Siamese, please 

Siam Square delights with sizzling dishes and stylish flair

One would never guess, driving past the innocuous Windy Hill Shopping Plaza, that the poured concrete strip mall is home to an eatery as smartly kitted out as months-old Siam Square. Indeed, with neighbors like the as-ordinary-as-its-name-implies Local Bar, elegant Siam Square is a striking addition to the area. The restaurant doesn't rely on the superficial, however. Its array of flawlessly prepared curries, soups and salads are as rich as its jewel-toned interior.

Ginger, not MARY ANN:
Guests are immediately soothed upon entry by a gurgling tabletop fountain and smooth European house music. Large black-and-white photos of Bangkok paper an entire wall, in crisp contrast to the bright punctuation of Gerber daisies lolling in slim bud vases attached to the windows. Ginger stem plants, bold blue-and-white tableware and gorgeous bamboo-handled brass flatware imported from Thailand grace the tables. Siam's eye for details extends even to the ladies' restroom, where guests can not only partake of ginger-lemongrass hand lotion but also bolster their self-esteem with a look in the mirror that's stenciled with the beauty-affirming statement, "I am the most beautiful person I have ever seen."

Spice World:
The kitchen caters to varying levels of chili tolerance, preparing each dish as mild or as sinus-meltingly spicy as wished. Beef salad ($6.50) ordered "as spicy as you can make it" was a nuclear holocaust for the taste buds. Ripples of flame on the tongue were rewarded with the delicious nibbles of succulent grilled steak, crunchy bits of roasted rice and cooling mouthfuls of mint leaves and red onions. Tangy-sweet green papaya salad ($5.50) with crunchy peanuts, green beans and tomatoes was a brilliant pairing for the nearly debilitating spiciness of the beef. Diners with low spice thresholds will appreciate the basil rolls ($5.50), which combine tofu, carrots, basil and rice noodles, swaddled tightly in rice paper and matched by a sweet, plummy sauce spiked with crushed peanuts. The chefs' keen sense of balance in both flavor and texture renders traditional favorites such as butter-tender chicken satay ($6.50) sublime.

Thai me up:
It's not hard to imagine that the flavors of Thai cuisine could be quite jarring in the wrong hands. There's the potential for painful spiciness and tongue-shriveling acidity, and ingredients, such as basil and kaffir lime leaves, could stick out like elbows unless skillfully employed. Siam's chefs combine these elements into a perfectly orchestrated medley such as the soft-shell crab special ($12). Coated in a crisp, feathery batter, the crab was served with a cilantro sauce whose acidic edge lightened the dish. Each member of the red, green and Siam Square curry trio titled Curry! Curry! Curry! ($12) shone on its own, combining falling-off-the-bone meats, fresh vegetables and intricately, powerfully spiced broths and sauces, yet the three seemed meant to be enjoyed together. A garlicky saute of scallops, peppers and basil leaves ($11) was as fresh and appealing as the first such dish I'd tasted on a beach in Koh Samui years ago.

Prices and portions are scaled down at lunch, providing the perfect respite from bland midday eats and valueless maxi meals. Siam Square's outstanding food and excellent service make the drive to this emerald in the rough well worth it.

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