DINING OUT & KHUN OCHA'S COOKBOOK
 

De Naga Restaurant

Robert Law
Admittedly, restaurant reviews that appear in this section will almost always be positive. The reviews are written by people who tend to love to eat and enjoy living in Chiang Mai – with the intent of sharing a positive experience with other readers.
Writing some 1,000 words in praise of this restaurant will be difficult – as two words will suffice – absolutely fantastic. In both food quality and ‘value for cost,’ the menu gets the highest marks. Not only was the food great, but the dinner was enhanced by the setting and the whole general experience. De Naga describes its menu as ‘Mediterranean with Asian, Latin American, French and Italian influences.’ Definitely ‘fusion cuisine.’ Interesting a la carte choices range in price from 200 to 650 baht. Particularly creative in the starter category was the Asian Pear Tower – sliced Asian pear with caramelized walnuts and blue cheese dressing. Others in the group enjoyed starters of baked clams, grilled prawns and pan-seared foie gras.
In the soup category, I chose the wild mushroom cream soup – dark, thick and delicious with sautéed mushrooms and fresh cream – over the three other soup options. The salad category (5 choices from Caesar to seafood) and the pasta and rice section of the menu all promised to be delicious, although, on this occasion, I had to skip them.
There were some duplicated choices among the 14 diners in my group and the 8-option main course selections caused some duplications amongst the group’s 14 diners, however, most often duplicated was the comment, ‘this is delicious!’ Whether in reference to the glazed duck, the foie gras stuffed duck breast, the salmon, the roasted snow fish, the tiger prawns, the filet mignon, or the roasted veal loin, the comment was the same. The printed menu includes fancy terminology and mouth-watering descriptions of each selection – which I have eliminated in an attempt at brevity.
My personal choice was the roasted rack of lamb, which came in a pistachio-lemon crust and served with a small beef tenderloin encrusted with parmesan cheese, covered with a light mushroom sauce and set on a bed of caponata and gremolata. I include this exact description of my main course as it was the most expensive item on the menu at 650 baht, feeling that for some readers it would be a more valuable description than just ‘this was great!’
The occasion for the group’s visit was another of those frequent dinners held to celebrate a friend’s birthday. There are 14 or so in our core group, so we eat out often and always choose a different venue. Occasionally, such a large group overwhelms the kitchen and staff of the chosen restaurant – not so at De Naga. From the first order of drinks throughout the entire meal, the service was efficient and accurate. The impressive level of service and the training of the staff, and most importantly their knowledge about the menu, far exceeded what I have experienced at much more expensive venues.
There was obviously a short interlude between placing 14 orders and the arrival of the first meal, but once the entrees starting coming out of the kitchen, they arrived continuously, with no awkward delay between serving the first and the 14th entrée. When the meal ended, the staff and Khun Kobkiat, the F&B manager, received a well-deserved round of applause from the group.
Even with the most pleasant of experiences, there is room for improvement – and here begins my only ‘slight’ complaint – no accurate directions exist on how to get there. Like the alleged elephant who wandered through the hills of Doi Suthep prior to locating the perfect spot to build Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, the mythological ‘Naga’ must have slithered away from Thapae Gate, wandered until it could find a safe location – so hidden that no one could find it – and thus declared that this should be the location for building the incredibly beautiful De Naga Hotel and Restaurant.
Unless you are a tuk-tuk driver, you should allocate some research time prior to your dinner reservation. The web site www.denagahotel. com has a local map, but the map is oddly placed under the ‘contact us’ tab, whereas the ‘location’ tab would have been a more appropriate place! The ‘location’ tab itself only indicates that the hotel and restaurant are located in Thailand, outlined within the context of a map of Southeast Asia which is not going to help you get to your dinner reservation on time. Another tip: After printing out the map, be sure to jot down the phone number – 053-209-030 – you may well need to call the restaurant for updated directions. Despite the rather large, lit, red and yellow sign for the De Naga Hotel, placed on Moon Muang Road at Thapae Gate, finding the place requires a left turn into a very small soi at a very crowded location, almost completely obscured with motorbikes and people.
After navigating that left turn, an almost immediate right turn is required to enter the long and lovely driveway of the hotel/restaurant complex. Picture the winding, slithering Naga searching for a hidden, safe location! There is also a lovely sign at eye level indicating the hotel entrance, but again, the eyes of the driver are more likely to be focused on avoiding the pedestrians and motorbikes, thus missing the sign entirely. The long driveway leads to a serene environment reflecting the beauty of the Lanna culture. Parking is another surprise at the end of the driveway.
Don’t let the small inconvenience of finding the place dissuade you, as the payoff is well worth the time invested in the search. You will have an incredibly good meal in a fascinating setting. Spend some time wandering about the place – a real taste of Lanna and a masterpiece of architecture and landscaping. Plan to spend about 1000 baht per person, drinks/wine additional. Tip the well-trained staff generously – they deserve it!

 

Nam Gim Satay - (Thai Peanut Sauce)

Satays are an ever popular Thai dish, both chicken and pork seem to be equal favourites. The first secret with satays is not to overcook and remember to turn over and baste the satay with coconut milk during the grilling. The other secret is to prepare the authentic Thai style peanut sauce to go with them. There is much more to it than peanut butter. This week’s recipe will show you just how much different.

Cooking Method
Soak the dried chillies in warm water until soft then place in blender along with the galangal, coriander, lemon grass, garlic, onions and shrimp paste. Grind to make a paste.
In a medium saucepan, bring the coconut milk to a gentle boil over medium to low heat. Add paste and peanut butter and blend well.
Continue to cook while stirring constantly until a thin layer of oil appears on the surface. Add sugar and salt and stir until dissolved then remove from heat. Serve warm.
The sauce can be kept in the refrigerator and re-heated.

Ingredients
Medium seeded dried chillies       7
Minced galangal                          1 tspn
Coriander roots minced             2 tbspns
Ground coriander seeds               1 tspn
Lemon grass finely chopped        1 tbspn
Minced garlic                            2 tbspns
Red onions chopped                  4 tbspns
Shrimp paste                            1 tspn
Coconut milk medium consistency 6 cups
Creamy peanut butter               1/3rd cup
Sugar                                     ¼ cup
Salt                                        2 tspns