If both Café Intermezzo (huge salads with a hefty chunk of delicious bread) AND Chez Panisse (the upstairs café casual and cozy for light dinners, salads, wine) had not BOTH temporarily closed down due to fire, I would be recommending them both- may these beloved Berkeley institutions return surely and swiftly!
However, even with such being the case, I would still highly recommend one of my personal favorites- the Cheese Board + the Cheese Board Pizzeria on Shattuck directly across from Ches Panisse.
The pizzeria used to run out of pizza and close early years ago, and you would be considered really fortunate if you were able to grab a slice before they ran out AND also catch the occasional lunch time live jazz performance- but now they have extended their hours to dinner, bake more pizza, and have live performances for lunch and dinner both everyday (closed Monday+Sunday). Wow- so now everyone can partake in the beloved Cheese Board pizza experience almost everyday!
It may not be a mind blowing piece of pizza, but it will be good whatever is the slice of the day, and you will definitely have a great time- grab a slice, grab a limited table, listen to the live jazz band, then wander through the Berkeley campus’ eucalyptus grove path on your way back to Zellerbach to see the show, then post-show go to Yogurt Park. That would be my idea for a casual cool evening’s night out.
Ahhh… the food memories. You’ll surely have good food, great fun, and a fantastic time!
Wow chrisdds- you sure seem to know your Indian, and can cook it to boot! Very impressive.
Yes, agreed with you and klyeoh both that many Thais do not seem to have much affinity for Indian food. With that said however, I have converted some Thais to Indian food successfully though with Gaggan. If you're interested, the link at the bottom is to a review.
Chrisdds, I do know what you mean about hotel restaurants in general.
That being said though, it’s interesting that you bring up D’Sens, because for me, if there has been one place that has totally fallen through the cracks- that is it. Despite it’s pedigree, the times when there has been occasion to consider it, we’ve actually gone somewhere else, such as the more “established” Le Normandie, or the more “adventurous” Cy’an (years ago), etc.
I’ve just looked at the menus on the web and the lunch menu looks to be more daring than the dinner one. I don’t know which would be better for testing the restaurant’s reputation- the more traditional or the more unusual menu. I would gravitate towards the more unusual items, just to see what they come up with, but at the same time it’s also riskier and could also come out terribly. I assume perhaps that’s what happened with your lunch?
Philippe I think I can confidently say is a safe bet, it’s been around for years and is well loved with many regulars. It may look a bit formal but is quite comfortable and the food is really just well-cooked classic French country fare, think boeuf bourguignon, duck confit, etc, etc- just wonderful, satisfying, comforting.
And on that note- I like the way you think when it comes to getting your Thai food fix. But there is a delivery service nowadays that delivers from all the major famous mom and pops shops and carts from all over town. I tried to call 1133 directory service to get the number but couldn’t get the name right- “zaap” something? or “toh zaap”? If anyone knows the number for this thai food delivery service it would be great if you could report back!
(Btw- just a side note on Spasso, in case you do decide to go- perhaps you or klyeoh are not aware, but the place did have a bit of an image problem (at least from what I know from a few years ago)- it was attracting the kind of people at the bar who didn’t care about the food or the drink- becoming somewhat of a “meat market” if you will. Hopefully they have solved the problem and can go back to focusing on the food, because I did used to enjoy it when we used to go, but this was literally almost 15 years ago! How it is lately, though, I really don’t know.)
(Off to have dinner at Bharani now (in the original Sukhumvit 31 subsoi location)- haven't been in a very very very long time. Will see how it goes.)
All this talk of Angellini, and guess what, they got a new chef
"Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok’s Italian restaurant – Angelini, has acquired a new chef, Omar Ugoletti, whose recipes are famous for being healthy, hearty and having a creative touch to traditional Italian cuisine."
"Chef Omar focuses on the use of vegetables of Royal Project to present each dish like an art piece. Braised beef
"Chef Omar’s culinary skills definitely set his Italian cuisine apart from what we’ve tried."
I'm not familiar with the magazine, but they essentially got me with "healthy, hearty and having a creative touch to traditional Italian cuisine"; "beef cheek" presented "as a garden"; and food that's set "apart from what we've tried". Wow that seems to absolutely tick every box for me, especially in light of what we've been talking about;
For me, I generally like my food either traditional, like I would find in the originating part of the world (like for Italian, food that reminds me of the little kitchens I visited in the nooks and crannies of Italy) or else interesting and innovative but yet with a firm foundation in or understanding of its origins (ie new takes on familiar things or creative dishes that retain references to the original either literally or in spirit).
