Bite 2 Eat (New Taipei)

February 12, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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Eslite is one of the only chain book stores in Taiwan that has managed to survive in recent years thanks to its world-famous 24-hour store and its diversification into more of a cultural department store. The Banqiao Eslite (the one closer to Fuzhong MRT station) recently re-opened after undergoing refurbishment, and it is now home to one of the most popular restaurants in the area, Bite 2 Eat. As far as I am aware, there is only one other store in Taipei in the Xinyi district, though there are two more in Kaohsiung and another in Tainan.

So is it worth the fuss? I went and found out.

Taiwanese people really know how to mould the image of a restaurant, and Bite 2 Eat is not different. It’s an Italian restaurant, strictly speaking, but it has the look and feel of a stylish cafe that young people in the city just love. The walls are packed with random decorations, clocks and signs, and all the waitresses are young and friendly.

The menu is in both Chinese and English and filled with a generous range of pizza and pasta (and risotto) selections that are roughly around NT$200 each, but if you order appetizers, additional beverages or meal sets it could work out to be NT$400-500 per head. Some of the choices are fairly standard, but they also have a lot of creative and wacky creations you might not have expected. Here are some shots of the menu.

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So this is what we ordered: a pizza and a pasta, one of which we combined with a Fantasia Set Meal (NT$259) that includes an appetizer and a Frantalia side dish, plus a drink and dessert. Our selections were pretty much all recommended by the waitress.

First up, the fried squid (our Frantalia dish), which came with some salad and a line spinkle of mustard. I really enjoyed this as the batter was thick and crunchy, and they did not skimp on the squid. Perhaps a little on the salty side, but squid dishes often are.

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Next up, the appetizer, which was a simple focaccia with a dip. Now, I don’t know what the dip was, but it was amazing, creamy and kind of garlicky, with a smooth texture and some herbs. The focaccia was also fluffy with a touch of sweetness. The two went together very well.

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Our first main was the pizza, and we went for the spicy Seasoned Chicken Pizza. It wasn’t too spicy but it was spicy enough to give it a bit of a kick. The handmade base was fresh, but it was a little on the soft and floppy side, though the flavoursome and ample cheese made up for it. Not a bad pizza at all.

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For the pasta, we went for the Spicy Spaghetti with Smoked Duck , and this one actually was quite hot. I also enjoyed this one — the spaghetti was al dente, the duck breast was tasty and the fried slices of garlic on top really hit the spot. It smelled really good too.

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Lastly, we went with the Tiramisu for dessert. It was a reasonable slice that tasted fine, although it felt like they had just taken it out of the freezer as the bottom was still icy.

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On the whole it was a solid meal, better than the majority of these types of cafes I’ve been to in Taiwan. Great ambience, good service, delicious food and reasonable prices. I can understand why there are always people lining up. The best part is that there are so many great selections on the menu that I’m sure I’ll be back to try some more.

8.5/10

Details

Bite 2 Eat  (薄多義)

Facebook page

Address: Level 5, Banqiao Eslite, No. 46, Section 1 Zhongshang Road, Banqiao District, New Taipei City (nearest MRT station Fuzhong)

Phone: +8862 2954 0410

Opposite Cafe (Taipei)

February 9, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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It’s the opposite of every cafe I’ve ever been to.

Likely inspired by “The Opposite” episode of Seinfeld (OK, that’s a joke), Opposite (對面) is a new Italian restaurant located across the road from National Taiwan Normal University near the Guting MRT station. We decided to pay the place a visit after seeing it packed out with happy patrons a couple of times while passing by.

Opposite has an outdoor area with a retro petrol pump for some bizarro reason and an outdoor pizza kitchen that is frighteningly efficient. The indoor seating area is fitted with clean decor and some booths, but as it is a relatively new place they don’t yet have child seats, so keep that in mind if planning family outings. Some menu items, such as waffles, were also not available as at the beginning of February.

