If you have ever watched commercials for Kewpie Tarako spaghetti sauce, which have become a minor YouTube sensation, then you probably have an approximate idea of how creative Japanese-style Italian pasta dishes can be. Mentaiko/kewpie doll hybrids are nowhere to be seen at Tanaka in the newly renovated Eslite (誠品) building on Dunhua South Road (敦化南路), but plenty of novel flavor combinations are.
Tanaka’s pasta menu (each one is adorably pasted into what appears to be a Muji file folder) is split into three main sections: Wafu Pasta (和風義大利麵), or Japanese-style Italian pasta; Basic Pasta (傳統經典義大利麵), which includes classic meat sauce pasta (經典肉醬義大利麵, NT$160) for traditionalists; and Asian Fantasy (亞洲風味義大利麵), which features Korean and Thai-inspired dishes.
Our helpful waitress told us that Tanaka’s signature dishes are the salmon roe and cod roe pasta (明太子鮭魚卵天使髮麵, NT$200) and the davola chili seafood pasta (小惡魔辣味海鮮義大利麵, NT$240), but I opted to order the mixed raw fish with basil (綜合刺身羅勒義大利麵式冷麵, NT$240), in part because I was entranced by the lovingly-lit photos of the dish used to advertise the restaurant on Eslite’s directories. My plate arrived at the table looking somewhat less photogenic, however, because the pasta was heavily coated in an olive oil and sweet basil sauce. Other ingredients included a generous sprinkling of raw fish cubes and salmon roe on the pasta, which was piled on top of a drizzle of squid ink and garnished with small pimento olive slices. Despite the incongruous combination of ingredients, the dish was quite good. The sauce was a just slightly too oily for my taste but the slight hint of sweet basil complemented the sashimi and roe surprisingly well, and the squid sauce provided an unexpected and welcome hint of saltiness.
Address: B1, 245, Dunhua S Rd Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市敦化南路一段245號B1)
Telephone: (02) 8773-9363
Open: 11am to 10pm; the kitchen begins closing at around 9pm
Average meal: NT$380
Details: Chinese, English and Japanese menu; credit cards accepted
My dining companion opted for the country-style fried chicken with mushroom pasta (田舍炸雞蘑菇義大利麵, NT$160). The chicken meat was juicy and very tender inside its crunchy breaded coating and the pasta suitably al dente, but the portion of pasta he received was disappointing. The two of us ordered our meals in a set (套餐組合). I choose option A for an additional NT$100, which comes with a salad with a choice of yogurt or ginger dressing (and a sprinkling of cornflakes on top), a sweet dinner roll and a drink. My friend paid NT$130 for set B, which comes with everything in set A plus a bowl of soup, which on the day we went was a cream of mushroom that thankfully emphasized the flavorful mushroom puree and went easy on the cream. The two of us also ordered a glass each of Tanaka’s house red and white wines (NT$180). The white wine, which our waitress said she preferred, was not particularly memorable but went well with my seafood pasta. The red wine was chilled, which masked its sweet and somewhat fruity flavor.
For dessert, our waitress encouraged us to try the white sesame pudding (胡麻布丁, NT$65), which is a new dish and was not yet listed on Tanaka’s dessert menu when we visited last weekend. We also ordered the Japanese-style cheesecake (和風鮮起士蛋糕, NT$65), which resembled a creme brulee without the crunchy burnt-sugar crust and was very, very sweet. The white sesame pudding was extremely rich but the flavor was lighter and less nutty than desserts made from black sesame. Both are worth ordering, but I felt that the white sesame pudding works better as a palate cleanser than the cheesecake.