Chef Frederic Hung
Pork Roll with Fresh Bay Leaf
Italian journeys inspire Papa Mio
By Douglas Habecker
Translated by Angel P
24, CunZhong (TsuenJung) St, West District
Over its 14 years of existence, Papa Mio has been exceptional among Taichung's many Italian restaurants. On the surface, it's housed in a gracefully-aging villa whose quaint interior decor give it a relaxed European charm. The pastas, pizzas and other entrees have also been consistently pleasing to the palate and eyes, thanks to chefs' skills and a commitment to top-quality, often handmade or imported, ingredients. However, founder/owner Chef Justine Li (also of upscale Fleur de Sel French restaurant) goes one big step further, regularly visiting Italy with her staff for further culinary studies and explorations in search of new inspiration.
In October, Li and her Papa Mio chefs spent two weeks in Bologna, Milan and Sicily. "We learned new things, tried food at many restaurants....Every village and restaurant has its own style and flavors," said Li's protege, Papa Mio Head Chef Frederic Hung. The quiet, unassuming Hung has developed his broad skills almost completely under Li's tutelage, coming to Papa Mio a decade ago as an 18-year-old part-time staff member.
Diners can already enjoy the fruits of this latest Italian tour. There's the popular northern Italian appetizer "Wet Polenta" with Bacon, Mushroom and Sage (NT$300), a buttery, savory plate of polenta, filled in the middle with the above ingredients and sprinkled with Grana Pardano young Parmesan cheese. From the same region is the Tortellini Consomme (NT$480), featuring little handmade, chicken and veggie filled tortellini dumplings served in a broth that takes two days to prepare.
From further south down the Italian "boot" is Fenescecchie with Shrimps and Fresh Tomatoes (NT$380). The chewy, fragrant little fenescecchie pasta spirals are handmade daily with semolina flour and no eggs (southern Italian style). There's also a thick, nicely-chewy southern-style Margherita Pizza (NT$280 8-inch), made with a fragrant flour air-shipped from Naples. From Sicily are items like Pork Roll with Fresh Bay Leaf Sicilian Style (NT$580)--pork prepared with Montadella cheese and herbs, skewered with fresh bay leaves and onions, and savored with fresh honeydew melon and tomatoes on the side. One more truly unique addition is the Panzerotti (NT$230), a fried pastry stuffed with tomato sauce and cheese and sprinkled with icing sugar that is famed in Italy and parts of North America.
Between new dishes like those above, a long menu of old favorites and weekly/monthly specials, Papa Mio promises to stay ahead of the pack with its exceptional all-Italian fare.
Left: Fenescecchie with Shrimps and Fresh Tomatoes
Right: Northern Italian appetizer "Wet Polenta" with Bacon, Mushroom and Sage