As for what was available, Opposite’s menu has about a selection of a dozen pizzas, four of which are vegetarian and two of which are sweet dessert pizzas. The topping mix could be a little strange for some people, such as duck breast with orange sauce, mushrooms and asparagus, as well as banana and black olives with honey. On the pasta section they have about eight choices plus a couple of risottos, and most of the choices are conventional such as tomato, pesto or wine sauce with pork, seafood or chicken. Additionally there are some salads, appetizers, soups and main courses such as chicken, steak, pork knuckle and salmon.

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“Enjoy Evey Delicacies” including “Cutty heart”: It’s the opposite of every good English menu you’ve ever seen

The pizzas are around NT$200 each and the pastas are a little more at around $250 but there is a range depending on the dish. The main courses are the most expensive at around NT$600 each. I’ve taken some shots of the menu for reference below.

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We ended up ordering two pastas, a risotto (gratin) and four pizzas for six people, and it was just barely enough because the servings are quite small, meaning if you share everyone will only get a slice of each pizza and a bit of each pasta. One thing I will give kudos for is the amazing speed with which they make the food. It’s fast enough for you to order a few dishes and then add to that if you so desire later without feeling like there is a long lull in between.

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Pesto shrimp pasta

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Creamy tomato seafood pasta

 

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Creamy chicken and rice gratin

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Shrimp, pineapple and pesto pizza

 

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Duck pizza with orange sauce

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Matsusaka pork pizza

The quality of the food is decent but not great, which is a concern as the serving sizes don’t really match the price, though I suspect the restaurant should survive given its favourable location. Some of us liked the duck pizza with the orange sauce, while others thought it was a little strange. The beef and kimchi pizza was nice, but both the kimchi and beef were quite scarce (just check out the photo), while the matsusaka pork with peppers was nothing special. I liked the creamy baked risotto and the pesto shrimp pasta, but I wouldn’t say they are standouts. The seafood pasta with tomato cream sauce was the same.

Verdict: nice location, comfortable setting, fast service, but only above average food and relatively small portions for the price. Glad I tried it out but not a place I see myself returning any time soon.

7/10

Details

Opposite (對面)

Address: No. 125-8, Section 1 Heping East Road, Da’an District, Taipei (nearest MRT station Guting)

Phone: +8862 23930022

opposite

And finally, in honour of one of the greatest episodes of the greatest show ever, I present you a clip from “The Opposite.”

Italian at Bianco Taipei

January 7, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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So we keep hearing about this tasty and affordable Italian joint near the big roundabout close to the Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT station. It’s called Bianco, and it serves an assortment of freshly made pasta, risott and pizza, as well as brunch selections that the locals just adore. We ended up going there on a very rainy weekday and were lucky to have booked because otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to secure a seat, so that just shows how popular the place is.

The restaurant itself has a clean cut look with decor dominated by white. They do have child seats and the back area is quite roomy so we had little problem just leaving the pram by the table.

Here’s a sample of a page of the menu, which is in both Chinese and English.

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As the bottom of the menu indicates, the prices are a la carte, but you can create a set meal that includes soup, salad, drink, cake and/or gelato for extra. Any two of the above is an additional NT$170, any three is NT$210, any four is NT$260 and you can get all five for NT$290.

We didn’t want to stuff our faces as usual so we just added two items, a soup and a gelato (two scoops) to go with our two mains, their trademark organic risotto with black truffle in cream (NT$410), and a peking duck pizza (NT$320)

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The soup of the day was a minestrone which was very hearty and flavoursome, with lots of fresh vegetables. I wished there was a little more soup though, but that’s just me.
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The organic black truffle risotto was wonderful. Very aromatic, not too creamy, not too salty, just the right sprinkle of cheese and full of truffle flavour. I really enjoyed it and thought it was a refreshing change to the normal truffle risottos you tend to get at other Italian restaurants.

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The Peking duck pizza was pretty good too. If you like Peking duck and hoisin sauce, chances are you will enjoy this. The base was decent, not spectacular, but it was sprinkled with a healthy dose of toppings, including cucumber, spring onions and sauce. It’s actually not the first time I’ve had this type of pizza, and to be honest I actually prefer the one I had back home in Sydney at the Australia Hotel at the Rocks. That one is bigger and has more duck, though to be far it also costs more than twice as much. Still, I enjoyed it, and I doubt I can get it elsewhere in Taipei.

