Monday, June 28, 2010

italian: i strongly recommend SOLO PASTA



SOLO PASTA CUCINA ITALIANA
No. 29-1, Anhe Road, Sec. 1
(02) 2775-3645

MRT: ZhongXiao/DunHua

hours: 11:30 AM - 2:30 PM; 5:30 PM - 10 PM Closed Mondays

$$

Kid friendliness: no high chairs spotted, but room for strollers

Visit reviewed: 3/16/2010 & 4/2/2010



More and more, I'm becoming impressed with the Italian eateries that are opening up around Taipei. There are the fancy places, the super cheap places, the American chain places and the Japanese fusion places. And then you discover a place like Solo Pasta, where it doesn't have to fit into a boxed category because you keep going back and telling all your friends about it.

Especially about the dish in the first photo- the smoked duck breast in balsamic cream sauce spaghetti. Just be sure to order that dish and you should leave Solo a happy diner.



It's pretty sizeable with two seating sections, one near the entrance's large window with lots of areas for larger groups, with the second part facing the open kitchen.



Located around the corner from Space Yoga and across the street from Dunhua Eslite, Solo isn't too hard to find once you know where it is. It opened early this year and has quickly gained good word of mouth. My friend who worked nearby introduced it to me, saying she knew I would love it.



The English and Chinese menu has an assortment of appetizers and pastas and a few desserts. The few times I've been there, the appetizers and pastas are about the same price and the appetizer portions are small, so on repeat visits I've usually just ordered the pasta.



My favorite out of the appetizers include Asparagus, running egg and shaved extra-aged parmesan cheese though the price makes it a splurge for the portion at NT$280.



The most popular appetizer on the menu is the raw vegetables with garlic, anchovy dipping for 2 (NT$230) (do we notice the present tense verbs in the menu? hee hee. running egg instead of runny; dipping instead of dip), and it could be kind of romantic on a date if you don't mind having anchovy garlic breath, but in the end it's sort of like a veggie platter and melted caesar dressing. My friends want extra plain bread to soak up the sauce instead since it doesn't really stick to the veggies, but the waitress says there's no bread despite us having had ordered bruschetta.



The oven baked layered eggplant, mozzarella and parmesan cheese (NT$180) is served barely warm and would probably taste better hot,



and the toast for the Tuscany bread plate with pate and bruschetta is a bit dry- it could have used some olive oil, basil and parmesan.



But don't fret, we are not here for the appetizers, we are here for the pasta!

Every restaurant has its specialty dishes and everyone has their own preferences, but the first time I went to Solo, I noticed every other table had the balsamic cream duck pasta after I ordered the orecchiette. So on my next visit, I had to find out what I was missing out on. Make sure you order at least one of these three pastas.

1- smoked duck breast in balsamic cream sauce spaghetti (NT$260)



Can I just let the pictures do the talking? If you are a fan of chicken marsala, then you'll like the slighty sweet and tangy (from the balsamic) sauce that coats each strand of pasta. The dish is a bit rich to finish as a solo diner, but perfect for sharing family style. You might find that you don't want pass it around the table after taking a few bites. I had never had balsamic cream pasta before, but it totally works. I thought about this pasta for days after I ordered it and even ordered it to-go on a few occasions.

2- Spaghettini with Squid in Black Ink sauce (NT$280)



Though a perilous dish to order while on a date, the squid ink spaghettini is more flavorful than it looks. There's hints of spiciness and garlic in the sauce, and chewy parts of squid are hiding underneath all the black. I worried that I'd end up with black lips, but the sauce wipes away easily after the meal.



3- Ear shaped pasta with broccoli and homemade sausage



Like all the other pastas at Solo, the orecchiette is served al dente, which makes for a wonderfully firm and chewy bite. The waitress warns us about this, as al dente is harder than the locals prefer, but I love it. It's surprisingly got a small kick to it, with slivers of chili pepper adding a nice layer of flavor to the hearty sausage and the softer bite sized pieces of broccoli.

I've never been a fan of gnocchi, so I can't say if the beet gnocchi (NT$280) was good or not. But I had a bite and still was not a fan.



Other pasta dishes ordered that day included a raw scallop pasta and a tomato and clams linguine (NT$250) which offered up lighter flavors in contrast to the other dishes we had. A bit too light for me after the richer flavors of the balsamic duck and squid ink pastas.




