Taiwan has great noodles everywhere you look: fat noodles, thin noodles, rice noodles, beef noodles — even cold noodles. But for those with more Western tastes, a good pasta can set you back at least a couple hundred NT dollars more than a your average bowl of noodles. Even then, the offerings are largely touch and go. Not so at the aptly named I Know Pasta. It is an entirely Taiwanese-run and staffed establishment, but as they claim, they do know pasta.
They have only recently made an English menu, and this becomes obvious when you read it: the carbonara is referred to as spaghetti with bacon and egg milk flavor (cheese), and the pesto is called spaghetti with pine nut green sauce. Don’t let this dissuade you, however. The carbonara is made with back bacon and full cream, and the pesto rivals any I have had. The cheapest dish on the menu, at NT$70, is the standard Bolognese, which has a rich ground pork and tomato sauce.
The most expensive pasta is the smoked salmon with cream sauce at NT$160. The serving of salmon is so generous it’s hard to imagine that one could make this dish at home for that price. The cream sauce has a hint of tomato, giving it a slightly sweet tang that goes well with the fish.
Again, they know what they are doing: when you get the salmon pasta as takeout, they pack the fish separately from the steaming dish so that it doesn’t overcook the delicate salmon — a small detail that really enhances the flavor.
Around 7pm there is usually a line at the front counter where you order, but again, don’t be put off, as the staff whips up orders at an amazing pace. There are three areas for dining in, with the dishes served on large white plates with proper cutlery (a fork and tablespoon). Takeout dishes come in standard white boxes with a plastic spoon and chopsticks. They also have a corn soup, and a variety of teas and soft drinks for NT$15 to NT$35.
Address: 121-2, Bade Road Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市八德路三段121-2號)
Telephone: (02) 2577-3967
Open: Daily from 11am to 9pm Average meal: NT$70 to NT$160
Details: Chinese and English menu
Though the dine-in areas are fairly cafeteria-style in terms of layout, with a high turnover, the staff is friendly and the place is clean and brightly lit. Part of the charm is ordering at the main counter, over which you can see eight to 12 staff in an assembly line whipping up your order. The cashier yells to the main chef, who grabs a large frying pan and throws in meats, vegetables, stock, and begins tossing everything together. If it’s a cream dish he will grab a carton of full cream and add it at the last minute. Pre-cooked pasta (standard in even high-end restaurants) is added last, and the dish moves on to the platers or the packers. The dishwasher takes the pan and the next order begins.
When they are really busy, four or more chefs will be working at once, and their flying hands and obvious expertise is a pleasure to watch. As a fan of cream sauce, I prefer to get takeout — the 10 minutes it takes me to get home allows the sauce to thicken and cool down a bit.
Pour it onto a plate, arrange the salmon slices on the top, and dig in. It is the best pasta you’ll find, not because of the budget prices, but in spite of them.