One of the best restaurants in ‘Little Italy’

Mark Whitman
A year or 18 months ago, I wrote about a then new Italian restaurant in Rachamankha Road and looking back on that review I see that whilst it was fairly complimentary, it suggested that the place was congenial and serviceable rather than a ‘must visit’ eatery.
This was obviously a pity since the area it is in, within a few hundred metres’ radius of Thapae Gate, fairly bursts with Italian places. These range from little back-street pizzeria to well established favourites such as Pulcinella and La Latterna and many others. Well, I’m happy to report that the previous restaurant has for a while been under new management and ownership and is renamed La Fontana. It has had something of a face lift – not just on the surface but importantly in terms of an expanded menu, which is both larger and better organized. Sebastiano, the new owner, keeps an eye on the running and takes the orders, which contributes to its success.
La Fontana is only a short distance from Thapae Gate and runs more or less parallel with Walking Street, but it is surprisingly calm, being situated on a one-way street boasting a nice leafy garden atmosphere. Tables are well spaced and can accommodate about forty customers should they be so lucky in such a low season. There is pleasant Italian music in the background and the service is both friendly and quick, though not rushed.
Although the menu holds few surprises, (sadly ‘fine’ dining with Italian food is reserved for only a couple of places in Chiang Mai and they are pricey), but its clarity and range is admirable. It divides –as memory serves – into the following: a range of salads, from the simple ‘green’, through fancier versions such as Caesar right up to the really excellent walnut and gorgonzola with baby tomatoes and grapes at the top of the range, (220 baht), then offers at least half dozen soups, some quite substantial, and a good choice of antipasti.
These include tasty potato and cheese croquettes and a rather solid variation on the ubiquitous eggplant Parmigianna, through to plates of meats and salamis. There are half a dozen risottos, of which the most expensive and very rich tasting is the one with Italian cheeses, (220 baht). As always there are vegetarian options with the pizzas and pastas.
No less than two pages of pizza are on offer, from the basic Margarita, (95 baht), through to much fancier meat and fish options. The pizzas come with a light base, midway between the doughy so-called Chicago variant, which I personally dislike and the thin crispy base which is the currently favoured style. They are generously sized with good toppings.
The pastas are too numerous to list; you name it and you can almost certainly have it with five variations in the actual pasta, some of them home made. Naturally, apart from this standard fare there are meant and fish dishes, the latter including salmon and trout.
The puddings include traditional ‘favourites’ such as tiramisu and decent ice cream. (40 baht), and the list of drinks is quite formidable, ranging through coffees, (espresso 40 baht), to fancy cocktails and a few good wines. The house wine is 110 baht by the glass and is also sold in carafes. On a very recent visit my companion and I took a half litre carafe and found that towards the end it was not nearly cold enough. If there are two or more of you a much better option would be to sport a couple of hundred baht extra for one of the excellent wine ‘promotions’ and make sure of an ice bucket.
Thanks to the ridiculous tax on wines this will cost around 700 baht. This is because wine is designated as a luxury and subject to a high rate of government tax. Since all alcohol is essentially a ‘luxury’ in that it is not a necessity, (well not quite!), linking it with, say, expensive perfumes is nonsense. Complaint over!
Anyway, in summary, La Fontana is a pleasant unpretentious restaurant and it deserves a visit since the menu as mentioned is cleverly arranged so that one can eat there casually and on a ‘budget’ or quite fancily if so minded. The word I would use first to describe it is ‘professional’. It can be relied on to deliver what the menu suggests, piping hot and fresh from the busy kitchen at the rear. Above all, the ambience makes for a pleasant dining out experience. Try it and see.
La Fontana is open from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. and is located at 39/7-8 Ratchamankha Road T.Pra Singh. Phone: 053 207 091.


Garlic Chicken Stir-fry

Garlic is one of the most adaptable ingredients in the home cook’s kitchen. This recipe calls for two cloves of garlic, but if you have some ‘garlicky’ guests you can add another two, but remember you also increase the spiciness of the dish. The real secret is in the preparation, and allowing yourself enough time for the chicken to stay in the marinade for a couple of hours before stir-frying.

Ingredients                         Serves 4
Chicken breast, boneless, skinless,
cut into strips                        500 gm
Garlic minced                       2 cloves
Soy sauce                               60 ml
Water                                      60 ml
Honey                                     60 ml
Vegetable oil                       2 tbspns
Cornstarch                            1 tbspn
Green onions chopped          4 tbspns

Cooking Method
Combine garlic, soy sauce, water, honey, 1 tablespoon oil, cornstarch and pepper. Stir chicken pieces into marinade and mix to coat. Place in Zip-lock bag and refrigerate at least two hours, turning over once or twice.
In the wok, heat remaining oil. Using slotted spoon, transfer chicken to wok and stir-fry for about five minutes. Add marinade that was left; continue to cook and stir for about 30 seconds until thickened. Place on serving dish. Garnish with green onion. Serve with snow peas, if desired.