Category Archives: 600-1000NT

updated/sushi: n.c.i.s (northern california inspired sushi/德相N.C.I.S美式加州壽司)

n.c.i.s (northern california inspired sushi)

date March 09, 2013

contact No. 4, Alley 27, Lane 216, Sec. 4, Zhongxiao E. Rd., Daan District, Taipei City/台北市大安區忠孝東路四段216巷27弄4號/02.2721.6952

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

price 500NT-1000NT

rating ♥♥♥♥ (5 out of 5 hearts)

nearest mrt MRT Zhongxiao Dunhua Station, Exit 3 (捷運忠孝敦化站3號出口)

website http://www.ncisushi.com/ or http://www.facebook.com/ncisushi

You know how they say food is the way to a man’s heart? Well, sushi is the way to mine.

For a ladies night out, a college friend (a Santa Barbara native) requested some California-style sushi. Since she was getting her hair done across the street, literally, we decided to meet at 德相N.C.I.S.美式加州壽司. This was my first trip to their new location off Zhongxiao E. Rd.; I had previously been to their Shida Night Market location.

inside ncis.

On a Saturday night around 8pm the restaurant was pretty full. We managed to grab the last open table. The new location of NCIS is noticeably  roomier than their previous location at Shida.

menu at ncis as of march 2013.

We were quickly sat and handed menus. I noticed that the prices for some of the rolls have gone up, but nothing too drastic. Menu is still in English and Chinese. Speciality rolls range from 200-300NT.

Itadakimasu:
– Seasoned Soy Beans (椒鹽毛豆) 70NT
– BBQ Eel Nigiri Sushi (aka Unagi/鰻魚) 100NT/2pcs.
– Halibut Fin Nigiri Sushi (比目魚緣側) 160NT/2pcs.
– Toyota Roll (豐田) 200NT
– Sofa-King-BOMB Roll (沙發王棒) 280NT
– Spicy Ji Jimmy Roll (辣吉吉米) 300NT
– Johnny Can’t Walk Roll (約翰走不動) 300NT
– Geikeikan Sake (月桂冠) 250NT/250ml

complementary soup.

Complimentary soup was the first thing out. Tasted like some sort of light miso broth with salmon.

First things out were the Toyota Roll (豐田) for 200NT, Sofa-King-BOMB Roll (沙發王棒) for 280NT and Johnny Can’t Walk Roll (約翰走不動) for 300NT.

IMG_2062

The Toyota specialty roll was described as fried shrimp and cream cheese on the inside, topped with smoked salmon and avocado. I liked this roll. Cream cheese and smoked salmon are a natural combination (a la cream cheese and lox and the standard Philadelphia roll). With the added sauce, fish eggs, and green onion this roll was delicious. We particularly appreciated was that they aren’t too heavy handed with the cream cheese. As much as I love cream cheese, too much in sushi drowns out all other flavors.

johnny can’t walk (約翰走不動) 300NT.

The only thing we ordered that I had previously ordered on my last visit to NCIS was the Johnny Can’t Walk specialty roll. Described as a roll of spicy tuna, crab mix, and shrimp topped with seared tuna and bbq eel (unagi), this was easily one of the favorites of the night. I had suggested it since it was our favorite roll from my last visit. My friends liked the slightly charred tasted from the searing and in general just liked the combination of flavors. I think I liked the roll better this time than I did the last. Last time there was a lot of random sauce on the plate. While for presentation sauces can be pretty, I’m kind of the opinion that what is put on a plate should compliment the dish and be edible. It’s like that idea of random ass sprigs of parsley on a plate: don’t put it on my plate if I’m not supposed to eat it. Especially with sauce, since if it gets on the food you can’t really just wipe it off. Okay, end tangent.

sofa-king-BOMB! (沙發王-棒!) 280NT.

