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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Felice Anniversario Angelo Aglianò Restaurant

This month marks the one year anniversary of the opening of Angelo Restaurant. I first wrote about the restaurant a month after the opening and called it the best Italian restaurant in Taiwan; frankly, that was an easy call. I have since gone back to the restaurant regularly. It is no secret amongst my friends that I only like to go to two western restaurants in Taipei and Angelo is one of them.

A year has gone by quickly and the restaurant has matured. The chef owner Angelo Aglianò once mentioned to me that his mentor Joël Robuchon told him, a restaurant is like a baby and will require time to grow, to stand up, and to walk. The irony with any restaurant is when it opens there is usually the most press coverage and the greatest anticipation from the public. Yet, the early days of the restaurant is probably the worst time for the customers to go because the staff is still learning to work together. Therefore, in the early months of Angelo Restaurant Aglianò held back the volume of the business to ensure the quality and at the same time made small improvements.

So what sort of adjustments has Angelo Restaurant made in the past year? For starter, to avoid confusion with other Italian restaurants with Angelo in their names, Aglianò added his last name to the marquee of the restaurant. Since Chinese New Year, the awning on the exterior of the restaurant has changed accordingly. The light box outside the entrance now has the menu displayed like a restaurant in Italy. Inside the restaurant, Aglianò has tweaked the decoration by placing ceramic fruits (mostly pears and apples) of different sizes and colors on the shelves above and in front of the counter; I particularly like the golden apple. The paintings on the walls change every few months, providing different visual interests for the customers of the restaurant.

Aglianò has also added more staff in the restaurant both in the kitchen and the front of house. Since the opening of the restaurant the kitchen is led by chef de cuisine Kedy Chou, who has worked with Aglianò since their days at Robuchon Taipei. Chou can often been seen working on the left side of the open kitchen, cooking meat or fish, enforcing the standard, and mentoring the junior cooks. He also contributes to the creation of the new dishes. The front of house is managed by Joanne Wang, another veteran from Robuchon Taipei. Wang has been at the restaurant since the beginning as well and has assembled a young team of servers. The service is attentive but relaxed.

Over the course of a year, Aglianò has changed the menu a few times. While one or two dishes from each course, such as the risotto Milanese and Tiramisu remain, the bulk of the menu changes with the seasons.

A meal at Angelo always starts with some house made bread. The quality is superb with good structure and crust; only a couple of restaurants in Taipei can match it. Instead of the two types of bread (mini-baguette and ciabatta) served in the first months of the restaurants, now there are three, with focaccia added to the bread basket. The breads are served warm with butter and olive oil/vinegar. This is followed by an amuse bouche, which is generally some form of puree, whether with chickpeas, tomato, or bacalao, served in a small soup bowl with crispy chips providing contrasting textures.

When I am at Angelo, most of the time I like to have a four-course meal. For the starter, a good choice is always the assortment of Italian antipasti, which are displayed in a glass case near the pass of the kitchen. Usually I simply ask the chef to choose for me as all the items are excellent. Besides the cold antipasti, I often like to start with some seafood dishes on the menu. Whether the dish is with langoustine, hamachi, or crab, they are always well seasoned and balanced in their flavors. The presentation is often done with the main ingredient formed as a circular plane at the bottom and dotted with different ingredients and condiments on top; visually the dishes are very beautiful.

While I love expensive ingredients, the mark of a good chef is the ability to take cheaper ingredients and make a delicious dish out of them. Hence, one of my favorites is the octopus terrine. The octopus is first cooked in liquid and formed into a log. The natural gelatin in the octopus allows it to bind together like a terrine. At service time, the octopus is sliced thinly and served with vegetables and herbs.

I find the starters to exemplify the basic characteristics of Aglianò's food: light but flavorful. In Taipei, people are always looking to eat "light" but often times, the restaurants and customers confuse light with bland. Aglianò shows that light can be delicious or as the Chinese would say, 鲜 (xian).

