Ita 義塔 (Taipei)

April 15, 2015 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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Another day, another Wowprime Group restaurant. Taiwan’s good industry juggernaut has just about tackled everything, from steak to Japanese to Teppanyaki to hotpot. Just as I was wondering when they’d venture into Italian, out comes Ita  (義塔), a new establishment that follows in their predictable but comfortable set course tradition.

As at the date of my visit in March 2015, there was only one store in Taipei, one in Taoyuan and two in Taichung, though if it is successful — and I think it will be — I’m sure the franchise will branch out very quickly.

The decor inside the store is fairly typical of Wowprime restaurants. Comfortable, clean, and probably designed by the same people. It’s a very child-friendly place that has ample baby and child seats for all ages and free soup and bread for the young ones.  They have a semi-open pizza kitchen but we were seated at the other end so we didn’t see them in action.


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Ita belongs to the lower end of Wowprime’s price spectrum. Each set is just NT$380 +10% service charge, and you get bread, salad, soup, a main course, dessert and a beverage. You can also just get a main course without all the extras for NT$280, which is also the price for a fried share plate that contains chicken wings, fish and French fries.

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First up, some bread. Fresh, warm, and with butter. Not bad.

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We ordered both salad options, the cold Caesar, which appears to have no chicken.

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And the warm roasted vegetables.

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This is the corn soup for the kiddies (also an option for the adults). Creamy.

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We also got the pumpkin soup, probably their best soup.

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And the tomato vegetable soup, which was average.

Choosing the main course was very difficult because they have so many options. They have five types of pizza and nine types of pasta/risotto. We were so lost, because everything looked so good in the menu photos, that we even ordered an additional pizza. In the end, we got two pizzas and a pasta.

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The first was the Margherita, with tomato and basil. It looked pretty good and tasted pretty good. Obviously not on par with some of the pizzas I’ve had elsewhere, but for the price it was very good value.

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The second was their only mix-and-match pizza, the half-Hawaiian, half Hakka pork pizza. Pretty good too. The kids liked the Hawaiian. The Hakka pork was a little salty but I think that’s the way it’s meant to be.

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We kind of wanted steak too, so we got the roasted garlic pasta with steak. Surprisingly excellent. The pasta was cooked to perfection and the meat was fairly tender. The sauce that came with it was super.

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This is the beverage. A lemon ice drink. Sweet and sour, just the way I like it.

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As for the dessert, we got the banana chocolate cake.

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And the berry milk pudding. Loved the milk pudding. The banana chocolate was OK.

Overall, a place I can see myself coming back to. It’s not gourmet cuisine but it’s very solid and ranks as one of the above average Wowprime restaurants. The affordable pricing makes it especially attractive. Most of all, it’s the variety in the options of main courses that make me want to come back and try again.

8/10

Details

Ita (義塔)

Website (Chinese): http://www.itahouse.com.tw/index.htm

Address: No. 99, Section 1, Chongqing S Rd, Zhongzheng District, Taipei

Phone: 02-2361-2792

 

Piccola Enoteca (Hsinchu)

February 23, 2015 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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We were dropping by Hsinchu in northeast Taiwan after a morning picking strawberries in Miaoli (further south) and needed a good recommendation for a place to have lunch. That recommendation turned out to be Piccola Enoteca, an Italian joint with an innovative recipe crafted by a Hong Kong owner.

The restaurant is small, with probably only enough room for 30-40 seats, but even for a Friday lunch it was very busy. Here is their menu (which apparently changes regularly), available in both Chinese and English — but I apologize for it being too small to read properly. They have a mix of homemade bread, antipasti, pasta, and main course meats, as well as side dishes. They also have some daily specials, so be sure to check out what they are from the professional staff.

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Here’s what we ordered (for four adults).

First up, an interesting take on the Taiwanese oyster omelette, with additional fish and squid. It’s as good as it looks, and not as oily as they typically are.

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Next, fried truffle and mushroom balls. Incredible stuff. Anything fried and anything with truffle is awesome, so the two together is hard to top.

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The first main course is a simple handmade pasta with black truffle, shaved freshly before your eyes. The handmade is perfection, though the flavours were held back to allow the star of the dish, the truffle, to dominate.

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The second pasta dish was the pumpkin ravioli. A superb blend of textures and sweet flavours. An Italian dish with an Asian touch.

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The third and last pasta was a more conventional tomato-fish spaghetti with ample garlic and a sprinkle of cheese and chili. The highlight again was the handmade spaghetti, cooked al dente.

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The main meat recommendation was “Saltimbocca”, the Chinese name for which is translated to “Jump in the mouth”. It comprises Yilan pork together and ham together with special herbs and spices. Very interesting mix of textures and flavours, especially with the Basalmic vinaigrette to give it a tangy sourness.

