Road Trip to Ubon Ratchathani, Part 5 – Smile Restaurant

| July 21, 2010 | 9 Comments | 13,430 views

The Smile restaurant is the nicest most upscale restaurant in Ubon.

Inside you could easily be in one of the upscale eateries on Thonglo or Ekkamai.

There is a main dining room and bar with a small stage with live music at night. There is a cozy outdoor patio that is dark, private and romantic at night, and private rooms in a separate guest house.

There is a ton of glass and high ceilings that give the restaurant an open airy feeling and the tables are placed away from each other creating separation between you and other parties.

The Smile is restaurant design where the designer isn’t facing the constraints commonly present in an urban environment–high per sq. meter costs for floor space or working inside a pre-existing space which wasn’t designed for a restaurant.

The Smile menu is similar to the Bolan — Upscale Thai gourmet.

A lot of the standard Thai dishes are offered but prepared with first class ingredients, first class attention to detail and preparation, and sometimes with a twist.

An example is the exquisite fruit based som tam. One bite starts initiates a whole series of sensations in your mouth. First,  you taste the sweetness of the fruit, then there is a little sour taste, also from the fruit, and then finally the hot peppers set your mouth on fire. This dish is incredible because one bite stimulates so strongly so many different tastes buds.

At an Los Angeles restaurant this would be a signature dish that would get written up by all the food critics and draw foodies from miles around. Truly outstanding and exquisite but in The Thailand Foodie Scene nothing special or noteworthy.

This is a second tremendous Smile dish.

These ribs are par boiled then grilled.

No knives are offered as utensils because you don’t need them.

You separate meat from the bone with the traditional Thai spoon and fork.

The meat melts in your mouth with little chewing required and has a subtle smoky flavor and just the right texture.

In The World, there are a ton of upscale steak joints that offer great tasting roasted and grilled meat. They do it by working with excellent meat—from animals that are corn fed and pumped with hormones to get the proper marbling and which are meticulously aged under carefully controlled conditions. Any chef working with such meat can turn out a great dish. Its’ not rocket science and its’ expensive—around $80 to $100 USD and steakhouses in Los Angeles.

At the Smile, the chef creates a dish that is just as great tasting but does it, not by using premium ingredients which probably aren’t available in Ubon Ratchathani, but with technique and creativity.

Another outstanding dish that, again, if it were served in Los Angeles would get rave reviews from the local food critics and draw foodies from miles around.

Here are a few other items from the menu.

These are all traditional easily found Thai dishes but each one is prepared correctly and taste wonderful.

The Smile might be the best Thai restaurant I’ve encountered in Thailand.

It’s odd that it isn’t some high priced, hi soi, exclusive Bangkok eatery but is located down a small side street in middle of nowhere Ubon Ratchathani and that is surprisingly affordable by Thai standards and dirt cheap by World standards.

If this restaurant were located in Los Angeles or New York, dinner would cost over $100 USD per person, it would get rave reviews from the local food critics, and getting seated would  be difficult.

The Heart of Issan — a culinary nugget.

BigBabyKenny

Comments (9)

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  1. NY TIMES food critic says:

    Nothing says upscale more than Heineken adverts on the wall.

  2. MeMock says:

    Nothing says great food review with no address or phone number of the restaurant and no mention of prices (photo of bill is not readable) 😉

    I also have to question your description of the location. Small side street? Middle of nowhere? It is actually quite a main road is is almost next door to the main government compound of Ubon (which incidentally was torched by red shirt protesters a few months ago)

    Apart from that – it was a good read! 🙂

  3. tosh says:

    Haven’t checked back in a while, but I see the bullshit meter is still pinned deep in the red. High end steakhouses in NYC, and I’ve eaten at pretty much every one at least once, specifically advertise that the farms where they source their beef provide them with GRASS fed free range steers that have NOT been fed hormones. Some will offer corn fed beef, but it’s increasingly rare. Often it’s for US raised wagyu beef, which is fed a combination of corn, grasses, and wheat to increase marbling, NOT hormones.

    It’s extremely rare to see ‘meat-on’ ribs like the ones here. Places will often have lamb rib chops, where the round bit of meet on the rib is served, and they do the mostly because steak restaurants always need lamb stock for saucing and if you can make a few bucks off of the stock ingredients so much the better.

    Finally, I can’t say for sure, but those don’t even look like beef ribs to me, they look like pork ribs.

    Which isn’t to say this wasn’t good food, or that Thai food isn’t fantastic. It is, I love it and often the cheaper places do it better than anyone else. But claiming that some (likely pork) ribs grilled are somehow better than a steak at craftsteak or sparks, and that it’s EASY to cook in a place like those, well it just proves that (again) you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Why not just say, ‘This is great food and a great deal’ instead of all this bullshit about ‘The World’ and how it would attract the ‘foodies’ in ‘The World?’

