Dining out: Dining out: Thai Siam

Published: Friday, April 22 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

Thai restaurants of varying quality seem to be multiplying like rabbits in Utah, but some older favorites still hold sway.

One of these is Thai Siam. This popular spot on State Street near downtown Salt Lake City was the perfect lunch spot when a friend and I met there on a recent cold, drizzly weekday.

The interior of Thai Siam is the result of mixing clean, simple furnishings and lighting with a plethora of glittery Thai fabric art. Elephants, birds and swirls of elaborate embroidery adorn every wall. But the real charms of this restaurant are the variety of warming, even comforting, foods on the menu. For about seven bucks, you get a huge lunch of two menu items, plus steamed rice and a por pia tod, or spring roll.

We got a plate of rolls to start out with, too, along with curry puffs. The deep-fried rolls are compact with savory fixings, including glass noodles, mushrooms and lots of veggies, heavy on the cabbage. They're served with fresh, piquant sweet-and-sour sauce.

The curry puffs are softer and smoother, a mixture of mashed potato, onion and curry enfolded in a thick layer of puff pastry. On their own, they're tasty, if bland, but they become quite enticing dipped in the accompanying sweet-and-vinegary cucumber sauce.

My friend chose the server-recommended moo yang, barbecued pork, and the gang keow wan, a green curry. Our server assured us that the moo yang is a customer favorite, and it lived up to the hype with its small but substantial strips of lean, chewy pork, marinated in a sweet sauce and Thai spices, and served with more sauce, with a little green onion and cilantro on top.

The gang keow wan was described to us as a mild green curry, so its spicy finish was a bit of a surprise. Taking a bite of chicken cooked in curried coconut milk with bell peppers, bamboo shoots and Thai basil, I first tasted the dish's sweetness, then the deeper flavors of the curry and peppers, then, just as I swallowed, a breath of spice. I've found in most Thai restaurants that American standards of spiciness don't apply. If they tell you it's mild, think medium. If they tell you it's medium, think hot. And if they tell you it's hot, bring along a fire extinguisher.

For my lunch, I had my favorite Thai dish, the tom kha gai, coconut lemongrass soup. The sweet-sour, salty-bitter contrasts that make Thai food so stimulating are all present here: a silky broth of sweet coconut milk, lemongrass, fish sauce and gingery galangal, with mounds of lean chicken, quartered fresh mushrooms, green onions and cilantro. The broth in Thai Siam's version is somewhat sweeter and thicker than at other good Thai places I've tried, but the deliciousness remains the same.

The second dish in my lunch combo was the gang panang, which was nicely complementary to the soup. It's a baby step up the spiciness scale from the gang keow wan and is a simple chicken curry with coconut milk, red and green bell pepper and Thai basil.

I'm a big fan of eggy Thai custard served over sweetened sticky rice, but mangoes are in season, so we had to finish with plates of delicious, refreshing mangoes and sticky rice. This dish has always reminded me of exotic rice pudding, and Thai Siam's version fits that bill right down to the warmed rice, one last taste of heat before dashing back out into the drizzly day.

Lunch: Appetizers and sides $3.95-$7.95, single dishes $7.45, lunch combinations $6.95, desserts $1.99-$4.95. Dinner: Appetizers and sides $3.95-$7.95, soups $4-$13.75, salads $7.95-$13.95, specialties $10.95-$14.95, rice and noodles $7.95-$12.95, wok-fried dishes $8.50-$8.95, fish and duck $12.95-$14.95, curries $9.50-$10.95

Rating: ***

Where: 1435 S. State

Lunch Hours: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Saturday, noon-3 p.m.

Dinner Hours: Monday-Thursday, 4:30-9:30 p.m.

Friday-Saturday 4:30-10 p.m.

Closed Sunday

Payment: No checks

Reservations: Accepted

Phone: 474-3322

Web: www.thaisiam.us

Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News. E-mail: skratz@desnews.com