Siam so-so

Clockwise from top: Tum Khatalay, Thai Tiger Cry, and Beef Satay from Siam Delight. Photo by Antonia Padilla.
Siam Delight
5152 Fredricksburg
11am-2:30pm Mon-Fri; noon-10pm Sat & Sun
Credit cards
Entrées: $6.95-10.95
It’s 1 p.m., 30 minutes after my lunchtime arrival at Siam Delight, and I have yet to see so much as a glass of water. Tick, tick, tick … I finally manage to snare a waiter — though the water doesn’t appear right away. Tick, tick, tick …

It’s now 1:10. “Did you get your soup?” asks another waiter. It’s fairly obvious that I haven’t. A standard, but by now welcome, hot-and-sour appears.

1:13 “What did you order, sir?” asks another server.

1:16 My lunch special of Panang Chicken arrives. “Sorry about that,” intones the server. Despite finding the curry fine, its modest heat further tempered by creamy coconut milk, I am not delighted.

Thai restaurants are the new Chinese (and there are already more Chinese restaurants in the U.S. than Burger King, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s combined), the new answer to once-ubiquitous barbecue, the new fill-in-the-blank cuisine. And though there’s a ways to go before chile-flecked fish sauce overtakes salsa roja, it’s hard to escape the feeling that Pad Thai will one day be as mainstream as mac ’n’ cheese. It already takes more than a passable Panang to stand out.

We arrived a second time on a mid-week evening to an empty house — not exactly the kind of distinction I was hoping for. But the oddly shaped dining room does look better at night, its decorative flourishes more apparent in the deafening silence. Service is understandably much better, too, there being nothing else for the staff to do but attend to us and the two other tables that eventually appear. Having been unable to rouse anyone by telephone earlier, however, we’re uncertain about the beer we’ve brought. Not to worry: The brew advertised on the door is only a teaser; there’s no license yet, and chilled beer glasses are cheerfully offered.

Our Tum Kha Talay arrives quickly — so quicky that it hardly seems there was time to overcook the seafood swimming in a lime- and galangal-accented coconut-milk broth. We loved the lively taste, but not the chewy mussels, springy squid, and rubbery shrimp. Sprightly summer rolls, sliced on a deep diagonal to show off the colorful cross-section, are pretty in the palette sense, but pallid in the palate department; lacking cilantro or mint, they need the peanut sauce.

A selection of mixed satay — beef, chicken, and pork — served with a sweet and crunchy chopped cucumber relish with red onion, plus peanut sauce again, doesn’t appear to have gained much from its marinade, but it works with the Red Stripe and Heineken we’ve been enjoying.

I’ve always assumed — on the basis of no information whatsoever — that the popular Thai tiger cry salad of sliced, seared beef with an incendiary sauce was so named because it would make even a grown tiger cry. Bogus as this explanation likely is, even a cub
wouldn’t wail over Siam Delight’s rendition. The beef is sliced into uncharacteristically small pieces, the lettuce dominates, and the sauce is nothing to haul out a hanky for. The kitchen does take to heart my admonition to serve an order of shrimp with hot pepper truly spicy. There is little nuance in the combination of tail-on shrimp with onion and bell pepper, but these shrimp aren’t overcooked, and it does hurt so good.

In contrast, the pork with red curry has a very developed flavor with an ingratiating heat that plays well with the cooler flavor of Thai basil and the snap of sliced jalapeños. This is by far the evening’s best offering, putting in the shade an order of chicken and potato served in yellow curry, which is thin and bland in comparison, even taking into account the expectedly subdued spice level.

But a funny thing happened to the leftovers before I reheated them a couple of days later: In the manner of a good back-burner stew, the yellow curry developed a very appealing richness and a much thicker consistency; it trumped the still-good red curry.

Unfortunately, none of this matters much at the restaurant table when you’re expecting to experience a dish at its peak of flavor. Between madcap, mid-day moments and silent evening sessions, maybe Siam Delight can take time to figure this out. l


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