Fri, Oct 20, 2006 - Page 15 News List

Restaurant: Ratafia

Address: 1F, 3, Ln 199, Xinyi Rd, Sec 4, Taipei (台北市信義路四段199巷3號1樓)
Telephone: (02) 2709-1080, fax (02) 2709-1437
Open: Daily, lunch from 11:30am, dinner from 5:30pm to 10pm
Average meal: Lunch from NT$500; dinner from NT$1,500
Details: English, Italian and Chinese menu; credit cards accepted

By Jules Quartly  /  STAFF REPORTER

Tony Soprano, eat your heart out. Ratafia serves the best Italian food in town and its ostentatious, theatrical appearance even looks like a setting for the cult mafia-family series.

Entering the restaurant you are faced by a well-appointed bar, an elegant red chandelier hangs from the high ceiling and to the left is a polished, black, baby grand piano. There are deep-pile carpets, burgundy-colored walls and the Renaissance-inspired pictures on the walls are in gilt frames.

There are also three state dining rooms. Wooden paneling and plush, upholstered chairs with armrests add to the classic ambiance.

For lovers there are two cozy areas that are set aside from the rest of the restaurant by red, velvet curtains. A trompe l'oeil painting on the ceiling has angels looking down from heaven.

Like the DiMeo crime family, most discerning diners look for authenticity from their Italian restaurant. Ratafia serves north Italian fare and this means unsalted butter rather than olive oil and strong tasting food that often uses cream. Beef, veal and pork are the principal meats and there is an emphasis on hearty soups and seafood.

Ratafia is for gourmands, not slimmers. It's a member of the Slow Food movement, which was founded in 1986 and intends to battle the march of homogeneous fast food.

Often diners will not even consult the menu, but will be recommended dishes of the day by wait staff. We were served oxtail and halibut. A cow's tail doesn't sound like a treat unless it's prepared with a lot of attention to detail and arrives on the plate looking like a work of art, with giant asparagus spears and sauted carrots. The sauce was a revelation. It had an intense flavor formed from a reduction of red wine, vegetables and coffee beans.

As for the fish steak, the succulent flakes of halibut were perfectly complemented by a cream sauce that contained caramelized pine nuts. This was washed down with Cotorella Aqua Minerale water, which was light and sparkling.

Ratafia is the haunt of VIPs and expense account diners and reservations are usually required. Consultant Antonello Petruzzi sings three or four times a week and a pianist entertains on alternate nights. Ratafia, by the way, is a sweet cordial flavored with fruit kernels or almonds; and is also a biscuit that is related to the macaroon.

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