Category Archives: 1000-1500NT

indian: saffron (香紅花印度美饌)

date july 16, 2012

contact No. 38-6, Tianmu E. Rd., Shilin District, Taipei City/台北市士林區天母東路38之6號/02.2871.4842

hours 7 days a week [lunch] 11:30-14:00 (closed Monday lunch) :: [dinner] 17:30-22:00

price 1000NT+

rating ♥♥♥ (5 out of 5 hearts)

nearest mrt Shipai MRT (捷運石牌站)

All pictures were taken with my iPhone 4S.

Having worked in a boba tea house turned Indian cafe (weird, I know.) in college, I have a soft spot for good Indian food. I have literally been wanting to go to Saffron for years. Finally, after much anticipation a friend and I made it out to Tianmu to try.

Tianmu is not exactly the most convenient place to get to. From Gongguan (公館) we were able to take the 606 directly to San Yu Temple (三玉宮), a 45 minute bus ride, which is only a few minute walk to Saffron. Via MRT, get off at Shipai ( 石牌) on the red line (Tamsui Line) and take any bus that goes to San Yu Temple (606, 645, and 646 all go).

Saffron is hidden behind Tianmu E. Rd. (天母東路) on the side of Shin Kong Mitsukoshi (新光三越). If you’re coming from San Yu Temple bus stop, head east on Tianmu E. Rd. and make a right down Lane 22, Tianmu E. Rd. From there make your first left and you’ll see Saffron on your lefthand side.

I had originally tried to make reservations for a Saturday night, but having not called far enough in advanced, there were no open seats. Monday was the first available seating before 8pm, so I made reservations for two at 6pm. Basically, make reservations, it’ll make life a lot easier.

We were greeted at the door by a server and shown to our table. Saffron is only one floor with maybe about 12-15 tables. The decor is very nice, something I imagine fitting in very well in San Francisco, but not as pretentious.

We were seated at the table along the front window of the restaurant, right next to glass room where the tandoor is. It’s pretty cool that the area is glass so that you can see in and watch the tandoor chef in action as he makes salads and mans the tandoor, making fresh naan, papadum, tandoori chicken, etc. all night.

We were handed both a beverage and food menu, both of which are in English and Chinese. After much deliberation we decided to order:

– Methi Pakora (什蔬金錢餅) 190NT
– Murgh Tikka Masala (碳烤雞肉咖喱) 410NT
– Sag Paneer (菠菜泥燴乳酪) 320NT
– Plain Naan (烤餅) 80NT
– Butter Naan (奶油烤餅) 90NT
– Kulfi (印度傳統冰淇淋) 180NT
– Lassi (傳統自製優酪乳) 140NT

The server brought us a trio of two types of raita (coconut and mint) and pickled onions, along with some papadum. I thought both the coconut raita and mint raita were pretty tasty: light and not too thick. The papadum was freshly made by the tandoor chef right behind us and was crisp and warm.

We decided to order a plain Lassi (傳統自製優酪乳) 140NT. The consistency was perfect, not too thick or thin. Also, it had just the right amount of tartness.

For an appetizer we ordered the Methi Pakora (什蔬金錢餅) 190NT. Described as a “mix of chopped fenugreek, onion, potato and green chili deep friend in ground chickpea batter”, one order comes with four 2″ disks. We were told that the raita we were given earlier could be used to accompany our methi pakora. I thought these were pretty tasty: lightly fried, crisp around the edges, but still tender in the middle. I got a pretty strong cumin taste, but nothing that was over powering. Eat them while they’re fresh or they’ll start to get hard.

For a meat dish we decided to go with the Murgh Tikka Masala (碳烤雞肉咖喱) 410NT (aka Chicken Tikka Masala). Described as “boneless chicken breast cooked in clay oven then finished in thick gravy flavoured with cumin seeds”, this chicken tikka masala was a little thicker and chunkier than what I’m used to. Regardless, this chicken tikka masala was delicious! The chicken was super tender and the flavors from the sauce were rich and tasty. You can change the spiciness of this dish to fit your palette. Erin and I decided to go with medium spice and thought it was just right, enough spice to taste it, but not spicy enough to kill your taste buds or numb your lips. I would absolutely get this again.

For our vegetable dish we went with one of my favorites, Sag Paneer (菠菜泥燴乳酪) 320NT. Described as “finger cut cottage cheese cooked with spinach puree”, this sag paneer was creamier than I’m used to; however, like the tikka masala, it was delicious. Creamy, but not too rich, this was exactly what I’ve been craving for the last year (yes, I said year.).

To go with our main dishes we got two orders of naan: one Butter Naan (奶油烤餅) 90NT and one Plain Naan (烤餅) 80NT. Note that each order comes with a single piece of naan. The naan at Saffron is delicious, fresh, and soft.