Before being moved to the bar, Val and I spotted some roll with salsa on it. We immediately asked a server what it was because we wanted it! The Sofa-King-BOMB! specialty roll is a fried roll with chicken strips, cream cheese, and smoke salmon topped with salsa. At first the idea of chicken strips in my sushi was unappealing, but I actually liked this roll. Something about the combination of the fresh salsa with the saltiness of the chicken strips and salmon and the creamy cheese was tasty. This roll wasn’t as popular with my friends, but I liked it.

spicy ji jimmy (辣吉吉米) 300NT.

Still hungry we asked for a recommendation. Sitting at the bar we got to watch everything come out, including the Spicy Ji Jimmy specialty roll, which ended up being recommended to us. A roll with fried shrimp and spicy tuna topped with bbq eel (unagi) and avocado, this roll was probably the favorite of the night. With some spicy mayonaise sauce, and sriracha on the sides, this roll was only mildly spicy, but delicious. So delicious, in fact, that Xiao Yan got one to go.

[top] bbq eel (unagi) nigiri sushi (鰻魚) 100NT/2pcs. :: [bottom] halibut fin nigiri sushi (比目魚緣側) 160/2pcs.

On the nigiri sushi side we got two orders of BBQ eel (unagi) nigiri sushi and one order of halibut fin nigiri sushi. The unagi was pretty standard, nothing special. Xiao Yan ordered the halibut fin. Neither Val nor I had ever had it before, but I must say, it was quite delicious. Halibut fin (engawa) is apparently the “thin muscle of the dorsal fin”. The halibut fin had a bit of a chewy fatty texture, and the slight searing helped to bring out the flavor in the fat. Very delicious. Also, the sushi chef was kind enough to give us an extra piece since there were three of us.

seasoned soybeans (椒鹽毛豆) 70NT.

Val wanted something to break up all the sushi, so we got an order of the seasoned soybeans. The seasoning on the soybeans kind of tasted like some sort of italian herb seasoning with chili flakes. Kind of interesting on the soybeans, but not bad at all.

We also ordered some sake. Pretty standard tasting sake; served cold.

Our only complaint would be regarding the servers. The female servers seemed a little clueless as to what was going on and not particularly warm or friendly either. When we asked one about what roll a table had ordered, after looking at it she still had to go ask one of the chefs what it was. Maybe we’re harsh since we’ve both worked in food service, and maybe I’m a little extra critical because I served in sushi restaurants for 7 years, but if you can’t tell what a roll is by the look of it, I think it’s time to do a little homework.

Overall, I much enjoyed NCIS. It was a nice taste of home for two California girls and fun to introduce our Taiwanese friend to California-style sushi. Rolls were great and decently priced. Our bill came out to about 1700NT or so, so between the 3 of us, about 600NT (~US$20) each. Sitting at the bar we got to talk a little to the owner, who introduced himself as Jo, from Sacramento. Even while busy he still managed to make conversation and seems to genuinely like what he does. We also overheard him say that if we had requests for other types of sushi not on their menu we could ask them to make it, which we will definitely do on our next visit.

sushi: n.c.i.s (northern california inspired sushi/德相n.c.i.s美式加州壽司)

date july 19, 2012

contact No.17-3, Longquan St., Daan Dist., Taipei City/台北市大安區龍泉街17號之三 (師大夜市內)/ 02.2363.9931

hours 7 days a week 17:00-00:00

price 500NT-1000NT

rating ♥♥♥ (4 out of 5 hearts)

nearest mrt Guting MRT (捷運古亭站) or Taipower Building MRT (捷運台電大樓站)

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

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UPDATE

The Shida location of N.C.I.S is closed, but don’t fret, they opened a new location on Zhongxiao E. Rd!

contact No. 4, Lane 216, Alley 27, Sec. 4, Zhongxiao E. Rd,  Daan Dist., Taipei City/台北市大安區忠孝東路四段216巷27弄4號/02.2721.6952 

nearest mrt MRT Zhongxiao Dunhua (捷運忠孝敦化站)

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Having walked passed N.C.I.S many times my friend and I decided to check it out after talking to one of the owners (who is from Sacramento) one random night.

