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Siam Square
Authentic after all these years

dining out
(401) 272-1168
442 Smithfield Ave., Providence
(401) 433-0123
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

Issue Date: October 12 - 18, 2001