For the primi, I like to order a risotto, because Aglianò's risotto remains to be the gold standard. The classic risotto Milanese has remained on the menu ever since the opening and it is still fantastic.  My ten-year old daughter loves it and orders it every time she goes. I think she will be disappointed if Aglianò ever decides to take if off the menu. Besides the Milanese, there seems to be an infinite amount of variations that Aglianò can do with the risotto. One of the most memorable risotto that Aglianò made for me was the red wine risotto with berries and topped with seared foie gras. This deserves the phrase, "to die for".

What is remarkable about Aglianò's risotto is the consistency in quality. Many so-called Italian restaurants in Taipei serve risotto but the reality is those are not really risotto. Cooks in these restaurants ought to be a stagiaire at Angelo for a few months and learn how to cook a proper risotto. At Angelo they would learn that the risotto needs to start with a good rice, with the preferred choice being the one-year aged rice from Acquarello; they would learn how to make a stock; then they would learn how to par-cook the rice before service; learn how to keep the temperature of the stock and the rice constant when cooking the rice; and finally learn the process of mantecare and to have the right amount of liquid with the rice.

Besides the risotto, the house made pasta are also wonderful. I particularly love some of the Sicilian style ones with seafood and topped with breadcrumbs.

In October and November it is worth a special journey to go to Angelo for some pasta with shaved white truffle. There's nothing quite like the white truffle from Alba as they are simply intoxicating.

Another memorable primi that I thoroughly enjoyed in the past year was the fregola sarda with lobster: simply divine.

For the secondo, I am always happy to order a fish, which is usually sourced locally. Aglianò has a light touch with fish. The technique can be poaching, grilling, or sautéing, the dish is always light and the flavors are very clean. The vegetables that accompany the fish both compliment and provide a balance in terms of flavor.

Several months ago, Aglianò added a rotisserie, which is situated front and center inside the open kitchen. Customers sitting at the bar now often has a clear view of the daily roast.  Recently, Aglianò has been roasting pork which he procures from Ilan county. The meat is delicious and for a Chinese reminds me of the Cantonese char siu. The pork is served with some mashed potato. The mashed potato reminds me of the one served at Robuchon except some of the butter is replaced with olive oil and also a touch of pepper.

In terms of meat, I also enjoyed the lamb, which was cooked perfectly.

The dolce is supervised by the pastry chef Joshua Wang. Working with Aglianò, he reinterprets many of the Italian classic desserts, such as the cannoli, and panna cotta.

Recently, Aglianò is serving his take on a Sicilian breakfast dish: almond granita and brioche. The contrasting textures and temperature make this a delightful dessert.

While the Italian desserts don't necessarily have the wow factor or delicateness like their French counterparts, they are a very nice and light way to finish the meal. I am curious to see what Aglianò has planned for the next season. I would like to put a vote in for some sort of zabaione or bombolone.

Most of the time when I am at Angelo Restaurant I like to sit at the bar. Angelo has three private rooms which gets used quite a bit. Unlike most Taiwanese, I actually prefer to be in the dining room rather than the private rooms. I like seeing what other people are ordering and what they are wearing. Nevertheless I have eaten in two of the smaller private rooms. I like the medium size room which has windows to the street. The space of the room has a comfortable feel with a generous size. I don't really like the small private room, which I find to be a bit too small. Another problem with the small room is the acoustics. The room consists of only hard surfaces which do not absorb the sound well. Actually my wish for the private rooms is that one day they can have large format meals, similar to some of the restaurants in New York City, such as the Breslin or Momofuku Ssam Bar. Instead of simply having the same menu as the rest of the dining room, one can reserve in advance with a party of 8 persons or more and be served large format food such as the whole pork shoulder, whole roasted suckling pig, or whole roasted duck.