  4. BBK says:

    Memock,

    I forgot to take a picture of the GPS.

    You’re right that it is right near the town center although you do have to turn off the main north south drag. Maybe because it was night time and we came from the other direction that it seemed like a small side street.

    The Smile is the only Ubon restaurant I’ve been able to locate that is as upscale.

    One thing I like about Ubon compared to Chiang Mai and Udonthani is that you don’t see that many farang and the social scene is almost exclusively Thai. Venues have the odd farang customers but none of the cater specifically to farang. It makes the whole city seem friendlier and more sanook.

    Next time I’m in Ubon I’ll stop by your restaurant and check it out.

    Any nice girls hang out there?

    BigBabyKenny

  5. MeMock says:

    Hi BBK,

    Coming from the other direction would definitely give that impression as the roads pieter out pretty quickly into small sois in that area.

    I am actually embarrassed to say I haven’t eaten there. We try a new restaurant at least once a week but for some reason we haven;t got here yet. Reading your review has got me excited again and we will be visiting in the next few days.

    Pretty girls in my shop? Well apart from my wife 😉 yes there are some classy cake and coffee customers that come in the afternoon regularly!

  6. BBK says:

    Tosh,

    Like yourself  I’ve made the rounds of many of the upscale restaurants in the cities where I’ve lived—except when I was in school and didn’t have the money and even then I explored as much as my budget allowed.

    And frankly, it gets boring after awhile. There’s not enough variation to stave off boredom. Even in Los Angeles there aren’t enough restaurants to keep you interested after awhile.

    Las Vegas has a decent selection of restaurants run by a coterie of big name chefs and in the past I’ve run through a lot of them.

    Las Vegas has a crapload of top of line steak and rib joints. You get a great steak there—a top quality piece of meat expertly cooked with all the trimmings.

    Frankly, I don’t care what the cow or pig was fed. What matters to me is the taste. If you can get the same marbling using corn and hormones that is what counts.

    But maybe its because I’m sort of burned out on the food scene in the US that running around rural Thailand is so much fun.

    A lot of these places have great chefs working at them. Sure they are not trained in a fancy or famous cooking schools, don’t have TV shows, own marquee restaurants, or have an impressive resume and nobody knows or ever will know their name but within their specialty they are the best in the world and the food the make is truly world class.

    And the dishes are crafted with ingredients not available in The World and, therefore, have tastes you don’t encounter outside of Thailand.

    The food tastes great but it is also something new and different to explore.

    I’ve seen guys who have been riding motorcycles at the track their whole lives and, at some point, they buy a new track bike not because it is the fastest or best handling but simply because they are bored riding Japanese 4 cylinders, even ones that are just a micron away from being the same as the professional team racers run. They love motorcycles and the track but after years of doing it they just want a new experience.

    And in Thailand,  instead of paying a ton of money and putting up with all the upscale bullshit that comes with big name restaurants in big cities, the food is super affordable, the service staff doesn’t cop an attitude, all the tipping bullshit is absent, you don’t have the hassle or need  to get a reservation, and if you wear quality fabrics, have a nice smile, speak a little Thai, and have a little game you can most certainly end up banging the super cute waitress!

    Although we almost never agree, I always enjoy your comments. Unlike the haters who are still here trying pushing their hate and contempt of everything and everyone who won’t kiss their ass, your comments are always informative, honest, and interesting to read.

    I always wondered about Wagyu beef which has been featured on many L.A. restaurant menus in the last few years. I thought it was sort of a generic off brand of Kobe beef. 555

    Anyway, I hope life is treating you well and you are having a party everyday.

    BigBabyKenny

  7. beefnoodle says:

    Heineken is a marketing giant; they can make people feel prestigious drinking imported, overpriced, watery and an all-together unremarkable beer.

    Being from the country that gave Heineken to the world, I’d give this restaurant a wide berth. The Heineken sign on the wall is a tell-tale sign of mediocre, or even bad taste, as can be seen in the food-presentation; I mean, cucumber and tomato slices, gasp & shudder.

  8. Dr Love says:

    Daffy is thinking of opening a Big Mango Burger bar in LA so if you are looking for a new place to try Kenny this could be it!

    Its either that or Kentucky Fried Duck. Like him the portions will be fat and greasy so it sounds a little unhealthy but the greaseballs would love it

  9. NY TIMES food critic says:

    The tomatoes aren’t ripe either.  Ummmmm, upscale.

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