Osteria Wald:  By Brian Baxter

The ‘comfort zone’ takes on a new dimension

Last week I mentioned the ‘first thing’ I looked for in a restaurant - a sense of welcoming atmosphere and a use of space that immediately says ‘you will be comfortable here’. I don’t mean simply in the narrow sense of chairs and tables or temperature control and lighting but that feeling which resembles meeting someone for the first time and thinking that this person could be a friend - not just a passing acquaintance. All of which ramblings brings me to a new Italian restaurant in Chiang Mai. (No, I didn’t think the City needed a new Italian eatery either - but please read on).
The Osteria Wald has just that above quality. Enter its calm, unpretentious dining room (flanked by a little shop selling wines and goodies to the right) and you sense immediately an authenticity and ‘rightness’ about it, as though the surrounding new buildings, including the Twin Peaks Condo, were intruders on this small oasis.
Italians have a way of pushing themselves to the front, demanding attention. This Osteria seems to achieve it without any arm waving and shouting and emerges to the fore as well mannered, smart and friendly. It’s a grown up sort of place, for all sorts of grown ups.
And what - you are thinking - about the food? No good recommending anywhere if the food is not good or the prices are ludicrously high. Well the good news is that the food (much of it imported directly by the owners) is not good, it is excellent and that prices are - for now - more than reasonable given the style and location and certainly considering the generous portions. I hate to be pessimistic but I can foresee price rises once they are established and a high season (hopefully) arrives.
It is not a large space - perhaps 30 plus covers - and they have resisted the temptation to crowd tables together. Theses are covered by immaculate green checked cloths, the chairs are supportive, the cutlery, glass ware and generous salt and pepper mills and large holders for good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar are all attractive and functional. Plates of crisp breads are offered with chopped tomato side dishes soon after one is seated and other breads and mineral water follow swiftly.
On my most recent visit each of us was presented by a mini-bowl of delicious pasta (small shells, the name of which I forget) which had been poached al dente in vegetable stock and then tossed in garlic and olive oil. Now what is the Italian for amuses bouches? On the same occasion I decided not to have a starter but was tempted by a rocket salad listed as a special on one of the blackboards. When my companion’s starters arrived I was presented with a taster bowl of the salad with its wonderful green leaves, cherry tomatoes and a good dressing. This level of service, without sycophancy or ostentation should certainly ensure it a regular clientele. If you want a short hand version I’d put it up with Giorgio’s (different atmosphere) and la Gritta (different price range) as standards to judge it by.
The large menu is a little confusing at first with two sections for starters, one of their ‘own’ and a second devoted to classic dishes. The same goes for the ‘mains’, the fish and meat dishes. The pizzas and numerous pasta (around 130 - 240 baht) are spread through the centre pages. A friend pointed out the absence of soups, which was a useful observation since I don’t enjoy soup as part of a meal. An odd omission. But there seems little else missing, with its range of puddings, fine wines (including a wide selection for desserts), a well stocked bar and the best ice cream I’ve tasted in the city.
Of the starters I enjoyed their very fresh salad with tuna and on another occasion a Thai friend and I shared the abundant fish salad, with capers and a classic dressing. A small complaint on that occasion. We were presented with our main courses before we had eaten the first and although it was getting late (10ish). I think this was bad timing rather than a desire to hurry us along. Certainly I don’t enjoy ‘fast food’ in any shape or form. And whilst in a ‘critical’ vein I’d welcome a notch up from their perfectly drinkable house wine in terms of wine by the glass. Perhaps just one choice or a red and white from the wine list? Still they offer two choices and the slightly more expensive ones at 270 per half litre found no detractors. There are of course plenty of soft drinks and beers on offer.
The range of pastas is quite formidable. Fellow diners praised the Puttanesca, although one Thai thought it too salty because of the bacon. A question of palate rather than degree, perhaps? Certainly I enjoyed other variants, including one with a piquant sauce, another simply with chilies, garlic and oil and a third with very fine spaghetti in a light tomato sauce. Large servings in all cases. They serve pizzas and one friend chose one from the list and pronounced it fine. No surprise there. Another Thai friend found the pork with a rich tomato sauce and vegetables excellent. And it was good value at around 250 baht. There are steaks, fish stew and myriad other choices. And don’t forget to leave room for that ever so refreshing ice cream or sorbet - how about lemon grass and ginger or raspberry? Or the ubiquitous tiramisu which is served generously enough for two?
There are a number of specials on the menu and these are listed as taking 25 to 30 minutes from ordering time. So make up your mind quickly, place an order sit back with a starter and a glass of wine and enjoy the wait. On average you should pay around 300 - 400 baht for a starter, a main of pasta, and that ice cream, including house wine, water, a range of breads and service.
Osteria Wald can be located in the soi just before the Shangri-La Hotel at 187/10 Changklan Road. Tel 053 234 102 or 053 232 103. Open daily 11:30 - 14:30 and from 18:00 - 22:30. Closed Mondays.


Spicy Potato Wedges

Potato wedges are a very popular family dish. They are also good to serve with pre-dinner drinks, but this recipe adds just a little something more to the oven fried potato, with the addition of capsicum and lime.

Cooking Method
Preheat oven to 375, oven racks in the middle.
In a medium bowl toss the potato wedges with the olive oil, the finely chopped capsicum, a few big pinches of sea salt and a liberal sprinkling of black pepper. Arrange the potatoes cut side down on a baking sheet. Place in the oven for 30-35 minutes, tossing the potatoes with a metal spatula half way through.
While the potatoes are baking, squeeze the lime and set the juice aside.
When the potatoes are cooked through, remove them from the oven, taste, and adjust the seasoning. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Serve in a big shallow bowl, sprinkle the Parmesan and coriander over them and drizzle with the lime juice and present immediately to the guests.

Ingredients                Serves 4- 6
Small potatoes, cut into wedges 750 gm
Capsicum (bell pepper)   1 medium (red)
finely chopped
Extra virgin olive oil                  3 tbspns
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Lime                                                1
Parmesan cheese, grated      1/3rd cup
Coriander chopped as garnish