Thinking of the Linshen North Road neighborhood, I cannot help but think of sleazy nightlife and fun-seeking Japanese businessmen. It's all too easy to assume the food in the area is nothing but stands of greasy barbeque, stir-fried pork intestines and old-fashioned Japanese cuisine.
The image of the streets is so shaped by karaoke bars and suspicious-looking hotels that when La Trattoria Grazie -- which targets young fashionable office workers -- opened here in May, even the staff were surprised by their boss' choice of location.
Hidden upstairs in the old-fashioned and scarcely visited Shin Shin Department Store, the rather low-key Grazie has quickly become a success, thanks to its first customers who spread its name by word of mouth. A short wait is often necessary during lunch and dinner hours.
Grazie is the first branch of the popular Japanese chain restaurant in Taiwan and intends to be a little more "fashionable" and "upscale" than its Japanese counterparts. The corporation that owns Grazie also owns Skylark, a 19-branch California-Italian chain popular with college students and families.
Although both establishments put their cooks through stringent training and adopt management practices from the chains in Japan, Grazie tries to provide a more relaxing environment and specializes in pizza and pastas. Open till 3am, with a range of draft beers and wines, it also positions itself as a restaurant-bar.
Like the other pasta choices in the restaurant, pescatora (NT$170) combines fresh pasta and ingredients to create a rich taste. On my visit, the mussels, clams, squid and shrimps were cooked to the right degree to preserve their respective flavors. The fragrance of the tomato sauce also blended well with the pasta.
Address: 247, Linshen N Rd, Taipei (台北市林森北路247號)
Telephone: (02) 2542 7680Open: 11am to 3am
Average meal: NT$300
Details: English and Chinese menu. Credit cards accepted
Gorgonzola cheese and spinach pizza (NT$130) is a rare find. The crispy thin crust is baked to acquire an appetizing gold sheen, which looks especially pleasing covered with the tender green spinach leaves. An interesting item on the menu was the appetizer beef carpaccio (NT$100). Nicely seasoned with olive oil, the Parmesan cheese complements the fresh slices of tenderloin beef. But, the best thing about the dish is the sorrel leaves, which should be eaten with the cheese and beef, in one mouthful.
To go with the dishes, yellow tomato juice (NT$100) was a refreshing choice. The small portion of milk syrup gave this healthy drink a smoother taste.