I think the new Angellini is incentive for me to trek out to the river (and it's been over a decade anyways since I tried it on an annual visit back to Bkk).
Likewise chrisdds, diVino sounds interesting and just what I need on the rustic/traditional front (agreed with you that Bkk really needs more casual, comfortable, heartier options here. For solid French bistro cooking I like Philippe, never had a bad meal, the lunches are well prepared and well priced (just around 450bt if I recall for 3 courses!), and last I was there chef Philippe was still making the rounds to check on diners. It is more casual for the lunch seating, but feels a bit more formal for dinner.)- I will give diVino a try- thanks for the tip!
Oh and to your comment about consistency- I agree with you completely- for me consistency is key to keeping me happy here in Bangkok, and quality control and staffing to me are some of Thailand's biggest problems, not just in the restaurant industry but in the bigger picture as well. Some places I rate highly in Bkk might not necessarily be because the food is extremely outstanding, but often it is because I can trust that the meal will be served to a certain standard and not likely be bad or sometimes they just have some more unusual harder to find things that might be worth the risk (and it seems you probably use a similar metric), and if perhaps once in a while the food is not so great, I will understand that it was an unusual slip up and not its usual way of doing things.
Here's to revisiting some oldies and possibly trying some new goodies.
Interesting that you guys have revived this topic- I was just thinking about the state of Italian food in Bangkok. I think because there are so many good Italian restaurants run by Italian expats in Bkk, it gets hard to differentiate between them. For instance, I always get Paesano and Gianni both in Soi Tonson confused despite going to them for years. Gianni is more upscale, but I can never remember which is which. To me, despite both being decent, neither really stands out from the crowd, or from each other.
I was just thinking about my favorite Italian in the city, and I suppose right now I don’t really have one. I used to like Enoteca a lot back when it was still rustic and hadn’t hired it’s new chef and went modern and miniscule portioned- it just wasn’t what I personally wanted anymore.
Closest to a place I’d be happy to go to any time now would probably be Rossano on Asoke, which is still pretty rustic. It’s owned by the former owner of L’Opera. Although L’Opera was good, it was also hard to distinguish from all the other places.
I did see the raving reviews for Zanotti and Angellini. I suppose they must’ve gotten much better, as those two actually stand out in my mind because I had a couple negative experiences with both early on when they first opened and so I haven’t gone back since.
Zanotti served me raw meat and when it was sent back they returned it overcooked, the manager or owner (I don’t remember who) did comp the dish and gave our table extra desserts or something to that effect. And Angellini’s food was so over-salted when I went that I remember waking up in the middle of the night from extreme thirst. Granted both were pretty new then, so perhaps it’s time I give them another chance. I was however a fan of Zanotti’s Limoncello pizzeria, until about a year or two ago when their signature mascarpone parma ham pizza (which was the only thing I’d order) seemed to go down hill with runny/watery mascarpone, which made me stop going.
Ah then there’s Biscotti- yes an oldie but goodie- I’ve had some of the best meals in Bangkok there, but again that was early on, and I think they’re less memorable now, well at least I haven’t thought about them enough to want to go back in awhile.
I wish there was an Italian hole in the wall eatery somewhere- like Italian man comes to Bangkok and just wants to stick around so he opens up a small kitchen- hmm, that could be good- they don’t all have to be high-end.
When last in London one of the things we regretted most was not being able to catch the Borough market when it was open- the place holds unusual hours, so you should check their schedule, and note that of all days, they close on Sunday! We had planned to go market shopping on Sunday and ended up in Spitalfields/Brick Lane/Petticoat Lane instead- they’re great, but not food focused. So make sure you check the hours twice to avoid any disappointment.
I would also recommend Dinner by Heston Blumenthal- it’s a personal favorite, and conveniently located in the Mandarin Oriental close to Harrod’s, the V&A museum, etc, so you could make a whole day of museum going, shopping, and fine-dining.
For tea, I would recommend the Savoy which is lovely.
