Double Happiness : By Farrah Praisal

Surprising finds in a Chiang Mai strip mall

As you are all aware from my prior ramblings, I crave different cuisines on a daily basis. No matter how good something is I get sick of eating it very fast if I do it too often. This was never better demonstrated than when I managed a string of four star venues in San Francisco. Friends used to endlessly comment how wonderful it was that I could eat free in some of the cities best restaurants on a nightly basis. I got news for you….it ain’t necessarily so! I have always been a big sushi lover but after a year of managing the finest sushi bar in Northern California I never wanted to see another piece of raw fish again. It took a good year before I could enjoy my maki and nigiri again. This being the case I was thrilled to find two new offerings in the Mee Chok Plaza.
Food for me doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive to be good. I am a foodie as opposed to a food snob. I can enjoy a street corner hotdog one night and chateaubriand the next and be happy. Hence, I have for the past six years been on my personal quest for the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail in this case would be a good pizza.
A few months ago I was told of a pizzeria that seemed to fit the bill but sadly it was located somewhere in San Kampaeng smack dab in the middle of nowhere. The pizzeria was called Bonjorno and they surprisingly agreed to deliver to my home twice. Both times I enjoyed the pie but the wait time for delivery was understandably long. This being the case I was thrilled to find they had relocated to Mee Chok Plaza on the new Maejo road next to Rimping supermarket.
Pizzeria Bonjorno offers an impressive 20 varieties from the simple margarita (99 baht) to the hearty bonjorno topped with tuna, crab, broccoli, spinach, onions and garlic at a hefty 210 baht. My personal favorite is funghi at 159 baht topped with delicious fresh mushrooms. The crusts are excellent — slightly chewy, yet tender and yeasty, and for the most part crisp and snappy.
Small, personal pies are also available and are nice for mixing and matching. Pizzeria Bonjorno also offers a variety of entrees like pasta with meat sauce (150 baht) and lasagna (150 baht) as well as a number of nice salads ranging from 49 to 99 baht each. They do deliver and the number is 081-0589927. Their web site: http://bonjorno2 .zweipage.de/#top
Just two doors down from the pizzeria is another welcome addition to the neighborhood with Pho Saigon. This small Vietnamese owned restaurant serves traditional favorites like shrimp on a sugar cane stick at 50 baht and stewed beef over yellow noodles at just 35 baht. The Vietnamese crepes (45 baht) are a masterful blend of complementary textures. The tender pancakes, made with coconut milk and rice flour, are sautéed to form a crunchy edge, encasing velvety poached shrimp, vegetables and bits of pork.
I personally enjoy fresh spring rolls as opposed to fried. The traditional roll (40 baht) makes a light starter, as steamed rice sheets encase poached shrimp, lettuce, julienne cucumbers and basil. Crisp and full of herb flavor, the spring rolls are cut and arranged on their end so the greenery pokes out, like sushi. A peanut dipping sauce adds richness.
For those of you who enjoy the fried variety they are also on offer at 30 baht and they look lovely with each gossamer wrapper promising a wonderful crunch in each bite. Dishes here come alive with the flavors of our Southeast Asian neighbor, using lots of fresh cilantro, garlic and crispy bits of fried shallot. Also available are a wide selection of fresh fruit shakes, beer and soft drinks.
The kitchen has taken pains to focus the food, but someone needs to turn attention to the service. While English was not a problem at the pizzeria it is lacking at the Vietnamese restaurant. The restaurant also delivers.
With both these venues one needs to concentrate on eating rather than atmosphere. Both are simple, brightly lit shops that lack any sort of design style but the food is good and if you are looking for a quick bite or a light lunch or dinner either place fits the bill.
Both are located just behind the coffee bus opposite Rimping supermarket. Parking is plentiful but beware on Monday and Tuesday when the plaza has a night market that makes it nearly impossible to get in, much less find parking. Bon appetite!


Grilled marinated sea bass

Sea bass in the local markets is plentiful and great quality. You can even go to the boats yourself and choose your own, just caught that morning. This recipe is a fast way to prepare and cook thick fish fillets. You can serve this with noodles or steamed rice.

Cooking Method
Preheat oven; set to convection at 400°F.
Rub fish fillets with sesame seed oil and hot chilli oil. Mix together garlic, lemon rind, salt and white pepper and evenly divide among the filets. Allow to marinate for 30 minutes, best done in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Heat a skillet on the cook top over high heat, and heat the oil. When the skillet is hot, place fish in the skillet. Without turning or moving, cook until lightly brown or until grill marks are apparent, about 3 minutes. Remove fillets and continue cooking in the preheated convection oven set to 400ºF for about 6 to 8 minutes or until fish is opaque and flakes with a fork. Total cooking time for 3 cm fillets is around 10 minutes.

Ingredients     Serves       4
Sea bass fillets 500 gm (about 4 pieces)
Vegetable oil                          2 tbspns
Sesame seed oil                       1 tspn
Hot chilli oil                              ¼ tspn
Garlic finely minced                 2 cloves
Grated lemon rind                   1 tbspn
Salt                                      ½ tspn
White pepper                     1/8th tspn
Ground black pepper to taste