Located inside of Shida Night Market (師大夜市), N.C.I.S is located on the main street running down the night market close to Heping E. Rd. (和平東路).

The inside of N.C.I.S is pretty small: about 5-6 tables, plus some sushi bar space.

The N.C.I.S menu is pretty intense, mostly full of rolls, which based on the name of the restaurant I was expecting. The front of the menu has basic rolls, appetizers, sashimi, and nigiri type stuff.

The back of the menu has all their speciality rolls with the names and ingredients in both English and Chinese. There are color coded dots next to the rolls to denote whether or not they are spicy, deep fried, well done or torched. Being first time customers the server introduced us to some of the more popular rolls and rolls that would suit our tastes, after telling him what we liked (which is pretty much everything).

We decided to get three rolls and an appetizer, as follows:
– Stir Fried Onion Cheese Fries (起司炒洋蔥薯條) 200NT
– Marilyn Monroll (瑪麗蓮夢露) 220NT
– Salmonlicious (鮭揨高) 220NT
– Johnny Can’t Walk (約翰走不動) 300NT

Water and miso soup is self serve and can be grabbed on the lefthand side of the sushi bar.

Upon seeing the words “stir fried onions”, “cheese”, and “fries” on the menu, Erin and I immediately looked at each other and said, “we’re getting that.” Freshly fried seasoned fries topped with freshly sauteed  onions and some fake looking nacho cheese makes this Stir Fried Onion Cheese Fries (起司炒洋蔥薯條) appetizer for 200NT super tasty. This appetizer would be great drunk food, but was delicious sober as well. The serving size isn’t very big, but that’s probably good considering this place is a sushi joint, not a place for bar food. I would totally get this again.

The Marilyn Monroll (瑪麗蓮夢露) for 220NT was listed as having fried shrimp and crab mix inside the roll topped with avocado and scallops. First impression was, where is the avocado??? To be honest, I was a little let down by this roll. When you describe something as being topped with avocado and scallop, I expect to taste both the avocado and scallop, or at least be able to see it. Upon further inspection I realized the avocado was  the green stuff spread on the top of the roll; it was not slices like sushi rolls usually have and would probably have been completely overlooked had I not looked for it. The fried shrimp inside tasted like prepackaged frozen fried shrimp from Costco, which while isn’t bad, isn’t great. This roll wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what I was expecting. I wouldn’t get this again.

Salmon is my favorite raw fish so the Salmonlicious (鮭揨高) for 220NT was an obvious choice for me. Described as smoked salmon, cream cheese, and cucumber on the inside (a basic Philadelphia Roll) topped with fresh salmon and lemon. Erin was afraid there would be too much cream cheese, but there wasn’t, just enough to get the taste.  This roll had a nice fresh taste to it thanks to the nice sliver of lemon on top.

The last roll we ordered was the Johnny Can’t Walk (約翰走不動) for 300NT. Described as spicy tuna, crab mix, and shrimp topped with seared tuna and bbq eel (aka unagi), this roll is torched, although it’s not marked on the menu.  This roll was recommended to us by the server, it is also one of two 300NT rolls, the most expensive on the menu. This was probably my favorite roll of the night, not because I could single out any one particular flavor (which you can’t), but because I was in the mood for the kind of saucey jumbled roll that I’d find at home (being San Diego) and this fulfilled that. You do taste the unagi, but other than that, all the sauces and flavors just meld together.

Overall, N.C.I.S is not bad. They have a lot of other rolls on the menu that I’d like to try. In terms of price, it’s pretty average for a place that sells American style rolls (150NT-300NT). I don’t know how their nigiri or sashimi is, but considering they specifically market California style rolls, I’d probably stick to rolls. I think that N.C.I.S fills a niche that the Shida area needed to be filled and I appreciate it’s proximity to my apartment. Based purely on the American style sushi roll angle I like N.C.I.S; it makes me feel like I’m eating sushi at home.

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.