For dessert we were between the apple halwa (finely grated apple slowly reduced in thickened milk flavoured with traditional dessert spices, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream) and kulfi (traditional Indian ice cream flavoured with pistachio and saffron). Ultimately we went with our server’s recommendation and ordered the Kulfi (印度傳統冰淇淋) 180NT. The kulfi came out bright yellow served in a martini glass. At first taste I was a little unsure of what I thought because it was almost savory and the texture was unlike any ice cream I had ever had. But my hesitation was brief and I quickly was obsessed with it. The “ice cream” is denser than Western style ice cream, fattier. It reminded me of what whipped cream would taste like if denser and frozen. The saffron taste is strong, but the pistachio taste comes through (there are also bits of pistachio in the kulfi). I would definitely recommend trying this if you’re up for something a little different.

Overall, I loved Saffron. The food is great, prices are reasonable, and the service is pretty good. Our total bill came out to just over 1,550NT (10% service charge included). We thought we ordered a good amount (maybe a little much) for the two of us. The serving sizes don’t look that big, but they are bigger than they look: the dishes are deeper than they seem. In the end, even though Tianmu is a little out there, I definitely think it’s worth the trip if you’re craving some good Indian food.

Advertisements

thai: thai ya thai food (泰亞南洋料理店)

date June 30, 2012

contact 1F, No. 47, Lane 313, Fuxing N. Rd., Songshan District, Taipei City/台北市松山區復興北路313巷47號1F/02.8712.7788

hours 7 days a week [lunch] 11:300-14:00 :: [dinner] 17:30-21:30

price 600NT and up

rating ♥♥♥ (4 out of 5 hearts)

nearest mrt Zhongshan Junior High School MRT (捷運中山國中站) or Songshan Airport MRT (捷運松山機場站)

website http://www.thaiya.com.tw/ (Chinese Only)

All pictures were taken with my iPhone 4S.

After an extremely long overdue reunion with an old college classmate we decided on Thai food for dinner. Her boyfriend said he knew of a good place so off to Thai Ya Thai Food we went.

Thai Ya is located about a 5-10 minute walk from Zhongshan Junior High School MRT (捷運中山國中站) and Songshan Airport MRT (捷運松山機場站). Note that it is easier to find from Zhongshan Junior High School MRT.

According to Thai Ya’s website they have seating for 85. We got dinner around 7:30pm on Saturday evening and the place was pretty packed. I would suggest reservations just in case to avoiding waiting around.

The menu at Thai Ya is pretty extensive and should have something for everyone. It is in both Chinese and English, and there is a picture for each item on their menu. In the back of their menu they have set menus (套餐) for parties of 2 and up. For the three of us we decided to get a set menu for 2 and then order some other stuff a la carte. The waitress allowed us to modify our order to have each dish be a smaller portion so that we could get more stuff. Pretty awesome.

Unfortunately since I didn’t order, I’m not actually sure what we ordered or how much it cost, but I’ll do my best.

As with most Thai restaurants, rice came with the meal. We all appreciated that it was short grain sticky rice vs. long grain jasmine rice.

First out wast the cold pork, which was accompanied by a type of spicy chili vinaigrette. It was pretty good and the pork had a nice “crisp” to it.

I happen to really love pepper chicken and Thai Ya’s Yunnan pepper chicken (雲南椒麻雞) is pretty good. Lightly coated and crispy, it’s not too spicy, vingary, or salty.

I thought we had ordered green curry chicken, but I think we ended up with the coconut chicken, which we had ordered first, but “cancelled” when we ordered the green curry chicken. My friend can’t eat spicy food, so we ordered this sans chilis. The chicken was incredibly tender, but the coconut sauce was not quite coconutty enough for me. While it was good, it could have used a little more coconut flavor.

I know that I’ve mentioned about a zillion times how much I love eggplant, but it’s because I do. I thought this eggplant with meat was very good. It wasn’t too oily, as eggplant dishes often are, or too salty.

Chinese water spinach or water morning glory or whatever you want to call it (I prefer to just call it kong xin cai), is probably my favorite leafy green vegetable. This plate of water spinach (空心菜) was quite delicious. Pretty standard, but nonetheless not overcooked, still crunchy and not over seasoned.

We decided to get another cold dish and based off our server’s suggestion we got the cold seafood salad (涼拌海鮮). Seafoodwise there was shrimp, squid, clams, and fish. If there was more, I missed it. There was also cucumbers, onions, and cherry tomatoes. All the seafood was nice and tender and the dressing on this had a nice tartness to it.

The shrimp pancake (月亮蝦餅) was pretty tasty, pretty standard. We ordered a small portion, which came with four slices, so I’m not sure what a normal comes with.

I’m generally not a fan of bittermelon (苦瓜), but this soup wasn’t bad. This  bittermelon soup had mushrooms and green onions in it. I’m not sure if there was any meat in it, but if there was, I didn’t get any. The broth was pretty good, maybe a little salty for some, but I have a pretty salty palette, so I thought it was fine.

