Authentic after all these years
BY BILL RODRIGUEZ
|dining out |
(401) 272-1168 |
442 Smithfield Ave., Providence
1050 Willett Ave., East Providence
Open Mon-Thurs, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Fri, 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sat, 12-10:30 p.m.; Sun, 12-9:30 p.m.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk handicapped access
Isn't it a pleasure nowadays that you can get a Thai meal almost as readily as
a Chinese one? Between restaurants that offer dishes from the four usual Far
Eastern culinary suspects -- Chinese, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Thai -- and
those sticking to the latter, the day may arrive when nam pla (fish
sauce) is as familiar to Rhode Island taste buds as plum sauce. Siam Square is
doing its best to spread the word.
Southeast Asian countries draw from many of the same ingredients, using them
with different emphases. Vietnamese preparations, for example, try for
uncomplicated tastes. Thai cooks use coconut milk a lot, and the northern
provinces are big on curries. The Malay influence in the south combines both
into a ubiquitous coconut curry, and it adds a satay to most menus. So when
four of us ventured forth to the Siam Square in Providence -- the other is in
Riverside -- we knew we were in for some intriguing variety.
The place doesn't try to look exotic. Tables and chairs are blond oak, while
traditional carved decorations are few and simple. The walls are mostly
mirrored, rather than sporting travel posters. There's a full bar, but the wine
choices are all inexpensive table varieties, including a pleasantly floral Thai
Lotus white wine ($4.25/$14). Of more interest are the soft drinks -- from
ginger tea to sweetened ice tea and iced coffee. We discovered that the
restaurant's "Siam Snow White" ($1.95), blending pineapple juice and coconut
milk, is as refreshing as it sounds.
Another customer-oriented touch, besides the cheap wine, is that the whole
table doesn't have to decide on the same soup, available only in a big tureen.
Siam Square's five soups are each offered by the bowl. We ordered contrasting
styles, and all were quite generous with their ingredients. Silver soup ($2.95)
is a clear chicken broth containing three chicken meatballs, transparent rice
noodles, and mushrooms. The seafood version of tom kar ($3.25) was even
busier with tasty components: straw mushrooms as well as the field variety, and
plenty of scallops, shrimp, and squid, all in a chicken broth rendered velvety
with coconut milk, earthy with galanga root, and tangy with lime juice. (Make
sure you spoon out the tiny red circles of chili, or you may not survive your
coughing fit.) Spicy Siam Square dishes are rated at one to three chilies, so
you don't have to cope with cauterization after ordering something hot.
Sweet and sour is the default sauce on most of the appetizers, such as the two
we ordered. Crispy zesty shrimp ($5.25) are four flattened shrimp, wrapped in
egg roll skins and fried. Crushed peanuts and cucumber were added to the dip
for the tod mun pla ($5.50), small, fried patties of minced and curried
shrimp and fish, here with a less rubbery resistance than I've had elsewhere.
Some of the names of the dishes are pretty cute. We chose the Chicken Volcano
($9.95) because it sounded like it would go well with the pad Thai ($7.95) that
everyone wanted. The marinated and mildly hot chicken breast was moist and
sweet, herbed intriguingly, and perfectly compatible with the rice noodle dish,
which nicely absorbed its vinegary peanut sauce -- usually served on the side
-- while it was still hot.
Compatible in a different way were the tofu in ginger sauce ($8.25) and the
"Shrimp Delicacy" ($10.95). The sauces of both had an appealing smokiness, and
the shrimp dish trumped the one-chili rating of the other with a two. As for
ingredients, the former was heavy on onions and green peppers, while the latter
added snow peas, baby corn and chunks of pineapple.
Be sure to save room for dessert, because Siam Square offers several
interesting choices. As well as the traditional lychee nut in syrup, you can
get fried banana. Each is $2.50. We chose fried ice cream, which was a scoop of
vanilla, not rolled in corn flakes, as is more common, but wrapped in a tasty
batter and topped with strawberry sauce. Taking more getting used to was a
special of the evening: sweet sticky rice and taro, with glutinous rice noodles
covering the sweetened taro and black bean paste. Both were $3.95 each.
Siam Square has offered a popular introduction to Thai cuisine ever since it
was on Thayer Street years ago. Fortunately, they haven't popularized their way
out of authenticity.
Bill Rodriguez can be reached at email@example.com.
Issue Date: October 12 - 18, 2001