Mama Mia Its Italian in Ubon Ratchathani

It was a glorious spring day in Italy. I was driving down the mountain after spending two nights in the highlands. The top was down and the warm breeze was enhancing the sights of the countryside. It was noonish when I reached the flats and a small village lay before me. When you experience Italy it is mandatory to taste the local dishes. I spotted a small shop, parked the car and strolled inside, finding my way by following the aromas of lunch…

Ding, ding, ding, ding. What’s that noise? Ohhhhhhhhhh, the alarm clock. I am in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand. So much for my anticipated lunch at a small Italian restaurant in Italy.

The dream was interrupted but I found out I was in luck if I want to dine on an authentic Italian meal here in Ubon. Franco, an Italian expat here in Ubon, opened Spago Italian Pizza and Pasta Restaurant.

I drove up along  busy Chaeng Sanit Road to the north end across from Home Mart and made a u-turn to the to Chaeng Sanit Road south. The front of Spago was blocked by double parked cars of customers waiting for their take home orders. Luckily I was driving my motorcycle and was able to get prime parking on the sidewalk right in front.

Spago Pizza & Pasta Sign

Spago Pizza & Pasta Sign

The storefront being concealed by vehicles might be a common occurrance so it might be a good idea to look for the sign until you know the location by heart.

I walked in the front doors and was immediately greeted by Franco’s smile and his inevitable days-growth beard. Then my eyes were drawn to the genuine brick pizza oven. It is facing the storefront perhaps intentionally to draw the attention of passers by.

Spago Italian Restaurant Pizza Oven

Spago Italian Restaurant Pizza Oven

It was early and only a few customers were sitting around. They were all Thais waiting  for take home orders. The tables were all nicely spaced and covered with checkered table cloths. I could see a good mix of seating for groups of two to six.

Spago Table arrangements

Spago Table arrangements

The walls are adorned with several bigger than life post card like decorations. All are scenes from, where else, Italy. The color scheme is soft European style pastels. No bright, loud, psychodelic colors to be found here. I commented on how nice the place looked but Franco remarked, “It’s okay”, giving the impression his feeling is things can always be improved.

Spago Postcard Wall Adornments

Spago Postcard Wall Adornments

I took my seat at a table near the window. The dinner menu was politely offered by a new and a bit timid and shy waitress. I suspect that, not only is she new to the job but also new to serving foreigners. I have been in positions like that before and knew a bit of patience and understanding are called for. It is a new culture serving western style in a western restaurant.

Spago Thai Staff

Spago Thai Staff

What to order? The menu is 100% Italian. I read through the selections of antipasto, pizza and pasta before choosing lasagna and Spago pizza. After ordering dinner a drink menu appeared and this meal called for a small cold Heineken.

There is a wine list on the drinks menu but I have never been much of a wine drinker. Most of the wine I ever drank was in my partying days and no corkage was required as the bottles were opened by a few twists of the cap. I will have to leave it up to wine lovers to read and choose the wines.

Wine Rack at Spago

Wine Rack at Spago

The lasagna came centered in a square baking dish. It was bigger and taller than I expected. Its a good thing I was hungry. The waitress appeared again bearing extra cheese and a pepper grinder. She bravely but awkwardly began adding pepper but was saved and watched intently as she was getting some on the job training.  I am sure in no time at all she will be a pro at delivering fresh ground pepper.

Delicious Lasagna from Spago

Delicious Lasagna from Spago

I was startled when the pizza arrived. This being Thailand I was expecting a small personal size pizza. But the pizza sitting before me was much larger than I thought. After close inspection I realized the pizza crust was not much more than paper thin. Its purpose was to hold the ingredients and sauce. This pizza is about the flavor from the blend of herbs, spices and toppings and not on filling up on the crust.

Spago Pizza

Spago Pizza

It was a chore to get through the meal, though a very pleasant one. My palette and stomach were both totally satisfied but I was there and wanted to try the Tiramasu. If you order this desert expect to wait a few minutes while fresh ground cocoa is used to top the dish like a new fallen snow. I was pleased with the tiramsu and its freshness and subtle flavor.

