Great Expectations

My epitaphs to the chef

By Brian Baxter

There’s a nice cartoon in a June issue of the New Yorker, which shows a teenager seated at home, wearing a baseball cap. His father approaches him saying, ‘Bad news, Sam, we’re going haute and you have to take off your cap’.

La Terrasse on Loi Kroh.

Like it or not eating out can be a serious, even a demanding, business and I guess that why the Editor of the Mail suggested a while ago that we change the title of this column from Dining to Eating Out. It was partly because less people can afford to ‘dine’ out regularly in the present economic climate and also it allows contributors flexibility, suggesting breakfast or lunch venues or even wine or coffee bars which offer food. We need not concentrate on the haute elements only.

A propos of that I was saddened to see details of the current competition for best restaurant in Thailand which offered choices in Chiang Mai for which people could vote. Readers of a glossy but far from stupid magazine were given just three options – all of them expensive, French and, admittedly, top class venues. Definitely no Thai food or caps and when dressing up don’t forget the wallet and credit cards.

Such places seldom appeal to me if only because I find their menus unappealing, let alone the prices and the plus plus element. One of the three listed boasts a set menu, which features ‘pan fried foie gras, lobster bisque and veal tenderloin. Pity the more creatures that satisfy such appetites and the tortures they undergo during the process.

This explains why I never go to restaurants for review alone or only once, since one needs opinions of dishes not selected. We eat not just with our eyes and taste buds but with our minds and senses. A recent article – also in the redoubtable New Yorker – about the food chain in the U.S.A. made for the most horrifying reading in many a month. It made me happy never to have eaten the produce offered in the famous chains specializing in hamburgers, chicken and other ‘delicacies’.

It was circumstances such as that which took me to a recommended venue a few days ago. I went with a farang and a Thai who had enjoyed the Chinese food before and my Thai companion. I am not a fan of the various Chinese cuisines but went with some expectations, if not great ones. I have to say that my three fellow eaters enjoyed this Hong Kong based food and I found it inedible, oily and unattractive in every sense.

I made do with some rice, part of two dishes and a welcome Singha beer. A soup that was widely praised had a slimy texture and more than a hint of MSG and in no way could compare with the fresh tasting and deeply textured young coconut soup with prawns that I had enjoyed the night before at Krit’s Nimman Kitchen. Not just a matter of ‘taste’ but also of the style of the place, which was completely devoid of any atmosphere or charm in the service or even comfort with its harsh wooden floor and bleak walls. Eating out has also to be about ambiance, service and value not just shoving produce into one’s mouth.

Still I went along in hope and at least I tried the eatery as I have done with unappealing venues, offering Mexican ‘food’ and others I dislike. From them I have come away reminded of another cartoon which had a diner seated at a table and saying ‘My epitaphs to the chef’.

And finally there are other reasons apart from the food or style of a venue that put me off. Last week the Mail featured a review of an Italian restaurant which I had reviewed a long while ago and also praised. Not the best ‘Italian’ in town but good food, a pleasant décor and atmosphere and reasonable value. When there I mentioned to the owner that it was a pity the menu was not also in Thai, since it was also frequented by their host country.

The reply was that they ‘did not feel it was necessary’.

I beg to differ on grounds of good manners and practicality and have not been back since. When I and a friend went recently to La Terrasse, a newish French ‘bistro’ off Loi Kroh Road (also reviewed by a colleague in this column a few weeks ago) we commented that the menu was only in French and English. That would be, the chef – patron explained, only a matter of time and within a week or two a proper translation would be offered. He even apologized that they might not be able to print a Thai version of the daily offerings or ‘specials’ but would be on hand to give help in such cases. This was a proprietor doing a proper job, not complacently accept the status quo. My epithets, not epitaphs, to the chef in such a case.


Indonesian Pineapple salad

This is a very interesting recipe originating in Indonesia where it is known as ‘lalab menas muda’. The sweetness of the lemon is offset by the sharpness of the chili paste and the chives. This is very suitable as a different appetizer, and goes particularly well with a late afternoon sundowners beer.

Ingredients        Serves 2-4
Pineapple, small unripe                 1
Salt                                        ˝ tspn
Brown sugar                          1 tspn
Lemon juice                         1 tbspn
Sweet soy sauce                 1 tbspn
Chili paste                             1 tspn
Red bell pepper (seeded)            ˝
Large lettuce leaves                  3-4

Chopped chives                 1 tbspn

Cooking method

Remove the outside of the pineapple and remove the core. Cut into bite-sized cubes. Sprinkle with salt and leave to drain in a colander for 15-20 minutes.

Make the dressing by mixing the brown sugar, lemon juice, soy sauce and chili paste.

Cut the bell pepper into long slices.

Place the lettuce leaves on the serving dish and place the pineapple cubes on them and pour the dressing over them. Finish with a garnish of chopped chives.