‘Veggie’ lunch – Italian supper

David Bennett
Recently, we had to go and arrange our visas for a trip to Cambodia so thought it would be a good opportunity to make a visit to Aum bookshop and restaurant, right next-door to the Black Canyon coffee bar at Thaphae Gate. Aum’s has gradually morphed from a bookshop with a few tables for food and drink into a restaurant on the ground floor with a bookstore upstairs. Why is it that drinking and eating, coffee, juices and food and perusing books seem to go together so well? Could it be that they all involve sitting quietly and cogitating?
We entered the restaurant to the sound of the Mammas and Pappas. Looking around, we realized we had indeed gone back to the 1970s. The restaurant seats about 26 inside with a few seats outside facing Thaphae Road. There are free copies of the Bangkok Post and The Nation to read. No Chiang Mai Mail, though! The immediate feeling is that this is a place for a cheap, wholesome, leisurely lunch with maybe an hour or so left to sift through the bookshelves upstairs.
The menu lists most dishes between 40 and 50 baht with a full vegetarian breakfast including fresh coffee and fresh orange juice at 100 baht. The amazing and unique Indian salad is just 40 baht. Also listed are spring rolls, tofu and vegetable tempura, all of which we have tried in the past and found delicious.
From past experience we knew the specials on the blackboard were reliable, so I ordered a veggie burger and chips (fries) with cheese and mayonnaise and my companion ordered Khao Soi (spicy creamy curry with both soft and fried noodles). There were 4 staff rushing around and the service was ultra quick. I had barely a chance for a quick poke around upstairs before the food arrived; all at once and all hot. My companion reported that the Khao Soi made from tofu and mushrooms was delicious. The portion was very generous and served with a side dish of pickled cabbage and shallots. My burger comprised a hot toasted wholemeal sesame bun filled with lettuce, tomato, cheese, onion and a vegetarian patty. The chips were big, rough-cut homemade affairs. Decent china and good quality cutlery were the finishing touches (no melamine bowls and plastic spoons here). The food was excellent, not at all greasy or oily.
The lunch came to 130 baht for the two of us. Just time for a look round the book shop upstairs where there are some seats and small tables. Best of all, the books are very reasonably priced – a Richard Dawkins in good condition for 160 baht. Aum is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. All in all, a restaurant very well worth visiting, even if you’re not a ‘veggie!’
Pasta Café’s owner, Khun Boo trained at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok and then opened a small café (just 8 tables) along Nimmanahaeminda Road about four and a half years ago. She ran this first Pasta Café for about 8 months. The simple menu was based on salad starters, western style pasta and wine by the carafe. It was, obviously, a winning concept! The next step was the conversion of a house into today’s Pasta Café, with its international cuisine. Set in a garden with parking out front the restaurant has a modern, Italian feel. When it first opened, I thought that maybe its simple clean lines, uncluttered walls, subdued lighting and soft music would soon degenerate into noise and chaos. But no! Kuhn Boo and her business partner have retained their original concept. The staff are smart and well trained, the garden setting perfect for a quiet dinner and the inside area with air conditioning is there if you want it. They now have 25 tables with seating for about 80 people and a staff of 14.
Khun Boo recently showed me round the kitchen. When I was a student in the West I worked in many restaurant kitchens at the weekends to make enough money to see me through university. None of the kitchens I worked in came anywhere near the quality of the Pasta Café’s. It’s huge and spotless, with stainless steel everywhere, a huge overhead extractor system and clean and tidy storage. But, how about the food? Surely, with all this cleanliness and tidiness the food is going to be boring and predictable?
The menu is extensive starting with 15 appetizers and 8 salads. The Caesar salad (95 baht) is a popular dish. I can understand why! Good fresh cos lettuce, lots of quality parmesan cheese, huge portion. A lot of people order it as a main dish. My personal favorites are the warm, grilled vegetable salad (110 baht) with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and the rocket and feta salad (145 baht). Prawn cocktail salad is unusual in that it is served in a large bowl. The portions are as salads should be but rarely are – substantial. Someone once said that you can always judge a restaurant by its salads.
The pasta menu is huge with 10 vegetarian pasta dishes, 10 non-vegetarian pasta dishes and 15 seafood pasta dishes. Prices range from 95 up to 195 baht with Spaghetti Pomodoro Seafood at 245 baht. This last dish is superb, but all are good.
If you’re still hungry, 11 main courses and a small selection of Thai food are offered. I would especially recommend the pork chop at 195 baht; and also the most expensive dish on the menu, the fillet pepper steak at 400 baht. Okay, its 400 baht but this is KU tenderloin beef from San Kham Pen, comparable to Japanese Kobe beef. It’s the best (and most expensive) beef you’ll find in Thailand, aged for about 30 days, and is very tender and full of flavour. In conclusion, the food is some of the best quality, affordable, Western food you’ll find in Thailand.
The house wines, both red and white and served by carafe, are very good value for money. This is not a cheap restaurant by Chiang Mai standards, but considering the generous portions, the reasonably priced wine and the sheer quality of the food, it’s wonderful value for money. Pasta Café is on Nimmanhaeminda Road, Soi 5, Tel. 053 357 310.


Steamed ginger egg dessert

This is a very different dish, coming originally from Japan. It is a light and sweet dessert and the presentation of this is important, as it is with most Japanese dishes. The strawberry can be substituted with any fruit in season.

Cooking Method
In a bowl mix the finely grated ginger root, sugar, sake, two tablespoons warm water and corn flour. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
In another bowl beat the eggs and then whisk in the sweet ginger mixture and then divide into four small dessert dishes and cover each dish with aluminium foil.
Prepare the steamer with several liters of water and bring to the boil. Place the dessert dishes in the steamer and cover and cook for 10-12 minutes.
Remove from the steamer and remove the aluminium foil. Slice one strawberry for each dish and place on the top of the cooked egg mixture and add the mint leaves as garnish.
Serve lukewarm.

Ingredients                      Serves 4
Fresh eggs                                          6
Ginger root (grated)                   2 tbspns
Sugar                                      4 tbspns
Sake (or sherry)                        3 tbspns
Corn flour                                   1 tbspn
Sesame oil                                1 tbspn
Mint leaves                                        4
Strawberries                                      4