Since we had ordered a two person set meal we got to choose two desserts. These were the low points of the night. We ordered one mixed whatever with sago and other various things, and one with just sago. The coconut soup in both of these were both super watered down and pretty tasteless, which was disappointing because I love sago in coconut soup.

We also ordered a small pitcher of thai iced tea that was not that small. The waitress said that it could pour about 2.5 small cups per person in our party of three, but we think it was way more than that. The tea itself was not bad, a little watered down from what I’m used to, but okay.

Overall, this place is pretty good. Lots of variety, and with the exception of the dessert, nothing was bad. Service was pretty good, too. This place is definitely best for large parties, or small parties like us that like to eat a lot. Based on the prices I saw on the menu, everything is reasonably priced, about 200-300NT per dish, unless you get something super fancy. Thanks to my friend’s boyfriend, who decided to treat us ladies to dinner, I’m not sure what our total was; however, I feel like you could easily eat here for about 1000NT (maybe with less variety than we got) total for a small party of 3-4.

western: nonzero (非零)

date may 06, 2012

contact No.5, Alley 4, Ln. 27, Sec. 4, Ren Ai Rd., Daan District, Taipei City/台北市大安區仁愛路四段27巷4弄5號/02.2772.1630

hours 7 days a week :: [lunch] 11:30-14:30 :: [afternoon tea] 14:30-16:30 :: [dinner] 18:00-21:30

price [dinner] 900NT-1500NT + 10% service charge

rating ♥♥ (3 out of 5 hearts)

nearest mrt Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT (捷運忠孝復興站)

website http://www.nonzero.com.tw (Chinese and English)

Sorry for the delay in posts. My dad unexpectedly and suddenly passed away on January 26, 2012… I immediately took the first flight back to the States. As a result, I was back in California for the last three months with my mom.

Upon returning to Taiwan a good friend of my mine was getting ready to move back to California. As one of her last meals we ended up at Nonzero (非零), located a short walk from exit 3 of Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station (捷運忠孝復興站) at the Renai-Fuxing S. Rd. intersection (仁愛復興南路口).

The inside of Nonzero is very homey and spacious. The wood tables have mismatched wooden chairs that adds some charm to the place. The decor is also very thrift store-eclectic, which really appeals to my aesthetic.

The menu at Nonzero has three set meals priced at 900NT, 1200NT, and 1500NT; they also have items al la carte. I chose to get the 900NT set meal, which included bread, soup, salad, main course, dessert, and coffee/tea. Ashley chose the 1200NT set meal, which came with the same items plus an appetizer.

First thing out was the bread. There were two types, one of which was a rosemary bread that was the table favorite. Bread was warm and fresh. A good start.

Next came the soups, which were served in these pretty pots. My soup was the Radish with Potato Nutmeg Soup (白玉蘿蔔香料洋芋濃湯) (top right). I thought it was nice and light. There was nice little dollop of creme fraiche on top that added a nice creaminess to it. Ashley’s set came with Chicken Thigh with Chayote and Mushroom Soup (土雞肉佛手瓜蕈菇蔬菜湯) (top left). The broth was pretty good, nice and light. The kind of soup that would be great for a cold winter day.

Following the soups we were presented with a complementary appetizer. The waitress described it as chicken with chicken liver accompanied with pickles and tomatoes. I’m not a huge fan of chicken liver, but this wasn’t bad. Best bite was all three ingredients together.

Salads were next. My salad was a simple Green Salad with Vinaigrette (季節生菜新鮮香草沙拉) (top right). The salad was okay, nothing special. One of our friends thought it was overdressed and a little too acidic. Ashley’s salad was the High Altitude Cabbage Salad with Caraway Seeds (茴香籽高麗菜生菜沙拉) (top right). I only had a little bite and thought it was okay; Ashley enjoyed it.

Ashley’s meal came with Pan Fried Fresh Prawns (煎烤東北角鮮蝦 佐 烤味噌筊白筍). These were very good, nice and tender, kind of melt in your mouth.

The 900NT set comes with two main course choices: pan fried market fresh fish and risotto with wild scallops, tomatoes, and asparagus. I went with the Risotto with wild scallops, tomatoes, and asparagus (加拿大野生干貝蕃茄蘆筍燉飯). I liked the flavor of this, but I personally found the rice to be a little underdone. After watching many seasons of Top Chef, I’ve learned that some chefs (i.e. Sarah from season 9) cook their rice a little more under than others. Two out of three of my scallops were cooked well (not perfect, though) and one was a little over. I’d say this was okay, not great, not bad. I’ve definitely had much better risotto in Taipei.

