Times Food Critic
Kitty Hammer has been in the business of Thai food for a long time, first at Ban Thai in Clearwater and then at her own Orchids Thai in Port Richey. Perhaps not surprisingly, Bua Siam, opened about a month ago, has the self-assurance of a restaurant much its senior. Hammer and boyfriend Panont Saiyakit, sous chef and chef respectively, have a streamlined approach to all the Thai classics: Pick your presentation, pick your protein and voila.
The attractive dining room, renovated since its last incarnation as a Chinese restaurant, also boasts a small sushi bar. The sushi is mostly familiar offerings well rolled and appropriately garnished, but I was more impressed with the dynamic flavors of the house curries, salads and noodle dishes.
Let's have a little Thai curry primer. Green and red are the most common, both heavy on the coconut milk with lemongrass, garlic, chilies (green for the green curry, dried red for the red), lime leaves and herbs. Green tends to be a little hotter, but also, strangely, sometimes sweeter. Yellow curry, from southern Thailand, is fragrant with turmeric and galangal, most traditionally paired with fish and chicken. Massaman ("Muslim") curry, often an orange color, is dominated by roasted peanuts, potatoes, tamarind and sometimes sly cinnamon, most traditionally used with beef or duck. And panang curry is often richer, sweeter and creamier than these others, also often with peanuts and traditionally used with beef. Jungle curry tends to be super spicy and with no coconut milk.
All of these variations are undertaken with grace at Bua Siam. A panang tofu ($10.95) was spicy, thick, sweet and pale pink, crowded with bell peppers and zucchini and a scattering of crushed peanut. Massaman beef ($9.95), also a hefty heat level, paired curls of tender beef with hunks of potato, carrot and sweet onion. To provide contrast to these coconut-creamy dishes, we ordered a Thai basil chicken ($9.95) with a lively fish sauce-chili paste-fresh basil balance and lengths of still-snappy green bean.
Also zapped with fish sauce, but counterbalanced with lime and chili flake, shredded green papaya salad ($9.95) was an ample and lively starter, crunchy shreds studded with tomato wedges and fat shrimp. For those same flavors in a meatier format, the yum beef ($8.95) brought sliced tenderloin with lettuce and cuke, all powered with lime and fish sauce (almost like a ceviche, Thai style).
Saiyakit sends out very solid pad Thai ($9.95-$12.95), but I was more smitten by his sweet soy sauce pad see-ew ($9.95-$12.95), stir-fried rice noodles with veggies like broccoli, carrot and straw mushrooms enriched by tiny drifts of scrambled egg. Exotic but still comforting.
In an unremarkable strip mall, this newcomer is still awaiting discovery by north Pinellas Thai food fans. But it's just a matter of time before Bua Siam's curries are favored.
Laura Reiley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293. Read her blog at tampabay.com/blogs/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.