Da Mattia: By Marco Fioravanti

Mama mia, this is great Italian!

“Flavorful authenticity at a reasonable price” is the best way to describe my impression of the recently-opened Italian restaurant, Da Mattia, located in Chang Klan Plaza (adjacent to the Shangri-la Hotel building site on Chang Klan Road about a kilometer south of the Night Bazaar).
This authenticity makes it a welcome addition to the dining scene in Chiang Mai, because so many of its competitors, both Italian and otherwise, have sadly succumbed to the customer-driven imperative of “taste modification” to suit the local palate. Given the need to pay the rent (and the salary of the expat owner), I hope Da Mattia sticks to its principles and preserves for connoisseurs the opportunity to savor Italian flavors almost as they can be enjoyed in Rome, where the chef originates and has worked for many years.

Another reason why preserving flavorful authenticity in Chiang Mai is such a challenge is because doing so requires that a significant proportion of the ingredients be imported, which usually results in higher prices than the cost-conscious local consumers wish to pay. Stefano, the chef at Da Mattia, says he’s pitching to the “mid to upper income market”, but he’s careful to provide a range of options from a price point of view, with entrees ranging from 120 baht for a tasty spaghetti carbonara to 250 baht for fish dishes. Pizzas, which are of medium size, range from 150 to 200 baht and can easily be shared by two people as a supplement to a nice appetizer or dessert. The wines are all Italian, which may frustrate some people who prefer a wider choice, but they help preserve the “authentically Italian” feel of the dining experience.
An example of what quickly made me feel that eating at Da Mattia would be “a cut above” in terms of the typical local dining experience was the fact that the service staff responded immediately to my request to turn down the volume of the background music so that my friend and I could talk; the chef himself asked us if we wanted the air-conditioning level adjusted; and the waitress approached us after we had placed our order to inquire if we wanted our pasta “al dente” or not. All of these gestures told me that the owner and staff were genuinely interested in our comfort and satisfaction.
A final hallmark of the restaurant was the chef’s creativity. In Italy, local trattorie offer creative seasonal specialties to entertain the palates of their regular customers. By chance, I ordered an appetizer which amply demonstrated the chef’s grasp of this concept. His sautéed potatoes with forest mushrooms took perfect advantage of Chiang Mai’s abundance of seasonal mushrooms to create a tasty treat (flavored with rosemary) that was warm, rich and not at all oily. Similarly, the pepperoni pizza had a melt-in-your-mouth consistency, which stemmed from the use of stewed tomatoes on a thin crust with cheese and sausage: very different from Neapolitan and Sicilian pizza, and ample proof of the chef’s skill and creativity. Buon Appetito!
Da Mattia restaurant is located in the Chang Klan Plaza, 191/10 Chang Klan Road. Indoor and outdoor seating is available. It is open Monday through Saturday with lunch served from 11:30am-2:30pm and dinner served from 5:30pm-10:00pm. For reservations: 053-274-062.

Coconut Prawns

BBQ’s are always very popular. People like to stand around the BBQ (men in particular) with a beer, and chat. This recipe allows plenty of chat time, and also uses a can of beer, so keep one aside for the beer batter. The only secret here is to select the best, plumpest prawns from your supplier or supermarket. Around 8-10 cm long after removing the head is a fair indication, and fresh is best with seafood.

Cooking Method
Remove head and de-shell prawns. Split prawns lengthwise down to tail with a sharp knife, but do not remove tail. Combine lime juice, salt, curry powder and ginger in a small bowl. Add prawns, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. To prepare coconut coating, lightly toast coconut on cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside. In another bowl, mix beer, flour, white pepper, sugar and paprika to make the batter.
Heat oil in heavy pan. Dip prawns in batter and fry until brown. Roll immediately in toasted coconut. Serve with dipping sauce of your choice.

Ingredients                                        Serves 6
Large prawns, de-veined, tails on               36
Lime juice                                               ¼ cup
Salt                                                        ½ tspn
Curry powder                                           1 tspn
Ginger                                                    ½ tspn
Grated coconut                                        2 cups
Beer                                                       330 mls
Flour                                                       3 cups
White pepper                                           ½ tspn
Sugar                                                     1 tbspn
Paprika                                                   2 tbspns
Oil                                                          2 cups