Both the 900NT set and 1200NT set have Pan Fried Market Fresh Fish (市場現流鮮魚) as an option for the main course. Ashley decided to go with it. The waitress asked what kind of fish she liked, so they must have several options. What she ended up with was a white fish, although I’m not sure what kind. She thought it was pretty good.

By far the standout of the night was the dessert. Each set comes with a dessert, chef’s choice. They had three desserts that night, which was perfect since there was three of us, so they gave us one of each. The desserts for the night were a fruit tartcheese cake, and chocolate hazelnut tart. The presentation of the desserts was really nice, very pretty. The fruit tart was pretty good. There was a lemony cake layer that was pretty tasty. The chocolate hazelnut tart was rich and creamy; I liked it a lot. However, the best thing of the night was the cheesecake.

If there are any Friends fans out there, I imagine the cheesecake from Mama’s Little Bakery, Chicago, Illinois to taste like this cheesecake. Light, creamy, and amazingly delicious. Seriously, one of the best cheesecakes I’ve ever had, and I’m not just talking in Taiwan. This cheesecake isn’t a traditional cheesecake, it’s much lighter in texture, but it’s creamy, cheesy, and pure awesomeness.

The meal ended with your choice of coffee or tea. I went with a latte (拿鐵). It was pretty standard, but I did like the pretty heart in my foam.

Overall, I’m a little middle of the line with this place. I thought the food was decent, but nothing particularly stood out, except for the cheese cake that is. I don’t know that I would ever crave anything (other than the cheese cake) from Nonzero again. I think the service was good, and the price for the overall meal was okay, but the food itself wasn’t special, not bad, just not memorable.

italian: la giara ristorante

date october 28, 2011

contact 2F, No. 352, Sec. 1, Fuxing S. Rd., Daan District, Taipei City/台北市大安區復興南路一段352號2F/02.2705.0345

hours 7 days a week :: [lunch] 12:00-14:30 :: [afternoon tea] 12:00-17:00 :: [dinner] 18:00-23:30

price 600NT-3000NT (+10% service charge; excludes alcohol)

rating ♥♥♥ (4 out of 5 hearts)

nearest mrt Daan MRT (捷運大安站)

website http://www.lagiara.com.tw/ (Chinese and English)

My fellow food blogging friend at I Am Gourmand once again planned another lovely romantic dinner at an Italian restaurant in Taipei.

If you are walking north on Fuxing N. Rd. (復興南路) from Daan MRT station (捷運大安站) the restaurant will be on the left-hand side of Fuxing. Be warned, there are two No. 352’s on Fuxing N. Rd. If you’re coming from the MRT station, it’s not the first one, it’s the second one after the clothing store.

From the street, the entrance of La Giara looks the photo above. Walk into the lobby and follow the black and white checkered floor up the stairs.

At the top of the stairs is the entrance to La Giara.

Make reservations before coming! The restaurant didn’t fill up while we were there, but I hear this place is popular, so better safe than sorry. The inside of La Giara is a giant open space with rooms on both ends of the dining area. The lighting is pretty dim, the tables have fresh flowers, and there is soft Italian music playing in the background, which makes for a pretty romantic setting; I can see why everyone says this is a good date place. In researching what to order prior to coming I had read on several reviews that this is a popular spot for proposals. We didn’t happen to witness any, but I can see why it is.

The menu at La Giara is in Chinese, Italian, and English. I noticed that the prices on their website differ from the actual menu; the website probably hasn’t been updated. The menu selection is pretty good. I was surprised that they didn’t have more pasta options, but they have a decent amount of main meat based courses. Between the three of us in our party we ordered:

– Stuffed squid topped with breadcrumb, served with salmoriglio olive oil dressing, lemon juice, garlic, oregano and parsley (西西里式香料麵包丁透抽捲/Calamari alla trapanese, serviti con salmoriglio) 490NT
– Fresh spinach leaves tossed in a dressing of olive oil, rice vinegar, garlic and ginger (菠菜沙拉/Insalata di spinaci) 380NT
– Risotto in four kind cheese sauce (起司燉飯/Risotto quatro for maggi) 530NT
– Risotto with shrimps and scallops (螯蝦干貝海味燉飯/Risotto gamberi e cappesante) 530NT
– Potato dumplings with gorgonzola cheese (藍乳酪馬鈴薯麵糰/Gnocchi di patate al gorgonzola) 530NT
– Semi-frozen almond cake with chocolate (巧克力杏仁霜/Semifreddo di mandorle con cioccolata) 270NT

First thing to come out was the complimentary bread sticks. We all thought the bread was pretty tasty. I think that of the Italian restaurants that I’ve been to thus far in Taipei, these were my favorite. They had a herb, salt, seasoning sprinkled on top and the bread itself was fresh and hot. Note, the olive oil and vinegar bottle do not have spouts, even though they look like they do. The tops are actually caps, so don’t embarrass yourself like I did and pour before taking the top of: you’ll make a loud noise as the cap clanks onto the plate.