We also like wandering around Covent Garden to stop in at Neal’s Yard Dairy or have something healthy and homey at Food For Thought.
Sounds like you've got the makings of a great trip. Well, my 2 cents:
I've been pretty disappointed by the Bazaar. Admittedly, expectations were high due to the association with Ferran Adria etc, but the dishes felt gimmicky, “more show than substance”, and the best tasting dishes were actually the more traditionally prepared ones. I agree with other folks that to satisfy your curiosity it might be worth it just to visit to try some drinks and some of the “classic” molecular “tapas” like the spherical olives along with the liquid nitro cocktails, etc. But for me, after the initial wow factor dissipates, the food doesn’t really deliver.
Providence, I wouldn’t recommend- it has gone down hill- it was actually pretty terrible when we were last there- it lacked creativity to the extreme- things like using crème fraiche in two consecutive raw fish dishes with only minor differences, decorating a couple of dishes the same way by just sprinkling the same micro flowers on top of each or just sprinkling crisped rice on top to finish a couple of other dishes. It felt repetitive, boring, and lazy- like they just couldn’t think of anything else to do, and this was off of their own tasting menu.
Osteria Mozza is good and we always have an enjoyable time there- sitting at the ‘burrata bar’ (well we call it burrata bar, but it’s actually called the mozzarella bar) for us is casual, lively and fun, and good for just “dropping in”. I would avoid the Pizzeria.
Have not been to Son of a Gun yet, but do love the crispy “pig ear” at Animal (a lot!). Am also looking to try Red Medicine when back in town.
In the Laguna area I have had one of my best meals at Michael Mina’s Stonehill Tavern at the St. Regis (neighboring the Ritz). The food was well-prepared. (We had decided to do a Chateau D’Yquem pairing with everything that night from foie gras to short ribs to Kurobata pig cheeks to apple tart, which was amusing and amazing). However, I believe the head chef has since changed so it probably isn't the same. We also stopped by the Montage and took scotches out on the rocks overlooking the water (however, we weren’t impressed at all by the mcmansion feel of the hotel, but loved what we found outback along the water)- drinks atop the rocks with the waves crashing down below- this might suit the romantic part of your evening (although it’s somewhat of a climb (short but steep) and you’ll probably have to roll up your pants and take off your shoes- but hey, it’s the beach!).
Hope that helps some.
Ah, Good choice! And glad you enjoyed it.
I haven’t been to the Water Library...yet (there are just so many options in Bangkok). But thank you for the tip!
Yes, their marketing, however questionable, is apparently effective. I think a lot of it though, as you referred to, is piggy-backing off of Nahm and it’s reputation, and catering to Western tastes, and people just don’t know the difference. At the end of the day though, however they want to market themselves, it’s about the food you are tasting.
The question of is it real or not real Thai, it depends on who you ask and the level of familiarity they have with the food.
And the debate in Thailand about can foreigners cook real Thai food, well I think many Thais who have tried David’s food can attest to the fact that yes it is possible and he can; and conversely, just because one is Thai does not mean one can cook Thai food properly or necessarily even have a depth of knowledge about Thai food, especially historical Thai cuisine or regional specialties, as many friends of mine who were born in Thailand can attest to- they didn’t grow up eating “nam prik” or regional dishes at home because they were raised with a Central/Bangkok palate and/or generally more Thai-Chinese type cooking.
I came across an interview where the co-owners questioned their own backgrounds, admitting the fact that she and her partner both only ever learned to cook Thai food through a western perspective (unlike David who I believe learned directly from traditional Thai cooks, and to me, it's evident in the taste), and thus she was reluctant to open a Thai restaurant in Thailand. Then in another interview she sounds like trying to be the bearer of Thai history through its cuisine. It sounds disingenuous to me, but obviously good for marketing.
Claiming authenticity or even implying it, when really not authentic (and perhaps thinking they can get away with it because their target market probably wouldn't know the difference), just isn’t right in my book. They should just call themselves “Thai-inspired”, stop making references to historical things they don't really seem to know much about, and be done with it.
I agree with you completely about regional differences, and I try to be pretty conscious of that type of thing as well.
Personally, I think I know Central pretty well because I've lived there; Southern because we had a family cook from there; Thai Boran because my grandmother and great-grandmother would cook it (and I would be the "pu chuay" (helper)); Isaan because I had a friend from the East who would take me to places he liked and simultaneously tell me why the many places Bangkok people frequent for "som tam gai yarng" (Thai bbq chicken and papaya salad) are so "mai aroi" (not tasty) to him.
