Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Siam Express

10308 Business 21
Hillsboro, Mo

First things first. It was a three day weekend for me, Presidents Day. I like this holiday since not everyone shuts down for it like they do for the big ones, 4th of July, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Boxing Day. So that means I can actually get something done other than just sitting around the house. I celebrated January's MLK day by getting my car inspected, something that takes a few hours and is best done during the week. This time, I pretty much just sat around the house and watched the History Channel. I could have done something else though.
Saturday and Sunday Adam and Angel traveled to Springfield, Mo. to celebrate somebody's birthday or something, I forget the details. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself and tending to our own dogs in situations like this. I can feed myself and generally manage the house. Especially since I know Angel's cell phone number. I only had to call her twice this time. Besides, Diana, Angel's able assistant, was going to be stopping by several times to tend to the client dogs and the fosters that I was not familiar with. Diana's great, very good with the dogs and a superb photographer as well.
I could have eaten anything, made something myself, but hey, why not party like a bachelor? So I ordered a pizza. The plan, order a large one and graze on it all weekend. So I did. On Thursday, I handed my order to Adam to take to Pizza Junction with him on Friday. He works there. I spent nearly a half hour listing toppings, tweaking, adding, deleting, until I decided I had designed the perfect multi-meal pizza.
 14 inch, traditional crust, Junction pizza sauce, mozzarella and provolone cheese,  pepperoni, pork sausage, Italian sausage, bell peppers, onions and a half-dose of bacon. I wanted a little bacon but I did not want it to overpower the other toppings. When I got home from work on Friday night, there it was. "I brushed garlic butter around the edge of the crust." Adam said. He'd made it himself, bless his little heart.
It was phenomenal, perfect, awesome. It was even better than you are imagining it was. I noticed the garlic butter, subtle, but just the right classy touch. I actually do love PJ's pizza. I don't care for their tea much, but this weekend I made my own. However, by post-breakfast Sunday I took the remaining pieces, wrapped them in wax paper and stuck them into a freezer bag. It was indeed very, very good, but even I can get too much of a good thing. By that afternoon I was craving soup and salad. We still want them to name our family's absolute favorite, a chicken, steak and Alfredo sauce pizza, after us. 'The Bentley' See, it sings! I don't think that's too much to ask.*

The Place:
Just off business 21 and Pioneer in Hillsboro. A small place sharing a building with a tax firm and maybe something else.
Siam refers to the old name for Thailand. That's a country in Asia, I think. Its capital is of course, Bangkok, made famous by the song 'One Night in Bangkok' from the concept musical 'Chess' written by Tim Rice, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. I don't know who Tim Rice is, but Björn and Benny are the two guys from ABBA, which is, without dispute, the greatest musical group of all time. The Bangkok song, which might be Thailand's national anthem, I'm not sure,  was sung most prominently by Murray Head. "Who?" You ask? Head's the guy famous for singing the theme from 'Jesus Christ Superstar' That guy.
Siam itself,  Thailand, is probably most famous for creepy cats. I'm sure there's other interesting stuff to know about the country, but I've noticed that most of you have really short attention spans, so I'll not bother you with actual research. Look it up for yourself.
We've been wanting to try this place for a while, but that's been tough since they are only open Monday through Friday. However, President's Day. I drove by it earlier in the day Monday and took the sign picture, went inside and asked for a take-out menu. The plan was to do it take-out, family style; order three or four main courses, add some rice and egg rolls, then mix and match as we feel like it. It's the kind of thing we do when a Chinese place is not a buffet.
The place is small, only five or six tables. It looked clean though and not over-decorated.
Everything we'd heard about it, including online reviews were quite positive.
It is not, as the name might suggest, a Thai restaurant. It is much more like a traditional Americanized Chinese place.
 So we called in our order. Sesame Chicken, Cashew Chicken, Beef and Broccoli, Pepper Steak, one egg roll, one order of three Crab Rangoons, two small fried rice, one small steamed rice. The lady on the phone said it would be ready in about forty minutes. Angel had a dog coming in, so I volunteered to make the run. I went in and waited behind the only other customer as he scanned the overhead menu. The proprietor had the phone squeezed into her neck while writing. I looked around. Six four-tops, one booster chair and exactly one Asian themed print on one wall. No gaudy bric-a-brac, no Chinese lanterns. It was decorated in what I can only describe as 'generic'. They could be a pizza place or a sandwich shop without changing a thing. The kitchen was behind a wall. Only a sliding glass window, behind which was where the proprietor stood, perforated the wall.
There were a couple of bookshelf speakers mounted on that wall, out of which poured a lively gospel song. That's different, I thought to myself. That's right, I'm not a gospel/contemporary Christian music fan. It's right up there with country on my long list of music that I will avoid listening to if at all possible. I don't mean to say that it's objectively awful, only that it is well outside my taste zone. I was glad that this was take-out though. Another similar song came on, after some radio station ID break. I'm pretty sure whatever that station was is not one of my car's radio buttons. It's not about the message, it's just something I do not enjoy.
I could smell the food, this pleased me. While waiting, I counted the floor tiles. They were 12" inchers. I measured the dining room to be twelve by fourteen feet. A small place indeed.
The gentleman gave his order and took a seat at one of the tables. I stepped up and announced my order. She smiled and said she'd check on it. She disappeared for a minute, then returned saying they were bagging it at that moment. I checked my watch, it had been precisely forty minutes. I greatly appreciated the timeliness.
As she tapped in the ticket I asked her how long they'd been open.
"Twenty years."
"Yeah, this year it will be twenty."
I must have looked perplexed. She smiled and asked "How long you been here?"
"Seven years."
"This is your first time here?" She looked a little concerned.
"Yeah, I'm very sorry about that, for not coming in sooner."
She smiled. "That's okay, we've been pretty much word of mouth. The landlord finally let us put up a better sign though."
The whole order fit into one grocery sized bag, expertly packed, orderly and tight. Like it was packed by someone who had been doing it for twenty years.
I found out somewhere in our chat/settling up that this was a family owned place, her and her husband.
I paid up, forty two dollars and change. I signed the slip and asked for a receipt.

