Siamese Bay Restaurant
It's a pretty reliable rule of thumb that if hordes of servicemen in camouflage frequent an eating establishment at lunchtime, the food must be good, plentiful and reasonably priced.
Thursday, February 17, 2000
Right on all counts at Siamese Bay, where people both in and out of uniform can be observed on any given day voting with their feet by repeat visits to the buffet line.
For the past two years, Sam Taisaeng has been the congenial host and owner of Siamese Bay, a continual presence in the front of the house while his aunts, Jitsamai Welch and Penjawan Harvey, take care of things in the back. They oversee the preparation of a huge menu with about 70 dinner items as well as a dozen daily specials augmenting the lunch buffet. The buffet spread changes every day, but it always includes a noodle dish, fried rice, vegetable tempura, a curry dish, stir-fried vegetables, a couple of kinds of sushi and homemade soup. "And we have to have the spicy chicken every day," says Jitsamai. "Every day, one of our customers asks to make sure." The pan of light, tempura-battered chicken breast drizzled with spicy chili dressing is usually the buffet dish that''s most often re-filled.
At night, the tiny lanterns on each table give the warm, teak-paneled walls a romantic glow. Ornate wood carvings and beaded tapestries from Thailand create an inviting atmosphere, one that''s frequently filled with diners by 7pm. Starters are the place to begin and the chicken satay is everything it should be. Marinated in coconut cream, it''s juicy and meltingly tender, dipped in an addictive peanut sauce. Filled with noodles and fresh vegetables, the spring rolls are light and crispy all at once, and the chicken, shrimp and crab steamed dumpling also meets the mark. It would be temptingly easy just to stay with this list of appetizers through dinner, each one juxtaposed with a delightful, fresh dipping sauce.
It would be a mistake, however, not to try the soups. The selection of half a dozen are built upon either a coconut milk or hot and sour base. A strictly vegetarian variety is always offered. (In fact, all the dishes on the menu may be made vegetarian, by substituting tofu.) The tom yum talae is clear and pungent with chilies and lemongrass, spicy without being overwhelming. Filled with fresh fish, scallops and mushrooms, the soup also boasts carefully-scored calamari that, along with the artfully carved vegetables that garnish other plates, is testimony to the cooks'' skill with a knife.
Can''t make it downtown? A $15 purchase gets an eggroll and free delivery.
The several styles of curry convey the trademark Thai flavors--sweet, hot, pungent, subtle--with no one layer out-distancing the rest. This is true of the seafood panang, with a yellow curry sauce that gets its punch from chili paste and gingery kamin, similar to galangal. The zingy Thai basil elevates the sauce even more, the perfect foil for sweet and mild shrimp and scallops, and briny Greenlip mussels.
Several duck preparations also stand out on the menu. The Bangkok duck is first roasted and then de-boned. It''s extra-crispy after flash-frying, served over pan-fried noodles with spicy chili sauce. Several other roasted duck dishes are also available.
If you''re open to more temptation, the coconut ice cream is worth the splurge. Resembling a pure white snowball, homemade from coconut milk, it comes with finger-length deep-fried bananas that are first dredged in dry coconut. Several good local wines are available, as well as the popular Thai beer, Singha.