Sunday, February 28, 2010

Siam Taste of Asia - Santa Ana

If every tofu tasted like those from Siam Taste of Asia, we'd see an immediate surge in soy bean futures. Don't get me wrong: I already love tofu in every form. I grew up with it. I use it more in my cooking than any meat. I eat it like most people might eat mac and cheese. But these? These are tofu made into candy.

It may look like the same deep fried tofu cubes common to Chinese/Vietnamese/Thai restaurants -- the kind you dip into a sauce. And for sure it does come with its own dunking medium. But you won't need it. Not here. It doesn't need extra flavor. It's already tricked out with a coating of a sticky, spicy, sugary-sweet glaze that might as well be, as I mentioned, a Willy Wonka confection.

When the woman who is its creator comes out to serve it to you, heed the warning she'll give: these suckers are too hot to eat immediately. As mouth-watering as they may look, do not dive in and assume you can handle it. Wait, if only for just a minute.

I say this because even after thumb-twiddling a few beats, and blowing it like it was on fire, a friend bit into one and out sloshed a scalding torrent of soy-curd napalm. Ouch!

The custardy, milky lava hides beneath the craggly surface of its crust -- a crunchy shell with the same DNA as a tater tot -- which is solid enough to make a hollow sound when you rap on it with a spoon.

Besides the tofu, there are, of course, other noteworthy things to try at Siam Taste of Asia. And I'll mention a few other dishes I ate in a bit. But read what Gustavo Arellano, Chowhounders and Yelpers have to recommend for a more complete picture.

If you ask anyone who's been to the restaurant, all will be agreed on more than just the tofu, and that is that Siam Taste of Asia is an underdog, underappreciated and woefully lacking in customers.

It smells of incense, has beautiful Thai wood carvings on the wall, and is not at all the sticky-table place I thought it would be from its outside appearance. They serve their rice in an ornate aluminum vessel, with a matching lid and scoop. They have jars on each table containing three types of chili-based condiment. One of them, the homemade nam prik -- a slurry of chopped bird chilies in fish sauce -- is wickedly potent and deliciously lethal.

Their spinach stir fry topped with golden fried shards of garlic swims in a sweet broth good enough to sip as soup. It's even better to moisten your rice with. The pad see ewe is just as good as any I've ever had, the Chinese broccoli meticulously sliced thinly on the bias. And though the tom kha gai is subtly white, it has a surplus of flavor and elegance, not to mention enoki mushrooms -- the first time I've seen it used for this purpose.

But when I go back, and I will, it's going to be for their tofu, first and foremost. Maybe I'll bring a probe thermometer. Either that or burn ointment, because I'm an impatient bastard.

Siam Taste of Asia*
(714) 418-9678
3520 W 1st St
Santa Ana, CA 92703

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Hebaragi Korean BBQ - Tustin

*Special Thanks to Melissa for the recommendation

18 Comments:

At 8:00 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

I loved this place the last time I was there, and yep way overdue for a return visit. Sad that such great food doesn't get more of a following, especially since it's a quick drive to from Santa Ana, Fountain Valley, Costa Mesa, etc.
Wake up peeps & git over there!(looks in mirror whilst saying this)

 
At 10:07 AM, Anonymous JB said...

"...a friend bit into one and out sloshed a scalding torrent of soy-curd napalm."


OK, if that line doesn't win a Blog Pulitzer, nothing will
LOL



That's 3D-esque critical writing, folks. James Cameron couldn't have directed it better
(second time I've mentioned Mr. Cameron, and I have no plans to see Avatar)

 
At 10:13 AM, Anonymous JB said...

Little known fact, in the movie The Exorcist, Linda Blair had just bit into some Tofu Tater Tots from Siam Taste of Asian when she hurled that scalding torrent of green goo napalm onto the priest.....

 
At 10:19 AM, Anonymous JB said...

But seriously, this is a great review of a place that probably could use a little more love
(but not too much...we don't want to ruin the atmosphere by overcrowding the place with no-nothings).

Love the tureen of rice...
...it's little things like this that subliminally calm and fulfill serious foodies

 
At 4:47 PM, Blogger Exile Kiss said...

Hi elmomonster,

Great review. :) I keep forgetting to try this place whenever I'm visiting my friends in the area, sigh. I'll have to remember next time. Thanks. :)

 
At 7:57 PM, Blogger HartCactus said...

I'll have to try this place soon! Thanks for the review.

Oh btw may I recommend a new place for Sushi...BISTRO ANJU ( http://bistroanju.com/ ) in Laguna Niguel. I highly recommend it!

