Visit The First
After a long week at work, I decided to treat myself and return to a small restaurant I had discovered several months ago, Siamone's Thai Pub. I had been so impressed with the quality of the food that when I wrote up my last entry covering my experience there, I actually fast tracked it to the front of my publishing queue. Since then, I had returned one other time in order to try the Phnom Penh noodles in soup, or what in most Vietnamese restaurants would simply be called Pho. I knew it was time to return to try another item that had caught my eye the first time I went.
I was slightly surprised to see that the restaurant was only half-way full when I arrived at 6:30 PM on a Friday night. I suppose I was relieved that I would be able to get a seat right away, but a little shocked that they weren't busier. Regardless, I picked out a two-top table in the moderately lit bar and ordered a water from my server. While I knew what I would be having for my entree, I hadn't quite worked out what I wanted as a starter.
As I scanned the list of possibilities, I decided to give the Coconut Chicken soup (which would be Tom Kha Gai in the original Thai) a shot, seeing that it was only $3.99. After only a few short minutes, my server returned with a large bowl of creamy soup:
Filled with mushrooms, scallions, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, red bell pepper, chicken, and most surprising of all, diced tomato, the soup was incredibly well done. It was creamy, tart, sweet, spicy and earthy all at the same time. The chicken and vegetables were cooked perfectly and the broth ... oh my gosh, the broth! Honestly, as good as the solid ingredients were in the soup, when I realized that I had eaten most of them and only broth remained, I literally picked up the bowl and held it close to my face so that the distance from the bowl to my mouth was as small as possible. The broth was absolutely divine. In an interesting twist, the tomatoes worked well because the acidity of the diced tomato, not the sweetness, actually helped cut through the fattiness from the coconut milk. The spice level was just enough to make it interesting, but not overpowering in the least. I actually thought about ordering a second bowl of this soup and just skipping the entree entirely.
After nearly licking the bowl clean after finishing the soup, I was left with this:
A lone piece of lemongrass and a single kaffir lime leaf now sat at the bottom of the bowl waiting for my server to come and take away the dirty dish to the kitchen. If you like Thai flavors, you will LOVE this soup. I was already looking forward to returning to Siamone's just for this soup.
But, I had come tonight to try something else on the menu, the Beef Bulgogi in Stone Hot Pot, or as those more familiar with Korean dishes would know it, Dolsot Bibimbap. I have eaten bibimbap at other restaurants, but only rarely been served in the stone hot pot that was infamous for creating that nice crusty rice layer at the bottom of the bowl. Bibimbap, for those who don't know, is actually two words, bibim or "stirred" and bap or "rice". The concept of bibimbap is that cooked rice is placed in the bottom of a bowl and various raw and cooked items are placed on top of it. When the diner receives her bowl, additional accoutrement called banchan are added to taste and the entire affair is stirred around with the chopsticks, thus blending the flavors before eating it. Banchan can be anything from kimchi (fermented cabbage) to gochuzhang (chili pepper paste). The word dolsot actually refers to the fact the bibimbap is served in a heated stone bowl.
Traditionally, bibimbap is topped with an egg, authentically served raw in Korea and more commonly fried in America. Unfortunately, due to Americans' wariness of eating raw eggs, most Korean cooks not only fry the egg, but cook it until the yolk is cooked all the way through. Every place I've ordered this dish, I've had to really work at making sure not only my server, but also the cook knows that while I don't mind the egg being fried, I want the yolk runny. Most cooks making this dish aren't usually American natives and don't understand the concept of "sunny-side up" or "over easy" eggs. At one place in Massillon, Ohio, I finally was able to break the language barrier by saying, "Only cook the egg on one side."
With great trepidation I waited to see what came out of the kitchen. I could actually hear my dish arriving from around the corner before I saw it. As the tray containing my bowl approached the table, I could hear and more importantly smell the rice sizzling at the bottom of the bowl. This was what was set down in front of me:
The rice was hard to see in the above photo because of all of the wonderful ingredients on top. My server mentioned that she thought the cook might have cooked the egg too long, but when she picked up the tray, the yolk jiggled so she figured it would be just fine. While the whites were a little crispier than I like, the yolk was definitely runny. In Siamone's version, none of the banchan were brought to the table. The kimchi had already been added to the bowl for me as well as a little bit of the Korean chili paste. Knowing my penchant for spicy food, I asked the waitress if she could bring me the spice condiment "caddy" that they had at the restaurant. She began to explain that the cook had added some chili paste to the dish already and I gently stopped her mid-sentence and responded, "Trust me, I'll be needing more spice than that."