Unlike the opening months, Angelo Restaurant now has a wine list. Kenny Lee, the affable sommelier will happily help to select a wine. The corkage fee at Angelo is low, however, I still like to order wine at the restaurant for three reasons. First, similar to the fact that I don't bring a jamon to the restaurant for Aglianò to slice it for me, I don't bring a wine to restaurant. Second, I prefer to drink and learn about wines that I am less familiar with. Therefore, most of the times, I don't even ask for the wine list. I simply have a quick discussion with Lee about the day's mood and food and let him pick a wine for me. This is similar to if I go to someone's house for dinner I am not going to go to his or her celler to pick a wine. The host will choose wine that he or she wants me to drink. Third, beverage is an important source of revenue for any restaurant. If we want to see good restaurants thrive, we should support them and let them make the necessary profit. The mark-up on wine at Angelo is not high, therefore at dinner I am always inclined to have glass or order a bottle. Like an Italian I also enjoy having an after dinner drink such as the limoncello.

Aglianò said to me that even though the restaurant has the color of the Italian flag he isn't necessarily cooking Italian food per se. I am reminded of the story that Jacque Pépin, the great French chef in America, told about his mother. In Pépin's autobiography he said his mother scolds him whenever he visits her because while she loves his cooking it is no longer French. Pépin agrees with his mother that his cooking is not purely French or purely anything. In the same vein Aglianò's cooking is not purely Italian nor purely anything. It is simply his cuisine which is a reflection of his training, travels, and life experiences.

Aglianò likes to incorporate local ingredients in his cooking and I applaud him for it. In doing so Aglianò's food sometimes feel like it is a cross between Taiwan and Italy. We live in an increasingly globalized world where restaurants can easily be detached from their locations. Ingredients can now be sourced from anywhere in the world. Ingredients can also be detached from the seasons. For instance, we can now have black truffle from Australia in the summer and black truffle from France in the winter. While I am not a locavore, I feel a restaurant should have a connection to its location. An Italian restaurant in Taipei should not be the same as an Italian restaurant in Milan. Therefore, I love the fact that Aglianò uses Shuilian 水蓮 and serves it like a pasta with crab; adds green soy bean 毛豆 to a classic Italian burrata and tomato salad to give the dish some crunch; or serves water bamboo 茭白筍 with gnocchi for contrasting textures.

Using Taiwanese ingredients in Italian cooking is not an easy task. It is a testament to Aglianò's skill and experience that he can produce these types of dishes. To be creative with cuisine requires a full understanding of the the fundamentals. In other words, one needs to know the rules before one can break them. I have seen many restaurants in Taipei where the chefs tried to be "creative" but in reality didn't have any frame of reference. When one talks to Aglianò about cooking, he constantly mentions techniques and the balance of flavors. This can range from the precise temperature for sous vide cooking, the length of time to marinate the cod, or a pinch of oregano from Sicily to provide more depth of flavors. Good cooking is very much about the culmination of all the little details.

Angelo Aglianò Restaurant is an important restaurant for Taipei for many reasons. One, the restaurant shows that it is possible for a foreign chef with local partners to establish his own fine dining restaurant without being part of an international chain or a hotel. Two, the restaurant's success means that there is indeed hope in Taipei for a better western dining scene. My wish is customers in Taipei will get accustomed to the high standard, e.g. Aglianò's risotto, and start demanding better food elsewhere. Third, while some of Aglianò's staff may not stay at the restaurant for a long time, they will be properly trained and carry on the work mentality and the self-demand for quality. Finally, the restaurant is important because it cannot exist anywhere else but in Taipei and is a representative of its location, culture and moment.

Happy Anniversary Angelo Aglianò Restaurant and may you have many more wonderful years to come.