Yes I just heard about the lists. To be honest, I use the San Pellegrino lists as extremely loose guidelines. I don't really trust them "all that much" from my personal experience.
For example, I'm not a fan of the Momofuku empire- I've been to all of David Chang's eateries, but to me many of the dishes are nothing special if you are Asian because you've probably had them all the time growing up either at home or in some mom and pop shop for fractions of the price- such as his pork belly buns or noodles- they're good, but nothing incredible if you've grown up eating them your whole life. His "crack pie" to me wasn't all that. And his higher end fare with some pan-Asian touches, well it's good, but is it top-5-in-the-world (at the time I was there) good?
Another example- Per Se- Everything's so extremely intricate and labor intensive and beautifully, artfully presented, service wonderful (as it should be), the views and the fireplace (singular to Manhattan), but oddly, the last time we were there several of my seafood dishes were overly salted to the point where I considered sending them back (but there were so many other dishes there was no point in having a second). Things like that shouldn't happen in a place top-5-in-the-world worthy.
I'm also always a little suspicious as well about ethnic restaurants that make the list or get Michelin stars- for instance in my opinion Sra Bua is a terrible "Thai restaurant" if you only view it from that angle (actually as I was saying before, I don't even think of it as Thai), but does Kiin Kiin (the original sister restaurant) deserve a Michelin star? I can see why it was given- Sra Bua is probably one of the more exciting molecular places I have been to- the ethnic touch adds a lot. It's very creative (although not always to my tastes), so in my book Kiin Kiin/Sra Bua: bad "Thai restaurant", but deserving of a star for its creativity on the molecular side.
Actually I think I would have less of an issue with Bolan if it didn't promote itself as Thai Boran (ancient Thai) because that is highly specialized and frankly I think Nahm is the only place that reproduces it and its regional specialties with some accuracy. Even though David might slightly modernize the presentation of some things, from what I have had, it is pretty true to form (and my mom who grew up eating it agrees).
I don't really follow female chefs so I don't really know how the competition was. Perhaps Bolan is better now, I don't know. But I've never met a Thai who left with raving reviews.
Yes- I agree with you about the lack of flavor at Sra Bua- that was my major issue with Bolan as well. Real Thai food is generally pretty punchy- there's nothing shy about Thai "nam prik" (chili paste dips), "yum" (spicy Thai-style salads), or authentic Thai curries.
Because both these places either lack flavor (Bolan was bland), have imbalanced flavor (I found many Sra Bua dishes overwhelmingly sweet), or use a combination of flavors that don't really resemble any known Thai dishes; to me, they aren't really "Thai". Just using ingredients found in Thailand doesn't really make a dish Thai- it's the combination of ingredients, the right balance of flavors, the cooking techniques, etc.
These two places to me are not Thai (at least not from tasting the dishes I've had); "Thai-inspired" perhaps, but they do fall under a more general "Southeast Asia" umbrella. For instance, Vietnamese, Burmese, Cambodian, Laotian cooking also share a lot of common ingredients with Thailand such as lemongrass, galangal, chilies, etc. Even though they do not produce Thai dishes, they still produce Southeast Asian food.
You can read more on what I'm talking about here:
just select the links to Nahm, Bolan, Sra Bua, etc.
This post may be too late for you, but
I would definitely visit Nahm- very authentic, hard to find Thai dishes (but not for the faint of heart though, because a lot of the dishes are the real thing- not watered down for non-Thais).
On the other hand, tourists tend to want to try Bolan because it's been so hyped, but it really isn't Thai food. I think of it more as generic Southeast Asian trying to cater to the western fine dining crowd (despite how the restaurant markets itself). I've found it very bland (and extremely inauthentic)- so much so that I can't remember any specific dishes I've had there- they were all pretty unrecognizable and sort of all blended together.
Sra Bua is really more of a crazy molecular experience with a bit of a Southeast Asian flavor- it's also far far far from being Thai- but very interesting nonetheless- just be prepared for some dishes so strange they might not be to your liking.
If you'd like to read more on these, you can check out some reviews I've written about them:
Hope that helps.