Three discoveries for 2009/2552 : by Mark Whitman

To be depressingly honest, I have sensed a decline in the standard of many restaurants in Chiang Mai over the past 12 months or so. I have been to several well known farang places and found them so inadequate that it was impossible to justify a review.
And I don’t mean those ghastly tourist traps such as the ‘multi-national’ venue in Loh Kroh Road or those scruffier places in the Thapae Gate area, which live off fading reputations and even more faded décor as they continue to rip off passing trade. Nor even those farang restaurants which pile indifferent food on to plates in the hope that volume will compensate for indifferent quality. To me, that just means even more rubbish to leave on the plates.
Rico De Rica offers Japanese sashimi.

The policy of the Mail is to leave poor restaurants to stew in their own meager juices so I’ll move on and say that some restaurants have maintained standards (see next week) and at least three places which I have found this year (one I think opened very late in 2008) are really worth recommending again. Certainly it is has been a struggle this year and corners are being cut, staff being let go and not replaced, quality or ingredients suffering and owners finding that those who eat out are spending less. Let’s hope 2010 sees a return of some confidence and enthusiasm.
The three short reviews which follow can be supplemented by more detailed reviews from earlier in the year (dates are given in brackets). I have returned to them all since first writing and see no reason to change anything. The first listed gets my vote as ‘the best all round Thai restaurant in Chiang Mai’. A personal opinion, of course, and one that is open to your views. So please if you have other favourites drop a note to the Mail and let me know.
Sabeidee Santitham (30 June, 2009). This spacious and inexpensive Lanna style restaurant is a gem. Not only is it one of the most attractive places to eat in the city, but it offers pleasant service and a bar to sit at if you just fancy a drink but most importantly it provides freshly cooked Thai food at unbeatable prices. Not counting alcohol (which is also priced very fairly e.g. a large Singha beer is 75 baht) expect to pay up to 200 baht with a tip per head for a generous meal.
Sabeidee Santitham has delicious Thai food.

Obviously one can find cheaper food; however we are not talking about street corner eating but comfortable chairs and decent sized tables, excellent fish, tasty soups, delectable curries and spicy salads elegantly served by friendly waiters. A pity that the music can, on occasion, be a little loud and there are no puddings available, not even an ice cream or a banana –based sweet. Even so, for all round dining out pleasure 9.5 out of 10. Open daily at 65 Santitham Road, Chang Puak. Tel: 081 885 1329.
Gianni de Burchio (24 November, 2009). I first went here in late October having resisted it because of the location. On several visits with a variety of friends, both Thai and farang, resident and visitor, I have come to the conclusion that if you choose well this is as good as Italian food gets in Chiang Mai – in the medium price range. There are fancier venues (more expensive too) and one or two which have a reputation which I am not sure they deserve but this new(ish) is certainly equal to all its more established rivals.
They offer a buffet at 250 baht on Wednesdays and specials based around pasta at low prices, but if you check through the rather overlarge menu carefully you will find authentic Italian cuisine on offer. Many ingredients are sourced from that country and if you are looking for a treat, the ravioli with white or black truffles is one of the best single dishes I had last year (out of some 300 ‘dining out’ evening meals). Ditto for the tonno con fagioli and the ice cream (admittedly expensive at 70 baht) is surely the best in town. The house wine is super value and with that, expect to pay up from 400 baht a head. Open daily, including lunchtime at Somtech Gold Place, facing Somphet Market.Tel: 053 234 003.
Rico de Rica (15 December 2009). Any reader who remembers the very recent review of this excellent Japanese restaurant will recall that it offers a few Spanish tapas and other dishes to supplement its largely Japanese menu, which attracts a devoted following of nationals from that country thanks to the quality of the ingredients, the clean and elegant décor and the attentive staff.
This is not a large restaurant, with a few seats on the terrace facing the soi and a couple of tables inside plus a bar where one can eat or simply enjoy the superb range of whiskeys and other drinks.
There are well over 40 dishes on offer, including, of course, sushi and other familiar offerings. The beef is imported from France and there are a variety of meat choices but, unsurprisingly, it is the fish which is the ‘star’ attraction. They serve a choice of three beers and sake by the carafe (180 baht) or bottle. By chance I and some friends are already scheduled to visit Rico de Rica again before the end of the year. My taste buds are already tingling at the prospect. 5/3 Soi Five, off Nimmenhaeminda Road. Tel: 083 863 9964.
Since this is the last column for 2009 may I say happy eating in the coming year and as mentioned, next week’s column will offer a list of about ten restaurants which seem to provide consistently good food in a city which still offers excellent choice.


Prawn in Tomato

This is a typical stir-fry, and the secret is to cook everything quickly and lightly. Prawns in particular do not do well when overcooked. Be sure to mix the corn flour thoroughly so no lumps are left. Some chefs will add the tomato into the final stir-fry, but I believe it is better to leave out and arrange the fresh tomato around the prawns and sauce just before serving.

Ingredients                  serves 4
Shelled prawns                      300 gm
Tomatoes (quartered)               4 large
Ginger, finely chopped            1 tbspn
Tomato ketchup                   2 tbspns
Corn flour                              1 tbspn
Water                                   4 tbspns
Garlic, finely chopped               1 tspn
Shallot, finely chopped          2 tbspns
Rice wine or Sherry                1 tbspn
Chilli sauce                            1 tbspn
Sunflower oil                         4 tbspns

Cooking Method
In a bowl place the ketchup and corn flour, adding the water and stirring until smooth.
Heat the oil in the wok and when hot add the ginger, garlic and shallot and quickly stir-fry. After one minute add the prawns (de-shelled and head and tail removed) and continue quick stir-frying for another two minutes.
Reduce the heat and add the rice wine or sherry, the chilli sauce and the ketchup and corn flour mixture, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens.
Place on a large platter with the tomato quarters arranged around the outside. Serve with steamed rice.