一年很快的過去,安傑羅餐廳也日漸成熟了。廚師兼業主Angelo Aglianò跟我提到名廚侯布雄曾説過,一間餐廳就如同一個嬰兒需要時間來成長、站立、然後學會走路。通常餐廳剛開幕時是新聞報導最多的,也是一般大眾最想去嘗試的時候。但是相反的,餐廳開幕的初期卻也是最不宜顧客造訪時候,因為員工需要時間學習及培養工作默契。所以,Aglianò在餐廳最初的幾個月,限制了顧客的人數,以確保食物及服務的品質,並同時一步步的改進。





我到安傑羅用膳一般會點四道菜。前菜,義大利冷開胃菜是不錯的選擇,靠近廚房的玻璃櫃展示了許多吸引人的菜色,我都會直接請Aglianò為我挑選。除了冷開胃菜之外,我也常喜歡點一些海鮮的菜餚,不論是海螯蝦、青甘魚或螃蟹,味道鮮美並且溶合著複雜的口感。 擺盤的方式通常是將主要的原料擺放成圓形,上面點綴著不同的配料,視覺上都非常吸引人。


我認為Aglianò食物的特徵在前菜就已充份的表現出來:輕盈,也具有層次與豐富的味道。台北的人多半希望吃得輕淡, 但很多時候,餐廳所做食物卻是淡而無味,相對的Aglianò,不但吃下去沒有負擔同時也兼具了鮮美口感。


Aglianò燉飯的品質不但高而且很穩定。在台北有很多的義大利餐館都有燉飯,但是都稱不上是真正的義大利燉飯。那些餐館的廚師都應該到安傑羅學習如何正確的煮一道燉飯。諸如:做燉飯先需要用好米,如Acquarello的一年老米;學習如何做高湯; 學習如何將米先煮到半熟;學習如何在製作的過程將高湯與米保持在同樣的溫度;學習如何在最後攪拌,並且適度加入一些高湯等工序。

除了燉飯,餐廳自做的麵食也同樣精彩。我特別喜歡一些西西里風味的海鮮麵。十月和十一月,值得專門去安傑羅品嘗一些白松露加義大利麵。來自阿爾巴的白松露非常的特別,口味著實的令人回味。過去一年另一些難忘的菜,是一系列不同的fregola sarda。

主菜呢,我喜歡點一道魚(一般都是來自台灣的近海)。 Aglianò烹調魚不論是煎、烤、或水煮有很好的技巧。搭配著合宜清爽蔬菜,提供了和魚平衡口感或是提升了對比的香味。



安傑羅有三個包廂。有別於大多數台灣人,我比較喜歡坐在餐廳開放的空間,尤其是在吧檯。我喜歡看到別人點的菜餚和欣賞他們的穿著。我曾經在兩個較小的包廂用餐。兩個房間之中,我比較喜歡有窗戶的房間,空間的大小與感覺都非常的舒適。小的那間包廂,空間似乎太小了且音響效果不好,因為整間餐廳的建材都是不吸音的材料。我希望安傑羅的包廂能像是一些在紐約巿的餐館,如Breslin 和Momofuku Ssam Bar,當人數多時可提前預訂,如烤豬肩肉、烤全乳豬、或烤全鴨等,以供大伙聚餐共享。

不同於開幕的幾個月,安傑羅餐廳現在有一個酒單。親切的侍酒師Kenny 李,很樂意幫助客人挑選葡萄酒。雖然安傑羅的開瓶費不高,我還是喜歡在餐廳點酒,主要有三個原因:首先,就如同我不會帶火腿到餐廳請Aglianò切給我吃,我也不帶酒到餐廳喝。其次,我喜歡嘗試一些我不熟悉的葡萄酒。因此,有時我不看酒單,請Kenny就當天的情境與食物幫我挑一些酒。這就如同我去別人家吃飯,我也不會去主人的酒窖中挑酒,主人想要我喝什麼酒我都很高興。第三,飲料是餐館收入的重要來源之一。如果我們希望看到好的餐廳茁壯成長,就應該支持他們,讓他們能有合理與必要的利潤。在安傑羅餐廳,葡萄酒的售價不算高,所以在安傑羅用餐,我總是傾向於點一杯或一瓶酒。另外,就如同在義大利我也喜歡在飯後喝一小杯烈酒,比如說檸檬酒之類的。

