The Far Eastern Hotel’s Marco Polo Restaurant has featured in the Taipei Times on many occasions, not only because it claims precedence as one of Taiwan’s best Italian restaurants, but also due to the effort it takes to invite a variety of chefs who bring their own unique style to the food.
Most recently, Chef Marco Priolo has taken the helm at Marco Polo, and has created a range of dishes intended to stamp his own personality on the restaurant under his care.
While some chefs who have taken charge of Marco Polo over the years have prided themselves on their regional affiliations — whether the cuisine of Venice, Naples or Piedmont — Priolo, who is from northern Italy, abjures any narrow regionalism, saying that this is too limiting. “After you have done the 10 or 20 signature dishes of a region, what else is left?” he asks.
Priolo, whose food is firmly rooted in Mediterranean fundamentals, has a playful culinary imagination and he draws inspiration from his travels around the world.
One of the most charming dishes to greet visitors is Priolo’s “Sunny Side-Up” Crabmeat with a hint of Chili and a Mango Yolk topped with Caviar (NT$750), which manages to set up a jokey conversation with the diner. The “white” of the sunny side-up is made up from crabmeat flavored with a complex mixture of herbs, which hint at Thailand (where Priolo was based for many years) without making the suggestion explicit. Then there is the “yolk,” which is in fact a clever little piece of molecular kitchen wizardry, a runny yellow ball of mango juice. Break this and it seeps invitingly into the crab, providing a second tier of flavor.
Another surprise can be found in the Grilled Tuna, Bok Choy and Fried Pork-Stuffed Olive Croquette served with Almond Flavored Tomato and Olive Sauce (NT$990), with its beautiful palette of fireside colors. The tuna, wearing a “grill coat” that is more often associated with beef steaks, is a delightful contrast of color and texture, and the croquette is a kind of Scotch egg with a juicy green olive at the center rather than the expected egg. Olives are often stuffed, and this one is filled with sausage meat, but then it in turn becomes the stuffing of the croquette. It’s lots of fun, though this fun goes hand-in-hand with impressive culinary skill and imagination.
Address: Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, 38F, 201 Tunhua S Rd, Sec 2, Taipei City (遠東國際大飯店台北市敦化南路二段201號)
Telephone: (02) 2378-8888 ext. 5950
Open: Daily from 11:30am to 2:30pm; 6pm to 10pm
Average meal: NT$1,500 and up
Details: English menu available. Credit cards accepted
Priolo was expansive about achieving an understanding of what people in different countries want from their dining experience. With a wide experience of hotel kitchens located in five-star hotels in the Middle East and Asia, he said his job was to know what people want, and achieve this through subtle tweaking of the Italian ingredients and methods that are the foundation of his cuisine.
This sometimes is achieved by departures from tradition. In the creation of Potato Gnocchi with Duck Breast Ragout served with Walnut Sauce and Red Wine Pear (NT$690), Priolo has created a scallop-sized “grand gnocchi” that is vastly huger than conventional gnocchi, but still manages to combine fluffy and chewy textures. “It is all about presenting the unexpected,” he said.
The duck ragout, which Priolo said he selected because Taiwanese favor duck, is made in Italian fashion with plenty of wine and Mediterranean herbs. For this, Priolo uses an imported bird, which he said was preferable for creating a dish very different to what Taiwanese might expect when ordering duck.