One day the country's learned gastronomes should study the gravitational pull of sushi in Thai restaurants.
Is it some sort of sexy come-on? "Hey, big boy, wanna hand roll?"
Savvy marketing ploy? "Buy two green papaya salads, get one California roll free! But wait, there's more!"
1524 79th Street Cswy, North Bay Village; 305-864-7638. Open for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner daily 5 to 11 p.m.
Out-and-out bribery? "Congressman, I'll give you this bag of hamachi if you'll order tom kar gai."
Or perhaps it's just that sushi, over the years, has gone from Japanese exotica to all-American ubiquity. You know: baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and salmon skin roll.
There's no question, though, that in Miami at least, sushi gravitates to Thai restaurants the way the Earth is yanked into orbit around the sun. It's too bad in a way, as if Thai cuisine — surely one of the world's most varied and exciting — can't sell itself on its own and needs sushi to hang around like some slick-talking sidewalk barker. Outside of a few (mostly very high-end) restaurants, around here one place's sushi is pretty much the same as every other's.
All of which brings us to Sushi Siam — né Siam Bay Shore — a spacious and comfortable North Bay Village restaurant whose name — and separate sushi bar — make the point quite nicely. And it is quite a nice restaurant. On the Thai side, the walls are adorned with waist-high wainscoting and ornate wood carvings. Tables are set with salmon-color cloths topped with glass panes; a single rose of exactly the same hue on each table is a thoughtful grace note. Service is hardly effusive but it is efficient, and the wine list boasts a surprising selection of French and domestic bottles.
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On the Siam side of the menu, the food comprises mostly competent, workmanlike renditions of familiar Thai dishes that are flavorful and artfully presented if not inspirational. Nam sod is a good example: The nubbins of ground pork spiked with lime juice, onions, ginger, and chilies are fetchingly mounded in an iceberg lettuce "bowl," a nifty touch that temporarily distracts from the fact that the pork needs more of all its enhancements to make it really sing.
Mee krob sings perhaps too loudly of a candy-sweet, almost caramelized "tomato sauce" tossed with crisp-fried rice noodles and garnished with bean sprouts, scallions, and plump, fresh-tasting shrimp. Pad thai with shrimp dials back the sweetness a bit, though the same intriguing caramel nuances still come through. The usual garnishes make an appearance, and the crustaceans are fresh and tasty.
Some dishes inspire (and cause one to perspire). Tom kar gai — tangy, coconut-milk-enriched chicken soup — is a lovely effort, with tart-spicy-pungent flavors in perfect balance and thin strips of tender chicken and bouncy straw mushrooms in abundance. Even better is duck curry, half a boneless bird impeccably deep-fried and napped with a silken red curry sauce whose spicing ignites a slow, pleasurable burn on the palate. Chunks of fresh pineapple, red and green bell peppers, and fat, crunchy cashews add bonus points of flavor, color, and texture.
Perhaps our learned gastronomes should roll all of that up with rice and seaweed and study it.