After the bread the server put a plate with three tiny fried balls pierced by toothpicks down in front of us. We noticed that no other tables got this, so we were a little confused, but decided to go with it. I mean, who doesn’t like a complementary  amuse. First impression, it tasted like a delicious tater tot. This ball was tiny, like the size of your thumb nail tiny, but it tasted pretty good. We asked the server later what it actually was and found out that it was actually rice and beef. Tasty, although, they could have taken the wrapper all the way off the toothpick… We later learned that the chef thought it was one of our birthdays, hence the amuse.

So the nice thing about this place is that they will split everything on the menu for you onto different plates to make it easier to share. We decided to get the stuffed squid topped with breadcrumb, served with salmoriglio olive oil dressing, lemon juice, garlic, oregano and parsley (西西里式香料麵包丁透抽捲/Calamari alla trapanese, serviti con salmoriglio) for 490NT and fresh spinach leaves tossed in a dressing of olive oil, rice vinegar, garlic and ginger (菠菜沙拉/Insalata di spinaci) for 380NT. The server said that the salad was big enough to split between 2-3 people, so had the chef split the salad onto three plates for us. We didn’t know that they were going to slit the squid too, but he did. The salad was a hit with all three of us. The dressing was delicious: light and well balanced. Also, for the price, I think it’s a pretty decent size. The stuffed squid was ordered based on reviews both Estella and I had seen online. First, for the price, the serving seemed small. The server said it was because the chef split it into three portions to split equally so it just looked smaller. Anyways, we were all underwhelmed by the stuffed squid, which was sad because we all really wanted to like it; I mean, it looked delicious. The stuffing lacked something that was as simple as salt. There was a sauce drizzled around the squid: you have to get some of the lemon sauce on each bite. The lemon sauce adds some much needed acidity to the dish, but even so, we were all still kind of let down.

I love risotto and I love cheese, so I got the risotto in four kind cheese sauce (起司燉飯/Risotto quatro for maggi) for 530NT. I was originally thinking about getting the seafood risotto, but since Andrea was getting that, I figured I’d go with the cheese risotto. When it was put down in front of me Estella said, now that’s a real risotto. It looked delicious on the plate, spreading on the plate like I learned a risotto should from watching a lot of Top Chef. The rice was a delicious al dente and the sauce was cheesy. Like, super cheesy. I’m not sure what four cheese were in this sauce, but I can tell you that bleu cheese was most definitely one of them. This risotto was rich. Really rich, and honestly not for those who 1) don’t like cheese 2) don’t like strong flavors. Even I could only finish half of it. With that said, I still really liked this. The rice was cooked well and the sauce was cheesy, rich, and creamy. But, if you’re looking for something subtle, something light, don’t get this.

Andrea ordered the risotto with shrimps and scallops (螯蝦干貝海味燉飯/Risotto gamberi e cappesante) for 530NT. This was really good. Again, the rice was a nice al dente and the tomato sauced was pretty good. I think I actually liked the sauce better at Luna D’Italia, but either way, this was tasty and Andrea really liked it.

By far the biggest hit of the night were the potato dumplings with gorgonzola cheese (藍乳酪馬鈴薯麵糰/Gnocchi di patate al gorgonzola) aka potato gnocchi for 530NT. Estella loves gnocchi, as do I, and the gnocchi at La Giara definitely hits the spot. Light, fluffy, creamy, and amazingly delicious. They were like little potato clouds of creamy tastiness. By far the best gnocchi in Taipei, and the best gnocchi I’ve ever had (not that I’m an gnocchi guru or anything). The sauce was also tasty, light, and creamy. I would definitely go back to La Giara just to order this.

For dessert, we decided to split the semi-frozen almond cake with chocolate (巧克力杏仁霜/Semifreddo di mandorle con cioccolata) for 270NT. We had originally wanted to order the homemade semifreddo pistachios (melting ice cream) (大廚特製開心果霜淇淋) for 300NT under the Chef’s Specials, but they were out. The semifreddo we ended up with, though, was delicious! Creamy, not too sweet, and nice and nutty. Compared to the one at Luna D’Italia, I liked this one better. I just thought the overall flavor and texture was better.

Note that water here is not free, but they tell you that upon being seated. They have two options, sparkling water and mineral water. You pay by the bottle, which comes out to 140NT per bottle. Service here is pretty good, although, we had issues trying to get the attention of servers every once in a while. Overall, the food was pretty good.  The portions are kind of small for the price, but the quality was good. Quality over quantity, right? The chef/owner is frequently on the floor and in and out of the kitchen, which I had read about in other reviews. It’s almost like he’s a little ADD needing to constantly move around and/or check to see how people are reacting to the food. It’s a little distracting, but other then that I’d definitely come back for some of dishes here, ie the gnocchi, and maybe leave some others out, ie the stuffed squid.