I didn't have room for it on this visit, but Solo has amazing desserts as well. The lemon tart (NT$90) has a nice sour and sweet tartness that was too sweet for my Taiwanese friend's taste, but perfect for those looking for something more distinctive. The tiramisu (NT$80) was good too, with a strong flavor of espresso and marsala.

My friend who introduced me to the restaurant said that the Taiwanese chef opened Solo after opening a successful restaurant in Taichung and traveled regularly to Italy to learn and practice. I've never been to Italy, but am happy to have a taste of it here, as Solo Pasta has quickly become one of my favorite pasta places in Taipei.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

bakery/desserts: i strongly recommend ORIGINAL BAKERY



ORIGINAL BAKERY
or YUAN DIAN
No. 7, Lane 22, SiWei Rd
(02) 2706-4368

hours: 12PM - 6PM

$-$$

Kid friendliness: kids will love the selections; small patio and inside table seating

Visit reviewed: 9/11/2009 & 4/27/2010 & 5/14/2010




Happy birthday to me- well, to A Hungry Girl's Guide to Taipei at least. It was a short five years ago that I first started this blog. Wow. It doesn't feel like five years, but it does. You know how when you think about high school and it feels more recent than last week sometimes, but then you realize how much you've grown since then. Hopefully.

I won't dwell too long on how happy I am with how the blog's evolved and helped me take better pictures and play around with different cameras; about how I love getting emails, tweets, Facebook messages and comments from readers appreciating the blog or giving their two cents about a place I've written up; the friends I've connected with on and offline; and most of all, how the blog helped me orient my sense of direction of the streets and maps here and helped me discover amazing food from around the world in the nooks and cranny of the alleys and lanes of Taipei.

From Vietnamese pho and sandwiches to Korean cold noodles, some of my favorite restaurants are from recommendations from you guys, the readers, I don't think I would have found them otherwise- so thank you so much and don't stop recommending places. And thank you to my dear friends and family who let me take photos of the food before they can dig in (though I'm fast!) and introduce me to new restaurants so I can share them with you.

So one of these favorite finds from a friend is this tiny bakery hidden in an alley behind Ren Ai Circle/Dunhua S. Road- Original Bakery. The first time I had their chocolate cake, I was in love. From the fluffy moist cake to the creamy, airy frosting, it's my favorite cake for birthdays recently. While the cake is rich and chocolately, it's not heavy and dense like many of the sweeter chocolate cakes available here.



Most Chinese cakes here are not very sweet and the frosting can be gross, so I rarely ever eat all of the frosting. The frosting on this cake tastes like it is whipped and has the right amount of sweetness- not too sweet, not not sweet enough. But they don't decorate the cake, and though they write messages on the cake, it's only in pink frosting.



So it wasn't until I had to order and pick up a cake for a family member that I went to the actual bakery (my friends did all the pick ups previously for our girl's lunch birthdays or had it delivered) which actually has a delectable range of fresh baked breads and desserts. Even though the bakery opens at noon, most of their baking happens in the late afternoon. While they make different kinds everyday that come out at different times of the afternoon/evening, the owner said that you can call ahead and check if they have the one you want or ask them to put it on hold until you are able to pick it up. I also appreciate that the most of the breads have signs with English as well as Chinese, so I don't have to guess or keep asking.




The first time I stopped off at night and the second around 3PM, it was not that crowded, but another time in the afternoon, the patio and inside was packed with afternoon tea'ers.



Some of my favorite things I've tried that I heartily recommend-

the olive cheese bread. I think this was just out of the oven when I bought it, it was still warm. With plenty of olives and chunks of cheese, the soft yet crusty bread was halfway gone before I got home.



marinated artichoke. When I paid for my goods, I asked the owner about the artichoke and she gave me a sample that she had mixed with canned tuna. It was like a wonderful mediterranean deli salad you could find at Bristol Farms or something. I bought a jar and made it at home to go with the bread.



and the cinnamon buns. The smell of whatever is being baked permeates the bakery and the first time it was cinnamon. I had to buy the buns and they were amazing. Not glazed with frosting, instead it was like bread swirled with cinnamon and sugar. Sorry I didn't get a picture, I must have inhaled it before my camera could click.

Other things I've tried but weren't crazy about- the cream puff (get the ones from Laetitia instead) and a sesame bread.