-HC

 
At 10:12 PM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

Ah, the picture of the tofu automatically tells me it is going to be so flavorful and delicious! I was going to say it looked like a tater tot but you covered that :).

Custardy, milky lava= tofu? COOL.

 
At 1:33 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

Once again, you have made me wish I wasn't all the way up in Michigan.
But we have our share of good Thai food here. You have inspired me to do some Googling and find tasty new Thai places to venture to.

 
At 9:59 AM, Blogger Rocena said...

How does this place compare with Thai Nakorn?

 
At 6:18 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

christoofat,

I consider the place one of a few mom and pops that actually care on how everything is prepared. I can see the pride and taste it. Hope people see it for how wonderful it is.

JB,

You shower me with flattery. I'm not worthy! But I was particularly proud of that line too. My friend, however, didn't think it was so funny. HAH!

Exile Kiss,

It took me a while too. I wish I didn't take so long!

HartCactus,

Mmm! That sushi joint sounds good! Anything you recommend in particular?

Eat Travel Eat,

It's even almost the same size as a tater tot. The similarities are striking but the flavors couldn't be more divergent. But custardy lava = Hotttt!

Juliet,

I don't know if it's snowing up there right now, but you could use these tofus to de-ice your driveway! No...they're better eaten!

Rocena,

Ah! The $100K question! I was waiting for someone to ask it! To it I will answer that I still consider Thai Nakorn the best Thai restaurant in the O.C., maybe even California and the U.S. But that doesn't mean I can't also love this place as much as I do.

 
At 6:30 AM, Anonymous apn said...

love this place! the ownerlady is so sweet she even greeted me and recognized me at a bakery on garden grove!

 
At 12:39 PM, Blogger Juliet said...

Ha! We still have snow, but it's starting to melt. The ice is pretty much gone, and it's in the 40s today! Not warm, but compared to the teens and twenties, I'll take it!

 
At 1:21 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

Edwin!!

Sorry it took me so long to get over here and comment. I am thrilled you finally made it to Siam. And I am now seriously craving the fried tofu. That stuff is dreamy.

Glad you had the spinach too. Good stuff. But why oh why did you not try the seabass with green curry?? It's unlike any you will ever have. Go back, dammit. :) Get the beef or shrimp salad while you're at it. ;)

Also, I have to chime on the Siam v. Thai Nakorn thing. I finally explained it to the husband thusly: I think they're both wonderful in two entirely different ways. It's like they're different regions of Thai cooking and I feel like it's comparing apples to oranges. When I crave certain things, I go to one or the other. I will say, though, that they are now the only two I ever really go to (though I get pad thai, the rare times I crave it, at a place here in Lake Forest).

 
At 8:10 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

apn,

Yes! The owner is incredibly nice. She's definitely one of the reasons to love this place and why I want it to succeed!

Juliet,

It rained here today. But a Californian should never complain about weather!

Melissa,

Completely agree with you. It seems fruitless (no pun intended) to pit one against the other. Both are great in their own way.

And I knew you were going to call me out on the green curry seabass! :-) *wink*

I actually went in with two dishes on my mind (tofu and seabass) per your recommendation to me a while back. But then I was dining with two other people whose choice I had to consider. And by the time we had our chosen dishes, it was already too much food! But that just gives me all the more reason to come back!

 
At 9:05 AM, Blogger Melissa said...

I know how that is, when you have to acquiesce to other people's wants as well. But yes, definitely a reason to go back. I can't explain it well, but it's simply one-of-a-kind, that sauce.

Still so glad you went! And I'm craving it enough now that I may make the trip over this weekend.

 
At 10:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tried coming on a Friday night, but when I called, the person who picked up the phone said that they were closed. This was like 8PM!

 
At 6:34 AM, Anonymous Kelly von Hemert said...

'Scalding torrent of soy-curd napalm'
'The custardy, milky lava hides beneath the craggly surface of it's crust- a crunchy shell with the same DNA as a tater tot.'

Gorgeous description!
I'll make sure to wear my palate-protector...

 
At 4:36 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Melissa,

Went back and tried the seabass! It was good, but I think they might have changed it since they took the picture for the menu. These days it's not a whole fillet but a couple of cut pieces which are deep fried. The green curry sauce is the boss though.

Anonymous,

They're a small operation. Actually there are just two people there. I didn't check out the hours but they're supposed to be open until 9. Hope you try again some other time.

Kelly,

Yes! And also breath mints. I forgot to mention the tofu is practically covered in fried minced garlic.

 

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