Restaurant: Chocolate and Love

Address: 148 Xinyi Rd, Sec 4, Taipei (北市信義路四段148號)
Telephone: 2702 4371
Open: 11:30am to 2pm for lunch; and 6pm until no one's hungry for dinner
Average meal: NT$250
Details: Credit cards accepted. Menu in Chinese and English

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

Fri, Jul 30, 2004 - Page 19

This is the story of Chocolate and Love -- and serendipity.

Barry Smit flew to Taipei from Amsterdam with his girlfriend and a plan to open a restaurant. He'd never run one before, but partnering with his girlfriend's uncle, Tony, seemed a safe enough bet. Shortly after they arrived, the girlfriend went by the wayside, but Barry and Tony's relationship has blossomed into one of the hipper eateries east of Dunhua.

The place has the feel of a jazz joint. In fact, there has been live music in the upstairs and Smit is currently planning upcoming gigs. Chocolate and Love also hosts the Taipei Poets Society, whose handwritten works adorn the walls. Last Saturday they hosted a Caribbean party that went into the small hours.

But if you've only come for music or poetry, you're missing the pasta. Pescatore basilico (NT$200), seafood and basil herb in a creamy sauce, is al dente pasta piled with shrimp, clams and scallops. If the scallops aren't surprise enough, the spiced celery surely will be.

"I lived in Italy for a while," says Smit. "And I know Chinese love noodles. So I wanted to get the pastas right."

Other options, to name just a few, include antonella (NT$160), clams and jalapeno chilis in a tomato and garlic sauce or the same seafood combination as the pescatore basilico but with a pomodori tomato sauce (NT$200). All the pastas run between NT$150 and NT$200 and come with bread and the soup of the day (either cream corn, tomato and cabbage, onion or spinach cream). They're also available during the lunch hour in smaller portions, at smaller prices.

Smit says the formula is to make Chocolate and Love "a place where West meets East and East meets West."

There's little in the way of chocolate to be found in the place, but Barry and Tony have put their love into it.

"I greet people as they come in the door and show them out. Little Western touches like that, we hope makes it special. If a place is comfortable and the conversation is friendly, the food and the drinks taste better."

Does being a restaurant owner come naturally? Smit gives a look as if to say he's not sure it comes at all. It does. It's serendipity.