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The other meat was a special, a fish dish with an assortment of vegetables. The fish was well cooked, though this was probably the least memorable order of the meal.

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We were already stuffed, but dessert was a must.

We ended up ordering this homemade vanilla ice cream with Balsamic, a strange combination but a successful one. The ice cream was very creamy, and the Balsamic helped balance the flavours with a light tang.

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The other was a traditional tiramisu. One of the better ones I’ve had in Taiwan for sure.

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My favourite dessert selection was their lemon cheese cake, which was surprisingly light and fluffy but not too sweet and with just the right amount of sourness. With some chopped apple on the side, this was an incredible end to a pleasant meal.

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On the whole, a very rewarding dining experience. It would have been perfect if they had some pizza, but in terms of pasta and desserts it’s definitely a place worth visiting if you happen to be around Hsinchu.

8/10

Details

Piccola Enoteca (彼刻義式餐酒館)

Address: No. 84, Guangming 3rd Road, Zhubei city, Hsinchu county

Phone: (03) 558 6831

Website: http://www.piccolaenoteca.com/

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/piccolaenotecatw

Opening hours: Mon-Fri 11:30-15:00, 17:00-22:00, Sat-Sun 11:30-22:00

Gordon Biersch (Taipei)

November 19, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

Gordon Biersch

I’m trying to limit by carb intake, so I needed a restaurant that serves something other than rice, noodles, pasta or bread, etc. Gordon Biersch doesn’t really fit that description, but they do have steaks and ribs, so it was good enough.

There are three Gordon Biersch branches in Taiwan, two in Taipei. We visited the one at Taipei’s Xinyi district, on level 2 of building A4 of the Shinkong Mitsubishi department store. The store is fitted out like a typical American sports cafe, with TVs playing NBA and NFL on them hanging near the bar. The whole time I thought Gordon Biersch was a German beer cafe, but as it turned out it’s just an American food joint not unlike TGI Friday’s or Chili’s.

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The menu is quite extensive and can be found on the website. They’ve got appetizers, salads, tapas, and so forth, as well as pizzas and flatbreads, burgers, sandwiches and tacos. There’s also pastas, steaks, and ribs, and of course, desserts. They do offer a wide variety of beers, wines and cocktails, but since I’m not a drinker I didn’t try anything.

They have a lunch special, which offers on top of your (limited) selection a soup or dessert plus a soft drink. You don’t save a whole lot, but it’s better than nothing. They also have a kid’s menu and a late-night menu featuring mainly drinks and snacks, so there’s pretty much something for everyone.

I couldn’t just get steak and ribs, so I compromised and got a Marzan BBQ burger (lunch special with dessert — for NT$440) and a half rack of ribs (NT$550).

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The ribs were surprisingly good, extremely juicy and flavoursome and with succulent meat that comes right off the bone with easy. The BBQ sauce was tangy and had a little spice to it that tasted a little Indian for some reason. The coleslaw that came with it was average, but the garlic fries were super crunchy and tasty.

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The Marzan burger was a bit of a disappointment. I thought the bun was nicely toasted, but the beef patty was way too salty. It was one of those burgers that packed a solid bite because both the bun and meat were really thick. The thing is, even as salty as it was, the burger felt like it needed some more tomato sauce and mustard. The slaw was the same, but the bacon potato mash was pretty good.

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Lastly, the dessert of the day, which was carrot cake. It was a huge slice, which came as a surprise because usually the desserts that come with meal sets tend to be small and crap. But this was a good portion and it was actually very tasty! I liked the nuts lining the back and the cake itself was very solidly packed together. I liked it.

I’ve only had a small handful of the options on the menu so it’snot exactly fair to give it a rating. But I will anyway. Two out of the three things we got were excellent, one was slightly disappointing (though the fries were great). Accordingly…

7.5/10

Details

Gordon Biersch

Website: http://www.gordonbiersch.com.tw/Eng/branch.aspx?prm_BranchID=1

Address: Shinkong Mitsukoshi Department Store, Building A4 2F, No.11 Songshou Rd, Taipei

Phone: 02-8786-7588

Hours: Monday-Fri 11am-2pm (Lunch); 3pm-5pm (Happy Hour); 9:30pm-11pm (Late Night). Saturday-Sunday 11am-12am

Sant-AnGeLo (Osaka)

October 23, 2014 in Food, Japan, Reviews, Travel

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So I recently went to Osaka on a short family trip. Meals were scarce, so we were sure to book ahead, and one of the recommendations we decided to try out was Sant-AnGeLo, allegedly one of the best Italian joints in the city.

