Café Chili, G/F, Siam Paragon, Rama 1 Rd., Bangkok, Thailand
Opening Hours:daily 11am-10pm
Though the food from street vendors can’t be beat, during the rainy season there are times we’d rather enjoy the unofficial national dish, somtam, without the added smell of the damp, filthy ground. (Can you blame us?) Plus this is sale season. Famished from filling our shopping bags full of fab outfits, we often find ourselves in hiso malls searching for our favorite loso dishes. And we’re not alone in our tastes—there are stylishly modern eateries all over Bangkok serving a mixed bag of traditional fare with dern fusion dishes. Café Chili is one such venue, elegantly decorated in contemporary northeastern style with big kites, ya dong (traditional booze) jars, a somtam pushcart for authenticity’s sake and a lovely outdoor seating area in the middle of a “lagoon.” What really caught our eye on a recent visit was the scary lamps hanging above the tables, ornamented with big birds that look like black crows from a horror movie. Thankfully, our waitress drew our attention away from the low-flying birds with her warm welcome. She eagerly told us not only her personal recommendations but also the restaurant’s best-selling dishes. We started with traditional favorites—tom saep kradukon (spicy and sour Isaan-style soup with pork ribs), somtam plaa krob (spicy papaya salad topped with crispy salted fish and, of course, sticky rice. Of the three kinds on offer—standard white, bai toey (pandan leaves) and black—we opted for the more exotic pandan sticky rice, which was interesting enough, but a bit strange for our tastes. By street standards, the servings are small for what you’re paying, but overall the kitchen at Café Chili does a solid job. The somtam was as flavorful as what you’ll find outside, though the papaya was a bit hard—a little more “tam” (pounding) would have helped. The tom saep broth was nothing special, but the ribs were delicious and tender—we could have chewed the bones they were so good. We can’t recommend our lone fusion selection, dok care chob paeng thawt (deep-fried Sesbania flower). It’s a “special” dish—allow 15 minutes for preparation—but while it was expertly fried (crunchy and not at all greasy), the dok care were extremely bitter, and even the pungent minced shrimp sauce it was served with wasn’t enough to overcome the strong taste. Our final recommended item was a real winner. Kai neung Chiang Kan (steamed chicken with a local herb from Khon Kaen) was fabulous, like real Isaan home-cooking: tender, juicy and fragrant. We’ll never give up our beloved somtam served by our favorite street vendor. But once and a while it’s nice to eat inside, where the service is smart, the music is catchy and the air is cool, as it is at Café Chili. Corkage B500.