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*
3520 W 1st St
Santa Ana, CA 92703
THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Hebaragi Korean BBQ - Tustin
*Special Thanks to Melissa for the recommendation