Widgets Magazine

Trail Mix: Siam Orchid

Try the Pad Thai Gung Sod (rice noodles with river shrimp) or the Gai Phad Med Mamuang (crispy organic chicken breast) -- two of Siam Orchid's most popular dishes. (CELESTE NOCHE/The Stanford Daily)

Dairy is not a component of traditional Thai food; the industry emerged in Thailand only in the 1960s. Its relatively recent introduction, however, has been masked by an overwhelming increase in demand. Today, the carts of street vendors in Bangkok abound with cans of condensed milk used for Thai iced teas and other desserts. But the rapid uptake has produced an ad hoc cuisine that can be disappointing when not handled well, despite the potent ingredients that underlie the food. Siam Orchid falls prey to this problem — it has all the right ingredients but still comes up a bit short.

The restaurant itself is cozy and relatively formal, although certain elements belie its attempt to fit in among fancier fare, such as the straw provided with a glass of sparkling water. Siam Orchid is best suited for a nicer dinner with a significant other or close friend.

There are a handful of dishes at Siam Orchid that are excellent. The Kari Puffs are similar to a chicken curry empanada and have a wonderful, flaky crust. The potato in the dish may give the puffs a starchier texture than necessary, but the seasoning ultimately produces a pleasing appetizer. The Tom Kha Gai soup is fantastic and delivers a nice balance of sweet and spicy. The broth is delectable and not too heavy, pairing perfectly with the mushrooms.

The curry offerings are generally good but not particularly strong. The Kari Kae is respectable, with a very similar flavor profile to the Kari Puffs. However, the lamb is not nearly as tender as it should be, and the taste just barely compensates for an otherwise poorly composed dish. Conversely, the duck in the Gaeng Phed Pet Yang is succulent and extremely tender, but the dish lacks the curry piquancy because of the watery both.

Most dishes at Siam Orchid are fairly mediocre. The Khao Pod Tord is reminiscent of a funnel cake with its crunchiness and subtle sweetness. It lacks any nuance in flavor, however, and makes for an awkward appetizer. The Pla Nueng Manao sea bass is fairly well cooked but lacks any Thai flare; it presents only a dull citrus flavor to enhance the fish. The Pla Sam Rot has some issues that are not corrected by its tasty accompanying sweet and sour chili sauce. The breading on the fish becomes soggy and produces a texture that is reminiscent of a fish stick out of a microwave. More disconcerting are the hints of fishiness that occasionally emerge, calling into question the quality of the fish itself.

There are also a few dishes that are simply disappointing. The Po Piah Sot are well-plated but underperforming vegetarian spring rolls. The dish looks exciting but lacks in taste and has a somewhat displeasing mouthfeel. Furthermore, the honey flavor and texture of the tamarind sauce overwhelms any subtlety that may otherwise have come through. The Miang Kham seems to have so much potential given its ingredients — fried peanuts, grilled shrimp and shredded ginger, among others. Unfortunately, none of the components come through sufficiently, as they are swallowed by the spinach cup that encapsulates them. The Tung Thong sacks are completely forgettable and overly fried at the cinch at the top. Such decadence needs to be met with commensurate flavor, but it simply isn’t.

Conspicuously missing from the menu are dishes with heat. Thai cuisine is spicy, and in creating a relatively modern, formal Thai menu, Siam Orchid has missed something. While there are some decent offerings and in general nothing is a complete misfire, there is nothing spectacular about Siam Orchid, and it ends up in the “Middle of the Road.”