Siam

Special to The Idaho StatesmanMarch 17, 2006 

— There's nothing better on a frigid night than a steamy bowl of tom kah kai.

That's exactly why we drove to a mundane-looking strip mall in Meridian late one Saturday evening — to eat at the new Siam.

The flagship Siam, which recently celebrated six years in East Boise (also in a strip mall), has established a loyal clientele in the new millennium.

This may have something to do with the consistently good Thai cuisine and extremely friendly service at that location.

The sequel (Siam in a Strip Mall: Part Two) opened in December near the intersection of Overland and Eagle roads.

Siam's decor is utilitarian by design. A collection of Thai woodcarvings and pastel-colored paper umbrellas sparsely adorn the walls.

The menus at the two restaurants are nearly identical, save the small sushi selection at the Meridian location. But people don't seem real hip on Japanese food at a Thai restaurant. The sushi bar area currently is being used as a wait station.

Mostly what you will find at Siam is an assortment of dishes from the four culinary regions of Thailand, peppered with some Laotian specialties.

After being seated in a small booth, we prefaced our meal with mee krob ($7.50), an appetizer consisting of crunchy noodles tossed in a sweet and tangy sauce, topped with wok-seared tiger prawns, bean sprouts, scallion and julienne carrot.

The noodles were dry, though, and the plump shrimp (albeit abundant) did not receive a proper de-veining. There is nothing worse than getting that black string (and we all know what that is!) stuck in your teeth.

We soon switched into soup mode, our reason for coming here.

The tom kah kai ($5.25/bowl), one of the most popular soups in Thailand, was a comforting bowl of tender chicken, cilantro sprigs, straw mushrooms, kaffir leaves and lemongrass, in chicken stock sweetened by coconut milk. This soup boasted layer upon layer of flavor, quickly making us forget about the chilly outside temperature.

The hot and sour soup ($3.95/bowl) also made our toes curl in delight. This dark and pungent soup was flecked with pork shreds, egg curds, bamboo shoots, black mushrooms, tofu and sweet peas. It was spicy and sour, as billed.

We were impressed by our next course, as well. A half of crimson-hued duck ($9) came moist and tender under its crispy skin, playing well with the spicy green chili-fish dipping sauce.

Too bad our friendly, sarong-wearing server forgot the jasmine rice.

It wasn't as easy to forgive the kitchen for sending us cold mussamun lamb ($14.95).

A large lamb shank — in a pool of fragrant dark curry sauce with diced potato and peanuts — was cool when it hit the table. Fried pancakes, sliced cucumber and a knot of crunchy long beans rounded out the plate.

We left no room for red bean ice cream. Maybe next time, possibly on a warmer night.

During a lunch visit, we went straight for the panang curry ($7.95/lunch) and an order of drunken noodles ($9.50), a delicious tangle of wide rice noodles, fried tofu, Thai basil sprigs, jalapeno, scallion and bean sprouts, tossed in a zesty brown sauce.

The panang curry, a specialty of Bangkok, was equally as delicious. This coconut milk-infused pale red curry came pocked with tender pieces of beef, crunchy long beans, ginger and sweet peas. Fluffy jasmine rice was there to help soak up the extra sauce.

In the end, we indulged in sticky purple rice ($5.50) crowned with slices of fresh mango — a sweet conclusion to an excellent lunch.

After some adjustments in the kitchen, Siam in Meridian should be able to share the same high accolades as its sister restaurant. Ditto for service, which is warm, yet sometimes forgetful.

James Patrick Kelly is The Idaho Statesman's restaurant critic. E-mail him at jpkfood@earth link.net.

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