La Pasta (Taipei)

June 25, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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So we’re in search of a place to enjoy a tasty, reasonably cheap Italian joint and we keep hearing about this place called La Pasta. It is so popular that it has four locations in Taiwan (and a few in China), and the one we decided to visit was near the Zhongshan MRT station on the red line.

Internally it looks like your average cafe/diner in Taipei. Clean and not too flashy, with the only thing standing out being the kidney-shaped tables that weren’t particularly ergonomic.

We go early on a Friday to take advantage of the business lunch menu that netizens have been raving about. Here it is.

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There’s basically three sets: a NT$219 set that comes with a choice of pasta and beverage, a NT$249 set that includes a pasta, a choice of the first 6 appetizers (which can be soup or salad) and a beverage, and a NT$279 set that widens your selection to all 8 appetizers (satay sticks and escargot) and allows you to choose either a pasta or a main course. All courses also come with garlic bread and dessert.  They only have one pizza in the lunch menu, sausage and mushroom, available as an add-on for NT$168.

The strength of the menu lies in its pasta variety. If nothing in the business lunch set tickles your fancy you can always go for something in their conventional menu for more money. Here’s a sample:

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The service is not great. I’ve head some complaints about it and they weren’t lying. The waitresses, especially the old ones, just seem a little snappy. One of them also made a mistake and added an extra beverage to our bill. Luckily another waitress noticed it when I paid.

None of that matters much to me if the food is awesome. So here it is:

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The garlic bread was no good. It tasted stale.

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The salad was pretty good for one that comes as part of a set course. Plenty of variety and the dressing was the thick, flavoursome honey mustard type that I like.

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The onion soup was average. It’s one of those they just scoop out of a big pot. I liked that it was not too thick, but the onion taste could have been more refined. The croutons inside were not fresh.

Then, the pastas.

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After a lengthy thought process we went with this chicken and garlic olive oil-type pasta. It was of the home-made calibre, I suppose. The flavours were not bad, but the chicken was chewy and didn’t taste like real chicken. The ample garlic helped though.

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The other pasta we got was the spaghetti with spicy chicken pink sauce. I assume pink sauce is some kind of mix between a tomato and cream-based sauce.  This one was OK too. Nothing exceptional, just generally acceptable home-style pasta.

And lastly, the dessert, which was chocolate brownie on this particular day. Not bad. A little on the small and plain side, but can’t complain about the taste of the brownie itself.

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So there you have it. After reading all that hype, La Pasta turned out to be a disappointment. It’s not terrible, but it’s not exactly good either. Taking into account the price, the service, the variety and the quality of the food, I’m not sure I can even call this place above average. I can’t speak for the other outlets, but when it comes to their Nanjing West Road store, it is what it is. 

7/10

Details

La Pasta (義大利麵屋)

Website (under construction): http://www.lapasta.com.tw/

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/lapastaLA?fref=ts

Address: No. 4-3, Lane 25, Nanjing West Rd, Datong District Taipei City, Taiwan 103 (nearest MRT Zhongshan, exit 2)

Phone: (02) 2555-3818

Wendel’s German Bakery & Bistro (Taipei)

May 1, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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The bakery section of Wendel’s German Bakery & Bistro

Tick another one off the list.

There aren’t many German restaurants in Taiwan. I had been wanting to visit Wendel’s German Bakery & Bistro for some time and finally found the opportunity a couple of weeks ago when we made the trip to the Da’an branch near Taipei’s Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. It seems like a popular joint on weekends because of its brunch, though on the Saturday we went I’m sure they could have still squeezed out some tables for people without a reservation.

The branch we went to was kinda unusual because it was essentially two restaurants merged into one. I suspect it was so successful that they simply bought out its next door neighbour to double up the space. As a result, one side looks like a bakery/bistro, with brightly lit cabinets of fresh bread and cakes and pastry chefs doing their thing, while the other side looks like a regular western-style restaurant with dim lighting. We sat in the bakery section.

Wendel’s menu is extensive, and you can check it out at their website (see below). They have pizzas, pastas, salads, burgers, sandwiches, breakfast and brunch options, and of course traditional German cuisine like pork knuckles and schnitzels. Some of the stuff looked pretty enticing on the menu, but in the end we stuck with our guts and went for a pork knuckle and a pork schnitzel.

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Everyone gets some free house bread, and it’s an excellent variety, as you can see.

