Siam House

$$$$ ($14 and under)
Siam House photo
Melina Mara/The Washington Post

Editorial Review

Siam: Make Yourself at Home

By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, Nov. 9, 2007

At first glance: Referring to Siam House as a "niche restaurant" is being generous: This is one of Cleveland Park's smallest dining rooms, a narrow shoe box seating perhaps 30 people in an old brick townhouse next to the firehouse. The walls, painted in various shades of gray, are unadorned, and the shelves on the rear wall, used solely for storing bottles of wine and beer, could be dressed up with flowers or ceramics.

Overhead lighting is good (no squinting at the menu), but the canned music could be turned down. After all, Whitney Houston doesn't need boosting.

At the table: The most popular appetizers are the spring rolls, which are nicely crisp and greaseless; the Thai curry puffs in good pastry dough, which are like a cross between empanadas and samosas; and the delicate dumplings, which are not pinched closed but arrive like little won-ton mums. The vegetable soups (mushrooms in hot-and-sour lemongrass broth, soft tofu in hot-and-sour with coconut milk) are unusually soothing versions of the standards, and the seafood soups are nearly as good.

Spicier dishes are marked with a chili pod, and although the kitchen can in some cases go lighter on the spice, it also honors enthusiastic heat-seekers. Ped pad phed, sliced roast duck with generous slices of bamboo shoots in red curry, is primed with clusters of fresh green peppercorns, and the duck is still moist, a welcome change from the chewy double-cooked meat of many kitchens. Pad eggplant doesn't pull punches either, and the tiny eggplant, dotted with straw mushrooms, are soft and sweet. The Penang-style curry sauce is very good, not too peanutty or creamy (and the steamed broccoli nicely al dente). Ka prow seafood with hot chilies and basil is a generous serving, with plenty of large but tender squid rings and several large shrimp; the scallops, however, tasted more like punched-out shark, an increasingly common wholesaler's trick. Servings of rice are also generous.

What to avoid: Minor, and arguable, slips included slightly overdone but well-marinated beef (available over salad or as an entree) and a dish of drunken noodles that had absorbed too much oil. The mango, though pretty, was still a little green.

At your service:Although most of the staff speaks some English, proficiency varies, so you may want to point to the menu or even use the item number as well. (One waitress managed to substitute duck for lamb.)

Wet your whistle: There is only a short wine list (four red and four white), but the choices are fairly interesting, including an Argentine chardonnay-Viognier and a reserve malbec. The beer list is a mix of domestic brands and imports.