Monday, May 21, 2012

italian/michelin chef: i recommend LA FESTA

LA FESTA 理想的聚餐
No. 168 Jingye 4th Rd 台北市中山區敬業四路168號2樓
(02) 6602-5671

MRT: Jiannan

website: La Festa's FB Page

hours: Lunch: 12PM - 3PM (11:30 on weekends); Dinner: 6PM - 10PM


visit reviewed: 8/21/2011 & 11/2/2011 & 12/18/2011 & 5/12/2012

Opened last summer, La Festa is a gorgeous Italian restaurant in Dazhi opened by Chef Igor Macchia, who owns one-Michelin-starred La Credenza in Italy.  La Festa is located at Victoria Hotel, which also has one my favorite steak restaurants in Taipei, No. 168 Prime Steakhouse. The first time I went last August to La Festa, I was so happy with my food and experience that I was almost tempted to "meet the chef" which I never do, so I just spied on Chef Macchia from afar, guiding the dishes and busy chefs at the open kitchen. 

Much like its neighbor No. 168 Prime Steakhouse, when you choose a set menu, you have choices for starter, soup or salad, main course and dessert. At La Festa, you also get a choice of a pasta. (Though the menu sets change from time to time) Or you could always order ala carte, which is surprisingly affordable with pastas around NT$400.

linguine con carbonara


Now that I look at these pictures, it seems that there were quite a number of chefs in the busy kitchen the first time I went, at least 8, probably some of them being trained. I realized now that my following two visits, I did not see as many, perhaps the reason for the food coming out at such a slower pace.

Dinner started out with a bountiful spread of bread on a rustic wood serving platter, along with an olive tapenade, olive oil and tomato spread.

Although you first few times I went, you could choose each part of your meal through the choices they offered with the price determined by your main dish, the last time I went for dinner it was just 3 different sets. I liked being to pick and customize the things I liked, though first time customers might be overwhelmed with choices and just want to pick whatever is in their price range.

I chose Uovo Morrido (soft boiled egg), which was one of my favorite dishes of each visit. The richness of the slow cooked soft boiled egg melded perfectly with the creamy, buttery mashed potato.

The Zuppa Di Pesce (seafood broth) was meant to be shared between two, and was full of fresh seafood.

I loved the Risotto Ai Pepperoni (risotto with red pepper, parsley and anchovies) so much that I made sure to order it on my following visits, with a creamy sweetness from the red pepper and briny saltiness from the anchovies. It was unlike any risotto I'd had before, usually cheesy or truffled, but it didn't need that. It was served al dente and the risotto still spread on the plate, which is said to be the perfect consistency unlike a lot of clumpy risottos I've eaten in Taipei.

The Filetto Di Manzo (filet mignon roasted, smoked potato and foie gras, black truffle) (NT$2080/dinner set) was another perfect combination for me. A little piece of carmelized foie gras to savor and medium rare steak to eat as ladylike as possible. I love how all the dishes were presented with such flair.

The Gelato melted a little before I got a chance to take a picture. I think I was too busy talking with the relatives.

My sister chose Tagiliere Di Salumi (cold cut selection), Cappucino di Astice (Lobster Cappucino), Agnolotti Del Plin (served on napkin), Agnello Al Caffe (marinated coffee lamb, roast corn sauce) and tiramisu (NT$1880/dinner set). I sampled here and there, and loved all her dishes too. 

The Agnolotti Del Plin is like a dry ravoli, and it's kind of startling to see it uncovered on a dry napkin, which is one of Chef Macchia's signatures. But the simplicity of the dish brings out the flavors of the pasta and ingredients. It doesn't look like a huge portion, but it's enough for a multi-course dinner.

Agnello Al Caffe (marinated coffee lamb, roast corn sauce)-  the lamb is tender and served medium rare and the corn has a sweetness and aroma from the coffee which dots the plate.

Some other dishes I spied on the table from other relatives that night...

Ravioli Liquidi - the broth is inside the ravioli and eaten with the duck underneath, the juice oozes out like out of a xiao long bao.