Spago's Tiramasu

Spago's Tiramasu

Franco stopped by during a cooking break and asked about things.  He explained about the Tiramasu and brought out the special Italian cheese he uses that must be ordered from Bangkok. He also asked me if I had ever tried Crappo or Grappo, an Italian liquor. I had never even heard of it so I gave it a shot. When it arrived I downed the shot and noticed a familiar yet unique taste. Cheers.

In the course of enjoying a good meal, others came in to do the same. I found myself sitting in a truly international environment. This could have been in Europe, Australia, USA or even Italy. Along with the Thai staff of 5 or so, there were a couple of Thai customers, a Brit, a man from Ireland, another gent from Germany, the Italian chef and an American. It was interesting too because in my gene or DNA cocktail I have German, Irish and Native American blood. Is it possible Thais are somehow related to native Americans?

Unlike the dream, in reality one must pay for dining experiences. The cost is really quite reasonable given the quality of the food. I always expect to pay a bit more if needed ingredients are imported. Just part of the price we pay to live here in Thailand.

There is now Italian blood flowing through the heart of Ubon Ratchathani. I am glad Franco came out of retirement and decided to share his culinary skills, experience and talent with those of us who live and visit Ubon Ratchathani.

I highly recommend next time you are dining out, either for lunch or dinner to give Spago Italian Pizza and Pasta Restaurant in Ubon Ratchathani.

Comments

  1. Michael Hare says:

    Spago is the best. Franco and his lovely wife, Khun Chutima, are wonderful hosts. The food is superb.

    And being to get just a glass of wine instead of paying heaps for a whole bottle. Wonderful.

    I’m really spoiled having the place so close to my house. Now I can have Italian at Spago and Thai at Baan Klang Soi. No need to go anywhere else and definitely not to Sunee Tower.

    It is so wonderful to have Spago in Ubon. But Darwin, you will have to watch that waistline if you continue to breakfast out, lunch out, dinner out. One doesn’t lose weight at the Hash harriers.

  2. Michael,
    Thanks for the comment and concern. I will take both to heart.

  3. Another great read and another great place I long to try one day on my return. This is only 5 mins drive from our home so definately on my list. I promise to buy you a meal there Darwin when I get back to Ubon. My favourite food is Italian so can’t be bad!

    Jay

  4. Thanks Jay. You’re on.

  5. Delicious pizza..yummy yummy

  6. Thanks for introducing Spago , it sounds like somewhere I must try, Darwin. I’ll feel a little disloyal after patronising Risotto for so long, though.
    Re: Michael’s coment on Sunee Tower, though. Was taken for buffet lunch first day back in Ubon. It was OK, I’ve spent a lot more (a LOT more) on much worse food in other pretentious places (mostly NOT in Ubon).

  7. wow, i’m looking forward to trying out the pizza and a nice glass of wine! In the short time that I have been living in Ubon (since March) I have noticed a lot of new changes. It’s great to see the city changing yet still keeping its traditions!

  8. Yes its a great place for those two things. Many things changing here for sure while some things are resisting change. Sometimes it feels like the change is coming way too fast and nobody is really prepared for it. Though the city itself is the center of that change it is nice to know you can travel a few kilometers and slow down move back in time a bit.

  9. Glad you are interested in Spago. I think you can try a new as well as maintaining loyalty to the old. I have never had any encounters with mosquitoes at Sunee but I sit away from the water. The buffet is well worth the 99 baht they charge.

  10. Thanks for the fulsome review Darwin. I was a bit confused on directions as the only Home Mart I know is either on the SiSaket Road or on the Highway 231 ‘ring road’ to the West of Ubon (one of those locations is a Home Hub and one a Home Mart). What do expats call highway 231 by the way?

    I guess there must be another Home Mart – and have now spotted a Changsaenit Road as being the main road to Yasothon. Is that correct? Is Spago to the north or south of the ‘ring road’.

    Will pay a visit to Spagos tomorrow on one of my big shopping trips to ‘the big city’ now that I have found that my Thai wife actually likes Italian food (normally hard to tear her away from Isaan village food – somtam, bugs and all).

