While the biggest word on Lin’s bright red-and-white awning (apart from the Morristown restaurant’s name) is SUSHI, the reason to go in is neither the sushi nor the roster of familiar, capably prepared Chinese dishes, from General Tso’s chicken ($12.95) to shrimp egg foo young ($10.95).
What awaits the adventurous is the full page of Taiwanese specialties on the multipage menu. More than 80 dishes are offered from that island democracy of 23 million people, about 100 miles off the coast of China. Taiwan, birthplace of film director Ang Lee, is also the homeland of Lin’s owner, John Lin, 65, and his wife, Alice, the restaurant’s lead cook.
Taiwanese cooking isn’t widely represented in Chinese restaurants in New Jersey. It’s worth seeking out. It emphasizes freshness and lightness, foregoing the spicy heat of Szechuan and Hunan and the thick sauces of Cantonese cooking. Fish and other seafood are, as you would expect, prominent. Vegetables, pickled as well as fresh, star in many dishes and play meaningful supporting roles in others. In the warmer months, in his organic garden a two-minute drive from the restaurant, Lin grows several varieties of bitter melon, winter melon, cucumbers, green beans and long beans from seeds he gets from Taiwan.
Modern Taiwanese reconciles a mash-up of influences. Taiwan was once a Portuguese colony called Formosa. In the late 19th century came an influx of immigrants from Fujian province, which faces Taiwan across the Taiwan Strait. The Fujian immigrants contributed broth-based dishes and the oyster omelet, both of which are represented on Lin’s Taiwanese menu. Half a century of Japanese rule ended with World War II, but the Taiwanese did not relinquish their fondness for sushi and sashimi. Lin’s offers chicken and beef teriyaki in addition to sushi and sashimi.
The Taiwanese do love fried foods. Lin’s shrimp egg rolls (four for $8) are models of fine frying. Their skins are unusually thin and crisp, not oily, and the insides are generously stuffed with shrimp. One of Lin’s best sellers is fried rice with garlic and pork sausage ($8.95). The thin sausage, with its winning hint of sweetness reminiscent of glazed ham, is made in-house. It’s so good that Lin has made a side business of it. He said he sells 25,000 to 35,000 pounds of it a year to restaurants in New York and New Jersey.
The most attention-getting dish on the menu, not always in a good way, is the aptly named stinky bean curd. In Taiwan, bean curd is fermented in brine and other ingredients, ranging from cabbage to meat and even milk, for up to a week. It is a favorite street snack at Taiwan’s popular night markets. Lin’s serves it steamed or fried, with hot sauce. We ordered it fried.
The pieces have a pleasantly chewy, almost crisp skin with a dense yet silky interior. The pungency is not as pronounced on the palate as it is in the nose. The aroma, it must be admitted, caused a couple on the other side of the dining room to approach our table, noses wrinkled.
“What is that?” they asked, warily.
“Old socks,” one of us responded.
Lin, who comes from a family of fishermen, buys his seafood twice a week. A friend drives him in the wee hours to the vast New Fulton Fish Market at Hunt’s Point in the Bronx. Lin told me his long-term relationships with purveyors there ensures he gets the best quality stuff. That is born out in dishes like steamed oysters with fermented black bean sauce or a special of oysters on the half shell with a pesto-like garlic and basil purée. (Lin grows Taiwanese basil in his garden.)
One of the simplest dishes on the entire menu is also one of the very best—the whole fish of the day. Often sea bass or snapper, it is steamed with sliced scallions and ginger and finished tableside with a quick dose of soy sauce.
- Cuisine Type:Asian - Chinese
- Price Range:Inexpensive
- Price Details:Taiwanese specialties, $3.95-$15.95; market price for whole fish and lobster.
- Ambience:Utilitarian, albeit with white tablecloths, framed Chinese art and a stuffed sailfish.
- Service:Fast and friendly.
- Wine list:BYO