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Also provided with the main course is a salad, with tomato, cucumber, onions and olives. Not bad, quite refreshing considering we ordered all meat. However, we were fortunate to not have listened to the waitress, who recommended that we order a separate salad to balance out the meat. Now that would have been a wasted order.

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Pork knuckle, with sauerkraut, potato mash, gravy and mustard. I’m usually not crazy about pork knuckle, so I am going to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. Wendel’s pork knuckle is the real deal — succulent meat, crispy skin, full of flavour. The potato mash was creamy and the sauerkraut not too sour. And the mustard gave it an awesome kick. A must-try if pork knuckle is what you’re after.

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That’s a Swedish flag, by the way

Next up, the pork schnitzel. Personally, I prefer chicken, but they didn’t have that, so it was more pork for us. Nice crispy fries without too much salt, a wedge of lemon and a tub of tomato sauce. Not as good as the schnitzel I had in Germany, of course, but it’s not bad for Taiwan.

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Next it was time for dessert, and it was not easy to decide. The ones of the left hand side are all individual cakes, while the section on the far end are slices of a larger cake. You can go up to the dessert counter and tell them what you want, and they will take it to your table. I thought one dessert, then two, but in the end I went with three. Just in case.

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So, I chose a chocolate mousse cake (layers of chocolate cake and mousse), a strawberry tart, and a chocolate raspberry cake. The best one was probably the chocolate mousse cake; the strawberry tart was just OK, and the chocolate raspberry was not good — far too dry.

In all, Wendel’s is a commendable place to try some “German” food if you are so inclined. The atmosphere is great, the prices are reasonable (NT$300-$500 per head, roughly, depending on what you order) and the food is extremely solid, but I do have to complain a little about the service. They were busy, no doubt, but the waitresses forgot about us several times — when we asked for a baby seat, when we asked for the menus and when we asked to be served. It got better later when they weren’t as busy, but I think they need some more training.

8/10

Details

Wendel’s German Bakery & Bistro

Website: http://www.wendels-bakery.com/index.asp (Chinese, English, German)

Address: No. 28, Lane 260, GuangFu S. Rd, Da’an District, Taipei (nearest MRT Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall)

Phone: (02) 2711-8919

Hours: Bistro:08:00-22:00; Deli:09:00-22:00

PS: Other branches at Tianmu and Neihu

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Birkin Waffle Cafe (New Taipei)

February 11, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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There are a lot of popular cafes in New Taipei city these days, especially near the Banqiao/Fuzhong/Xinpu area along the blue MRT line. One of these is Birkin Waffle Cafe, a short walk from the Xinpu MRT station and a slightly longer walk from Banqiao MRT station.

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It’s a nicely fitted two-storey restaurant with a lot of comfortable sofas and slim young waitresses, which might explain why it is so popular with locals. And there is this big bear on the steps to the second floor, which people seem to like but freaked me out when I saw it.

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Their menu is fairly extensive and offers all day breakfast, burgers, paninis, salads, fried stuff, steaks, ribs, and of course, waffles. Prices are fairly standard and depending on what you order you’re probably looking at around 300-500 per head. Minimum spend is a beverage, but if you order a meal that comes with a drink then it won’t be necessary. Here are the snaps I took of the menu. Interestingly, the breakfast section does not have English translations.

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The first thing we ordered was one of the items on the breakfast menu which had eggs and ham on buns, bananas, salad and hash browns. I have to admit this was way too weird for my liking as the mix of flavours was completely off. From the photo I thought it was eggs benedict, but it was actually scrambled eggs, which is fine, but the buns beneath were sweet. And hash browns with bananas? It was just whacked.

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With my expectations dampened, I didn’t expect much from the next item, the special sauce beef burger. But guess what? It was amazing! Nice bun, great beef patty and tangy sweet chili sauce. The fries were nice and crispy too. A standout burger.

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For dessert, we were tossing between the chocolate and the strawberry but ended up going with the latter. Not a bad choice but the waffles weren’t anything spectacular.

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On the whole, a pretty comfortable place to dine, especially for a nice brunch or get together. The food is a bit of a mixed bag and I don’t recommend the bizarre breakfast options, though the burger we tried was excellent. I was surprised that with “waffle” in its name the place didn’t offer more waffle options (there were 6 in total), but the one we tried, one of the recommended flavours, was fairly decent.

