If you’re looking for a cool summer breeze in the Taipei area, it’s tough to beat Bitan (碧潭), located close to Xindian MRT Station (新店捷運站). A major renovation project completed at the end of 2008 breathed new life into this riverside park area, which has a wood deck arcade lined with outdoor cafes and restaurants.
The dozen or so establishments here serve everything from cold tea drinks and kebab sandwiches to Korean barbecue and Japanese ramen noodles, and offer covered seating areas with nice views of the glistening green waters from which Bitan derives its name.
Waterfront (水灣) presents itself as one of the more upscale dining choices, with wait staff dressed in matching tropical-themed uniforms and a menu comprised of a mish-mash selection of Western-style dishes. The food is decent and nicely presented, but some items are overpriced and cater more to the Taiwanese imagination than Western palates.
The crispy pork knuckle (NT$700, NT$720 for beer-flavored) is listed as a house recommendation, as is the grilled duck breast (NT$680), which was sold out on my visit. I settled for the John Dory (NT$540), a white ocean fish that Waterfront serves breaded and pan-fried. The fish fillet was tender and flaky and tasted fresh, but the kebab vegetables on the side were hit and miss. The zucchini was tasty, but the potato was ruined by a sickly-sweet glaze.
Other main courses include short-rib beefsteak (NT$760) and several seafood pastas for NT$540. All main course meals come with soup (creamy pumpkin with bacon bits on this visit), a bread roll (which was a little stale), a drink (coffee, tea, soda or juice; the mango-pomelo juice with vinegar is good on a hot day) and dessert.
For something lighter, there’s a selection of salads and pizzas, but the pictures in the menu don’t hold out much promise. The Caesar salad (NT$250) looked thoroughly unappetizing, with a photograph showing a clump of lettuce overflowing with a creamy dressing and whole strips of bacon covered in cheese.
My dining companion liked the “Italian-style tomato and cheese pizza” (NT$300), which I found too salty. The thin crust was also too oily, but the dish won points for fresh toppings, which included buffalo mozzarella. However, pizza aficionados will likely be disappointed, and the portions — it’s an 8-inch pie — are small for what you pay.
The dessert selection consists of Thai-style ice cream (a scoop of vanilla served with tapioca and sweet beans), Black Forest banana cake and apple pie. At NT$160 for a single order, neither the ice cream nor the apple pie are worth trying, unless you get them with a main course meal.
But there’s no need to splurge to enjoy the scenery and the comfy seating at Waterfront. The minimum charge per person is NT$150 (plus 10 percent service charge), and the restaurant offers a large variety of beverages to fuel an extended chat with friends. Espresso drinks, tea, juices and smoothies run from NT$160 to NT$180; Heineken on tap is available at NT$250 for 500ml and NT$1,100 for 2,500ml and bottled beers from the microbrewery North Taiwan Brewing Company are NT$180 each.
When the weather is nice on weekends, expect large crowds and a long wait. The restaurant recommends making a reservation a week in advance for a table with a view. And don’t let the sunshine or a light rain scare you away — the entire arcade is covered by a large awning that provides ample protection.
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