Taipei has gone through a lot of changes. Eslite Bookstore on Tunhua South Road was the favourite 24 hours haunt for many of us. And diagonally across the iconic bookshop was Pasta West East.
This restaurant serves Italian dishes tailored to Taiwanese taste buds, i.e pasta was cooked softer than the Italian al dente, ingredients may include Oriental condiments and spices like five spice, peppercorn or oyster sauce.
One of the first things you would see when entering this restaurant was the open kitchen, manned by chefs who enthusiastically greeted customers as they walked in the door. These chefs treated their creations as artistic masterpieces. Some regular customers would just let the Executive Chef create something special for them.
Our lunch was a combination of a la carte items (Italian names) and the special holidays menu (English names).
It was not common for Western restaurants in Taiwan to provide the bread as part of the meal. You would have to order them separately or have it included as part of the set meal. We had to order this delicious (and hot) garlic bread as an a la carte order.
1/ Beef Carpaccio
Thinly sliced blackened raw beef tenderloin served with rucola, parmesan, EVOO and a side of pesto sauce. Maybe because Taiwanese were not familiar with eating raw beef, so the tenderloin was air-dried to give it a cured meat taste. Not what I expected, the first of the East meets West dishes.
2/ Traditional clam chowder
OK, when they said “traditional” on the Christmas menu, I thought of New England. But this was like a cream of mushroom than a clam chowder. The texture was pretty watery even though there was a generous amount of clams and mushrooms (!) in the chowder. And the parley powder? Not exactly Italian.
3/ Lumache e tartufo al forno
Lumache (Italian for snails or escargots) was not so frequently seen in Italian restaurants outside of Italy. Even in motherland, you would only find them in Salento or south Italy. In Salento, lumache snails are seasonal treat in line with prawns, and if you are clever and industrious enough to establish your own farm, the snails will bring a good extra income when they are sold in the market at a high price per kilo. Most often than not, when you asked for lumache, you get snail-shell-like pasta.
The snails were mixed with brown button mushrooms and covered with a large amount of mozzarella. The result was a delicious morsel of snail with the woody flavours of mushrooms and the creaminess of cheese.
4/ Trifolati de funghi e gamberetti e zucchina
Everyone loved this dish. A very simple stir-fry of button mushrooms, zucchini and shrimps with tails still on, spiced with Italian herbs, garlic and lots of olive oil.
5/ Pan fried South Africa sea abalone with vermouth sauce
Another item from the Christmas menu, very Taiwanese. I am not sure if it was really a South Africa abalone, it looked more like a locally farmed 九孔 or commonly known as Dalian abalone. Topped with shaved fennel and a rich vermouth sauce, it was alright and catered to Taiwanese tastebuds.
6/ Charcoal grilled Spanish pork chop, mustard seed and gravy
OK, I usually do not order pork chop. But I was often disappointed with steaks in Taiwan, so I decided to be adventurous. And I was surprised by the juiciness and tenderness of the piece of pork chop. The sauce was alright, but the pork chop was extremely tasty.
7/ Salsa tartufo e cipollato
Back truffle with wild mushroom spaghetti. OK, tasted authentic, a bit too dry. I had to add additional olive oil on my own.
8/ Risotto al tartufo
Wild mushroom risotto with black truffle paste in cream sauce. The pasta and the risotto had similar tastes. The rice was slightly too soft to my preference, but who am i to judge. The girls loved it.
Pasta West East is unique in that it willingly offers food to please a variety of tastes. The key person at Pasta West East is Chef Mao, who has had 40 years of experience in the food service industry. He is from Hong Kong but was born in Shanghai, and has worked in kitchens all over the world, gaining a good understanding of different cuisines. Added to all of this was a great service attitude. All this makes it no wonder that Pasta West East was very popular and had a loyal clientele.
But this restaurant that has been opened since 1988 is no more. Even Eslite is closing its doors 31 May 2020. Tunhua South Road will never be the same.
(Note they have moved to this new address since 2018.)
Pasta West East 紅廚 義大利餐廳
Tel : +886-2-2713-8362