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As for dessert, we chose the gelato. You can go up to the front counter to choose which flavours you want, and we ended up going for the green tea and chocolate. If you pick cake you can also choose the type of cake you want, and you can check out a sample of the type of stuff that’s on offer below.

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The two scoops of ice cream we got were fairly good. The green tea is no Haagen-Dazs, but it was good enough, and the chocolate is better than your average no name brand.

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On the whole it was a satisfying meal and I can see why so many people rate it highly. I wouldn’t say it’s one of the best Italian restaurants I’ve been to in Taipei, but it’s very good, the prices are reasonable and I can definitely see myself going back there again.

8/10

Details

Bianco Taipei (義大利食材餐廳~白色)

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/bianco.fb

Address: No. 19, Alley 112, Section 4, Ren’Ai Road, Da’An District, Taipei (nearest MRT Zhongxiao Dunhua, blue line)

Phone: 02 2325 3655

Hours: Monday to Friday 11:30am-10pm, Saturday/Sunday 10am-10pm

bianco

Osteria Rialto Cuisina Italia (Taipei)

January 2, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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Let’s start 2014 on a positive note — a visit to one of the better Italian restaurants in all of Taipei, Osteria Rialto.

There is a plethora of Italian restaurants in Taipei, many of which are practically indistinguishable from each other and making it extremely difficult to find one that stands out. I had heard rave reviews about Osteria Rialto for quite some time and was able to check it out before the end of the year, and I’m glad I did.

Situated very close to MRT Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall station, Osteria Rialto is a cozy joint that offers a wide variety of handmade pastas and pizzas. Price-wise it is not cheap but competitive, with average per person spending estimated at around NT$400-$800 per person. Lunch sets are available but you never really save a whole lot with those.

On this day we went early, while it was still quiet, and ordered a pizza and pasta, with a soup and dessert as part of a lunch set. It was pretty difficult to choose, to be honest, because everything on the menu looked pretty enticing, so we sought out the recommendations by the waiter before making our choices.

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The soup of the day was a seemingly basic potato soup that was surprisingly excellent and one of the better potato soups I’ve had in recent memory. We shared it between two people but in retrospect one each would have been preferable.

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For the pizza we went with the eponymous Rialto pizza, which comes with spanish onions, olives, sausage and smoked ham. It was awesome — the base was crispy and hot, the cheese was of good quality and the toppings were not only generous but also complemented each other very well. It’s one of the top pizzas I’ve had in Taipei.

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For the pasta we went with a safer option, a chicken and mushroom pasta with pesto sauce. I’ve had a lot of pesto pastas in Taiwan and this definitely ranks right up there with the best of them: creamy but not too creamy and flavoursome without being salty. And there are actual whole pine nuts in the fresh pesto sauce that does not have that fake artificial green to it at all.

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It was a relatively light meal by my standards but we had to top it off with dessert, which from memory was an apple cake with real pieces of carmelised apples (kinda like a strudel). It wasn’t particularly memorable but was good enough to cap off a strong meal.

Despite the limited range I sampled, Osteria Rialto is definitely one of the best Italian restaurants I’ve experienced in Taipei. Whether it’s in terms of tastiness, service, location or value for money, Osteria Rialto ticks the right boxes. In particular, for me, tastiness is always the primary consideration and in this regard the restaurant certainly does not disappoint. I would very much like to go there again and try some of their other dishes, including the appetizers, and other pizza, pasta and dessert options.

9/10

Details

Osteria Rialto Cuisina Italia (雅朵義大利餐廳)

Address: No. 5, Lane 260, Guangfu S Rd, Taipei (nearest MRT Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, blue line)

Phone: (02)2778 1536

Hours: 11:45am-2:30pm, 6pm-10:30pm

map

Grandma Nitti’s Kitchen (Taipei)

August 26, 2013 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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We had a rare Saturday morning off and decided to wander Taipei’s chic Shida area for a nice cafe or restaurant to enjoy a leisurely brunch or lunch. We ended up wandering around aimlessly to Grandma Nitti’s, apparently a popular joint for locals I remember vaguely from recommendations I read up on the web a while back.