Lunch at La Festa a few months later was the chance to try some new dishes and revisit my favorites. A few of my friends were going for the first time, but the ones that had been before reminded the waiters that we had to leave at a certain time, that we wanted our food as quickly as possible. It still took about two hours from start to finish, I think some had to leave before dessert was served.

Prep work done during lunch...

At first we thought these were for desserts, but it turned out they were dollops of mashed potato for the caesar salads.

For larger groups, they sat us in the back, in semi private rooms.

Lunch set menu

After a few months, I had hoped La Festa would have worked out all the areas in their service and kitchen, but for whatever reason, the pacing seemed slower with each visit. But the four course lunch set prices were surprisingly affordable, depending on what main dish you chose (NT$700-900 for pastas and NT$880-$2200 for grilled meats and lobster)- especially in contrast with other Michelin-starred chef branded restaurants around Taipei.

We were all munching on bread for at least 30 minutes before any food came out, it's unfortunate that some people were too full to appreciate the rest of their meal. With a set menu with so many moving parts, it's too bad they couldn't push out some of the soups and salads quicker.

 My favorite Uovo Morrido (soft boiled egg) was still delicious.

Other starters that I stole shots of from my friends...

Tagiliere Di Salumi (cold cut selection)

Terrina di Bollito (meat terrine)

Pesce Spada Affumicato (lightly smoked swordfish)

For lunch, a choice of soup or salad...

An elegantly plated Caesar salad

or healthy vegetable Minestrone di Verdure soup. The slice of parmesean added a nice layer of flavor.

Love how bright the risotto ai pepperoni (NT$720/set)  is. Can you tell I tend to reorder what I like?

Ravioli Liquidi, ravioli filled with pigeon meat (NT$880/lunch set)

Agnolotti del plin 

One of my friends ordered a truffle arugula pizza ala carte (NT$1380) as the main dish for her lunch set.

The flavors of the gelato were a treat, I think one was milk and the other was raspberry. I loved the creaminess and sweetness of the milk mixed with the slight tartness of the raspberry. You might spot the ice cream making machine near La Festa's kitchen.

At La Festa, the tiramisu is served tableside, filling the ladyfingers with fresh cream and marscapone cheese.

My third visit with more relatives was unfortunately the worst. The food took much too long to come out of the kitchen, with long awkward gaps between each dish, the service was lacking with no introduction to dishes as well as a mishap at the end of the meal, and the food itself was not as good as previous visits. With all the waiting, the dinner was over 3 hours long, with 6:30PM reservations and leaving close to 10PM. It was like visiting a different restaurant entirely, or maybe there were just different people in the kitchen and waitstaff. If I had written my review after my first visit or second visit, it would have been a definite strong recommend, but unfortunately combined with that visit, it's a recommend. I know Chef Macchia regularly comes back to Taipei to check on the restaurant, hopefully he can shake things up every now and then and expedite and quality control the dishes that I had fallen in love with. 

The menus were no longer mix and match, now it was choosing from 3 different dinner sets and prices, at NT$1600, $2500 or NT$3500.

The amuse bouche was same across the table and a terrible first impression. It was like a overdone chicken sausage from an airplane meal and seemed more Taiwanese than Italian. It would have been better to serve nothing. Definitely not what I'd expect from a restaurant from a Michelin starred chef or from a US$100 meal.

I don't know if I was mistaken in wanting to try new dishes or we happened to go on a bad night. The dishes in my set were good, but not amazing with layers of flavor and didn't leave a lasting impression as before and more expensive as the priciest set of NT$3500. Otherwise for the same prices, I'd go back to the consistently delicious No. 168 Prime Steakhouse just a button away in the elevator.

Carpaccio di Aragosta (lobster carpaccio with lemon and tomato confit)

Vitello Tonnato (roasted beef tenderloin, tuna sauce and tomato). I wish there had been some introduction to the dish by the server, on how to best to eat it, or even what the elements were. I had to keep checking the menu or asking to know what I was eating.

