Looking for the tasty Mediterranean food enjoyed by other reviewers we visited Arisai. Last orders are at nine, however they didn't turn away a late visitor who arrived around then.
This small restaurant is in an attractive old shophouse with the kitchen on one side, two tables squeezed on the other and three or four on the pavement in front. As another couple was sitting inside we sat down at one of the outdoor tables, but were asked to move inside by one of the waiters apparently to save the staff a short walk.
My partner was interested in trying the watercress gazpacho, and we asked (in Lao) whether it would be served cold or hot. The waiter told us we could have it how we liked it, and when we repeated the question went off to the kitchen, returning with a detailed procedure for making it, which seemed to imply it would be served cold.
As it was a cold evening we ordered pork pate (38,000 kip), provencal stew of wild boar (65,000 kip) and ailoi with steamed cod and vegetables (about 70,000 kip). Whilst the couple next to us were working their way through a shared dessert of ice-cream and some sponge which looked delicious, the waiter brought an amuse-bouche of an aubergine dip with toasted strips of baguette which was bland, being mostly aubergine puree, but quite tasty.
We shared the pork pate, a large, coarse but well-flavoured piece which came with a small side-salad without bread or toast. I assumed this was simply their presentation but luckily some of the toasted baguette was left from the amuse-bouche and after half-an-hour the waitress brought some baguette - no butter - so we were able to finish the last of the pate with some bread.
The small salad of various lettuce leaves was accompanied by three very salty black olives - rather like those crespa ones - accompanying the block of pate - unfortunately the garlic vinegraitte smelt of rotting vegetables, rather like a truffle, but less pleasant. Neither of us could identify the mystery ingredient, and as we were being serenaded by a noisy rat under the stairs we were distracted.
When my boar stew arrived, I was surprised at the small portion - either three or four 3/4-inch cubes of meat, six carrot batons, three or four chunks of potato, two or three half mushrooms and one olive in a thickish gravy. The meat was rather dry, tough and gristly in parts - evidence of its genuine source combined with poor technique and possibly too frequent reheating. The tomato-based sauce tasted over-reduced. The boiled vegetables thankfully were tasty.
My partner's steamed cod came with a good selection of boiled vegetables and a garlic mayonnaise, however the cod had been substituted with a piece of pla ning, a locally-farmed freshwater fish which in typical local style had been deep-fried to a very crispy dark reddish-brown all over, and was quite tough and dry.
As this was not what we had ordered, I objected. Three waiting staff crowded round all talking at the same time to assure us that since the salt cod had ran out they had served the same fish twice previously without complaint - more or less to say that the problem was ours not theirs. As this is a classic French dish I was unwilling to compromise and after a heated argument they took the 'cod' away and took it off the bill.
Shortly after that we left having had enough.
The bill came to 105,000 kip or around $13.50 for two dishes which I consider excessive for the quantity and quality of food we ate. The service was poor overall with little attention paid to what was going on, and a lack of understanding of their menu.
The staff appear to be out of their depth with the restaurant's ambitions and I would not recommend it except perhaps for simple dishes which don't require preparation or culinary technique.
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