It was too hot outside to keep wandering, so we went inside and waited for a table (not too bad, about 15 minutes). I thought the place looked pretty tiny from the outside, but as it turned out there was a whole second floor as well. It was packde out anyway.

The interior (on both floors) looks pretty average, with standard wooden tables and a few decorations covering the peeling and stained white walls. But at least there was air conditioning and fans spinning away.

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We got a seat on the second floor and flipped through the extensive menu, which is one of the most volume-heavy of any restaurant I have ever been to. Seriously, they had everything, from all day breakfast and brunch (including pancakes and waffles) to salads and soups, quesadillas, sandwiches, burgers, subs, pizzas, pastas, dessert, assorted beverages and more. Many of these dishes also have minor variations, so there are choices within choices to be made.

They also have weekly brunch specials that looked like way too much food. I only took a photo of the all day breakfast page of the menu because there was just too much stuff. The prices were around NT$200-300 per dish.

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I grew somewhat sceptical of the place early on because there was just too much variety on the menu, leading me to suspect that perhaps they would be more into quantity than quality. It was also extremely difficult to choose what to order (even with the recommendations with Grandma Nitti’s head next to them), so my advice is to have roughly some idea of what you would like before you go there.

In the end, we went with an Eggs Benedict (with smoked salmon) and a Lasagna. Sounds boring but trust me when I say a lot of time and effort went into these selections. Just missing the cut were a Philly steak burger and some wild pasta I can’t remember.

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The Eggs Benedict came with a drink, which I turned into a traditional lemonade — that was a little too watered down for my liking. The famous breakfast dish itself was disappointing because it wasn’t a “real” Eggs Benedict. This was two poached eggs (one was runny, the other was fully cooked) sitting on top of some runny Hollandaise sauce, and a hard English muffin sliced in half on the side, plus a hash brown and some smoked salmon with onions and capers. I tried putting the contents into the muffin but it was a fruitless venture because the muffin was practically inedible. I still ate most of it though, topped up with tomato sauce to give it more flavour.

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The Lasagna was OK. I’m not picky about my lasagnas and this one had some tasty meat sauce and enough of a bite to make it interesting, but the edges were either too fully baked or not baked well enough, resulting in a strange chewy texture that made it feel like it was lacking in freshness. I ate most of it too, nonetheless.

The Lasagna was upgraded to a set (for an extra NT$100) to include a drink and dessert of the day, which was their signature chocolate brownie cake. This, I must admit, was pretty good. The cake came to us warm, with warmish melted chocolate on top. The cake itself was soft and moist but not too sweet.

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The service was also a little problematic at times. They were undoubtedly very busy, which may have led the orders to be messed up a couple of times (we had asked for no ice in the iced coffee), though in general the staff were friendly and willing to help.

The total cost of the meal, including the 10% surcharge, came to just under NT$800. To be honest I wasn’t totally satisfied with the experience and don’t get why the place is so popular and packed with people on a regular basis. We even spotted a Japanese couple with two young kids who followed a guide book all the way there, reflecting its reputation and popularity.

Perhaps we ordered the wrong mains (even though they were both “recommended” menu items), but apart from the cake the food was neither particularly tasty nor refined. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either, just acceptable — a little rough around the edges, so to speak, and felt somewhat processed, which might explain why they were able to serve us so quickly despite the small kitchen and large crowds.

6.5/10

PS: I hear they have a second store nearby, on Xinhai Road

Details

Grandma Nitti’s Kitchen (中西美食)

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

Address: No. 8, Lane 93, Shida Rd., Taipei, Taiwan (nearest MRT is Guting or Taipower Building Station)

Phone: (02) 2369-9751

Hours: Monday-Saturday 10pm-11pm, Sunday 10am-10pm

 
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