Charm Modern Thai

I have wanted to try Charm Modern Thai ever since it opened. In fact, we visited the restaurant a couple of times in hopes of a weekend lunch, but were disappointed both times because the restaurant was closed. The premise of Charm is that of "classic exotic Thai flavours with a slight Western modern influence".

However, we were in the neighbourhood for an evening movie and decided to try this place again for dinner. My experiences with Thai food in Vancouver have been mixed to say the least, and I've been trying to find one that would bring back memories of growing up in Thailand.

The interior of the restaurant is posh, plush, with red walls and booths, and gold accents. It's pretty refreshing to see a Thai restaurant that had a contemporary feel without the usual Thai kitsch. However, with the music and the darkness, it had a little too much of a 'nightclub' vibe.

We both ordered the Thai iced tea ($3). Though it was missing that characteristic bright orange hue, the tea was very good, with a nice balance of sweet and creamy, and a prominent tea taste.

The first dish we shared was Lemongrass Mussels ($10), which were steamed in a lemongrass, galangal, chili, Thai basil, lime and wine broth. It arrived in a large white bowl with a couple of slices of garlic toast. As soon as I tasted the broth, I was sold - the broth had a real punch with lime, herbs and chili, and was absolutely heavenly. It very much reflected the broths you would get in Thailand. The mussels, however, were on the tiny side; there was little meat inside and the morsels were far from plump.

For the other dishes, we decided to try out the classics, because what better way of testing out a Thai restaurant? We got the Papaya Salad ($10). Strangely, the server did not ask the level of heat we wanted for this dish. Anyway, it looked great when it arrived, piled high in a bowl, but like some other places, the salad was piled on top of a foundation of iceberg lettuce, giving the impression of a bigger portion than there actually is. I'm not a fan of this strategy.

The salad itself had good elements: the look of it, the texture of the papaya, the addition of carrots, the taste of fish sauce. However the dish was entirely too sweet.  A great som tam has to have a balance: the sweetness needs to offset the lime and chili, but this dish did not have that. This was disappointing because the salad looked so good.

Next was the Larb Organic Chicken ($10), which is a salad of minced chicken with spices, herbs, lime and fish sauce. Again, our spiciness preference was not asked.  This arrived with a side of iceberg, which is okay (but why iceberg?). The intention is to have the larb with the lettuce, almost like a lettuce wrap. This is because normally the larb would be really strong in spicing and flavour. Again, the elements were outwardly great, but this dish really lacked seasoning as well. I've never had a bland larb gai, but this was really watered down and nearly tasteless.

The Pad Thai ($12) was one of the dishes that I'd heard that Charm does really well, so we are excited to try it.  When it arrived, it certainly looked impressive, with the nest of carrots, and a few lonely stalks of chive. However, it looked a little off - there was no lime wedge, and normally you would have a larger side of chives to eat the noodles with. The noodles also looked really wet, which was not a great sign.

A good thing about the dish were the prawns, which were large and juicy. However, that was the end of the good stuff. Quite simply, the noodles were too soft, and were quite broken up; this is really bad. But the far larger sin was again in the flavours of the dish; the noodles were way too sweet. I mean overwhelmingly sugary. We couldn't even finish this dish. This is one reason a wedge of lime would have been a godsend here.

It's very possible that I'm being overly harsh here, but why would you ruin pad thai like this? This dish does not resemble anything you would get in Thailand. It just makes me shake my head.

After the disappointment of the dishes, we still decided to give dessert a chance; we shared the Thai tea ice cream ($4). Unlike the other dishes, this dessert had awful presentation. A scoop of ice cream in a glass bowl topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry? Really?

The taste of the ice cream was actually very good, with a great Thai tea flavour. Why don't we have this flavour in the stores? It would be a great addition to any gelato shop!  But we did have a major problem with this dessert, however; the ice cream tasted really old, and had icky, congealed lumps throughout, like the kind you'd get with ice cream that you'd left in your freezer quite some time ago.  Why would you serve this to your customer? It baffles the mind.

We were thoroughly let down with our dining experience. While the restaurant calls itself having modern Thai cuisine, they need to have much better classic dishes (or not have them at all on the menu). I just don't get it; do the compromise in flavours make for a better restaurant?

While it's true that I'm probably quite a lot tougher on Thai restaurants than other cuisines, it's because I seriously want these restaurants to be good, and I go into them with a great hope. It's tough to be let down so much. Disappointment is the word of the day on this one.

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