Siam Cuisine

925 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA
(215) 922-7135

Mix three jiggers of Lillet Blanc with one Lillet Rouge, add six ounces of gin and you have the color of the walls at this marvelously bedecked new Arch Street restaurant. Most Bangkok-born chefs, and Siam Cuisine's are no exception, are certain to have flowers upon tables with tablecloths containing redundant floral designs. Twenty tables here are so adorned, warmly and tastefully.

The 30-foot wide dining hall is separated by four-foot walls, two on a side to one's left and right, at four intervals looking lengthwise. Each small wall has a "side of a barn" six-cornered hole in it from whose bottom rests a brass rail with leafy greens sprouting. All other walls have waist-high chair rails, a few feet above which hang gold-framed brass rubbings of Thai princes and princesses playing with native-born dragons and snakes. The royal heads are slightly off center of royal necks, and regal fingers are unusually well-nailed.

Salt and pepper shakers, an ashtray, chartreuse napkins and a bell-bottomed porcelain vase dress the table settings.

There are college and graduate students here discussing language requirements for a doctoral degree. Once the food arrives, conversation deteriorates to distinguishing between lemongrass and lemon root. Young chefs from Philadelphia's Restaurant School patronize at will, garnering new tastes and newer methods of presentation. The price and availability of magrood, a lime similar to a lemon with acne, are sources of discussion among them. Most importantly, Thai families abound, the true assurance that you're about to dine upon the genuine article.

Begin your repast with Wonton Soup for two. A silver tureen full of amber broth is populated with crisp snow peas, hoisin-sauced pork slivers, round slivers of oriental sausage, a few perfectly cleaned shrimp, and bell-filled paper-thin wonton skins. There may be better, but the Thai gods have kept it for themselves.

If you're adventurous, you may wish to begin with Shrimp Soup and Exotic Spices Blended ($9.95). A plethora of fantails seem engorged amongst strands of white lemongrass roots, whose fibrous bases are possible to chew, especially if you wish to cure lifelong stuffed sinuses. Otherwise, impossible. My tastes are not heavily weighted toward the salty and astringent. You ought to try it once, however, so if you are with a party of four, order this soup for the table.

Spring rolls at $2.50 for three are a must. The rolls resemble fat cigarillos, surrounded by cucumbers and tomatoes. A bowl full of rose-colored sauce looks as if it ought to be an ashtray. The smoking commenced as one dips the roll in nam prik (fiery dipping broth) and places it upon one's tongue. Sweet, hot juices comingle with those involuntarily emanating from salivary glands as your lips pucker. The tiniest puffs of smoke are exhaled through nostrils and ears. Grab for the wine bottle in the silver ice bucket next to your table (bring your own wine; ice bucket and ice are provided free) to douse the fuming deliciousness.

Special entrees are always wise to order, off the menu. Red Snapper, for instance, when available, is served as a cover sheet for two huge sleeping prawns whose spiny rostrums are comforted by having the fillets surround them. Brilliantly white and flakey, the fish sheets are removed as one nibbles them away. A fermented sauce, nam pla, covers each prawn, looking as if it were liquid pajamas. Steam erupts from the crustacean as one's fork pierces its body. Its fan-tailed shape most resembles a last prawnyawn as it disappears into final resting place. The scent of freshness mixed with harsh Thai hotness tingles the nose and makes one's eyes smart.

Duck is also often offered off the menu. Get it. Here it's warm and creamy in a curry sauce flavor with garlic and cilantro. The bite-sized, not entirely skinned duck morsels are supple, crisp and fleshy. Wait five seconds for the fleshiness to turn to flashiness as the Thai spices prevail. Each mouthful has depth and a kaleidoscope of lingering tastes.

The grilled fishes at Siam Cuisine are prepared superbly, served amidst carrot strips, red pepper slices and a huge mound of white dry rice. Deep-Fried Fish ($10) is perhaps the best anywhere. "Caught-today, bought-today" freshness exudes from a whole fish (without eyeballs upon request) doused in a lava, peanut and sesame sauce. The ocean dweller's body is held upon the plate by string beans, tomato roses and sprigs of mint.

The owner and his waiters can't be too helpful. The restaurateur's daughter, Joy, used to meander through the dining room on occasion and was as beautiful and spicy as she was tiny. That was two decades ago. Now she has grown to immense pulchritude.

There is neighborliness at this eatery. Casual elegance, interesting dishes and modest prices should cause many return visits.

Don't leave without a dessert called Thai Coconut Custard. This little pudding square is speckled by chopped shallots, giving a mildly onion flavor to the conclusion of the meal, and allowing the filled diner to brandish a Siamese sigh.


Copyright 2004 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back