Mi Cocina is the latest venture by Rainbow Lin (林虹惠), who wants to offer a more upscale alternative to her long-running Western eatery on Shida Road (師大路), Grandma Nitti’s.
Whatever one may think of Grandma Nitti’s, which has both die-hard fans and detractors, Mi Cocina will feel like a refreshing and welcome change to a neighborhood filled with burger joints and cheap cafes, although this looks to be changing with the recent crackdown on businesses in the Shida area.
Located on Xinhai Road (辛亥路) near Dingzhou Road (汀州路), the restaurant lives up to its Chinese name, “New York Bistro”(紐約小館), for both the decor — simple and stylish — as well as the menu, which is mostly American dishes inspired by French country cooking. It’s basically comfort food, but a bit healthier and a little fancier.
Another reason that Mi Cocina is worth a visit is its chef, 31-year-old Lisa Nolasco, a New York City native who is responsible for the restaurant’s homemade goodness, and whom patrons will spot working in the open-air kitchen.
On a lunch visit, don’t hesitate to try the roasted pork panini (NT$250). The stringy, tender pork is melt-in-your-mouth delicious, with generous amounts sandwiched between two slices of freshly baked focaccia. Swiss Cheese and a creamy but not-too-full-on sauce made with garlic and jalapeno round out this near-perfect sandwich. Mine could have stayed in the grill half a minute longer (one small portion in the middle was cold), and the side of fries were a tad undercooked and not quite golden enough — but these are minor shortcomings given how tasty the sandwich was.
A return visit with friends for dinner left me more impressed. The menu choices are simple: steak, chicken, fish, rice or pasta, and everything our party of three ordered was well-received. The pan-roasted chicken breast (NT$350) was surprisingly tender. (Nolasco says her trick is simply to cook the chicken on the bone and not to overcook it.) It comes topped with assorted roast vegetables strewn on top and creamy mashed potatoes.
Address: 1F, 9, Xinhai Rd Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市辛亥路一段9號1樓)
Telephone: (02) 2368-0889
Hours: Tuesday to Friday from 11:30pm to 10pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 10pm. Closed Mondays
Average Meal: NT$300 to NT$400, plus 10 percent service charge
Details: Credit cards accepted; free WiFi
Web site: Search for “Mi Cocina 紐約小館” on Facebook
As much as I liked the chicken, I couldn’t help but envy one of my dining companions for her dinner of pan-seared risotto cakes (NT$280). Though on paper the recipe for this dish is simply what you do with leftover risotto, Mi Cocina does this vegetarian-friendly item right. The risotto is shaped into two small patties and pan-fried on both sides to a golden brown. Nolasco says she was inspired to add this item to the menu after having a local breakfast staple, radish cake (蘿蔔糕). The similarity is apparent in texture — it’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. But flavor-wise, it’s a couple of steps ahead of radish cake, with a rich, buttery flavor. It also comes with roasted vegetables on the side.
My other dining companion enjoyed the pan-seared salmon (NT$300), which was cooked just right, judging from the few bites I had. She wasn’t impressed with the accompanying stir-fried bok choy as it seemed a little too commonplace and not quite the right match for salmon, but was impressed with the carrot-ginger puree, which looked gorgeous and had a nice zing.
On Saturday and Sundays, Mi Cocina has a brunch special for NT$300 that includes fresh juice, coffee and a main entree. Choices include lox and bagel, roasted pork panini, French toast and frittata. We had the latter, but were left underwhelmed because it was a little overcooked and, for a quiche-like dish, it felt a bit short on the cheese and vegetable filling.