For a grand total of 3157NT – about 1000NT per person – we were able to get appetizers, a main course, and a dessert, and all left feeling pretty full and satisfied. I noticed that they do have set dinner meals for either 1800NT or 2500NT, which was out of my price range. You can also just order a la carte if you wanted, which would probably run you around 600NT or so. Regardless, it was nice to find out you could still get a tasty three course meal at a reasonable rate. Good job, La Giara.

italian: luna d’italia (月之意大利餐廳)

date october 04, 2011

contact No. 3, Lane 265, Sec. 2, Dunhua S. Rd., Daan District, Taipei City/台北市大安區敦化南路二段265巷3號/02.2733.9635

hours 7 days a week [lunch] 11:30-14:40 [dinner] 17:45-22:30

price 400NT and up (+ 10% service charge)

rating ♥♥♥ (4 out of 5 hearts)

nearest mrt Liuzhangli MRT (捷運六張黎站)

My food blogging friend Estella planned another lovely dinner at Luna D’Italia, another delicious authentic Italian restaurant in Taipei.

The nearest MRT station is Liuzhangli (六張黎), but it might just be easier to take a bus to somewhere around Dunhua S. Rd. (敦化南路) and Heping E. Rd. (和平東路). Luna D’Italia is in the lane in front of the Shangrila Hotel Mall on Dunhua S. Rd. with the Starbucks at the corner.

I was told that reservations at Luna D’Italia are a must. Estella made reservations for 2 at 19:30 on a Tuesday night. The restaurant was full all night.

The menu is in Italian, English, and Chinese. There are random pictures throughout the menu, but no labels. They have a deal where you can make your entree a set meal for an extra 250NT at dinner and extra 150NT at lunch. This set meal includes bread; daily salad, daily soup, or dessert (choose 2 of 3); and coffee or tea. The items on their entrees ranged from about 400NT to over 1500NT (without the set meal). Estella, Wesley and I all decided to do the set meal to accompany our entrees. We ordered:

– Gnocchi ragu ed funghi (番茄肉醬佐蘑菇義式手工麵疙瘩/Potato gnocchi with mushroom and traditional meat sauce) 420NT
– Lasagna (傳統焗烤千層麵/Traditional roast pasta with meat sauce) 380NT
– Risotto alla pescatora (番茄海鮮燉飯/Risotto with seafood in tomato base) 460NT
– Bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar
– Insalata di spinaci (菠菜沙拉/Spinach salad)
– Tiramisu (提拉米蘇/Classic tiramisu)
– Semifreddo di mandorle con cioccolata (杏仁霜派/Semi-frozen almond cake)

First thing that came out was the bread. The flat pita-like bread was pretty tasty. It had some roasted herbs sprinkled on top that added some flavor. Eat it while it’s warm or else it gets hard.

The salad of the day happened to be the Insalata di spinaci (菠菜沙拉/Spinach salad). I was originally debating between salad and soup (which was cream of broccoli), but I decided to go with salad – actually all three of us ended up with the salad. The salad was good. I thought the dressing was tasty and light: some kind of vinaigrette.

Estella chose the Gnocchi ragu ed funghi (番茄肉醬佐蘑菇義式手工麵疙瘩/Potato gnocchi with mushroom and traditional meat sauce) for 420NT. According to research I had done on the restaurant prior to dinner, patrons said that Luna D’Italia was known for it gnocchi and risotto. Both Estella and I found the gnocchi to be less than stellar: they just weren’t as light and fluffy as I like my gnocchi. In fact they were maybe even a little dense; however, the meat sauce was delicious. The meat, the tomato sauce, the mushrooms made for a hearty robust sauce.

Wesley went with the Lasagna (傳統焗烤千層麵/Traditional roast pasta with meat sauce) for 380NT. I thought this was pretty tasty, as did Wesley. Compared to the Lasagna at Papa Gio’ I think they had different strengths. I liked the actual lasagna better at Papa Gio’ as I found the lasagna in this one to be over cooked. On the other hand, I liked the filling at Luna D’Italia better. It is just juicier and more flavorful in my opinion.

I opted for the Risotto alla pescatora (番茄海鮮燉飯/Risotto with seafood in tomato base) for 460NT. I love risotto and was very happy with this dish. The rice was a nice al dente and the sauce had a lovely tomato seafood flavor. There was also a hint of spice to this dish, which was a wonderful surprise since I love spicy food. Seafood-wise there was some sort of white fish, calamari, clams, and a muscle: all were delicious!

I had read that for dessert the Semifreddo di mandorle con cioccolata (杏仁霜派/Semi-frozen almond cake) was a must. Estella and I both ordered the semifreddo and it was delicious! I had never had a semifreddo before and I feel like I have been missing out. This wasn’t that sweet, but it had a great almond mocha taste to it.

