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

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

Danny’s Steakhouse (Taipei)

October 1, 2013 in Best Of, Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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One of my favourite restaurants in Taipei (and possibly anywhere) is Danny & Company in the Da’an district. I’ve also been to the almost as good D&C Bistro in the Zhongshan district, which is another 10/10 dining experience with excellent ambiance, terrific service, and most of all, heavenly food (my reviews of both places here). And so when I heard the owner just opened a third store just down the road from D&C Bistro, specializing in steak — Danny’s Steakhouse — I immediately put all other dining plans aside and made a visit there my top priority.

Danny’s Steakhouse is quite similar to the two other stores in appearance and menu, but it’s probably the most expensive with the priciest steak coming in at NT$3,350 (though the cheapest option is the truffle mushroom risotto at NT$1,000). The interior is dimly lit with classy furniture and well-mannered, knowledgeable waiters, but what sets it apart is the private rooms (I think there are three or four) for those wanting a more personal dining experience.

Here is the menu. As you can see, their lunch set is priced according to the main course you choose. You start off with a delicious appetizer followed by an amazing soup. The main courses are understandably dominated by the steaks, though you can also choose pork, lamb, fish, risotto or lobster (strangely no chicken), and comes with your choice of side. And of course, there is the dessert, which comes with tea or coffee. The good thing is that even though the dishes are similar to the other two restaurants, they are still unique, making it still a worthwhile place to visit even if you’ve sampled Danny and Company or D&C Bistro before.

Danny's Steakhouse

First of all, before anything else, there is the house bread. As with all of Danny’s house bread, this one was wonderful, fresh, crusty on the outside and warm and soft on the inside. The olive oil dip was pretty nice too, but still nothing beats the truffle butter from Danny and Kitchen.

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For the starters, we went with something a little different, the beef carpaccio and the Tokyo-style crab cake. I don’t usually get beef carpaccio, but this one was exquisite and I was tempted by the mustard mayo. I had sampled crab cake before at Danny and Company but it was not a fried Tokyo-style crab cake (kind of like a croquette) and I think I enjoyed this one even more, probably because of the anchovy aioli.

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Beef carpaccio

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Tokyo-style crab cake

Next the soups. Initially we wanted to get two mushroom cappuccinos, but the waitress recommended the smoked tomato soup, which she said was their specialty. So we got one each, and I’m glad because while the cappuccino was great, it was something I had tried many times before. The smoked tomato soup was different and had that amazing sour tang of smoky BBQ sauce which I love.

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Mushroom cappucino

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Smoked tomato soup

Before the main courses were served they brought us the condiments for the steak — mustard seeds and sea salt. Simple but enticing.

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The main courses arrived shortly after. The steak we got was the USDA Prime Filet Mignon (NT$1,750), cooked to medium rare (recommended). Lightly seasoned, with roasted garlic. You don’t need to me to you how amazing it was. BTW, the steaks on the right hand side of the menu (the more expensive ones) are a little softer than the ones on the left.

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USDA Prime Filet Mignon

For the second main course we went with something a little different, the US Maine Lobster. It was a little cold by the time we finished the steak, but it was still pretty good. No shells, all lobster, with a creamy sauce that could have been a little more flavoursome. A good choice but next time I might try the lamb or even a different steak.

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US Maine lobster

You get a choice of a side dish with each set, and we got the bake potato and the broccoli. Other options are hash brown and corn. I’m happy with our choices. The baked potato was huge and filling, and I loved the crunchy crusty stuff on top, and the broccoli was buttery (but not too much so) added some much needed greens to offset all the meat.

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Baked potato

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Sauted broccoli

Last but not least, the desserts, which are always a highlight of the Danny restaurants. There were four options today and we went with a Japanese cheesecake with orange sorbet and a chocolate tarte with wasabi sorbet. Other options, from memory were a carrot cake and a pineapple cake.

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Japanese cheesecake with orange sorbet

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Chocolate tarte with wasabi sorbet

The cheesecake was scrumptious — light and cheesy — and the orange sorbet was a nice complement (can’t quite put on my finger on what that green thing was…maybe a apple mousse thingy?), but the chocolate tarte gets the award for best dessert of the day. So chocolaty and thick with a beautiful biscuit base. And the wasabi sorbet was astonishing. Not something I would have ordered ordinarily but it added a real nice kick to the tarte. Perfection.

Lastly, some petit fours. They were OK, nothing special, but still nice to have.

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Overall, another lovely experience. Whenever you go to any of the three Danny restaurants you’re pretty much guaranteed a fantastic all-round meal, and this was no different.

