La Caja de Musica (樂盒子) is the latest venture from Luis Miguel Hernando Sahagun and Ramses del Cura Nogal, a pair of expats in Taipei who are passionate about two things: home cooking from their native Spain and live music.
The two quickly rebounded after closing their first restaurant, El Patio de Mi Casa (小路的陽台), at the end of last year because of a disagreement with their business partners. They decided to forge ahead on their own and opened La Caja de Musica (The Music Box) in February in a residential neighborhood near the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei (台北當代藝術館).
Hernando and Del Cura have enjoyed a loyal following of Spanish-speaking expats and locals ever since they started out five years ago hosting dinner parties in various Taipei apartments. One reason for this is that the two make a good team. Hernando is a great cook; Del Cura is a genial host. Both are talented musicians and their occasional after-dinner shows are rousing and fun.
For La Caja, the pair revamped the menu, dividing their offerings into tapas and raciones, or dishes to share. On a recent visit, I was relieved that they still served a few favorites from El Patio’s menu, such as the sepia de la plancha (香煎花枝, NT$220 or NT$320), or pan-seared calamari slices, which are cooked perfectly tender, and the hearty tomato asado (鐵烤番茄, a whole roasted tomato stuffed with pork, NT$100).
Some newer menu items were equally impressive. I tried a personal favorite of Del Cura’s, the tapa pimiento asado con tuna (紅椒船, NT$100 per piece), which is roasted peppers on a crusty baguette slice topped with chunks of tuna, a rich black olive paste and capers. I also loved the tapa hummus con ali oli (鷹嘴豆泥, NT$80 per piece), slices of baguette smeared with a thick dollop of creamy hummus and an even creamier olive oil sauce on top. Del Cura and Hernando pride themselves on using fresh ingredients, which was evident in these dishes.
Address: 18, Alley 3, Ln 138, Changan W Rd, Taipei City (台北市長安西路138巷3弄18號)
Telephone: 0920-885-996 or 0975-330-741
Open: From 6:30pm to 10:30pm Tuesday to Thursday, 6:30pm to midnight Fridays and Saturdays (kitchen closes around 9:30 every night). Open for tapas brunch on Sundays. Closed Mondays
Average meal: NT$500 to NT$700 per person
Details: Reservations recommended. For more information send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
On the Net: taipeicjm.blogspot.com or search for La Caja de Musica on Facebook
Until my last visit, I had never tried another item carried over from El Patio, the tortilla de patata (西班牙蛋餅, NT$120 for a slice, NT$600 for a whole portion). I was missing out. Also known as a Spanish omelet, there’s actually no flour tortilla — it’s basically a very thick egg omelet filled with fried potato and onion. I shared a slice (it looks like a dessert pie) with my dining companion, but I secretly wanted the rest of this scrumptious dish for myself after the first bite.
Every Friday, Hernando and Del Cura host live music shows in their small but cozy basement, which has a mini-stage and room for several dozen patrons. Their band Jaleo, which plays Spanish folk with a reggae beat, rehearses there every Thursday, and presides over a monthly open jam on the first Friday of the month. The restaurant’s Web site has a schedule posted.
Hernando and Del Cura’s new space feels more intimate and homier than their old restaurant. There’s a bit of junkyard charm in the hanging lamps cleverly made from salvaged microphones. Make sure you check out the guitar-shaped bar, which was made by Hernando and is an impressive display of craftsmanship.
Dinner can be pricey if you’re not careful, but Del Cura is happy to recommend items for a meal depending on your budget. We spent NT$500 per person and came away satisfied. (That doesn’t include drinks, though.) If you’re looking to splurge, there are deluxe set menus at NT$900 and NT$1,200 per person.