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Free Range

Stang of Siam

Photo: Sam Holden, License: N/A

Sam Holden

Stang of Siam

200 E. Preston St., [443] 453-9142

Baltimore’s newest Thai restaurant is also hands down the city’s most handsome. Soaring espresso-brown walls and minimalist art give Stang of Siam the feel of a high-end spa, and the high-gloss hardwood stair treads, the grain dark and graphic as tiger skin, will make you want to run home and refinish your floors. Three dining levels—the buzzy main floor, a tucked-away mezzanine, and a snug crow’s nest holding four tables that overlook the downstairs—allow chances both to see and be seen or to take to a corner for private dining.

Open just short of two months, Stang of Siam’s every table is taken on a recent Saturday night and a line extends out the door. “Is this your first time here?” one waiting patron asks. He lives nearby and has been once before, he says, and couldn’t wait to come back.

The packed dining room could be why a meal here feels uneven. While a clearly overstretched server practices politeness and patience, the pace of the meal is slow, waits for drinks are long, and soup arrives lukewarm rather than hot. And while some dishes are extraordinarily good, like a zippy mango salad ($7.50) or the gorgeously fragrant tom yum goong soup ($5.50)—all lemongrass and piquancy brimming with mushrooms and a generous serving of jumbo shrimp—others, like a run-of-the-mill spring roll ($6) or tod mun goong ($8), seafood cakes that recall the shrimp toast of old-style Chinese American restaurants minus the toast, do little to impress the palate.

Stang of Siam’s menu extends to include what diners have come to expect at Thai restaurants. There are noodle dishes and curries, meals built around rice, and salads bursting with chili, lime, and garlic. A section of the menu titled the “Green Corner” touts “healthy eating,” which translates mostly into vegetarian versions of other dishes on the menu: pad Thai tofu, larb tofu, basil jae. The “signature dishes” section, the menu claims, offers dishes available only at Stang of Siam, and a few of them, such as the grilled marinated lamb in tamarind sauce ($20) or gra phao ped ($16), boneless duck, deep fried and smothered in chili garlic sauce, don’t show up on menus around town much, if at all. The duck is billed as crispy, though the sweet-hot sauce takes some of the crunch out of the breaded skin. Pla lad prik ($17), another signature dish, turns out remarkably similar to the duck, with flounder replacing the fowl, even though the sauce here is described as chili basil.

Somehow, regretfully, curry was overlooked in favor of Stang cashew ($14 with shrimp), a mild and fairly nondescript stir fry, and a very good rendition of drunken noodles ($12 with beef). The noodles are less sweet than other versions and ramped-up on spice, including lots and lots of tiny black peppercorns that can sneak up on you if you’re not careful.

Stang of Siam offers a full bar, including pages of cocktails (something curvy and bright blue was served to a nearby table); a small, but decent selection of beers by the bottle (Singha, Flying Dog Pale Ale, a Sam Adams); and a handful of wines by the glass, including Prosecco, a nice touch.

One note on the physical menus: They are small works of art, miniature wooden shutters, hinged and painted, and evidence in the care that has been put into the physical details of the restaurant. The success of some of the dishes suggests that on another day, with better ordering and a little more experience under the kitchen’s belt, that same care for details will extend to more, if not all, of Stang of Siam’s food as well. I think it will.

Stang of Siam is open for lunch and dinner.

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