BANGKOK — To ask for chili oil to go with pasta is an unforgivable sin. To drink wine in Thailand is usually to drink crap.
These are some of the tips on Italian dining from by Italian restaurant Enoteca’s Chef Stefano Borra, and owner and sommelier Nicola Bowazza, on the eve of another major culinary accolade for the 16-year-old restaurant.
“Sometimes, I prepared a dish of pasta. And people ask for extra chili oil to put on top, even without tasting it first. This makes me crazy,” Borra said. “When I go eat Thai food, even if I don’t like spicy, I don’t ask the chef to make it less spicy, because otherwise I’m not eating Thai food.”
Enoteca is the only Bangkok Italian restaurant to be awarded the 2020 Gambero Rosso award for having the best wines cellars, in a list released Oct. 26 that determined the best Italian restaurants outside of Italy – basically, Italy’s version of Michelin.
Borra, 45, has worked Enoteca’s kitchen for three years, and is known for creating modern-style Italian food, such as lasagna with fried noodle sheets, but in many ways he’s also a traditionalist as well. As an Italian chef in Thailand, he said he’s had some culinary culture clash moments that made him smack his head and purse his fingers.
“Italian food in Thailand is usually not very good. They call it Italian, but it’s not real, and the recipes aren’t Italian. I would rather –” here he slapped his own face hard – “than see pineapple pizza.”
Another time, he served his rocket salad (390 baht) and someone asked for sausages on top.
“You cannot serve hot sausage on top of rocket salad. It makes the rocket wilt and hot from the oil. Makes me mad,” he said.
That means, any restaurant with hot sausages on top of rocket leaves isn’t “authentic Italian,” and neither are ones that serve balsamic vinegar and olive oil with the bread basket. An authentic one may serve extra virgin olive oil, maybe even a couple varieties of it to compare, to eat with bread.
“Some people ask for balsamic vinegar. This kills the oil,” Borra said. “Real balsamic vinegar, aged 12 years, 30 years, is supposed to be used in other dishes.”
And an astonishing public service announcement to so-called lasagna lovers: eat the layers vertically, not horizontally.
“Some people ordered lasagna to share, and then cut the layers apart and eat it,” he said.
But one thing he’s seen improve over the years is Thais’ openness and willingness to try unfamiliar Italian recipes, or ones they wouldn’t order by default – risottos come to mind.
“I like to go to tables and ask people to try new recipes. Sometimes people don’t take suggestions and only order with the idea they came with, but it’s changing,” he said.
But if the single Borra is on a date with a Thai lady, what’s a culinary faux pas that makes him nope out of the date?
“If she orders overcooked fish, or well done tenderloin,” he said.
How to Not Drink Crap
Enoteca owner Nicola Bowazza can be found buzzing around tables on most nights, personally selecting and pouring wines for customers. Enoteca (“wine library”) solely stocks Italian wines. It’s largely due to Bowazza that Enoteca is the only restaurant in Thailand to get the 2020 Gambero Rosso award for their wine selection.
So what does this wine expert have to say about wine drinking in Thailand?
“In the Thai market, a lot of people drink crap, very low quality new world wines from Chile, Australia, this basic crap wine,” he said bluntly. “They sell for 100 to 150 baht a glass, or 600 to 700 baht a bottle, and they are just very bad. The average quality of Italian wine is very good.”
Of course, he favors Old World vino.
“Just spend a bit more, and drink much better. That extra price point will allow you to drink very well. Go for quality, don’t do Cheap Charlie,” he laughed, taking a jab at the dive bar.
What about the non-bourgeois of us who maybe can’t afford thousands-baht worth of wine – or perhaps even worse, can’t tell the g-darn difference between one?
“Wine is very personal. Before I recommend a wine I will ask what the person likes and dislikes. There’s not a completely wrong answer,” Bowazza said. “You can like dry, sweet, it’s fine.”
Practice takes perfect, even when it come to wine.
“The palate of a beginner and someone more advanced will be different, but it’s a question of practice. People in Asia at first may like full-bodied vanilla flavors, sugary chemical cellar wines due to the sweet palate, and Thais almost always choose red over white,” he said. “But with an open mind, everyone can evolve.”
Of the 400 wines on offer, Borazza picked up his favorite: a Roagna Barbera d’Alba 2013.
Founded in 2003, Enoteca is listed in the Michelin Guide Bangkok with a special Plate distinction and is one of the 44 Italian restaurants in Bangkok approved by the Italian government’s tourism branch.
Still, the price point makes the restaurant inaccessible to many.
Bowazza was shaving Alba-certified white truffles onto a plate of 590 baht meat ravioli, and each gram of white truffle costs 250 to 300 baht – a minimum of four grams needed for each shaving.. The restaurant’s a la carte dishes are also similarly high: 590 baht for a fettuccine with ricotta and black truffle and 1,400 baht for a suckling pig, for example.
Enoteca is open 6pm to 10:30pm every day. Located in Sukhumvit Soi 27, they’re reachable from BTS Asok or MRT Sukhumvit.
This article is unsponsored and is based on a hosted visit to Enoteca.