by Rick Winterson
His full Thai name is Banjongyuvayong Yuvayongdee, but he is known around here as Joe Thailand, although he could now be called Joe America since receiving his U.S. citizenship seven years ago. A still youthful looking Joe Thailand has been a Boston restaurateur for 33 years, starting with his first House of Siam in Copley Square in 1985. As a geography note, Thailand is the modern name of the nation once known as Siam. Thai food and Siamese food mean the same.
Joe opened the House of Siam now located at 542 Columbus Avenue almost exactly 20 years ago, on April 13 in 1998. That was a very propitious date – April 13 is the Siamese New Year in Thailand. And this new restaurant was an immediate success. This review deals with Joe’s second Thai restaurant, located at 592 Tremont Street near the theaters and the Cyclorama. That restaurant will become ten years old in just a few weeks. NOTE: Both restaurants serve Thai cuisine, of course; their respective menus are identical.
A word about the décor you’ll see at the House of Siam. The statuary is arresting in its serenity. Take a few moments to look at it; take some snaps on your cell phone. The leafy and flowering plants are eye-catching. Interior colors are intentionally muted, featuring wood tones, gentle lighting, and a wall shade of gray/brown that somehow looks warm, restful, and inviting. “Intimate” is a suitable word.
Joe himself has a naturally ebullient character; he broadcasts a wide, wide smile to everyone who comes in. He was born in Bangkok, the Thai capital, and maintains his roots in Thailand. He has two restaurants there and his relatives attend college here in the Boston area, while working towards their advanced degrees. He traveled back to Thailand this year to visit his mother during their New Year.
That Joe is highly successful goes without saying. His Thai cuisine has achieved “Bests” in Boston some five times. The Phantom Gourmet is a regular take-out customer; his son drives here from Needham just to enjoy House of Siam dishes. Joe is especially fond of his hundreds of customers (and fans) who live in South Boston. Many of them order take-out, which you should consider doing if you’re having a party or watching some athletics. Joe’s take-out orders were more than half of his business this last weekend, with its hockey and basketball playoffs, the damp but exciting BAA Marathon, and the continuing success of the 2018 Red Sox. Keep that in mind.
And now to specifics: For appetizers, we ordered giant, deep-fried Shrimp Tempura with a sweet, tangy dip and a Thai Specialty called “Golden Bags”. The latter are made from wonton (noodle dough) stuffed with ground chicken, onions, and corn, and then quickly sautéed – unique and tasty. This was followed by two main courses – Pad Thai (truly the signature Thai dish) and (believe it or not) fried chicken. Pad Thai is made with rice noodles, not wheat. These are lightly pan fried, or essentially sautéed, and then cooked with eggs, shrimp, chicken, bean sprouts, and ground peanuts. With Thai seasoning, it becomes uncommonly rich-tasting. The House of Siam’s fried chicken consists of a whole breast of chicken dipped in batter and deep-fried. The serving is sizable, and thus retains its moisture. It is presented on a sauced layer of delicious mixed, fresh vegetables. Overall, the House of Siam’s seasoning has familiar elements (like ginger), but definitely has a flavor that is, well, Far Eastern, exotic, and delightful.
This time, we purposely chose dishes that weren’t heavily spiced. But an adventurous diner can enjoy these whenever he wishes. The House of Siam’s Chicken Basil is fiery and heavy on the basil. Pork Pik King is another daring choice. But go there to enjoy Thai/Siamese cooking. It’s another world of tastes, and there’s something there for everyone.
A final note: The portions at the House of Siam are very generous!