The Food:
When I arrived back at the compound, there was a Mini-Cooper in the drive, the training building and pens were all lit up. The client had arrived on time.
I emptied the bag of the little cartons, those ubiquitous wire-handled boxes that are uniquely Chinese. Well, except that they aren't. Like fortune cookies and General Tsao, they are almost completely foreign toChina. NPR did a piece on that this week, how some ex-pats, missing their Americanized Chinese food while living in China decided to open up restaurants that made and served the stuff. Turns out the Chinese people are mostly quite receptive to the strange, foreign delights served up there, including those funny little boxes.
Adam and I popped open the cartons, they'd been labeled with initials indicating what was what.
I pulled one of my Asian plates out of the cupboard and loaded it up. Two Rangoons, a portion of rice, sesame chicken, some of the pepper steak and one chunk of the Cashew chicken. The first thing I noticed, delighted in, were the big thick veggies in the steak. Onions, peppers and celery, wok'ed perfectly.The second thing I liked with my eyes was the rice. It was the proper color, not yellow or orange as is common in many places in the area. The third thing was the size of the chicken chunks, not too big.
Adam loaded up his plate with his favorites, the steamed rice, some sesame and cashew chicken and the beef and broccoli (blech!).
About the time we were finished plating we heard the Mini fire up and leave.
Angel joined us within a few minutes.
I headed to the table, propped open my book, and jumped in.
The sesame chicken was perfect, sweet, but not too sweet, and as I said, the nugget size was dead on.
The rice was pretty good, nothing fancy, not heavily flavored. The beef strips were thin and tender, the veggies, excellent indeed. The cashew chicken was not what I expected, it was definitely not Springfield Cashew Chicken. I knew Angel would say something about that. She did. It wasn't bad, but she was in Springfield the day before, and well, you know, that town is the Mecca of Americanized Chinese food.  Later she added that the egg roll was a bit doughy and too  heavy on the carrots for her tastes. The broccoli (blech!) however, she said was perfect. I'll take her word for that. Adam enjoyed it all very well. He'd been in Springfield too, so that's a high grade.
I did not go for a second plate, I still had some pizza to work off.
Not bad at all. A couple of little issues, but nothing terrible. Compared to other Chinese options in Hillsboro, this was hands-down the better of them. There's one other Chinese place in Hillsboro that I have never reviewed and vowed I never will. I ate there once, or maybe twice, didn't care for it at all. That's all I''m going to say about it. Siam Express beats them on every single note.
We've had better Chinese, but like I've said, we're from Springfield. Having a place this good in Hillsboro is quite a treat. To get better we'd have to drive for a half hour or more.
The price? It may seem steep, but we were building a buffet that will last at least one more full meal and some evening grazing. If we were to zoom in on specific combination plates it would have been only  eight or nine bucks each. We went deliberately overboard  to give it a solid tasting. We were not disappointed. We got our money's worth, easy.
I shouldn't even have to say it was good. The fact that they've been open for twenty years in this small town already screams that it is a pretty good place to eat. But take my word for it, now that you know about the  place, you really need to try it.

* Apologies for the gratuitous plug. I have it on good authority that there are certain members of the PJ management team that read this blog regularly. If I can't use this soapbox for a little gentle coercion from time to time what kind of lily-livered soul would I be?

SIAM Express on Urbanspoon

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