The idea of going to Banqiao to enjoy high-quality food may have once seemed far-fetched, but, thanks to Executive Chef Carlson Wang (王正雄) the town more commonly associated with cheap steak houses and cut-price shabu shabu joints has finally made its mark on the culinary map.
Since the Grand Forward Hotel's Portobella Italian Restaurant opened in late September, Banqiao residents wanting to wine and dine in style have had an oasis of fine dining to call their own.
To ensure the quality of food is on par with that associated with Taipei's more upmarket hotels, the veteran Toscana Italian Restaurant chef called on the services of a couple of friends from that other high-end Taipei Italian eatery, the Marco Polo. Together, the three chefs have created a menu that both delights and excites.
Airy, spacious and sparsely decorated, the restaurant's design is certainly nothing to write home about and resembles that of any number of hotel restaurants. But the tables are reasonably spaced out and allow diners to enjoy a modicum of privacy and intimacy with their meal.
Portobella's set menus cost from between NT$250 to NT450 and give diners the choice of opting for three-course or five-course meals. Set menu entrees change on a weekly basis and include such delights as Tuscany nut-crusted red snapper with tomato, olive and artichokes and an equally mouth-watering grilled fillet steak with mashed potato and mushroom sauce. Salads and deserts are served buffet-style.
While the set menus are proving popular, the a la carte menu is where diners looking to impress will find many of Wang's finest creations. The joint's speciality antipasto dish is a flavorsome roasted portobella mushroom cap with bell peppers, goat cheese and anchovies (NT$380). The caprese is a bit of a disappointment, as Wang has substituted creamy buffalo mozzarella for regular mozzarella.
Popular entrees include saffron risotto with clams, scallops and shrimps (NT$320), the risotto with portobella caps, thyme and truffle paste (NT$420) and the glazed duck breast with portobella sauce and fried polenta (NT$680).
Portobella also offers a good choice of crispy crust Italian-style pizzas, which cost from NT$250 to NT$320, as well as four flavors of focaccia which include tasty pesto and parmesan and are priced at NT$180 to NT$200.