The Old Siam
406 8th Street SE
Eighth Street, and Pennsylvania Ave. leading down to it in Southeast have a lot going on. Until now though, there has not been a Thai spot and we honestly needed one. There is fantastic Pakinstani food at Aatish, good burger and bar food at Mr. Henry's and The Ugly Mugg (see below), and more. But I love me some Thai. Until nopw there has just been Talay Thai several blocks away that mainly serves as our delivery place.
So here comes The Old Siam, barely a stone's throw from the Eastern Market Metro and equally close to our place. I walked by earlier this week and met the owner and chef who were kind and inviting. Tonight, my partner and I made good on my prmoise to give the place a try. And we were not disappointed.
We were greeted by the hostess and shown quickly to our table. The restaurant has a considerable amount of space in what used to be a bar. The decor is mid-scale elegant Thai and done nicely. Our table was one of three located between the front room (a handful of tables and the bar) and the back room (10 or so tables, minimal plants, colorful decor). Our middle room may be a place that pickier diners would not have liked as it sits near the ice machine and the doors to the downstair area. For us it was intimate and allowed easy and quick access for our server to refill our oft-emptied water glasses.
It's a Thai place. There are not a million variations here from what you have probably seen at a Thai place. You have your chicken satay, your tom yum soup, your red and green curries, mixed in with a few items I have seen in fewer places-- Kee Mow, Himmapaan Stir Fried, etc.
Our server was quick and kind. I am a siouthern boy so I tend to ask many questions about the owners, how business is, etc. She answered but was not too interested in chat. I shut up once the food arrived.
We started with the Spring Rolls and the Blanket Shrimp. Spring Rolls were three tighly-packed, golden-fried, and full of delicious, mildly-peppered glass noodles and earthy woodear mushrooms. Served with a well-balanced sweet and sour sauce, we were delighted. So often, Thai spring rolls are served with a weirdly textured and bitingly sweet sauce that looks like red dye number whatever was in greater supply than common sense to the folks who made it. Not so here. Yummy.
Blanket Shrimp were wonderful. Fluffy fried shrimp wrapped in spring roll skin and served with the same sauce as the Spring Rolls. These were my favorite. Simple, tasty, and gently fried.
For entrees we decided to go with a dish we have had many places, and a dish that is new to us. The standard issue, good ol' reliable Pad Thai with shrimp was my choice. Why? Well, I think it canbe a good measure of how well a place can do. I also know that I can eat a mediocre Pad Thai and still enjoy it. This was not mediocre Pad Thai. You know how some Pad Thai has that very goopy and too-sweet sauce on it? I've had not great Pad Thai swimming in the stuff too many times. The Old Siam knows from sauce and there was just enough to complement the dish -- nothing more, nothing less. The peanuts crumbled on top were generous as well as the 6-7 plump juicy shrimp. Thr rice noodles were generous as well but stood out because they took kindly to the slightly hot, well-considered spices and hint of citrus. Easily the best Pad Thai I'vehad in a long time.
I would go back for the Pad Thai, but my partner's choice of Kee Mow Noodle with Tofu was fantastic. I mean it's been more than an hour since we left and I am still thinking about it. He could chime in more, but from the several tastes I had this was a thoughtful and expertly cooked dish. What the heck was the sauce? A vaguely earthy flavor with a touch of sweet and heat. The tofu cubed and cooked to a crisp on the outside and a bit chewier on the inside considtency. Served with the flat wide rice noodles one is used to in Pad See Eew or Broken Noodles, the dish was garlicky and comforting.
There was clearly a buzz in the air and the place was pretty packed. Neighboring diners were asking the same thing we were, wondering about the background of the owners, how business had been , etc. Everyone seemed happy to have a thai place on the hill and we were glad to join in the chorus.
Let me close by saying it is great to have a Thai place on the Hill, but it's even better to have a high quality Thai place on the hill where folks know how to cook. A restaurant is good, but a delicious restaurant is much much better. Let'shope this raises the game in the area.