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Siam Classic Offers Up Many Reasons to Try Thai

Thursday, September 23, 2004; Page PW16

It sometimes seems that there is a Thai restaurant on every second corner in downtown Washington and the nearby suburbs. It's different in Manassas, where Salvadoran, Mexican and Central American restaurants predominate.

Unchalee Geyer, a Thai native who bought the old Marie's Cafe location on East Street last year, said her love of traditional Thai food and her desire to continue the popularization of that cuisine led her to open Siam Classic.



A two-month renovation transformed the longtime breakfast meeting place into a spare and almost elegant restaurant, with deep burgundy tablecloths. A large, round table still dominates the front portion of the space, and elephant tusks demarcate a rear dining area.

All dishes are served on lovely blue-and-white china that includes soup spoons, pedestal dishes and dome-covered rice and soup bowls. Condiments, including soy sauce and hot chilies for the more adventurous, arrive in small bowls of the same china.

True to its name, Siam Classic offers all the best-known Thai dishes, but with a twist. Two dozen of the 30-plus main-course dishes can be ordered as a meat (chicken, beef or pork), seafood (shrimp, scallops or squid) or vegetable preparation.

It's hard to sample even a portion of such a large variety, but two visits to Siam Classic show that the restaurant could attract just as loyal a following as the legendary Marie's.

The ingredients at Siam Classic are fresh and bright tasting, the dishes that are marked as spicy may border on the incendiary, and even the milder combinations of flavors can be intriguing. Plus, few things on the menu cost more than $11.

Thai spring rolls have a wonderfully tasty and textured filling of pork, vegetables and seafood, but there is a little too much dough encasing the savory filling, and it's fried just a little too crisp for my taste. Heavenly shrimp, the crustaceans stuffed with mushrooms and vegetables and wrapped in wonton skin, also have a little too generous and too crispy an exterior, hiding the flavorful interior. Both are served with a tangy sweet-and-sour sauce that far surpasses any prepackaged sauce that might come with Chinese takeout.

Steamed dumplings, open-face like tiny tarts, are obviously handmade, but the stuffing of pork, shrimp, crab and watercress is too salty for even the sweet-and-sour sauce to overcome.

The grilled beef salad is a large serving of grilled beef in a nice, tart lime dressing with onion, cucumber, tomato and cilantro. Wonton soup adds cucumbers and other savory bits to the broth, along with the wonton, and lemon grass soup is brimming with chicken and tiny mushrooms, but is just a bit mild in its seasoning.

But, oh, the drunken noodles. Siam Classic's rendition alone is worth giving the restaurant a try. In most preparations, the rice noodles comprise the majority of the dish, and chicken (or shrimp) arrives like tiny adornments. Not at Siam Classic. The noodles, perhaps a bit mushy, serve as merely a base for large slices of chicken in a spicy sauce that packs both flavor and heat.

In contrast, Siam Classic's pad Thai doesn't fare as well. Again, the noodles are a bit too mushy, and the flavorings are understated.

Among other dishes, the green curry is wonderful and spicy. Though coconut milk can be overwhelming and quickly cloying, here it is more of an undertone in the sauce, in which there are simmered plump shrimp, squid (scored so they roll up like porcupines), slivers of bamboo shoots and tiny Thai eggplants. You'll need to eat the rice to tame the fire, but this is Thai food at its best.

Stir-fried mixed vegetables show deft preparation. The clean tastes of the individual vegetables -- baby corn, broccoli, snow peas, cabbage and napa cabbage -- are a perfect complement to the garlic sauce.

Fried banana -- also wrapped in just a bit too much dough and fried a little too crisp -- is still a pleasing end to the meal. The mango is just ripe enough, and the rice sweetly sticky in the classic Thai dessert.

And then there are the weekend American-style breakfasts, served from 6 a.m. to noon, cooked by none other than the supposedly retired Marie Brent, owner of the restaurant in its previous incarnation. Expect a crowd.

Siam Classic 9403 East St., Manassas, 703-368-5647. Appetizers at lunch, $2.95-$7.95; main courses at lunch, $6.95-$13.95; appetizers at dinner, $2.95-$7.95; main courses at dinner, $7.95-$13.95. Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. American-style breakfast served 6 a.m.-noon Saturday and Sunday. Wheelchair inaccessible.

If you know of a food-related event or restaurant that you think deserves attention, please contact Nancy Lewis at lewisn@washpost.com.


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