It took us a bit of time to find the place, which is situated inside one of the food alleys connected to Namba Parks (near the very end of the strip). It has a nice Italian atmosphere, with traditional tablecloths and plates on the walls. They do have English menus so there’s no need to panic, and the waiters seem to be able to communicate in English if your Japanese isn’t up the scratch.

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Their menu is fairly extensive, with a nice range of traditional pizzas and pastas. With four adults, we decided to go with two pizzas and two pastas. Based on the recommendations of the waiters, we went with these:

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Quattro Formaggi, basically a “four cheese” pizza that comes with gorgonzola, mozzarella, taleggio, parmigiano. 

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The Pescatore, a seafood pizza with a tomato base

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The Bolognese

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The Carbonara

The food may look unspectacular but it was truly awesome. The pizza crust is hand made and wood fired, and the cheese seems like it’s good quality stuff. It’s hard for me to rank one pizza above the other because they were both so good in their own way, with the Quattro Formaggi full of cheesy flavour and the Pescatore so flavoursome and deluxe. The pastas were also deceptive tasty, especially the tangy bolognese, which the kids absolutely loved. The carbonara was also not too creamy and had a little bit of an extra zing.

For dessert we tried the tiramisu, but it was so enticing that we gobbled it up before I had the chance to take a photo.

In all, it was a splendid experience. Great atmosphere, friendly and speedy service and delicious, traditional Italian cuisine. Would love to come back if the opportunity presents itself in the future.

8.5/10

Details

Sant-AnGeLo (サンタ・アンジェロ)

Website (Japanese): http://www.anjou.co.jp/shop/angelo/index.html (pizza menu third tab, pasta/dessert menu fourth tab)

Address: 5-1-60 Nanba, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture (walking distance from Namba stations)

Phone: +81 (0)6-6644-2855

Hours: Mon-Fri 11:30-14:00, 17:30-22:00; Sat-Sun 11:30-22:00

Price: about 1,000 yen per person for lunch, 2,500 yen per person for dinner

SA

Royal Copenhagen Cafe (Banqiao)

September 4, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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So apparently there was only one Royal Copenhagen Cafe in all of Taiwan (at the Zhongxiao SOGO department store) — until they opened another one, in Banqiao’s Mega City Mall. I knew that Royal Copenhagen sold porcelain kitchenware, but I had no idea that they branched out to edible items. In any case, my wife spotted the cafe while shopping one day, so we decided to try it out.

It’s not the easiest of places to find, because it’s attached to the Royal Copenhagen store, which is tucked away on the side of Mega City’s level 7 along with all the other kitchenware. But once you find it, you’ll remember it, because Royal Copenhagen Cafe is actually really good.

There aren’t that many seats and tables, so make sure to get in early or make a booking. Their menu is varied but not extensive, though there are some items that are exclusive to the Banqiao store. There’s pasta and risotto, sandwiches and salads, main course steaks and meats, afternoon tea, and of course dessert and waffles. I managed to take some snaps of the menu for future reference.

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We asked the waiter for recommendations and were told that their seafood pesto risotto (NT$290) and roasted beef spare rib and cream tomato sauce pasta (NT$350) were winners, so we went for that, along with one deluxe meal set (extra NT$180) that comes with a soup of the day (fresh mushroom puree) and a beverage (100% fresh orange juice)

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The mushroom soup was excellent. I had been expecting the type of mushroom soup I’ve had at countless other Taiwanese restaurants, where the soup is extremely thick and creamy. But this one was surprisingly light and not salty at all, with some real sauteed mushroom pieces giving it a flavour kick.

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The pesto seafood risotto was indeed a winner. There wasn’t an overwhelming amount of seafood (fish, pipis, calamari and a single shrimp), but the pesto risotto itself was top notch. You could tell it was fresh pesto, not the canned or artificial stuff, and the risotto was also cooked to perfection.

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The beef spare rib with tomato cream sauce pasta was the highlight of the meal. The beef ribs were sizable and coated in a deliciously tangy, sweet and sour gravy, which also went well with the pasta. The pasta sauce was nowhere near as creamy as I had anticipated (a good thing), and the amount of  garlic and fresh tomato was also a pleasant surprise.

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A lot of desserts to choose from, and we went with a chestnut cake (NT$160). I’m not much of a fan of chestnut, to be honest, but the tart bottom was divine and the chocolate sauce that came with it was sublime. I’d be interested in trying the cheesecake or the waffle next time.

In all, a wonderful place for a light meal. It’s away from the food court and all the other restaurants, looks nice, clean and comfortable, and the food is great. I’ll be back.

8.5/10

Details

Royal Copenhagen Cafe

Address: Level 7, Mega City Mall, No. 25 Xinzhan Road, Banqiao, New Taipei City

Phone: (02) 2951 6289

 
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