Wesley is allergic to nuts so he opted for the Tiramisu (提拉米蘇/Classic tiramisu). It was delicious!  I didn’t really taste the mascarpone, but other then that I felt like everything was really well balanced. I’ve had some tiramisu that tasted way too alcoholic and others that tasted way too sweet. This was a good balance of everything.

At the end of our meal they brought out our coffees and teas. Nothing special. The most annoying thing at this restaurant is that they serve Evian water THAT THEY CHARGE YOU FOR. When we got our check we were like, what are these 35NT charges? We asked a waiter and she was like, oh, it’s for the water. Now, I find it interesting that it’s not mentioned to you that they are going to charge you for water that they pour for you upon sitting down. I thought that was kind of annoying and a little dishonest on behalf of the restaurant. Other then that the service was good and the ambiance nice. They let us sit at our table after we were done and kept refilling our waters. We had joked before seeing our check that Wesley had drank an entire bottle of the water himself, and once we found out we had to pay for it he was like, well then I’m going to get my monies worth. It sounded like the servers spoke some English for those who do not speak Chinese. Overall, I thought this place was pretty tasty and worth the price you pay. I’d come back. They had some pretty tasty looking pizzas and another risotto that sounded good.

bar/lounge: dazzling champagne dining bar

date september 17, 2011

contact No. 28, Songshou Rd., Xinyi District, Taipei City (enter through the first floor of Neo19 on Songren Rd.)/台北市信義區松壽路28號(Neo19一樓請由松仁路入口進場)/02.2723-0068

hours Sunday-Tuesday & Thursday 17:30-01:00 :: Wednesday & Friday-Saturday 17:30-02:30

price 300NT and up

rating ♥♥♥ (3 out of 5 hearts)

nearest mrt Taipei City Hall MRT (捷運市政府站)

website http://www.dazzlingdazzling.com (Chinese Only)

I realized that I’ve never done a review for a bar/lounge. So here it is. I ended up at Dazzling Champagne randomly with friends on Saturday night. After trying to figure out where to go we ended up at Neo19 and then at Dazzling Champagne.

Dazzling Champagne is located at Neo19 near the entrance to the club Room 18 on Songshou Rd. (松壽路) and is right next to In House; it is at the old location of Roxy Roots. For those who have enjoyed honey toast at Dazzling Cafe, this is the bar/lounge branch of the Dazzling chain and has just recently opened up.

The bar at Dazzling Champagne runs along the entire back wall of the premises. They seem to have a decent selection of alcohol, which is displayed along the wall. They also have Hoegaarden and Guinness on tap.

There is a decent amount of space inside the bar/lounge. Lots of tables and a lot of standing room. I’m not sure what the minimum is for a table, or if they have one since it is also a restaurant, but all the tables were full when we were there.

The DJ is right at the entrance. I’m not sure if the area in front of the DJ is supposed to be a dance floor or if patrons just turned it into one. The music on Saturday night was a house/hip-hop mix. Not bad, not great. It was loud, which doesn’t make Dazzling Champagne a great place to sit and have a conversation, but then again most popular lounges aren’t.

They have drink menus strewn about the bar top that are tiny and cute. Inside the menu are all their signature drinks, which are all girl names, with pictures, prices, and drink ingredients. All of their specialty drinks ranged from 300NT to 450NT. After already having a few gin based drinks at Marquee, I decided to stick with gin and ended up with Christina for 350NT. Christina is made up of Hendrick’s Gin (one of my favorite gins), Cointreau, lemon juice, grapefruit juice and a sprig of rosemary for 350NT. I thought the drink was okay. I didn’t really get much of the grapefruit flavor, which was kind of disappointing. Also, I think the rosemary was just there for looks because I didn’t get anything from the sprig that was placed in my drink. I did like that this drink was not very sweet, more citrus because I don’t like sweet drinks (I’m more of a savory girl). With all that said, I don’t know that I’d ever feel the need to get this drink again. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great. It was just another drink.

Michael ended up with Jennifer which had Stoli vodka, Japanese green tea, and simple syrup. Jennifer is the cheapest drink on their specialty drinks menu at 300NT. I personally was not a fan. It was too sweet for my liking, but then again I generally drink dirty gin martini’s. The drink itself was a pretty intense looking green. It looked like they used matcha green tea powder because it tasted like it, too. However, Michael and his friend thought the drink was okay. I would say that if you like sweet drinks and like green tea flavoring this is the drink for you.

They have a lot of food on the menu, some of which sounds kind of interesting. Starters ranged from around 200NT to 1000NT. The entrees looked like they ranged from about 500NT-1500NT.

