lucky for me, hhh's parents love to eat as much as we do. they are also weirdly knowledgeable about all the best restaurants, so when they suggested that we go to shi-yang culture restaurant during our last trip to taiwan, we didn't say no. the tea house and restaurant are deep in the mountains (or maybe it just felt like that because the car had to scrape alongside jungle-y brambles to reach our destination). as we approached, we saw a man at the road's fork, who gestured for us to wait while another car edged up the tiny path.
we made it to the pebbled lot, and then ventured the rest of the way on foot. in taiwan, nature is overwhelming and unkempt - anything will grow, anywhere, all the time. (and it doesn't just go for flora but fauna too, especially the tiny pest varieties...i will forever be scarred by the flying cockroaches of my childhood.) it's hard to imagine the amount of effort that must go into landscaping maintenance in taiwanese cities to keep the greenery from conquering every unpaved surface. at shi-yang, though, the wildness is allowed, and the buildings co-exist peacefully with plant life. although the restaurant has only been at this location a couple of years, it looks as if it's been here for decades. (a consequence of taiwan's aggressive humidity: anything manmade starts to show age the minute it goes up.)
the food was delicious and creative, and the space was gorgeously simple. it made me think that maybe mountain life wouldn't be so bad. there are several wooden structures on both sides of a bubbling mountain brook (so idyllic!), and a bridge that spanned the water. all the rooms are lined with tatami mats and set with low tables. there is one large building that looked as if it could host parties, which also housed a plum blossom arrangement that i desperately wished was in my apartment.
it's definitely worth going at least half an hour before your reservation (which you will need in order to eat) so you can walk the grounds. i obsessively took photos of all the plants i dreamed about putting in my yard, even though i had no way of then figuring out what they were at the time. good thing i just discovered this amazing app called garden compass, which will identify plants for you via email. from the description in itunes, it actually sounds like a real live plant expert looks at the photo and writes you back. you get 20 IDs a month - not just of plants but also plant diseases (so if your houseplant seems to be floundering, you can ask the app what ails it!). i already tried it out with two plant IDs, and so far so good.
anyway, it was super exciting to discover this spot. i get the feeling it's pretty special. now you should go, and then tell me how you like it. xoxo