Siam Orchid was one of the most exciting places to dine in Alexandria, patronized by a steady stream of Northern Kentucky University students who longed for something more exotic than the Spare Time Grill. Not that there’s anything wrong with a short stack of pancakes at the Spare Time! But sometimes, you just want to go a little wild.
I’m not sure why Siam Orchid decided to uproot and transplant itself into Bellevue. Perhaps it’s that the main drag in this slightly more northern locale has been a hot destination lately, with a great art gallery, a fun upscale neighborhood tavern and steady residential development.
On a recent rainy Tuesday night, the sunny yellow dining room at Siam Orchid had just a few occupied tables, but a steady stream of carryout customers. Part of the reason for the low crowd may be that the restaurant is still waiting for its beer and wine license. The vagaries of bureaucracy can be cruel, but it’s a shame that the law won’t allow patrons to carry-in from the nearby Party Source or the cheerful bar, Skinny Legs, just two doors down.
The other reason for the diminutive crowd, though, may be that Siam Orchid’s cuisine needs fine-tuning. The college crowd may have been too hungry to care, but as a neighborhood eatery the Orchid had an unfortunate number of rough edges.
Salads are always my favorite Thai dishes — bright and fresh with crisp grated carrots and crunchy, salty peanut accents. The salads here didn’t really work. The Cucumber Salad ($3) — thick slices of peeled cucumber atop nearly white iceberg lettuce — was too sweet, while the House Salad ($3) was drowned in peanut-butter dressing so thick that it seemed spreadable. And while ordering the “spice level” at Thai restaurants can seem a little arbitrary, we were shocked at the inconsistencies at Siam Orchid. On a 1-5 scale, we asked for a 2 for the Papaya Salad ($5.95), because who really wants a searingly hot salad anyway? Well, apparently someone did, because the dish was so fiery that you couldn’t taste the papaya at all. It’s silly to overwhelm a dish like that; all subtlety is lost.
We had better luck with the two appetizers we tried. Triangles of Fried Tofu ($3) were not as warm as they should have been, but they were plentiful. The Spring Rolls ($3) were crisp and had a few nice slices of dried mushrooms.
Our waiter could have used a little more training. He didn’t know whether the rice would be jasmine or not, and when we complained that the Papaya Salad was too hot the response was that sometimes the different cooks in the kitchen interpreted the spice levels differently. Not exactly reassuring.
Entrées were accompanied by enormous portions of white rice, not jasmine. But the fried rice was even less inspired. There may have been a wisp of egg in the vicinity while it was cooking, but no peas, no onion, no scallion. Just rice and soy sauce. Even though the portion was generous, it felt stingy in its intent.
Of our three entrées, the Panang Curry ($9.95) was the best, simply because the curry sauce was excellent. The heat was moderate and seasoned the dish without incinerating any innocent bystanders. Pram-Ram Long Sonk ($9.95), which I ordered just because I really liked the name, was so salty that it made the lack of beer even more regrettable. The spinach and broccoli in this dish did their best to redeem the overcooked chopped chicken breast, but it wasn’t enough.
We chose one entrée from the Chef’s Specialties category, Spicy Seafood ($15.95). Shrimp, mussels and scallops stir-fried with sliced red pepper and an overabundance of onions. In this case, the heat and spice snuck up on you as you ate your way through the dish, as they are supposed to.
My very first dining review for former local altweekly Everybody’s News back in the ’80s was of a Thai restaurant downtown on Seventh Street. Since then, I’ve enjoyed and written about some exceptional Thai meals locally: Teak in Mount Adams, Thai Namtip on the West Side, Amarin in Hyde Park, Thai Café in Clifton and Karma in Anderson. Even the best dishes we had at Siam Orchid weren’t as good as those dishes are elsewhere.
On the positive side, the restaurant is tiny but inviting and in a great location. Neighbors in Bellevue like to get out and support their local eateries, so I hope Siam Orchid polishes its rough edges and earns their patronage.
Go: 511 Fairfield Dr., Bellevue
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Sunday; 4-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 4-9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Entrée Prices: $10-$16
Payment: Visa and MasterCard
Red Meat Alternatives: Many
Accessibility: Fully accessible