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Siri's Thai French Cuisine
2117 Route 70 West
Track Town Mall
Cherry Hill, Camden County, New Jersey
(856) 663-6781

By The Artful Diner
Special to nj.com
December 26, 2005

In her review of Siri's Thai French Cuisine (New York Times, New Jersey section, March 27, 2005), Karla Cook spent most of her time moaning: "But Where's the Heat?" If her readers arrive expecting "instantaneous heat followed by layered, lingering flavors," of typical Thai cuisine, she warned, they have definitely come to the wrong address.

What Ms. Cook failed to comprehend -- and would certainly have been more knowledgeable had she paid a call during Executive Chef Fred Cherenfant's illustrious tenure behind the stove -- is that Siri's was always known for its subtlety and finesse rather than its fire. In point of fact, while Thai cuisine does enjoy the well-deserved reputation for its incendiary peristaltic reprisals, the degree of its spiciness varies greatly. And not only was Mr. Cherenfant a gifted interpreter of Thailand's often tumultuous tastes and textures, he was also a master of taming their heat and artfully fusing their illustrious attributes with a number of Western culinary traditions, notably French.

Over seven years ago, I posted my initial critique of Siri's Thai French Cuisine. This can be a veritable eternity in the lifespan of many eateries -- an establishment changes hands, the chef departs, and all bets are off. This is, unfortunately, precisely what has transpired here. Just over a year and a half ago, Siri's was purchased by Sam Sittikul and his wife, Vallpa; and since Mr. Sittikul assumed the reins in the kitchen, the changes have been notable... and not for the better. The menu itself hasn't been altered significantly -- some minor tweaking here and there and the elimination of several chicken dishes -- but the quality of both the preparation and presentation of the cuisine have, in my opinion, suffered dramatically. Understated and stylish artistry have given way to a kind of oafish, heavy-handed anomie.

And the bouillabaisse ($21.00) is all too typical of the kitchen's self-destructive slide into oblivion. Mr. Cherenfant's original version was the stuff of which dreams are made -- especially my wife's! It was a unique and exciting interpretation of the seafood classic, an unparalleled study in aesthetics as well as gastronomy. Shrimp, scallops, baby lobster tails, and salmon were combined with crunchy carrots and jicama in a crystal clear, mildly spicy broth redolent of lemongrass. Pristine in every respect. Alas, the current rendition is not even close. The shrimp and lobster tails are tough, the scallops rubbery, and the broth, now also tinged with tomato, is decidedly "funky."

As disappointing as the bouillabaisse may be, however, it is still several notches above the special roasted crispy boneless half duckling served up with peach schnapps glaze ($18.00), which is totally beneath contempt. The skin is certainly crispy... but the flesh is incredibly dry and tough and completely inedible. The peach "glaze" is comprised of preserves that undoubtedly sprang directly from a jar of Smuckers, while the schnapps is conspicuous by its absence. And the fowl is partnered with a gloppy, tasteless mound of rice and unremarkable and unadorned sugar snap peas. The dish is, without doubt, an unmitigated horror.

Other entrées fare somewhat better -- though not a great deal. The pan-sautéed Atlantic salmon ($20.00) isn't bad; unfortunately, the filet is drowned beneath an overly viscous brandy mustard sauce that is neither terribly attractive nor tremendously flavorful. The accompanying scalloped potatoes, on the other hand, are quite excellent. If only other offerings had as much going for them.

The grilled chicken breast with Thai green curry sauce ($14.00), however, does represent a certain high-water mark. Thick slices recline on a bed of tender baby bok choy, are crowned with an equally tender array of sautéed fresh vegetables, and the curry provides a well-rounded zip to the proceedings. But, once again, presentation (or the lack therefore) is the culprit. The dish isn't particularly prepossessing -- simply inundated with sauce -- and, despite the herb-olive oil marinade, the chicken is on the dry side.

Starters, in my opinion, have infinitely more to recommend them than do the main courses... but they are still something of a hit or miss proposition. The vegetable spring rolls ($4.00) are very nice, wonderfully crisp and not at all greasy, and are companioned by a ramekin of invigorating sweet chili sauce; and the steamed portabella mushroom and leek dumplings ($6.00) -- five slightly doughy pockets arranged in the shape of a pinwheel set in a pool of delicate caramelized shiitake sauce -- are also quite good.

Obversely, skewers of grilled chicken satay ($6.00) are simply dreadful. The fatty chunks are overcooked and enveloped in a gummy, nondescript peanut sauce. On the other hand, the grilled diver scallops over field greens ($9.00) are just the right consistency and adorned with a spicy lime dressing. Sensuously thin slices of smoked duck breast are also pillowed on field greens, but the presentation is marred by a rather strange tasting soy-balsamic vinaigrette ($8.00).

Desserts from the adjoining patisserie ($6.50), created by Siriat Tantiraksachai, sister of the former owner, are a highlight here... but even they seem to lack the pristine artistic panache exhibited during the restaurant's former regime. The crisp blueberry tart with sweet lemon cream is an excellent choice... ditto the apricot tart. But the banana tart is just so-so, and the Key lime pie looks somewhat fatigued and has a rather odd consistency.

Outwardly, not much has changed at Siri's Thai French Cuisine. The sensual and subdued dining room accented with Asian art and artifacts, crisp white napery, and fresh flowers still belies the bland strip-mall exterior. Behind the closed doors of the kitchen, however, things appear to have gone awry; the food has, in my opinion, lost a good deal of its luster.

Interestingly enough, after grousing ad nauseam about the lack of authentic Thai offerings (see paragraph one) Ms. Cook still bestows a "Very Good" on this establishment; which is extremely misleading to potential diners and adequate proof, I fear, that this is one dear lady who can catalog every tree in sight... and still manage to get herself lost in the forest.

Under the former proprietorship, Siri's Thai French Cuisine was a restaurant to which I would gladly have returned at a moment's notice. At this point in time, however, given the current state of the cuisine, it simply cannot be recommended.

Cuisine: Thai/French
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Sat, 11:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.; Dinner: Sun - Thurs, 3:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 3:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Casual
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Reservations: Recommended
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Moderate
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Web Site: www.siris-nj.com

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