The phad Thai lunch special at Siam Garden, seen below. (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)
By SUSAN ERICSON
With the Thai New Year celebration (Songkran) just around the corner on April 13, PieHole thought it was a good time to visit Siam Garden. Located in the Galleria at West Front Street and Bridge Avenue in Red Bank, the restaurant has been serving traditional Thai dishes for 16 years.
Framed by architecture that includes concrete ceilings and pillars, vestiges of the building’s original incarnation as a turn-of-the-century uniform factory, the space is decorated with artifacts imbuing a peaceful Asian ambience. Light streaming in from surrounding windows, silken textiles and wooden tables and chairs bring warmth to what would otherwise be a cold interior.
Nomjit, who goes by the nickname Jiew, Serves traditional jasmine tea. A tray of curry dishes with jasmine rice are also on the lunch specials menu, below. (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)
Siam Garden is not your typical run-in-and-grab-lunch kind of place. The music and decor inspire a spirit of relaxation. If you’re in a hurry, order your meal for takeout, because nothing here is rushed, and that includes the service.
While perusing the menu, our waitress, Nomjit, who goes by the nickname Jiew, suggested we take advantage of a lunch special: soup of the day — which is the same soup everyday, she tells us — and phad Thai for $10.
What is the soup of the day? It’s cucumber soup, we’re told. No special name for it, just cucumber soup. Curiosity piqued, we bit, or sipped, as it were.
The pretty blue and white cupful was simple but refreshing, combining bits of chive, thin slices of chicken breast and, as expected, cucumbers in a clear chicken broth.
Flurries of activity around the dining room were hard to ignore. Trays weighed down by porcelain plates of curry and jasmine rice effused herbaceous aromas, making us salivate.
The monochromatic dish of phad Thai that finally made its way to our table was a letdown, however. Typical of the recipe we’ve had many times before, the basics were there: a good serving of flat rice noodles coated in a tamarind, fish sauce flavoring, with slivers of egg and chicken, along with a healthy amount of chopped peanuts and a tiny wedge of lime. Missing were some essential ingredients: slices of red pepper, fresh crispy bean sprouts, and the spicy heat that usually comes with this dish were all no-shows.
Too often, we see this sin of omission. “Dumbing-down” a recipe for the sake of the masses is annoying. It disappoints those with expectations of authenticity, and teaches the novice to believe that this is what Thai food is about.
Siam Garden is a lovely, atmospheric restaurant with a caveat. Eat here, but request up front that your order be prepared in the traditional manner.
Lunch is served Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. A traditional Thai New Year celebration and buffet will be available on Sunday April 17. For more information call 732-224-1233.