Chiang Mai Restaurants :  By Brian Baxter

A reader asks for ‘six of the best’

When the Mail’s editor forwarded a reader’s request for the a list of the six best eating places in the city my response was - inevitably - ‘not possible’. Partly because I am unfamiliar with so many of the hundreds of choices and also no parameters were given. Six Thai, six farang, six fusion, six luxury, six local…?
So instead a considered selection within broad groups and one over riding criteria. They are all restaurants in which I feel comfortable, whether I am with a group, with locals or with visitors or in a few cases alone. A word of warning if you don’t fancy paying fancy prices - by which I mean anything from 1,000 baht up (way up if you choose fine wines) - then skip the first group. The rest vary from the very cheap to the moderate. There are quite a few Thai recommendations but if you fancy an Italian for a change or other nationalities there are also several choices.
A quick trawl through the back issues of the Mail (www.chiangmai-mail.com) will supply most of the information needed. There are too many named to offer locations and phone numbers etc and many have their own web sites. A couple may not have been reviewed in these pages and certainly Chez Daniel and Osteria Wald - one established, the second new - will be featured in future weeks. Apologies to those omitted and to regular readers who will find old friends mentioned again. But the words “I’ve never had a bad experience or a poor meal there” means that one has found a mini treasure. Any other suggestions or criticisms? If so please write in.
The other criteria are the usual: value for money within its ‘style’, service, ambience and the quality of the food based on two or, preferably, more visits.
Luxury or up-market: These do not include the often fine restaurants at five star hotels, such as The Four Seasons and the Mandarin Oriental, which need little further recommendation. In this group the slightly odd one out is Mi Casa, only because it is less formal than its main competitors. A Spanish restaurant run by a lively husband and wife team, it offers top quality ingredients and an open air (covered) setting and is very popular with resident farangs. For international cuisine try The House, within its elegant building it offers impeccable service and a mildly ‘twee’ atmosphere, and some of the best food around- especially the tuna. Great for romantic evenings or special occasions.
For French food either Le Crystal or the more formal Le Coq d’Or will deliver the goods - at a price. The former has some tempting special events and promotions but as always the plus plus element in these fancier venues can hike up the price. And finally for some of the finest Japanese food then head for Miyuki at that oasis of calm in the Night Bazaar, the Royal Princess Hotel. Gracious service, excellent ingredients and a slightly formal atmosphere but not intimidating. If you are in a small group opt for one of the private rooms.
Thai: The potential list would fill the entire ‘paper but here are a few that come into the ‘middle’ area in terms of cost, with menus offered in English as well as Thai and with chefs willing to adapt the level of spiciness for those who want less heat.
The enormously popular Mo’C Mo’L next to the CMU attracts young Thais for its value, good food (they also serve limited European and Japanese dishes but I’ve never bothered), the music, delightful setting (opt for the lakeside setting) and energetic staff. There’s an even larger menu - a book too far? - at Café de Nimmen in the Rooms area and this is a great favourite with Thai friends who praise its authenticity and who enjoy its unpretentious style. Good value.
Almost immediately opposite you will find Maze 2, and not far away its bigger brother Maze1 (which I slightly prefer although to be honest the menu is the same). They open at 10:30 until late and are useful for breakfast too.
They have just the right blend of casual stylishness and good food to make for an above average evening out. However if you fancy somewhere a little more sedate then go to Daalaaba, which attracts customers from the American and British consulates and the odd celebrity. The food is readily adapted to suit gentler palates and the spacious building and fancy linen give it a more formal though not prissy atmosphere. Classic Thai food.
A Mixed Bag: A round up of a few mid priced alternatives. Price according to choice, appetite and alcohol consumed. Remember wine is over taxed in Thailand and many restaurants have high mark ups. The newly opened Osteria Wald (next to the Twin Peaks condo) must be the most authentic recreation of an Italian restaurant in the city. All it needs is to fine tune the service (friendly but still ‘learning’) and it will give the many Italian eateries here a run for their money. Georgio’s - not far away - offers a more bustling, ‘trat’ atmosphere and excellent food in often crowded surroundings. More fun, perhaps? Up to you.
Two contrasted French restaurants are worth a visit too. The long established Chez Daniel offers ‘home made’ ingredients and authentic Normandy fare, whilst the centrally located St. Germain des Pres features inexpensive flexible ‘menus’ within a bright brasserie style setting. There’s an attractive roof top bar there and this is a feature of the newly opened U Hotel which also has a ground level restaurant with a mixture of Thai, basic ‘European’ and other food, including several pastas. Golden rule (as always in Thailand) avoid the ‘fast’ food. And finally if it is ‘fusion’ food you want then make the short trek from town to the always reliable, The Green Mill. A short drive to Lanna Hospital soi for a comfortable setting offering top quality ingredients, a range of good wines and welcoming service.
Personal Favourites: If my partner and I want a special evening out then it will almost certainly be one of two places, with first choice going to Moxxies at D2 - casual enough to be ‘comfortable’, smart enough to be a treat. Fusion food (possibly the menu would benefit from a little update) and a few special events such as the forthcoming buffets on 29 and 30 of this month. The service is smart, the space attractive and the cocktails super. Prices? Well, let’s face it nothing is going to be cheap in ‘designer’ hotels. And the same goes for Chiang Mai’s most elegant boutique hotel, The Rachamankha with its wonderful courtyard restaurant, offering Thai and European ‘fusion’ food with Burmese elements. A quiet place (sometimes a small group of classical Thai musicians), with discreet service and fine wines, it is rather ‘special’.
And at the other end of the scale, if not one of those 20 or so listed above, it has to be either Nimmen Kitchen by Krit off the Huay Kaew Road or Ney Ney. Krit has not long been open and has already established a friendly presence in his new restaurant, which has recently opened a lunch bar with Thai salads and boasts a new roof over the verandah area. The specials board changes regularly and the food is always tasty and fresh and the welcome warm. And as for Ney Ney along the Super Highway… well readers may be tired of my extolling its very real virtues. Noisy, often crowded, with plentiful, tasty food and draft beer this is a smashing place to go out in a small - or large - party. For fun, lively service and value it has few equals.


Spicy Crab and Scallop Soup

This is a lovely soup to serve as a starter for any meal. It is an interesting and very easy to prepare soup with the ginger giving the spicy tang. It is not a quick soup, however, as it is necessary to let the soup stand to take on the subtle flavours. If you do not have a can of chicken soup, you can substitute 400 ml of chicken stock. If you wish, you can add other seafood items such as calamari to the broth.

Cooking Method
Place scallops and butter in a saucepan and gently sauté for 2 minutes. Remove scallops and set aside.
Place all remaining ingredients, other than crabs, in the pan and simmer covered for 10 minutes. Allow to stand for one hour, then remove the bay leaf, add the scallops and crabmeat and bring up to heat and then serve immediately.

Ingredients          Serves 2-4
Scallops (fresh shelled)          1 cup
Crabmeat (tinned)                  1 cup
Butter                                1 tbspn
Chicken soup                        1 can
Carrot sliced                               1
Celery sliced                       1 stalk
Onion sliced                               ˝
Bay leaf                                      1
Ginger finely chopped          1 tbspn
Lime juice from                     1 lime