    I can thank the pizza place next to Robinsons (Pizza Perfect? Can’t remember name) for that. Actually for a chain I thought they did a good job of a pizza, but zero ambience.

    If I don’t get your response in time I guess I will just have to drop into N-Joy and ask the Australian fixture (name Louis?). Come to think of it maybe I will drop into N-Joy anyway!

    PS – I am the Brit who correctly guessed you were the WeloveUbon site owner when you first visited the Hash House Harriers (I see from the photos you did go back again in October). See you on Saturday November 7th if you can make that. Onon

  11. Steve,

    Thanks for the comment.

    Chaengsanit is south of the ring road, which is what most people I know call highway 231. North of 231 Chaengsanit turns into Highway 23.

    The pizza shop next to Robinson’s is called Pizza Company. It is owned by a former American citizen named William Heineke. He had the franchise for Pizza Hut then opened his own chain. So it is a typical franchise-ese shop. He actually opened the first Pizza Hut in Pattaya and went on from there.

    Enjoy at N-joy if you end up there, tell Louis I said hello.

    As of now I plan to join Hash next month so will see you there.

  12. SIMPLE WANDERFULL

  13. Hope you can make it to the Hash on Saturday. That fish restaurant is a favourite of mine if it’s the one I’m thinking of on the Ring Road (now I know what to call it thanks) between Home Hub and the Sisaket Road – and worth some recognition on your excellent site. My wife and I love to have a salt baked fish, Tom Yam, Somtam (me Tham Thai) Khao Niaow and a Chang there on the way back home from shopping in the ‘big city’. Always seems to come out around 250 bath – great value.

  14. PS – yes Spago certainly makes the grade as a top Pizza location in Thailand. Was worried my TW would not like it, as she prefers the modern style of thick pizza base so loved by Thais. Also a real pizza, and this was the real McCoy, takes some tome to gestate and be served and we all now how impatient Thais get when food is only in the offing, not in the mouth. Needn’t have worried, she loved the thin crispy base too – so now I won’t have to sneak back on my own.

    The antipasto and the bruscheta were also a joy, but I ate far too much – one pizza between two would have done us fine after tucking into the starters; theyare much bigger than I expected for 250 baht.

    Spago does have much better ambience than Pizza Company, though I would still be happy to eat their pizzas.

    Haven’t attacked Marco’s wine list yet – I’m still going back to the UK every 6 weeks so I like to look forward to tucking into wine (and real ale) when I get back. Next year trips back to Europe will be less frequent so that wine list is going to have to take some seeing to.

    Next – must give Pepper’s Bakery a try.

  15. That is Tamarind Tree restaurant. Been around Ubon a long time. Great food at a great price. I have spent many pleasant afternoons there during my stay in Ubon. It is definitely worth mentioning and one reason I don’t is that it is difficult to get to if you don’t have transportation.

    I still plan to participate in the Hash on Saturday. See you there.

  16. Maybe I went on a bad day, but I will have to disagree with the quality of the food at Spagos. First of all, i went on a Saturday afternoon. But they are closed in the afternoons, so we came back at 5 when they reopened. The place is very clean and well decorated. Too bad the food did not live up to the looks. My girlfriend ordered the seafood spaghetti. We came here because her favorite food is spaghetti. The shrimp were fantastic, but the rest was not to her liking. As for me, I ordered a calzone. It was supposed to have ham, pepperoni, sausage and spinach. When it arrived, it was full of brocholi. I thought I must have misread the menu. So I asked to see a menu again. Nope, I did not misread the menu. Turns out they were out of spinach and just decided to substitute brocholi for spinach. Too bad I absolutely hate brocholi. They should have asked me first. Needless to say, we will not be going back soon. My Thai girlfriend said as we left, can we please go back to the other place we usually go to. I was very excited to have an Italian place on my side of town, but I was very disappointed in the experience. I hope others have more luck.

    Tim

  17. Tim,

    Sorry to hear you had a bad experience there. Did you speak to Franco about your complaints? I know it is disappointing when expectations are not met. I have not heard any similar stories, which doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. You are right that you should have been informed before the order was cooked. I hope maybe will try again in the future with more satisfactory results.

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