Friday, October 29, 2010

The King and I (and the Zombie Apocalypse)

I always liked Rodgers and Hart better than Rodgers and Hammerstein. Then again, Rodgers was the one who came up with the music, so naturally I gravitate towards the composer since I'm a much better composer than songwriter...

Let me back up for a moment...

For those who don't know, the aforementioned duos were Broadway Musical songwriter/lyricist teams. Between the 3 of them, they basically wrote all the musicals...seriously, they wrote all the musicals ever written for Broadway from about the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s...

Well, ok, so I'm exaggerating, but it's kind of true. Between these three fellows you got musicals like Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, South Pacific, and my personal favorite: Jumbo.

[For The Record: I'm not a fan of musicals...but why do I care about them? Because they are the source for many of the jazz standards I enjoy trying to play on my blues gigs. Sometimes 3 the three chord repetition of blues bores me and I need other chords to play through and around.]

Now, I've never seen Jumbo, and I probably never will. I know nothing about it, save for the fact that it revolves around an elephant and a circus, which I don't really care about. I do, however, know it produced one of my favorite jazz standards: The Most Beautiful Girl In The World.

No, not the Prince song. And not the Charlie Rich song either.

It's this one, done here by Sonny Rollins on his epic album Tenor Madness. It's the last cut on the record and features my favorite drum solo on record, done by Philly Joe Jones.

Such pretty, logical and bluesy changes with a great melody. I'll sometimes quote it if I'm playing a gig and I see a beautiful woman walk by. Granted the reference is never caught, but one day it will be and I will know that she is the raddest woman ever...I reckon hope springs eternal, or something.

So, where was I? Oh, yeah...Rodgers happened to hook up with Hammerstein to do the music and lyrics for the musical The King and I. You may, or (more likely) may not remember the movie of the same name starring Yul Brenner and Deborah Kerr.

(Stay with me...the food is on its way)

The King and I is...uh, I'll let Wikipedia get this:

A musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II based on the book Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon. The plot comes from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, who became school teacher to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s. Leonowens' story, The English Governess at the Siamese Court, was autobiographical, although her biographer, Susan Morgan, author of the 2008 biography Bombay Anna has discovered numerous inaccuracies and fabrications.

Now, you know, you can't technically go to Siam anymore, much like you can't technically go to Ceylon, Rhodesia, or Zaire. You can, however, go to Thailand, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe or the Democratic Republic of The Congo.

Ooh, wait! I take that still can go to Siam and you don't have to fly across the Pacific to do it. You just need to drive down Franklin Boulevard, in the heart of The Hood...

There it is...Siam

Let me just begin by saying this: I LOVE Thai food. I don't know how it started. I remember even as a kid I loved Asian food and my dad would always say, "You're Mexican! Where did you even learn to like Asian food?"

Well, I don't know how I learned to like it, but I always have and I always will...and Thai is my favorite of all. To me (and some of you may disagree) it has the widest range of flavors- from fresh to sweet to spicy hot. It also seems to be the healthiest, outside of Japanese, but then again I'm no nutritionist.

We are really blessed to have a lot of great Thai restaurants in and around Sacramento. But honestly, who would ever expect to look for one on Franklin Boulevard, across the street from an epic torta shop (El Abuelo) and an amazing panaderia (La Esperanza)?

Thai food on Franklin? Huh?

It's not just Thai food you'll find on Franklin. It's great Thai food you'll find.

I was accompanied by my friend Krista and we got out Thai feast on while discussing, oddly enough, the finer points of how to survive the coming Zombie Apocalypse.

The unassuming entrance common to restaurants in the hood...

So this is another one of those places that (a) has been there as long as I can remember and (b) I've always driven by but never been to. More than anything, I'd always wondered what the place looked like inside. In my mind, I always pictured it as being kind of plain and slightly funky with a down home charm that you find in many of the fine dining establishments in The Hood. What I didn't factor in, though, was the fact that this was a Thai restaurant and that no matter what, Thai restaurants are always decked out with dark wood and bronze figurines.

The cashier/kitchen entrance just inside the front door

This place is really cool looking inside. Not that it has a necessarily nicer decor than other Thai places around town, it's just surprising that such a nondescript place in The Hood would have such, dare I say, ambiance...

Yet another place with a mural reminder of "home"


Our server came, attentive and prompt, with waters and Krista and I got down to the business of deciding what we were going to be feasting on this evening. It was one of those situations where everything looked and sounded good. We'd been anticipating this Thai feast for so long that when we finally got there, we were a bit overwhelmed by choices and paralyzed by indecision. After some discussions that involved arm wrestling, ro-sham-bo, and the flip of a coin we chose the following items for consumption:

Pad Thai (I know, typical...but it's just yummy and simple)
Green Curry (Medium Spicy with chicken)
Larb w/Duck (Spicy Thai salad with mint, chili and lime juice)

While we waited for our food and I blissed out on a Thai iced coffee (mm...condensed milk!), the conversation somehow turned towards survival of the Zombie Apocalypse.

Now, I had always been of the mind to get out of town and head for high ground where you can stay out of their sight and, if they do find you, see them coming a mile away. This is actually not practical as Krista rightly pointed out that there would be traffic jams as people tried desperately to escape the urban centers where zombies are more likely to gather. She even noted that a car wouldn't be the best vehicle to use; that a motorcycle would be better in terms of speed and mobility. Needless to say, I was amazed and in awe of the thought that had gone into this. I even found out where the ideal place to seek shelter during the Zombie Apocalypse. I will not, however, disclose that at this time. I want to be able to stake my claim on the place without having to fight people over it. Let's just say this: When and if the Zombie Apocalypse is ever upon us, text me. I'll be with Krista, because she's like the Eisenhower of Zombie Apocalypse strategy.