Overall I thought that Dazzling Champagne was okay. The guys got two tequila shots (house tequila looked like El Jimador), which came out to be 500NT (250NT a shot). I noticed that at the bottom of their menu they had this warning, “According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. Excessive drinking endangers health.” Pretty sure they swiped this from some American product. Anyways, I don’t know that I’d ever feel like I needed to come back to Dazzling Champagne, although they did have several champagne cocktails that looked good. Specialty drinks ranged from 300NT to 450NT. If you’re looking for something divey, this is not the bar for you. If you’re looking for something more trendy and popular, this place is kind of cool to check out.

japanese/sushi: tsukiji market (築地市場)

date february 09, 2011
contact No. 34-4, Yong Kang St., Taipei/02.2396.8088/台北市永康街34-4號
hours 7 days a week [lunch] 12:00-14:30 [dinner] 17:00-22:00 (last call at 21:00)
price depends. anywhere between 300-1500+
rating ♥♥♥♥♥ (5 hearts out of 5)
nearest mrt MRT Dongmen (捷運東門站) Exit 5

For my induction into the quarter century landmark, my friend and I decided to celebrate with our favorite: sushi. I never realized how many restaurants there are on Yong Kang Street (永康街), but Stephanie said there were a lot of sushi places that looked pretty good, so we decided to try one. After some random walking, we saw Tsukiji Market (築地市場), named after the famous fish market in Tokyo.

Tsukiji Market is a small two story restaurant. The first floor is the sushi bar which seats about 10. We were asked if we wanted to sit at the bar or upstairs. We took a look at the upstairs; it’s pretty small, maybe seats 15 people total with only a few tables. We opted to sit at the bar because we like to watch the chefs in action.

The menu is hand written and only in Chinese, so be warned non-Chinese readers. The menu is split into sections: sashimi, cold appetizers, hot appetizers, fried foods, chirashi bowls (180-880NT), hot bowls (160-380NT), and soups. The waitress pointed out that they do not typically offer nigiri sushi or rolls, only sashimi. However, she said if you wanted nigiri or rolls, you could tell the sushi chef and he would do his best to accommodate you. The waitress was very nice and helped us pick some things out.

We both love sashimi, so we had to get some. We opted for the Tsukiji daily sashimi plate (築地本日刺身) for 580NT. The plate comes with types of fish, two pieces each. I’m not exactly sure what types of fish some of this was, but it was all fresh and delicious. I don’t like wasabi, but I do appreciate fresh wasabi and that is what they served.

While sitting at the bar, we saw the chefs making a salad that looked delicious. We asked the server what it was and it just so happened to be the combination seafood salad (綜合海鮮沙拉) for 280NT. We decided to get it and it was a very good decision. In terms of seafood there was shrimp, octopus, crab meat, and fish eggs. There were a lot of vegetables, too: okra, broccoli, baby corn, cherry tomatoes, seaweed, cucumbers, and red onions. All of this was served on a bed of iceberg lettuce and topped off with a japanese vinaigrette. This salad was delicious! Everything tasted fresh, the vegetables were cooked perfectly, and the dressing was nice and tasty. Definitely recommend this.

Stephanie and I really love cod roe and potatoes, so when the waitress recommended the cod roe baked potatoes (明太子烤洋芋) for 180NT, we had to get it. At first we thought they forgot our order since it took forever to get to us, but I think they might have just been waiting for us to finish other things so that we’d have space on our portion of the bar. It was well worth the wait. It was amazing. The potato slices were pretty thin and baked just so that the edges were crisp, but the center soft. The baked cod roe on top was delicious. We savored every last bite.

The couple next to us ordered the chicken karage (和風炸雞) for 160NT and it looked pretty tasty, so we decided to get an order. The outside was deliciously crispy and the chicken inside was juicy and tender. The chicken was marinated and had a slight sweetness to it that was perfect.

At the last minute, right before last call, Stephanie decided to order the beef carpaccio (生牛肉佐碰醋) for 260NT. Like everything else, this was pretty tasty. Unlike traditional carpaccio, the vinegar was separate from the beef. Everything was good. Get a little bit of everything for the perfect bite.

Stephanie asked if they did anything for birthdays and one of the chef’s asked if I needed him to sing happy birthday to me. He was relieved when I said no, something about he had to sing it yesterday. Either way, at that point it did not sound like they did anything. Then suddenly, sushi appeared in front of me. I’m not sure exactly what kind of fish the white was, but the other was maguro. Either way, both was delicious, lightly torched to bring out the fats. Usually birthday freebies are desserts, and while I am a dessert whore, free sushi is way better.

Basically, I love this place. We started talking with the workers as they were cleaning up, and they were all very nice. I noticed that they do take reservations, so I recommend them if you want to sit at the bar. We went on a Wednesday night and the bar was full most of the night. Really, for the price, you definitely get the quality. The portions and quality of what you get for the price is well worth it. They also have a lot of sake and a few bottled beers. I will definitely be back.