The night bazaar area of Chiang Mai can be packed this time of year, but harried shoppers can walk a couple of blocks down Chiang Klan Road and find relief. An awning and outdoor bistro tables give Ouh La La a noticeable presence on the street, but it still feels like stumbling upon a brasserie on a back street in Paris. French flourishes are everywhere, from framed images of Paris to glass windows etched with the Eiffel Tower to sleek deli cases filled with fresh baked goods.
The décor is lean but appealing. Ouh La La is the kind of place where everyone can feel comfortable – from young tourists or locals to the newly retired, from those decked out in summer's sleekest garb to others lounging in worn jeans and slip on shoes. The restaurant is operated by the amiable Marco who handles the kitchen and the efficient and pleasant Carole who rules the dining room. Most of the menu consists of standard French-inspired fare and though the cooking isn't flashy, the results are solid.
Several in my party began the night with the SHRIMP BISQUE and although I would have liked to taste a bit of sherry or white wine in the bowl I found it satisfying and at the surprisingly low price of 80 baht per bowl it's hard to complain. I also tried the GOOSE LIVER PATE (90 baht) which was delicious and was served along with warm, crusty baguettes and chilled, sweet butter. A friend thought the MELON AND SHRIMP SALAD (90 baht) was bland but when he asked for oil and vinegar the dish became quite palatable. The ESCARGOT IN PROFITEROLES (120 baht) was a favorite for me and was particularly delicious when paired with the bisque.
The stand out of the main courses was the COQ AU VIN (140 baht) which arrived gorgeous and aromatic. The chicken fell off the bone and the sauce was awash with mushrooms, wine and garlic. The DUCK CONFIT (180 baht) was also cooked to perfection in its own fat and slid easily off the bone. On the downside, a friend thought the TAGLETTELLE WITH SALMON (180 baht) was lackluster in flavor but couldn't deny that it was fresh.
The restaurant has a feeling of control about it. I think that feeling comes from the host that has the no-nonsense glare of a drill sergeant, with a trace of a smile lurking under the surface, waiting to emerge. She handles the front of the house practically by herself and does a better job than three people do at other places. In general the service is prompt and efficient-sometimes overly so, as when our Thai waitress hovered and then cleared plates as soon as one of us finished, even though the others were still eating. This has always been a pet peeve of mine but it seems to be common practice in the land of smiles.
You all should know by now that my favorite part of the meal is dessert and we tried a few. The CRÈME BRULEE (110 baht) had a nice texture but tasted overly eggy to me. The PROFITEROLES (90 baht) were delicious and chocolaty and tasted house made but the pedigree was sealed with the TARTE TATIN (90 baht). It's a textbook preparation, with a thin crust and thick wedges of apples glistening in dark caramel, just a shade shy of tasting scorched. I thought flavors could be smoothed out with a dollop of tangy crème fraiche on top, which would also act to keep things from becoming cloying but it was still heavenly.
I have always said "The plates have to be good, the welcome needs to be warm, the price decent, and the ambience and service need to be good" and they are heading in all the right directions. Ouh La La is just getting its footing, yet it is already making a statement in the neighborhood dining scene. It can only get better.