Girasole: By Danny B.

Classic Italian - but with a veggie accent

Many readers will know Stefano’s well established La Gondola, at the River Ping Condo, with its attractive setting; live music evenings (including the owner and, on occasion, a guitar duo). It has a deserved reputation for decent Italian food, a pleasant ambience and efficient service.

Two or three months ago they opened an offshoot in the center of the old city, at Kad Kiang Vieng, which is a shopping complex a little way down the Walking Street, on the left heading away from Thapae Gate and just after the Yamaha showrooms. There on the corner you will find the brightly lit Girasole restaurant.
There was a suggestion that this would be a vegetarian version of La Gondola but this is not strictly accurate. What they offer is an adapted version of the original, with an added pizzeria, to include veggie versions of many dishes, alongside a short vegetarian menu. Meat and fish eaters certainly need not go hungry, but it offers a degree of flexibility that many people will welcome. No more frantic searching of the menu if you’re a veggie and no more pained expressions from the carnivores when they – all too occasionally- agree to enter a strictly vegetarian eatery.
There are plenty of Italian places in Chiang Mai, alongside the ubiquitous pizza chains. So does the Girasole offer anything original? Well apart from those aspects outlined above and the useful location (which is minutes from the AUA and therefore useful for a pre or post Thai lesson or concert meal) the answer is probably not. But then when did you last enter an ‘original’ Italian restaurant outside of New York, London or Italy itself?
No doubt most customers will originate from the many guest houses and hotels in the area, but Chiang Mai residents who visit the local bookshops and the walking street and surrounds will find it useful, especially if they have visiting friends who want a change from Thai food.
The restaurant divides into three sections. The small main area, which is cool and has a Mediterranean feel via its colors, photographs, tiled flooring and close seating, is supplemented by an outside area, housing the pizza oven and a courtyard area to the rear comprising of about 60 covers in all.
Unlike its spacious big brother on the river it is not designed for leisurely eating. The setting and atmosphere are city-functional rather than lazily romantic, but you don’t feel rushed or deafened by noise, despite diners scraping their steel chairs on the tiled floors.
Importantly, what of the menu? Since they are open from 11am until 11pm and no doubt expect causal visitors, alongside those looking for a full scale meal, there are drinks in abundance from bottled soft drinks to fresh juices and punches and coffees. Alcohol ranges from beers (Singha is 60 baht) to a variety of cocktails (100-150 baht) and house wine at 90 baht a glass, with the white a better bet than the red. By the bottle it rises to 3,500 baht, although Pinot Grigio is 950 and Barbera d’Asti is 1400. My feeling is that water, a beer or a glass of wine might be the better option.
The starters include various breads, soups, eggplant with cheese and the delicious Crochette di Patate (100 baht), which my sturdy photographer and I shared. The main course section boasts an abundance of pizzas and nearly as many pasta options, plus various risottos (all within the 150-200 baht range). The meat and fish dishes climb to a modest 250 baht and come garnished.
Ice cream lovers are in for a treat with eight single scoop choices, plus a range of fancier options. Just add the usual suspects, tiramisu, chocolate mousse and the rest and you are ready for that espresso.
We arrived at about 8:30pm on a mid week evening and found it pleasantly busy but not frantic. My companion opted for the Four Seasons pizza, which came with plenty of toppings on a crispy base. I went for the Risotto Fromaggio, which he declared un-photogenic because of its bland whiteness. Like many things in Thailand looks were deceptive (and deceiving?) and it lived up to my hopes being dense and creamy with excellent cheese. I followed with a refreshing scoop of lemon ice (30 baht) and our bill came in at 750 baht including service, with two beers and a glass each of the house wines for yours truly.
In my opinion Girasole lives up to its own and our expectations and whilst I would not declare it to be the restaurant that Chiang Mai is waiting for I would certainly regard it as a sensibly priced addition to the Italian repertoire. The staff- with at least one seconded from La Gondola – were polite and smiling. So no surprises there either.
Girasole is located in the new Kad Klang Vieng plaza on Ratchadamnoen and Ratchaphakinai. Tel: 053-276-388.


Gai Pa Lo - Thai Five-Spice Chicken Soup

Five Spice is not really Thai, but is Chinese and can be found at most Chinese supermarkets. This is basically a chicken and tofu soup, with the addition of the Five Spice in the chicken marinade. It appears to have a number of ingredients, but it is simple to make.

Cooking Method
In a bowl, combine chicken, coriander root, garlic, pepper, five-spice powder and soy sauce. Mix well and let marinate for 15 minutes.
Cut the tofu tube in half lengthways and then cut into one inch pieces.
Now heat the oil and sauté the marinated chicken until cooked and fragrant.
Bring the water to a boil in a pot. Stir in chicken, tofu, bamboo shoots, fish sauce and sugar. Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes or until the eggs absorb some of the liquid (the eggs will turn brown). Remove from heat and serve hot with cooked rice.

Ingredients                    Serves 6
Chicken (minced)                       2 cups
Coriander root minced                1 tspn
(Rak Pug Chee)
Garlic (minced)                       1 tbspn
Five-spice powder                     1 tspn
Ground white pepper                 1 tspn
Dark soy sauce                      1 tbspn
Yellow tofu                              1 tube
Cooking oil                          2 tbspns
Water                                    2 cups
Hard-boiled eggs, shelled                3
Bamboo shoots (sliced)             1 cup
Fish sauce                          5 tbspns
Sugar                                    ˝ cup