Aglianò說,儘管餐廳標記上有義大利國旗,他並不一定烹飪義大利菜。這讓我想起了,在美國的法國廚師Jacques Pépin的故事,Pépin在自傳中説他的母親常會罵他,因為她認為Pépin做的已經不是正統的法國菜。Pépin也同意他母親的看法,因為他的烹飪的確已經不是純粹的法國料理,而是跨國界的食物。Aglianò的廚藝同樣也不限制於單純的義大利料理,他的食物反映著他的歴練、旅行、和生活經驗。

我非常贊同Aglianò將臺灣本地的食材用在他的菜餚中。因此Aglianò的食物有時像是穿梭在臺灣和義大利之間。我們現在生活在一個日益全球化的世界裡,餐廳很容易的可以脫離他們的所在地。食材現在能夠來自全球各地,並且甚至跟季節分離。例如,我們現在冬天可以用來自法國的黑松露,夏天則可以吃來自澳大利亞的黑松露。雖然我不是一個locavore,但是我認為外國餐廳應該與它的目前的所在地保持一定的關係。在台北的義大利餐廳應該要不同於米蘭的義大利餐廳或日本東京的義大利餐廳。因此,我喜歡Aglianò使用水蓮代替義大利麵來配著螃蟹; 將毛豆加到經典的義大利burrata起司番茄沙拉; 還有用茭白筍在義大利餃子湯中,使得這幾道菜各有些不同的輕脆的口感。


許多的因素促使安傑羅成為臺北市非常重要的餐廳。一、 安傑羅餐廳的成功證明一個外來廚師與當地合作的夥伴是可以建立起自己的品牌,而不需依附著一個國際連鎖或酒店。二、餐廳的成功,意味著台北確實開始有高級餐廳的市場。我希望台北的顧客會習慣食物高的標準,如Aglianò的義大利燉飯,然後開始要求其它餐廳提升食物的水準。第三、雖然一些Aglianò的工作人員可能會離職或創業,但是他們所受到的高要求養成與訓練,將會把這些工作態度帶到其它的地方漸漸普及。最後,此時位於台北的安傑羅餐廳,確實代表著西方飲食文化與台北地理環境的美好結合。



  1. Dear Michael,
    Thank you for sharing with us your interesting comments about the Angelo Agliano Rest. Unfortunately I did not have yet the chance to taste Angelo's food but shall do so in the next few days.
    Just one little remark: I think there is nothing wrong when you take along your b.y.o. wine as long you pay the corkage fee which should, of course, +/- match the benefit he would have with his wine sale from the menu. Taking along my wine means also that I can choose my preferred wine according to the chosen food that evening. I usually carry my bottle in a discrete nice wine leather bag.
    I would be very pleased to exchange some food experiences with you not only from Taiwan but also from restaurants all over the world. In fact, I lived on all continents in the last 26 years (including a few years in Rome).
    Kind regards
    Bernhard Bienz, TOSI, Swiss Office Taipei

    1. Bernhard,
      I know many people, including my friends, like to bring their own wines to the restaurant, especially in Taipei. I understand the benefits. I just don't like to do it but I don't expect people to necessarily agree with me. Angelo charges a very low corkage fee, too low in my opinion. One of the problems with the western fine dining scene in Taipei is restaurants cannot make much profit from wine – people don't drink as much or they bring their own wines. In New York City alcohol can account for 30% of a restaurant's revenue. In Taipei, let's say at Angelo, I suspect it is less 10%. Western fine dining restaurants in Taipei also don't turn tables, therefore, profits are much harder to come by. My wish is to see good restaurants thrive in Taipei. Hence, I want to encourage people to simply order wines in the restaurant, especially at a place like Angelo where there is a good sommelier and cellar.

  2. Angelo's restaurant is terrific--one of the best I've encountered, anywhere. Thank you Michael for championing it, and for taking the time to comment thoughtfully on many aspects of life here in Taipei.