Thai cuisine has achieved popularity largely due to its lightness, freshness, balance and artful use of spice. According to the famed Thai chef McDang, “We not only pay attention to how a dish tastes: we are also concerned about how it looks, how it smells, and how it fits in with the rest of the meal.”
Small wonder, then, that it has permeated isolated corners of the planet—places such as Telluride, an alpine ski resort at 9000 feet in the Colorado mountains with no discernible Asian population. The only Asian faces in town, in fact, are the ones behind the stoves at the Siam Restaurant.
Siam is located in a restored house in a residential section of Telluride. The building is worn and comfortable, like an old shoe. It features a series of small dining rooms that flow into each other, an open kitchen, a cheerful bar and a wraparound porch that hosts nightly live music (American folk rock, not the traditional Thai luk thung or mor lam).
The menu at Siam is large, verging on encyclopedic, with well over 100 dishes in close to a dozen categories. The intent is to present a comprehensive range of traditional Thai cooking, rather than offer something for everyone. Regardless of what category you choose, you have the luxury of specifying your desired spice level—a useful option for beginners or wimps.
Categories range from traditional soups such as tom yum (hot and sour) and tom kha (enriched with coconut milk and lemongrass) to authentic dumplings and salads composed of glass soy noodles. A selection of hand rolls is filled with ingredients as diverse as king crab, crispy duck, salmon and fried tofu. There are curries, tempura, grilled dishes and fusion entrees, as well as a comprehensive selection of stir-fries. On this last group, the Siam chefs are straightforward and self-effacing about the secret of their success: simply get the wok hot enough, something that most cooks are hesitant to do.
Siam succeeds on many levels. It’s not a pretentious and trendy joint posing as a French bistro, farm-to-fork outpost or après-ski rendezvous. In the simplicity and artfulness of its execution, it does what all great restaurants do—it allows you to leave feeling more refreshed and exhilarated than when you arrived.
Mark Spivak’s latest book, Moonshine Nation, has been released by Lyons Press; for more information, go to amazon.com