CLEARWATER — Roll past Courtside Grille on Ulmerton, just before Jimmy John's and right near Beef 'O' Brady's is the Grand Slam. Odd name for a new Thai restaurant, right? Why can't I find a phone listing for it? • Ah, it's a font thing. A conjoined I and A masquerade as an L, making Siam appear to be Slam. Mystery solved. • But there's still some intriguing oddity at the three-week-old business where Tru Lounge, and Flo Lounge before it, offered VIP couches, bottle service and all the other club tropes (even a self-serve breathalyzer machine). The new Grand Siam, owned by Mat Chaiungsinsap who owns Ban Thai restaurants in Tampa, Clearwater, Brandon and Lakeland, still feels like a club.
Its bar features so much open space one can imagine 100 or more Carillon Business Park workers mingling and letting their hair down. The dining room, too, with its dramatic fluted chandeliers and long, polished wood sushi bar, has enough open floor space for several bowling alleys, dance floors or whatever. In short, it's a lot of space and not a lot of tables.
One reason for this is a persistent aim to be a nightclub on weekend nights. Yeah, maybe, but Thai food and traditionally attired servers (lots of tinkly bells) don't exactly gel with a thumping backbeat. We'll see.
For now, it's an appealing space for familiar Thai dishes, offered at prices that are competitive with Ratchada or 9 Bangkok in St. Petersburg, and, in fact, Thai food is underrepresented in Feather Sound. To my mind, sushi offerings are fairly workhorse in ingredients (the usual krab, tuna, shrimp tempura) with slightly excessive plate presentations and garniture.
In a scattershot approach, the best Thai dishes were those sumptuous with coconut milk: A quartet of chicken satay ($5.95) gets a bath of gently curried coconut milk before being grilled and paired with a sweet peanut sauce and tiny bowl of cuke salad. A tom ka gai soup ($3.95) brought a lush cup of galangal and lime leaf-scented coconut milk, crowded with straw mushrooms and white-meat chicken. Panang shrimp ($6.95 at lunch, $9.95 at dinner) brings traditional sweet, mild curry spiked with shrimp paste, coriander and crushed peanut.
Pad Thai ($7.95 at lunch, $9.95 at dinner), albeit pretty, lacked some of the high notes that make for an exceptional Thai noodle dish: no lime, no tiny pickled turnip or dried shrimp, no cilantro. Its pale pink sauce needed some oomph, which the kitchen is obviously capable of, given the fiery, vinegary punch of a mixed yum seafood ($9.95) with its thin rounds of scallop, shrimp and hatch-marked squid bodies almost ceviche-cured in a chile-sparked sauce and set atop iceberg, sliced onion and cukes.
Dessert offerings are fairly limited, with a pleasant housemade coconut ice cream ($3) and wonton-wrapped banana hunks ($3.95) fried in oil that, sadly, tasted of all the savory items that had been fried in it previously. A small quibble, but what makes Thai flavors often so beguiling is their brightness and forthright character, each element distinct and providing a counterpoint to other flavors and textures.
With no printed wine list yet and a short list of beer and sake, the beverage program still seems in flux. A full bar is a welcome boon, a rarity among area Thai restaurants.
Service is efficient, sometimes verging on brusque, but clearly the staff is composed of restaurant pros. A good thing, because at least at lunch, the restaurant has already been embraced by nearby workers as a regular go-to spot. Whether Grand Siam will be a "grand slam" for late-night carousing remains to be seen.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow her on Twitter, @lreiley. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.