Our first plate arrived as the discussion turned to the type of zombie the coming apocalypse would likely bring- the slow 50s style ones or the more modern crazy/fast ones.

Larb...Quack Quack...

So, I had to be convinced to get the duck. I've never been a big fan. It's always tasted a little to gamey and greasy to me. That being said, if I could get duck like this all the time, I would be eating duck all the time. This dish was SO good! It looks simple, but trust me, there's a lot going on here. Foremost was the duck itself.

I remember my mom would cook turkey legs in the oven when we were kids. The way they came out, the outer parts and the edges of the leg were a little drier and barely crispy, but so flavorful as they seemed to suck in all of the flavor in the pan they were cooked in. The duck had that same quality- very, very slightly crispy on the outside and moist, but not too oily on the inside. The duck itself was spicy, but not overpowering. The dish was like an amazing balancing act with the spice of the duck and chilis being balanced perfectly by the sweet and fresh of the mint and lime.

[As a side note, I've been reading about the latest taco fusion trend where clever foodies are attempting to combine Asian food with the venerable street taco. I don't get Japanese tacos and Korean tacos kind of make sense. THIS, however would be perfect in a taco...maybe with some onions and a little green salsa. You're welcome in advance food truck people!]

Next up: Green curry w/chicken and vegetables

It may not seem so with the lighting, but trust me, it's green curry

The green curry was very good. My only mistake was that I ordered it medium spicy. This is not to say that it took away from the dish. It's just that we were trying to err on the side of caution here, and never having been here, we had no point of reference as to what the degrees of hot meant. When I go back I will definitely try the next level- Hot, before I decide whether or not to attempt the highest level on the menu- Thai Hot.

Again, this dish was all about balance. Each bite was an amazing mix of sweet and heat (albeit medium heat). The curry sauce was almost creamy and felt (this may or not make any sense, but go with me on this) pillowy. Also, the veggies weren't soggy, as sometimes can happen when they arrive swimming in soups. I was liking the whole thing.

Finally: Pad Thai

Who doesn't love Pad Thai?

The final dish was the classic Pad Thai. What can I say about this dish that hasn't been said already, probably millions of times? It was what it was. It was good and done right. I will point out a detail that I appreciated. There was no noodle clumpage (at least this night) that sometimes can happen to Pad Thai. As with the other dishes, the veggies retained their crisp and added nice texture to the dish as a whole.

I am going back to Siam. I may even invite my vegetarian friends (yes, I am a supporter of alternative lifestyles), because they really do veggies well and offer tofu as an option with their dishes. When I do, I will also order things one level spicier, because...well...I'm Mexican and I like spicy foods.

As for the Zombie Apocalypse, I'm calling Krista, because she's the woman with the plan, and she's not afraid to kick ass...literally. But like I said, I can't disclose the location just yet, unless you make me a very lucrative offer, of course.

Siam Restaurant
5100 Franklin Boulevard
Sacramento, California 95820
(916) 452-8382


  1. Broadway tunes, thai food, zombies, and the company of a lovely woman -- Aaron, you have managed to single-handedly include several of my favorite things into a very entertaining read: hats off!
    (you're still gay, though)

  2. I have been enjoying this restaurant for YEARS!. To put in perspective, since the original owners, who went back to Thailand after putting their kids through college, had the exterior painted pink!

    They have been through several changes sine then, but have consistently provided great food at reasonable prices. My favorite dish has always been their Tum Yum Gai soup, but their green curry chicken runs a close second. Also, the deep fried Tofu is absolutely delicious.

    I find it hard, almost impossible to believe that you are just finding out about this jewel of the Orient in the hood, Aaron.

    It really seems that most don't expect to have Thai food this far south in Sacramento, since there are wonderful places closer to the core of town, but it is definitely worth testing your car alarm to have a meal here (just kidding, since most folks in Midtown think it's a jungle in South Sac),

    Having lived in this part of town for most of my 40+ years in Sacramento, I can tell you that Franklin Blvd. hosts several food emporiums that rival the more well known destinations. One of the best German delis, Morant's, is an unlikely destination on Franklin as well. Where else can you buy real sausage casings in Sacramento?

    Thank you Aaron for shining a beacon of light on one of my favorite Thai restaurants in town! Not like it was easy before but I'm sure it will be hard to get a table now.

  3. Thanks for your interesting column. If you want to read more about the origins and preparation of Thai food, see the magnificent coffee-table book Thai Street Food, by the Australian chef David Thompson (2009). For more on the real story of Anna Leonowens, see Bombay Anna by the US academic Susan Morgan (2008), or see my own book, Imagining Siam: A travellers' literary guide to Thailand, by Australian-based journalist and academic Caron Eastgate Dann. (2008).

  4. Caron,

    Glad you stumbled across my little piece of the internet and enjoyed what you read. The world is a little smaller thanks to technology like this. I will definitely look out for the Thai Street Food book as well as for your book.



  5. Thanks, Aaron. I enjoy reading the great food blogs that are springing up. You might like this one, by a journalist friend of mine in Melbourne, Australia:
    He travels around his part of the city with his young son (aged about 9). His advice to his son is: "You don't have to like it, but you do have to try it".

  6. Aaron, Thanks for the heads up. Served in northern Thailand '69-'70. Lived in a Thai household on the Mekong river. Food wise I've never been the same and I was a SoCal surfer who spent his weekends in Mexico (another food weakness). This place is real close to my home. Keep up the articles. Well received. Rich