Crema di Mais e Foie Gras (sweet corn soup, foie gras, spinach and powdered porcini mushroom) was a strange combination- the stringy spinach was disparate from the corn soup and the foie gras was not the center of the dish, flavor wise.

Ravioli di Mozzarella (homemade mozzarella and basil ravioli, tomato sauce and fresh sauteed vegetables) 

Tagliolini All Astice (Italian homemade tagliolini served with 1/2 lobster and lobster bisque). I thought this dish would have a creamier, sweeter flavor, but the lobster flavor was not that strong. I'd still choose the red pepper risotto over this in the future.

Sorbetto (palate cleanser)

Filetto di Manzo (grilled beef tenderloin, smoked mashed potato, foie gras and black truffle)

Even the Gelato al tartufo (vanilla ice cream, olive oil and freshly sliced black truffle) was a bit glass-half empty looking compared to the bountiful gelato I was served at lunch a few weeks earlier. And truffle withe desserts always seems a bit strange to me.

Our table was waiting at least 10 minutes for our vegetarian set's dessert to come out even after we had all finished ours. After walking to find a waitress near the kitchen area, she said his set didn't come with a dessert. It was very strange since a) they asked him what dessert he wanted and b) the cost was the same as the other sets, so why wouldn't there be a dessert. The point wasn't even that he wanted the dessert, since we had been there for almost 3 hours and were ready to all go home, the point was the confusion in the service and the miscommunication with the staff. The manager came out after apologizing and wanting to give him a dessert, but by that time, it was too late. The lack of consistency in food and service can make or break a restaurant, but hopefully it was a one time event.

complimentary petit fours to take home

After that last time, it took us awhile to return to La Festa, but luckily we did. I recently went back for a pre-Mother's Day dinner with my relatives, and service and food had seemed to returned to excellent levels. Perhaps they were staffed up and prepared for the rush, or maybe because I stuck to my favorites (the soft boiled egg, the lobster bisque and asked to change out my dessert) in the cheapest set that still satisfied. 

I'd say go for lunch if you want to try it and be able to choose your set components, but go for dinner if you want to splurge. La Festa does serve up some innovative Italian dishes that taste as good as they look and Chef Macchia returns every so often to Taipei for special menus and events. 


Alice said...

Hi Hungry Girl! Could you share with us a bit of who you are? I've been reading your blog for ages, but know so little about you. I'm curious as to what brought you back to Taiwan. It would add a lot to your reviews to get a quick biographical sketch!

Konni and Matt said...

Hello Hungry Girl:
We love your food photos (despite being sorts of vegetarians). Could you please share some technical information, e.g. camera, lens, aperture or programme, ISO, white balance, flash, etc.? Most appreciated...

joanh said...

alice- hi! i'm from LA primarily and came back to taiwan for family reasons... thanks for reading the blog and for commenting!

konni and matt- thanks for your comment! i've used different cameras for different posts throughout the years. for this one, i used the Canon s90 and the sony alpha 900 with a 35 mm lens/f 1.4. i also frequently use my iphone and these days i usally tweak the photos before putting them up. i never use flash and usually fix white balance in iphoto... hope that helps!

MY said...

Hi Joan. It's me again. Heard on TV that the New Shilin Night Market had it's grand opening in December last year but there were some "minor" problems with this underground(?) market, such as lack of ventilation, lack of restrooms and not enough room to move all the vendor stalls in there. Is it worth visiting?

When I was in Taipei in 2010, the market was still at its "temporary" location. So are there now two Shilin night market locations?

One of the news articles on the net mentioned that there are some "500" food stalls (not part of the night market) nearby. Would you know anything about these?

Hehe...I'll stop my questions now.:)

Konni and Matt said...

Hello Joan: Many thanks for sharing your secrets of how to take these mouthwatering photos. I am tempted to eat my laptop...

michele @ i-heart-baking said...

mmm ... your pictures are making me hungry!!! :)