January 25, 2012

Donna Caffe

Address: Lane 170, Section 4, Zhōngxiào East Rd
Telephone: not provided
Hours: Mon 10am to 9pm, Tues - Fri 1pm to 11pm, Sat 10am to 12am, Sun 10am to 8pm
Price: $$

UPDATE: Donna Caffe is now closed. The Papa Gio next door bought them out and now Donna is an "overflow" restaurant. Such a shame!

Since it's Chinese New Year and a lot of places remain closed, I went to the Dunhua area (yes, again) to see what was open. Surprisingly, a familiar little cafe/bistro was open ... and packed with people. Donna Caffe is a cute European place right next to the German Town restaurant. There isn't always such a big crowd, but with only a few restaurants open during the holidays, there was a five minute wait for a table. Also, because I've reviewed this cafe before (see 'Ginjer'), I'll include pictures from both visits.
Donna Caffe has relatively simplistic and modern decor. A few paintings, an orange accent wall, and beautiful bouquets everywhere (there's even one in the restroom), make this cafe welcoming and tastefully decorated. I like Donna because it isn't gimmicky like some of the other cafes and restaurants in the area. German Town, for example, is a garish caricature of a "German" restaurant complete with cuckoo clocks, marionettes, nutcrackers, a gingerbread house, paintings of Neuschwanstein Castle, and probably the remains of the Kaiser. Donna isn't trying to sell the European atmosphere; they're just trying to sell good food.
 Bright and cheery, Donna is a good place to come for a cup of tea or coffee. Also, there's isn't a rule about outside food or drink. ... Or maybe there is and I just haven't been reprimanded yet?
 The menu is relatively light in comparison to other cafes in the area and offers sandwiches, "royal Austrian pancakes", "salty fried cakes", and desserts. Everything on the menu is reasonably priced for the area with the Buckwheat sandwich at $95 NT and the Bomb sandwich at $85 NT.
While the menu isn't really in English (there's no English explanation as to what a "Bomb" or a "Buckwheat" sandwich consists), there are some photos. Since there are only three or four different variations on an item (four types of sandwiches, three types of "salty fried cakes", seven types of Austrian pancakes), you can discern (to a certain extent), what you'll be ordering. On this occasion, I ordered lavender tea ($160 NT). And when reviewing the Ginjer cupcakes, I ordered rose tea ($160 NT).
Rose tea
Lavender tea
Firstly, the rose tea was one of the best I've ever had. The taste was light, delicate, (and dare I say?) flowery, and the rosebuds in the sachet were pretty to look at and smelled wonderfully. The lavender tea was a darker, more crisp tea with a mint aftertaste. It too, smelled powerfully of its namesake though a sachet full of lavender isn't as wonderful to behold as a sachet of roses ... just my opinion. For my meal, I chose the "Coffee Cream Brulee Royal Austrian Pancake" ($180 NT). To those of you who think I mean "creme brulee", I probably do, however that's not what the menu had printed.
While there are several variations to this dish (vanilla caramel, dark chocolate, seasonal fruits, assorted nuts) it isn't quite apparent to those either unfamiliar with Austrian pancakes or to those who cannot read Chinese what's really going on here. The title names of the dish (vanilla caramel, coffee cream brulee) refer to the thin, inner layer of the pancake (read: these are stuffed pancakes). On a plate with ice cream, some fruits, chocolate syrup, and a disconcertingly tasteless cube thing, the Austrian pancakes are actually quite delightful. Lightly dusted with powdered sugar, these pancakes are fluffy yet satisfying. At first I was a little concerned at the absence of butter or maple syrup, but quickly came to the conclusion that butter, syrup, and creme brulee filling would probably be overkill. 
The fruit portion was extremely sparse; there was only one not-really-ripe strawberry and a slice of cantaloupe. A little disappointment there. The scoop of chocolate ice cream that accompanied the pancakes was actually filled with pistachios! It was a good addition to the dish as it broke up the sweetness. Sweet, stuffed pancakes + chocolate syrup + ice cream = too much sweetness! When the ice cream melted, the pancake became this chocolate, creme brulee mash of deliciousness. The next item on the plate remains a mystery. As you can see in the photo above, the coffee colored cube looks innocuous enough. And it was. That's the weird part. It didn't really taste of anything, though perhaps there was a slight coffee flavor? Whatever it was, it was frozen prior to being served as it suffered from freezer burn. Also, it was gelatinous. Nothing wrong with that, but a tasteless, vaguely gelatinous, colorless cube concerns me. Not quite sure why.
As previously mentioned, there are bouquets of white lilies, carnations, roses, and azaleas throughout the cafe. It is especially pleasant when you walk around to the dessert case, the restroom, the wine cabinet and suddenly catch a whiff of a well-placed bouquet. 
The desserts are modestly priced. The passion fruit mousse, strawberry mousse, chocolate cake, Boston cream pie, tiramisu, and mango belige cake are all $80 NT, while the handmade cookies are around $25 or $55 NT. I can't review any of the desserts unfortunately, but since there's a dessert set menu, I may go back with this in mind. In addition, I've never had the wine, nor do I know how much it costs. Such a useless reviewer!

Donna Caffe has a wonderful staff, fluent in several languages. Pick one, four at most. And though there's a 10% service charge, somehow my bill doesn't add up. I ordered the coffee cream brulee pancake ($180 NT) and the lavender tea ($160 NT) which should come to $340 NT without the 10%. I was charged $290, then $29 was added for the service fee and I owed $319 NT. I'm not complaining but I am a little perplexed. Maybe the pancakes come with a pot of tea? 

Though Donna Caffe does not currently have a website, you can visit their Facebook page for better directions.

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