If expectations for a new restaurant are high, they're off the charts for the second iteration of a successful eatery. Between a devoted customer base, menu allegiance and — potentially the most off-putting of all — a different location, it can be a delicate balancing act to attract longtime customers to a different neighborhood while enticing new ones to an unproven space.
Mom's Siam 2 is located in the former home of Hana Zushi in Shockoe Slip. It follows in the footsteps of its big sister in Carytown, albeit in a smaller space. A renovation left the room familiar but refreshed with a striking color scheme of tranquil blue walls and a regal red ceiling hung with red and white lanterns.
Incongruous wooden wheels, the only holdover from its predecessor, still decorate the divider. Art runs the gamut from detailed prints of fish to large-scale, abstract paintings in the same color palette. In what's quickly become a restaurant cliché, the Food Network plays on two screens front and back.
One element that didn't get refreshed is the menu, a graphic designer's nightmare with four pages of single-spaced, small-print offerings. Only the wine list affords the luxury of white space and a bit of color. But while the wine list ($7 a glass, $32 a bottle) header boasts "Wines for EXTREMELY GOOD Thai/Japanese Food," with the exception of Barboursville Pinot Grigio, the choices are fairly mundane. Cocktails ($7-$9), five sakes ($7 a glass, $15 a bottle) and beer ($3.50-$7), including Sapporro, Asha and Singha, round out the ways to get your drink on.
If the measure of a kitchen is its soup, Mom's Siam 2 scores high with its winning chicken-broth-based, hot and sour soup ($3.95), easily the best I've had in Richmond. Demonstrating both characteristics of its name, the pleasantly spicy soup will be my recommendation come winter when sniffles and colds necessitate a homey prescription to clear the head and warm the soul.
Everyone likes a good dumpling, and Siam dumplings ($4.95) fit the bill with the thinnest of wonton wrappers around minced pork and shrimp. But if you're still thinking about the State Fair, go for hoy jaw ($5.95), the same ingredients deep-fried in bean curd skin for a crackling take on an old favorite.
A salad of tuna num tok ($9.95) layers high-grade raw tuna with chili pepper, onions, cilantro and lime for a meal that's both light and bracing in its spiciness. Sushi, sashimi, maki and 21 special rolls make up a page of the menu and are made by the same pro who was behind the sushi bar during the Hana Zushi era. Red Bull roll, anyone?
On weekdays, lunch bustles with Thai boxes ($10.95-$14.95) popular for their plentitude: soup, a crispy roll, salad, entrée, rice and fruit (watermelon or cantaloupe in my experience). The richness of Siam duck curry ($14.95) with its flavors of tomato, coconut milk, pineapple, basil and bell peppers in red curry sauce, feels like an indulgence. Although the beef is a bit tough in pad thai ($12.95), it's classic street food, filling and generously portioned. Thai beginners will do well with stir-fried chicken, broccoli and carrots in brown sauce ($10.95) with its heat at a manageable level.
Like the squint-worthy menu and in-your-face screens, some fine tuning is still in order. Two kinds of dumplings arrive, neither with sauces, which our server doesn't notice until we say something. She then shouts from our table to the kitchen about the omission. At lunch, it's everything the staff can do to keep up with the capacity, so waits are inevitable. Dinner is calmer, but music is missing one night, corrected only after I mention it.
The kitchen seems to have a consistency problem with spice levels, conveniently star-rated on the menu from one star (spicy) to four (Thai spicy). On my first visit, pork stir-fried with ginger, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions and carrots is bland with no appreciable spice, while on my third visit, pork pad prik khing with chilies, string beans, bell peppers and lime clears my sinuses and puts a sheen on my forehead. Yet both were ordered with two-star heat.
Like using chopsticks, it takes some adjustment to attain just the right balance. Mom's Siam is getting there. S
Mom's Siam 2
Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
1309 E. Cary St.