Health-conscious eaters and dieters may want to avoid Big Pancia Cucina Italiana, a homey restaurant that takes pride in its Italian-inspired menu offering rich, meaty dishes served in generous portions at wallet-friendly prices. Diehard carnivores come here for the (in)famously large meat platter fittingly titled rouyu hengliu (肉慾橫流), which can be translated as carnal desire gone wild.
Located in a quiet alley near the Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, the simply decorated establishment has a youthful atmosphere that appeals to a young demographic. On a recent weekend visit, customers in their 20s to whom the idea of a calorie count or clogged artery is as improbable as aging filled the dining room. Our equally young waiter was eager to please, but unable to offer useful help when asked for recommendations.
Concerned about our meat intake, my dining companions and I decided to skip the carnal desire to order the menu’s meat extravaganza (NT$1,900). For those curious about this specialty, the new, improved version contains big chunks of pork, chicken, duck, beef steak and lamb chop.
Instead, the four of us ordered a few antipasto plates, pasta, risotto and a couple of main courses, and were utterly sated by the end of the meal.
From the appetizer menu, the marinated squid and new potato with pesto (NT$200) came as a fresh-flavored starter. The slices of string bean and white wine vinegar dressing were a fun complement to the squid. For a richer taste, the sauteed baby tomato and eggplant with quail egg (NT$180) has a smooth, almost creamy texture given by the semi-raw egg.
The deep fried potatoes with truffle oil (NT$200 for a small serving and NT$300 for a large serving) proved that truffle salt and French fries were a pair made in heaven, but the fatal flaw of the dish was the less than crispy deep-fried potatoes.
After finishing the starters, we were caught by surprise by the overly efficient service that brought the rest of our meal to the table almost simultaneously. We therefore had to pick up the pace of stuffing ourselves before the food got cold.
My favorite of the evening was the gorgonzola penne with bacon and egg (NT$260). The rich, creamy penne pasta had a simple, fulfilling quality to it with the veined Italian blue cheese topped with bacon cubes and semi-raw egg.
The spicy tomato risotto with braised beef cheek (NT$380) was also good. The sourness of the tomato and tangy jalapeno pleasantly offset the heaviness of the beef, though the risotto was a bit too watery for my taste.
The most presentable dish on the table, the pork belly confit and chicken mousse ravioli with apple confit and cream sauce (NT$460), however, lacked the substance to match its visual sophistication. Both the pork confit and chicken ravioli quickly became cloying and didn’t seem to work well with the light-flavored apple sauce.
The pan-fried strip loin and cider vinegar gravy (NT$990) was another disappointment. Cooked medium, the beef was too lean to make a flavorful steak.
Some dishes on Big Pancia’s menu show a fusion spirit that mixes western culinary tradition with local ingredients. The pan-fried duck breast with longan sauce (NT$520), for example, is an attempt to wed the prime-quality duck from Yilan with dried longan. Shrimp spaghetti puttanesca (NT$300) is the restaurant’s rendition of the classical Italian pasta dish that replaces capers with Taiwan’s sebesten fruit (破布子), or small, green berries that taste like sharp, salty green olives.
The restaurant has a small selection of beer (NT$130 to NT$160), wine (NT$120 per glass and NT$750 per bottle) and grappa. Diners who bring their own bottles of wine will be charged a corkage fee of NT$50 per person.