Reviews

"There's good Thai and bad. This is good."
by Anne DesBrisay, Ottawa Citizen

"An evening of Christmas shopping had left me craving a spring roll and a Champagne truffle.

Couldn't find a chocolate shop that wanted to re-open, but I did run into a Thai restaurant, which shall remain (for now) nameless. And so, loaded down as I was with a half-dozen bags of beastly boy toys, I charged in, placed my order and returned home with one more bag - this one layered with containers of vegetarian spring rolls, pa-nang, pad khring, pad pak and some steamed rice.

I got out the chopsticks and my husband and I went at it. (The food, that is.) Bitter disappointment set in with the first bite. It was miserable - no exhilarating flavours, no sensual perfume, no real assault to the taste buds (only to the roof of the mouth), none of the pungency of coriander, the searing sourness of fish sauce, the sharpness of chilies, the citrus burst of lime leaves - just tired, oily, expensive glop. Maddening.

My disappointment at that nameless place surely made me appreciate all the more the Thai food we enjoyed later at Slam Bistro. At Siam, we had a delicious meal.

There were six of us (one of whom had taken a series of Thai cooking classes offered by Siam Bistro chef/owner, Montha McGinnis) and we were all of the opinion that, when done this well, Thai food is truly one of the planet's most sensual cuisines.

The Siam Bistro is a small, pretty restaurant that has seen a few owners in the 11 years it has been gracing Wellington Street (near Holland Avenue). Much of the charm of the place now has to do with Montha: she is a warm, funny, vital person who enjoys her guests as much as she appears to enjoy educating the uninitiated in the pleasures of authentic Thai cooking.

If I were going again (which I will) I'd order every starter in the place and then just one main dish per person. This time, we limited our first course things and went a bit nuts with the next round. The feasting began with my favourite Thai soup - tom kha gai - chicken, Thai ginger, mushrooms, basil, citrus leaves, lemongrass in a coconut broth infused with a pervasive sourness, a searing spiciness, but also a biting sweetness. Great stuff. (A better, tastier trick than echinacea for what ails me.)

The shrimp rolls were marvelous - crunchy sweet shrimp wrapped in rice paper rolls, judiciously fried, dunked in a sour-sweet and piquant tamanrind-based sauce. The vegetable spring rolls were winners too, stuffed with black mushrooms, carrots and cabbage and packed with very good flavour. Marinated, grilled beef, cut into thin strips and suspended in a light gingery broth with rounds of crunchy-fried lemongrass was perhaps the masterpiece of round two: simple, perfect, delicious.

And the ever-popular pad thai was one of the best I've had - the humble rice vermicelli noodle (here still with texture and bounce) raised to great heights with the addition of tofu, chicken, shrimp, egg, peanuts, bean sprouts, green onion and then tossed in a sauce that was fishy, sweet, sour and ever-so-slightly spicy. Fresh trout arrived whole, cooked slightly too long, in a yellow curry sauce strong on garlic and ginger.

Pad bai gra-prow was an offering of scallops, shrimp and squid cooked with simplicity and speed with a mess of fresh hot chiles, strips of red and green pepper, the whole deliciously perfumed with sweet basil. Pa-nang, a glorious reddish-brown curry of tender chicken in a hot and lusty thickened-coconut-miIk-red curry sauce, arrived perfumed with lime leaf and crunchy with ground peanut. It was rich, bright, delicious.

There was more, all memorable in the big picture if not in the little details. (Somewhere after the pad thai arrived I did more eating and yacking than writing.) I do, however, remember that the service was kind and efficient. And I remember we drank mostly Thai beer and lemongrass tea with all of this. (The restaurant stocks Pelee Island Gewurtztraminer, which also works well with this spicy, complicated food.)

The bill came to just over $230 for six well-fed folk, which translates, I suppose, to about $40 per person when you figure in tip and tax. I paid about that for my disappointing "Thai" meal at the nameless place the previous night, which makes the Slam Bistro bill seem like one heck of a good deal."