If you want to try the chocolate cake, but don't have a birthday, you can also buy it by the slice. Some of their other desserts include cheesecake and tiramisu, and I think I spotted some jams for sale by the jar as well.

So here's to discovering and sharing many more years of new favorites in Taipei. Has Hungry in Taipei helped you find any of your favorite restaurants or what favorites do you think I need to check out?


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Monday, June 21, 2010

pizza: i strongly recommend MARYJANE PIZZA



MARYJANE PIZZA
No. 25, Lane 44, TaiShun St.
(02) 2368-5222

MRT: Guting or Taipower Bldg

website: maryjanepizza.com English and Chinese

hours: Mon-Fri 12-2 pm, 5:30-9:30 pm
Sat & Sun 12-3:30 pm, 5:30-10:30 pm

Delivery available: minimum NT$500 order to only ShiDa, GuTing, TaiDa, GongGuan districts

$

Kid friendliness: no high chairs spotted, but lots of room for families

Visit reviewed: 5/11/2010



I had heard about Maryjane's Pizza for a long time and I don't know why it took me such a long time to try it, but I'm glad I finally did. With locations at both Shida and Taida, it's a cozy neighborhood pizza joint offering a huge menu of pizzas with fresh ingredients for great prices.





Just from the menu, you can tell that Maryjane has a lot of personality- the cute menu is shaped and designed like a pizza, the pizzas have quirky names and descriptions (there's mention of David Hasselhoff and George Bush? LOL) and the more unusual toppings include broccoli, bacon, ricotta cheese, carmelized onions, artichokes, blue cheese, squid or smoked salmon. There's even a dessert pizza with apple, cinnamon and mozzarella called "Eve's Temptation."

Nothing on the menu is over NT$300 and there is no service charge, but there is a minimum NT$150 charge per person.



If you get overwhelmed from all the choices in the menu (there are no substitutions or additions to their specialty pizzas), you can opt for something off their lunch special, which includes a soup or salad and drink (NT$160-200). Besides the typical cheese and pepperoni, there's Crispy Bacon with Sunnyside Egg or Amigo Rocks (jalapeno, red onions, tomatoes and genonese sauce). Or you can build your own pizza.



It's really hard to decide, but I end up choosing the Pesto Chicken (NT$250) with baked chicken breast, feta cheese, tomatoes and pesto. My friend is feeling the Hola Jalapeno (NT$200) with pepperoni and jalapenos. The pizzas don't take too long to come out, or maybe we are too busy talking and sipping on our ice tea.



The pizzas all come as 10 inch pies, which is a hearty portion for one. When the pizzas arrive, you can smell the bubbly cheese and all the aromatic ingredients. The pizzas are thin crust and on the drier side, but still have some bite to them. Though I expected the tomatoes on my pesto chicken pizza to be larger sliced tomatoes and under the cheese, I don't mind the fresh half slices of grape tomatoes. The flavors of the pizza meld together nicely and before I know it, I've finished half the pizza.



Maryjane Pizza makes for a good quick lunch spot or a place to kick back with some buddies with beers and pizza on the weekend. With a larger group, you could order different pizzas to share and try more flavors.



There's no lingering after lunch though, as they promptly turned off the lights and ushered everyone out when they were closing for their afternoon break. But otherwise, the service is prompt and friendly and our complimentary ice tea was frequently refilled without asking.


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OTHER LOCATION

Taida
No.89, WenZhou St.
(02) 2369-5333


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Friday, June 18, 2010

brunch/western: CARNEGIES



CARNEGIES
No. 100, Anhe Road, Sec. 1
(02) 2325-4433

website: carnegies.com.tw

hours: Sat/Sun 10 AM - 5 PM (weekend brunch)

$$

Kid friendliness: high chairs available. room for large groups.

Visit reviewed: 5/29/2010



I have fuzzy memories of going to Carnegie's once when I first started spending more time in Taipei in 2004. Mostly I remember that it was dark and loud and there were lots of drinks. So even though I'd heard for years that they had a weekend brunch, I never managed to make that connection of wanting to go there for brunch over its next door neighbor, the Diner. Bar by night, brunch by day?

So when one day a friend chose it for brunch for our large party of 12, I was excited to finally give it a try. Inside, there's lots of tables and room for big groups, though the lighting is still a bit dim if you're not sitting near the patio- perfect for those who had too late of a night out, I suppose.



