fried rice was a few days old – dry, tough, and bland. I crossed my fingers and made a wish to the immune system gods that I’d be spared from illness.
I reluctantly returned again last night for dinner after a movie at the Discovery Museum hosted by Poudre Wilderness Volunteers. Once again, I was the only person in the whole restaurant besides staff, and it took a solid 10 minutes for anyone to recognize that before taking my order.
I had the Summer Rolls for an appetizer – lettuce, cucumber, rice noodles, and shrimp wrapped in crystal rice paper and served with house peanut sauce. They were warmish, which wasn’t expected, and concerning. The peanut sauce was thick and oddly flavored. It tasted more of hoisin sauce than peanuts.
I also had the Vietnamese Noodle Bowl with rice noodles, chili lime sauce, beef, sprouts, and a side salad.
This is what I imagine dentists feel like when they have to pull rotten teeth. It’s your job and someone has to do it, and you have to because you signed up for it. I took a bite and wanted to head desk the table. The beef was okaaayyyy, but the rest was simply “blah.” It almost tasted like the “seasoned” pans were just cleaned “enough” instead. The noodles didn’t taste fresh, either. I gave it a few bites to make sure. Yeah – I was absolutely certain that this sucked.
So, take it from me – your trusty restaurant critic who has been to hundreds of Fort Collins restaurants. This is not the best Chinese in Fort Collins. Eating Taipan is my version of filling cavities for you. Don’t forget to floss while you’re at it.
Taipan Chinese Restaurant
144 North Mason Street
Kid Friendly? Not especially – no kids menu, but you can make due.
Parking: Very limited street parking, and your best bet is the Mason Street parking garage
Healthy Options? Standard Chinese dishes – a lot of vegetarian options, no MSG, and able to make things gluten-free upon request
Budget Friendly? Average pricing – $7 for lunch, $8-10 for dinner entrees
Recent Health Inspection: Average
I’ve lived in Fort Collins for almost 9 years. In those 9 years I’ve gotten to know people through countless organizations and social functions – everything from MOMS Club when we first moved to town and my oldest was just a little baby, to entrepreneur lunches, and everything in between. I didn’t truly realize how many people I’ve gotten to know over those years until last nights’ Food Truck Rally while sitting in the grass with Jenny Bond, and randomly coming across friends eating amazing things.
And that’s the funny thing. Even though I’ve met so many different people through vastly different goals and interests – we all share a common enthusiasm for Fort Collins food. Many of those meetings and get togethers are centered around that. Recently someone asked for my thoughts on how our local restaurant scene impacts our community. It’s the fact that the need and love for food is the single thing we all share as human beings. Our common interest in breathing air isn’t nearly as binding or connecting. But food is – we need to eat to survive, we love to eat great food since it’s an enjoyable comfort, and the table is the place where we can build relationships with fellow community members.
Last week I attended a lunch meeting for entrepreneurial women at Jay’s Bistro. It was a time to catch up with friends whom I haven’t seen in a while, and get to know a few new ladies. It was also a time to dine at Jay’s again, which I haven’t done in a surprisingly long time. Since it was a pre-organized meeting, we had a choice of two dishes – the cobb salad or the pene pasta. I opted to go with the pasta – pene pasta gorgonzola with candied pecans, tossed with roasted tomatoes and exotic mushrooms in a creamy gorgonzola sauce.
It was a lovely Friday afternoon lunch – in flavor, conversation, and connection. And because of that, Jays Bistro makes today’s Eat Of The Week.
Last week I received an email.
Dear Mrs. Mastre,
I am writing to you to ask you an incredible (and slightly strange) f(l)avour. *Drum snare* You see, I’m currently participating in a charity event called GISHWHES, run by Misha Collins. GISHWHES stands for the Greatest Scavenger Hunt The World Has Ever Seen (quite a mouthful) *Louder drum snare* During the week of GISHWHES we are given a list of items we must complete, and each item is worth a set amount of points. At the end of the hunt, the team with the most points wins! I’m telling you all this (and making you sigh with my simply tasteless -sorry- culinary puns), because Item 38 is as follows:
38. VIDEO or IMAGE. It’s time the Internet’s bourgeoning Culinary Master was recognized… or panned. Prepare West Collins’ “Pasta with Jam Sauce” and have a noted food critic review it. It must be a qualified, published critic. If they’re not a published critic, don’t submit. 102 POINTS
I’d really appreciate it if you considered helping me with this task, as it is for a good cause and means a lot to me and my GISHWHES team. Thank you! I promise I won’t make anymore culinary puns.
At first I thought it was spam, with the likes of Link Removal Request, and the ever so popular, “I’m writing guest posts and specialize in home repair and brain surgery. I’d love to write a guest post for (insert URL)”. So, I was hesitant to respond. But then I received another email with the same request (although different text). And I noticed a twitter connection who is also a sci-fi writer talking about “writing a scavenger hunt thing.” I asked if it was the same hunt, and when he said yes, I figured I’d start considering it.
Now, if you need to know why I had to weight the pros and cons, watch this. This is what they were making.
And here’s the recipe…
Yeah. I really had to think long and hard about it.
I wasn’t sold until I started exploring the GISHWHES website to see what this was all about. I read the testimonials. I watched the videos. I read the rules. It was about people just being ridiculous, outrageous, daring, and fun. I’ve needed to lighten up lately, and I’m sure it took some guts to ask a food critic, “Hey, will you eat this super gross dish I’m supposed to make?”
But after that, I was sold. I figured that I’ve eaten worse food from actual restaurants who were serving their death knell meals. And frankly, those are far worse than any kitchen concoction created by a 3-year old. I asked friends to keep their fingers crossed that I wouldn’t hurl in the middle of Old Town.
I made arrangements with both teams to meet me in Oak Street Plaza and I’d taste and review each of their Pasta With Jam Sauce dishes. I arrived to find a table setting and reservation made by Team Vashtanerada, including a glass of water. I was relieved, and smiled to see that they went to these lengths to create a lovely al fresco dining atmosphere.
They also had to take a photo of me actually getting ready to review it.
This dish looked like a typical pasta and tomato sauce dish, although a bit thicker in sauce consistency. If I hadn’t known the ingredients, I would have thought it was an unsuspecting plate of pasta with a garnish of popcorn. I hesitantly gathered a fork-full of pasta wheels and took a bite.
The first thing that came to my mind was ketchup koolaid. It was cloying, but also not as bad as I had anticipated (not that I would recommend eating it). I could distinctly taste the tomato sauce and suspect the loads of fruit gave it the koolaid aftertaste. The sticky texture was a mental challenge to chew, but I was committed to finishing this bite. That’s all I had to do – one taste was sufficient! And boy, was I glad.
This dish was a visual surprise since it had been kept hidden under aluminum foil. It was fascinating to see the difference of interpretation between the two teams. This one was more of a deconstructed recipe.
I inhaled a deep, cleansing breath and took a tentative bite. My first impression was that it tasted like chocolate sauce-boiled pasta. This dish was also incredibly sweet, but since it was missing orange juice, the chocolate flavor was a lot more pronounced. I’m sure this is the stuff that preschoolers dream of eating. Adults? Not so much.
And that was it. That’s all I had to do. It didn’t seem like that much of a sacrifice once the task was done, and I wondered how many other food critics put their professional tastes to the side and offered a hand in crazy adventure. I’m actually looking forward to seeing who else was brave enough to at least try.
As a food critic, sometimes you eat amazing, extravagant wine pairing meals. Sometimes you eat horrific, burnt, flavorless monstrosities. And then, sometimes you eat kitchen experiments from readers just for the hell of it.