While I waited, I looked at the bowl of thick darn brown sauce accompanying my dolsot bibimbap:
This was the teriyaki sauce, which was essentially soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and corn starch to thicken it. I knew that the dish came with it, but was reluctant to use it. I tasted it anyway, just to be sure. As much as I've loved Siamone's food up to this point, there was no place on that tray for this sauce. It was just a bad pairing. And for all of the tasty authenticity that Siamone's had worked so hard on promoting, I have no idea why you would pair a classically Korean dish with a Japanese sauce. Actually, not even so Japanese as the thickening of the sauce with cornstarch was more of a Chinese technique. Either way, I put the sauce to the side and waited for the condiment caddy to arrive.
Once it did, I chose to apply several heaping tablespoons of sambal, which in this case was a chunky combination of chilies, garlic, vinegar, and salt. I then broke the egg yolk with my chopsticks and stirred the entire mixture around, careful not to touch the still hot stone bowl. As I dug in, every mouthful would be different because of the stirring. One bite would contain the grilled marinated beef and some kimchi, the next bite would contain some of the crispy rice from the bottom of the bowl and the next I would get some of the shredded carrots and bean sprouts. It was an incredibly good version of bibimbap. The sambal added a nice bit of heat without overwhelming the dish entirely. I was a little worried about the kimchi already being added to bowl as it can have quite a strong flavor, but this kimchi was mild and delicious and added only the slightest bit of tang. I actually only managed to eat half of my entree and ended up bringing the rest home for a delicious lunch the next day.
Other than the really odd teriyaki sauce pairing with my entree, my entire experience just goes to underscore how really wonderful the food at Siamone's Thai Pub is. If you love these flavors or just want to learn what these flavors are, I implore you to seek out Siamone's and give them a try for yourself. While Siamone's does use local ingredients from time to time (e.g., the diced tomato in my Tom Kha Gai), she also understands the balance that the dishes from this region of the world need to have. Should you decide to order the dolsot bibimbap, I suggest you skip the teriyaki and go right for the more authentic flavor of the sambal. If you're a chili-head like me, you won't be sorry that you did. I'm looking forward to returning soon.
Visit The Second
And return I did. In doing this double header, I wanted to share even more of Siamone's wonderful menu with you, gentle reader. While I have noted before that a lot of the appetizers are fairly expensive, today I decided to try and keep the balance of the overall bill in check by choosing one of the more inexpensive entrees. In the past I have tried the chicken and coconut soup and the Cambodian spring rolls. This time around, I went with an old Thai stand-by, chicken satay:
All of the elements of a typical chicken satay were on the plate, however, there were a few differences. For starters, the normal sweet and sour sauce with a few pickled vegetables were replaced by it's opposite, a lot of pickled vegetables with just a little bit of sauce. While the flavor was most familiar, the use of the the condiment as a "dipping" sauce was obviously lost. I had to eat or move most of the vegetables so I could get at the meager amount in the bottom of the cup. The second deviation was in the peanut sauce. While the sauce did have peanuts in it, it tasted much more strongly of butter, to the point of reminding me of a buerre blanc. The remarkably yellow sauce even made it look like it had been mounted with quite a bit of butter, too.
The chicken was nicely grilled and given the unusual flavor of the peanut sauce, overall the dish was very good. Still a bit pricey at $8, but it definitely was filling and could easily serve as a single appetizer for 2-3 adults.
For dinner tonight I decided to have a bowl of the Phnom Penh noodles in soup, or in the more Vietnamese vernacular, Pho. Even though it was one of the more inexpensive items on the restaurant's menu, it certainly wasn't lacking in flavor or portion size:
With my pho came the obligatory bean sprout and lime garnishes:
And the condiment caddy, the "box of hot":
I added a few bean sprouts, a nice squirt of lime juice and a healthy amount of one of my favorite condiments in the world, sriracha. I stirred it all into the broth and took my first spoonful. Absolute heaven. The richness from the broth, the spiciness from the sriracha, and the acid from the lime juice all played so nicely with each other. Oddly, one flavor I detected this time that I didn't the last time I enjoyed this dish at Siamone's was a gentle sweetness. It wasn't a predominant flavor, but rather subtly sitting in the background. I greedily slurped up soup, noodles, tender cuts of beef, scallion, and red pepper. Because I had finished my chicken satay appetizer, I was only able to get through about half of this bowl of soup. Fortunately, I was able to take the remainder home with me for lunch the next day. Not quite as good as fresh out of the kitchen, but still pretty darn tasty.
Overall, Siamone's Thai Pub continues to impress me with its fantastic menu and spot-on flavors. The somewhat unappealing teriyaki sauce and the rather unusual peanut sauce from my two visits here really were anomalies in the overall Asian flavor profile I have been enjoying since I discovered the restaurant. The fact that Siamone's is local to Akron just makes me that much happier. I strongly encourage you to check them out if you live anywhere in the Akron area. If you are from out-of-town and like good Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, or Cambodian food, make it a point to add a stop in your journey to try them out. You won't be disappointed that you did.