Their brunch menu includes English and American breakfast plates, cheekily called "The Big One" or the "Not So Big One" as well as pancakes, french toast, eggs benedict, omelettes, sandwiches and desserts.



I ended up ordering the "Not So Big One" (NT$320) which had plenty of English breakfast on the plate, with 2 eggs, sausage, bacon, fried mushrooms, baked beans and toast. The breakfasts also come with a small glass of fresh orange juice and choice of coffee, tea or soda.



My favorite thing about the dish was the bacon- fatty and juicy, over the slightly dry sausage and underseasoned mushrooms. I only had one half slice of toast- four half pieces was definitely too much for me.

My friend V ordered the pancakes, (NT$260) which looked a lot more like blintz or crepes, rather than the fluffy round golden pancakes that you'd expect. One is stuffed with apples and raisins and the other with bananas and bacon. I didn't give it a try (as you know, I abhor raisins), but my friend finished it and said that the dish worked.



They do have the typical American pancakes (NT$180), at least on the kids' menu and were pretty fluffy and tasty.

Other orders around the table included the ham and cheese sandwich with fries (NT$180), American breakfast and french toast. I didn't get a photo of the plate of large french toast, but it was pale and dry and didn't look like it touched a griddle or had any egg on it. My friend who ordered it was quite disappointed and didn't finish the dish.



The verdict on brunch at Carnegie's after all these years? Well, if you don't want to wait at the Diner and have a large party, then you could consider it. Otherwise, next time I'd probably still stick to other brunch places unless you're craving an English breakfast which is a unique offering for them in Taipei. I think we had the bad luck of also having a new server for our large group- orders were dropped, food came out at different times and he brought us a tray of orange juice and coffee/tea to only come back and take it away since it was for another table even though some of us had already drank the beverages. We had a hard time waving down the staff as their eyes seemed to look every way but our table.

Have you tried the brunch at Carnegie's and was your experience the same or different than mine? Where is your favorite place for brunch in Taipei?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

japanese/tonkatsu: i recommend PIN TIAN TONKATSU



PIN TIAN TONKATSU
No. 45, MinSheng E. Road, Sec. 4, B1
(02) 2718-6566

website: http://www.pintian.com.tw/ Chinese and Japanese only

$$

Kid friendliness: high chairs available. kids meal sizeable

Visit reviewed: 5/1/2010



If you don't mind cafeteria style service, then Pin Tian Tonkatsu is a lot of food for a good price. That's probably why it was packed on a weekend evening and we had to wait almost an hour for a table for six without a reservation. For under NT$300, you get a set menu meal that includes a steamed egg, a drink and small shot of vinegar, on top of the tonkatsu, miso soup, rice and dessert other places also offer.



Once you get a seat, you have to check off what you want to order by yourself after browsing the menu. I much prefer the Saboten style- where you place your order while you are waiting in line, so your food is nearly ready after you are seated. If you can't read Chinese, there are a few photos, but try matching up the characters to check off what you want. Besides fried pork cutlets, they also offer variations like cheese tonkatsu (stuffed with cheese and seaweed and bacon), takoyaki style tonkatsu (topped with squid and bonito flakes) or topped with grated radish.



I found it hard to wave the waiters down, as they were busy rushing around getting trays to give to customers and loading up trays to a tall rack that had dirty dishes that they rolled around the restaurant. They weren't particularly friendly or unfriendly, they just seemed too busy to really give you any service. Perhaps it would be better experience on a weekday lunch.



I got the tonkatsu with curry which was crispy and juicy and not too fatty. I quite liked the apple cider vinegar drink that came with the dish- it was sweet and sour and tasted just like apple cider with vinegar mixed in.



I was most impressed with the kid's meal which seemed to have an equally big piece of tonkatsu as an adult's portion for half the price. And with french fries! This is definitely the best sized kid's meal that I've seen at all the fried pork restaurants.



I didn't even realize that our set came with a steamed egg until they brought it to us when we were nearly done with our meals. I was too full to really even try it.



The fruit ice tea was way too sweet with too much fructose, but the green tea ice cream was a nice way to end the meal, with some red beans on the bottom.



The restaurant is in the basement, so you descend the stairs to get there. It also makes the restaurant quite dark since there are no windows.



OTHER LOCATIONS

Banciao
No. 7, Zhongshan Rd, Sec. 1, 2F
(02) 2964-2661

No. 146, Nanjing E. Road, Sec. 2, 2F
(02) 2507-7279

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