10/10

PS: That said, if I had to pick just one, I’d probably still go with Danny & Company because of the location and slightly friendlier prices.

Details

Danny’s Steakhouse (教父牛排)

Website: http://dannyssteakhouse.com.tw/

Address: No.58, Lequn 3rd Rd., Zhongshan Dist., Taipei City

Phone: 02-8501-1838

Hours: 11:30-15:00, 18:00-22:30

DD

Unagi at Hizenya (肥前屋) (Taipei)

September 2, 2013 in Food, Reviews

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Unagi, Japanese for eel, is one of my favourite foods in the world. Whether it’s on a sushi roll or nigiri or on a bed of rice (ie, a donburi), there is just something about the sticky sweet soy sauce and melty texture of unagi that gets to me every time.

That said, not all unagi is good. Badly made unagi can have that really disgusting fishy smell, be slimy or chewy. I’ve had some poorly made unagi before, and I’ve also had some of the best (in Japan, of course), so I feel like I have a fairly good idea of what I’m talking about.

And so when I heard about Hizenya (肥前屋)  in Taipei’s Zhongshan district, I knew I had to check it out. Tucked away in an alley off Zhongshan North Rd, in Taipei’s so-called Japan Town, Hizenya is nearly always a packed house, so make sure you get there early (they open 11:30am).

The decor inside is decidedly Japanese, with wooden tables and benches and Japanese artworks.

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They also have a semi-open kitchen where you can see the chefs hard at work behind the counter.

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Here is the menu, which is unfortunately available in Chinese only. The superstar of the menu is obviously their unaju (or unadon = unagi donburi), which comes in small (NT$190) and large (NT$340). They also have a ten don (with a tempura prawn), a pork katsu don with egg, a gyudon (beef) and a tamago don with just egg and green onions, as well as teishokus (sets) with katsu, yakiniku (BBQ), prawn and oyster. Fish options are also available, but everyone’s there for the unagi. If you want, there are some sides dishes and grilled/skewered meats, which I hear goes well with the Japanese beer.

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On this busy day, we ordered a small unaju each, a couple of pork skewers and a steamed spinach. It’s hard to tell from just looking at the photos alone, so I will explain.

The unagi at Hizenya is first grilled, then steamed, then grilled again, supposedly to remove excess fat. As a result, the skin is a little crispy and the inside is moist and soft. Not quite in the melt-in-your-mouth territory I’ve experienced in Japan, but it’s pretty darn good nonetheless.

The sauce, which is probably just as important, is said to be made with a home-made stock plus soy sauce and mirin, which is flavoursome but not overly sweet or salty or sticky. It feels less heavy and more natural, which is a good thing.

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Hizenya’s unaju (small)

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Pork skewers

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Spinach!

Oh, and there’s free miso soup. Of course.

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The verdict? Top range unagi that makes it easy to understand why the place is so popular, but not quite in the league of the best unagi I’ve had in Japan (that said, it’s probably still better than anything I’ve had in Sydney). There was a surprising number of fish bones in my unaju, which I ordinarily wouldn’t have minded but on this occasion one actually got suck in my throat. I actually went to see a doctor that night after being unable to get rid of that something’s there feeling, but as it turned out I had at some stage managed to dislodge the bone, thought not before it managed to scratch my throat a little bit.

8/10

Details

Hizenya (肥前屋)

Address: No. 13-2, Alley 121, Sec 1, Zhongsan North Rd, Zhongshan District, Taipei (nearest MRT: Zhongshan, red line)

Phone: (02) 2511-5605

Hours: Tues-Sun 11:30-14:30, 17:30-21:00, closed Mondays

hizenya

Ji-Ma Chen Noodles!

January 7, 2010 in Food, Taiwan, Travel

Restaurant: Ji Ma Chen Oyster Noodle King
Food: Oyster and Large Intestine Flour Rice Noodles
Location: Various (see below)
Price: Expect to spend around TWD 60-100 per person (especially if you get a meal deal)

This one is worth trying if you are not squeamish about eating internal organs.

Ji Ma Chen’s new franchise (he formerly sold records!) sells noodles with oysters and large intestines, which is a favourite of the Taiwanese locals.  The most famous shop that sells these noodles is in Ximen (with another store at Zhongxiao Fuxing) – Ay-Chung Flour-Rice Noodles – but Ji Ma is beginning to encroach on its market share.

(Click on ‘More…’ to find out more about Ji-Man Chen Noodles and how to find the place!)

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