8/10

Details

Birkin Waffle Cafe

Address: No. 1, Jièshòu St, Banqiao District, New Taipei City

Phone: +886 2 2257 1777

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birkin-Waffle-cafe/371824229553388

Vietnamese at Pho Hoa (Taipei)

January 27, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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A pretty decent, fairly authentic Vietnamese joint in Taipei is Pho Hoa, situated in one of the alleys near Zhongxiao Fuxing/Dunhua MRT station. It’s usually very very busy and always packed out during peak hours, so we went early one day just as they opened up to ensure we’d get a seat.

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We ordered two noodle soups: the Signature Pho (NT$180), which has an aromatic, translucent (nearly opaque) broth with all kinds of different meat; and the spicy and sour fish rice noodle soup (NT$160), also one of the specials. The noodles come with the usual condiments — lemon, chili and basil — and there is also chili and hoisin sauce for the beef, just the way I like it.

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Their extensive menu has all sorts of other options, such as dry nice noodles, spring rolls and BBQ skewers, etc.

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The highly touted Signature Pho was good, but not as great as I had expected it to be. When I see a soup that thick, I anticipate a burst of flavour, but the broth was surprisingly light in taste. Not bland, just lacking a bit of a kick. That said, it’s still a nice hot bowl of Pho.

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The hot and spicy fish rice noodle is not something I usually have at Vietnamese restaurants, but it was nice to try something a little different. It wasn’t too spicy and the broth had some tang to it, and the fish was reasonably fresh. I still prefer pho but I didn’t mind giving it a go.

Pho Hoa is regarded as one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in Taipei, but for me it’s just one of the better ones. That said, I won’t mind going back there again if I’m in the area.

8/10

Details

Pho Hoa (美越牛肉粉)

Address: No. 43, Lane 190, Section 1 Dūnhuà South Road, Dà’ān District, Taipei (nearest MRT Zhongxiao Fuxing / Zhongxiao Dunhua)

Phone: 02 2751 5578

Hours: Mon-Sun 11:00-23:00

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Japanese Tonkatsu at Chitaka (Taipei)

January 24, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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Tonkatsu places are a dime a dozen in Taiwan, and often it’s difficult to separate one from the other. There are the best ones, like Anzu (review here), and the second-tier ones like Pin Tian (review here). I’d place Chikata, an old Japanese chain that has spread to Taiwan, as one of the better second-tier joints that supplements its very decent tonkatsu with excellent variety and extensive meal sets.

There are now 10 Chitaka outlets in Taiwan, and the one we went to was the now-closed two-storey store near the Japanese district on Zhongshan North Road, about a 5-minute walk from the Zhongshan MRT station. But fear not — there is another one not too far away, also on Zhongshan North Road near the Regent Hotel.

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As expected, Chitaka offers both of the two main types of tonkatsu — the hire (pork fillet) and the rosu (pork loin). Each set comes with an appetizer, unlimited rice and cabbage and miso soup (from NT$240), or you can upgrade it to add a chawanmushi (steamed cup), dessert and beverage (from NT$280). They also have this special type of “layered” katsu which is essentially the same thing, except the meat is packed from layers upon layers of thin pork, and you can choose varieties that also add cheese into the mix.

Unlimited cabbage, with unlimited sauce...

Unlimited cabbage, with unlimited sauce…

In addition, they have other seafood katsu meals that use fish fillets and prawns, or you can choose a surf and turf combo that combines pork katsu with seafood. Of course there is also curry katsu, but what Chitaka also has that many other places might not is hotpot, in particular sukiyaki. I personally thought it was a little strange but I suppose it’s pretty good for winter, or if people prefer something soupy to the dry katsu. They even have stuff like unagi (eel) or oyaoko don (egg and chicken) dishes for people are who so inclined. Interestingly, there is no chicken katsu.

These were the sets we ordered.

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Tonktatsu set with a unagi don

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Oyako don set with soup udon

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Curry katsu set with soup udon

As you can see, you do get a lot of variety, but the katsu itself does not look amazing, and the serving size is relatively small. The taste is decent, not extraordinary — the crunch from the bread crumbs is there, but it doesn’t have that super crispiness and juiciness of the top tier katsu, though it isn’t dry and hard either like the crap places. It’s somewhere in the middle.

Having said that, Chitaka is a place I wouldn’t mind going back to. You do get a lot of options to choose from, there is great variety, and the prices are fair. It’s not a bad place for a casual lunch or gathering.

7.5/10

Details

Chitaka (知多家)

Website (Chinese only): http://www.chitaka.com.tw/

Address: No. 31, Lane 45, Section 2, Zhōngshān North Rd, Zhongshan District, Taipei (nearest MRT Zhongshan, red line)

Phone: +886 2 2562 3644