The last time we reviewed Papa Giovanni's was in April of 2000 when there were rumors that Papa and family had opened a bakery adjacent the restaurant.
We returned this time on rumors that the bakery has closed and on more troubling reports of disgruntled patrons.
Because the Taipei Times has praised Papa and staff in past reviews, the news of unhappy clientele was ? well, news. Forumosa.com, an Internet site popular with Taiwan's expatriate community, has dozens of postings regarding Papa Giovanni's under its "restaurants, bars and clubs" forum.
The postings almost unanimously decry the restaurant's poor service, high prices and Papa's "attitude." One post said he left the restaurant with "the distinct impression that it could only have been due to direst economic necessity that the owner stooped to allow me into his establishment."
But on my visit there Tuesday night I watched members of the Giovanni family walk most every patron to the door to say goodnight. I saw the wait staff attentively filling water glasses and clearing plates. Papa himself took my order and ended every sentence with "sir."
As far as I could determine during this single visit -- which was unannounced -- the rumors of Papa's despise are greatly exaggerated. Of the complaints I've read or been told, I share only one: the prices are too high. My order of a small caesar salad, king prawns in bourbon sauce, a glass of house white wine and tiramisu cost over NT$1,500. The small caesar alone -- which I ordered on Papa's suggestion -- cost NT$320. It had no romaine lettuce, no croutons, very little parmesan and not the slightest hint of anchovy.
The king prawns were indeed kingly and the bourbon sauce was delicious, but at NT$680 for four you'd have to be a king to order them a second time. You can find equally large and fresh prawns in most of Taipei's night markets for half the price -- with the caveat being that they're covered in mayonnaise, not bourbon sauce. No whines regarding the house white wine (NT$180); I should have had a second glass instead of the tiramisu (NT$180).
Address: 22, Alley 6, Lane 170, Chunghsiao E Rd, Taipei (北市忠孝東路四段170巷6弄22號)
Telephone: (02) 2711-8720
Open: 11:30am to 2pm and 6pm to 10:30pm
Average meal: NT$900
Details: Credit cards accepted. Menu in Chinese, Italian and English
Talking with Papa on my way out, I asked what became of the bakery. He explained that he closed it because, as everything was baked after hours, he couldn't control the quality. He also hinted that there may not have been a market for his European-styled products. "Chinese people, they like soft breads," he said.
As for the complaints about him and his restaurant, he said he was unaware of the online postings and didn't seem overly concerned. "People sometimes don't like something."