Charm Modern Thai

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Restaurant: Charm Modern Thai
Cuisine: Thai/Fusion/Seafood
Last visited: August 17, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Yaletown/Downtown)
Address: 1269 Hamilton St
Price Range: $20-30, $30-50

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 3 (2.5 for appies, 3.5-4 for mains)
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 4
Overall: 3
Additional comments:

  • Thai House Group restaurant
  • Thai chefs
  • Restaurant/Bar area
  • Fusion Thai cuisine
  • Some traditional Thai cuisine
  • Modern presentation/techniques
  • Meat/seafood
  • Trendy/posh atmosphere
  • Only place in Yaletown with soup noodle bowls
  • Full bar
  • Thai inspired cocktails
  • Daily Happy Hour 3-5pm
  • Lunch/Dinner Menu
  • Sunday – Thursday: 11:30am – 10pm
  • Friday – Saturday: 11:30am – 12:00am

**Recommendations: Rock Pepper with Garlic Chicken Wings or Prawns, Tiger Prawn Satay, Pineapple Braised Short Ribs, Panang Curry with Beef, Goong Kaeng Kari (Curried Prawns), and Homemade Thai Tea Ice Cream

It was a return to the scene of a crime. No, I’m kidding. There was no crime, but what I’m referring to was my post I wrote for Charm Modern Thai earlier this year. I guess it might have been considered a cut throat post as I blogged about why I wasn’t charmed by Charm, and why I don’t really participate in Dine Out Vancouver either. It was a bit controversial, but it went up and stayed up – see here.

So you can imagine my surprise when I was invited to another media dinner at Charm Modern Thai. What? Really?! You’re going to reinvite the foodie that might potentially give you a damaging post? A ballsy move made by a restaurant with confidence that works to try and improve their menu. I like!

On this occasion it was a pre-celebration of Charm’s third year anniversary as well as the introduction to their relatively new chef Samnan Kamonroek. So almost the same menu, but with a new chef. Well hey that makes a difference! Give two people the same recipe and the final dish will come out tasting different. I mean why else can there be inconsistencies in chain restaurants? Anyways I was looking forward to my revisit and hoping to try different dishes from last time.

The “modern Thai food” concept is something I’ve accepted. It’s unfair to compare it to traditional Thai food so I’m throwing that out the door, just like I did last time. The only way to look at it is from a “does it taste good” and “was it worth it” perspective. So that’s the angle I’m going to come from.

On the other hand, I’m still confused by the direction of the menu. Half the dishes actually seem quite modern, and then the other half are quite traditional and things I could easily get for cheaper and possibly better at an authentic Thai restaurant. I can’t help but to compare those dishes with authentic ones of its kind. The more authentic dishes here just seemed to be a bit mild and catered to a Western palate, which isn’t very surprising considering the clientele and overall concept.

My experience with the food this time was better than my first, and perhaps it was because it wasn’t featuring their price fixe menu and I got to try a lot more things. That being said, it also means the dishes are hit and miss, and you have to be selective with your ordering. I usually enjoy appetizers more than mains, and in this case it was the complete opposite and my dinner got progressively better with almost every dish.

The previous Executive Chef at Charm actually moved to their new restaurant Pink Elephant Thai, which offers “thai-za-kaya” style items. It’s not really comparable since Pink Elephant Thai is supposed to be more traditional, but I still enjoyed it better than Charm Modern Thai overall. Part of me thought it would be the same stuff under a different name, but it’s not. The food and sauces are executed differently, but I did find the hit and miss dishes to be a theme at both restaurants. However order the “right things” and it’s actually quite a pleasant experience, and you won’t find either of these posh atmospheres for Thai cuisine anywhere else in Vancouver at the moment.

On the table:

Appetizer Sampler

  • This sampler is not available on the regular menu, but I think it should be.
  • This platter featured a selection of their signature appetizers: Larb Gai, Fish Cake, Duck Stick, Tom Kha Lobster Bisque, and Tiger Prawn Satay.
  • Since everything was one bite, it was all pretty good. However the stand out and what I would order a la carte would be for sure the Tiger Prawn Satay.
  • There is an appetizer platter for 4 on the regular menu with Thai Spring Rolls, Crispy Prawn Wonton, Duck Sticks, Chicken Satay and Rock Pepper with Garlic Prawns for $28.

Larb Organic Gai2.5/6

  • Minced organic chicken mixed with fresh Thai herbs, spices, chilies and fish sauce ($10 a la carte)
  • I usually love this dish and it’s one of my favourite Thai dishes and must order items, but I wasn’t keen on it here.
  • I prefer it with minced pork, but that’s harder to find in Vancouver, BC.
  • It’s a minced chicken salad with a burst of lime juice flavour and fresh basil leaves.
  • It was bright and zesty, slightly sweet and tangy, but I found the chicken a bit dry and crumbly and not as marinated with fish sauce and spice compared to more authentic versions. Some places can make even white meat chicken juicy and tender.
  • It wasn’t bland, but for larb gai it is considered a milder version.
  • I would have liked it spicier as well and there seemed to be an absence of chili powder, but I think you can customize the spice level upon order.
  • There was a crunch of red onions and a hint of toasted rice for some nuttiness, but I could have used more of the toasted rice.
  • This was only a sample, so the whole dish may be different.
  • In case you’re curious, here is an authentic larb from Hong Kong and my favourite thus far – see Tuk Tuk Thai Restaurant.

Fish Cakes 2.5/6

  • This was available as an appetizer on their fresh sheet menu for $5. I’m not sure about the portion size.
  • I like fish cakes, but I didn’t find anything particularly special about these ones.
  • It’s an Asian style fish cake, so the fish will never be flaky and obvious in fish texture, instead the fish meat will be pureed into a paste, mixed with other ingredients, shaped into a patty and pan fried.
  • These ones seemed deep fried, but they weren’t crispy, however the inside was tender and very juicy.
  • It was very aromatic with a strong hint of galangal (which is a fragrant type of ginger used in Thai cooking) and some Thai herbs.
  • It wasn’t spicy, but I could have used some red curry paste in the fish cake marinade for more intense flavour.
  • It was served with crunchy diced sweet cucumbers marinated in a sweet and orange tasting Thai chili sauce, which was a nice refreshing accompaniment.

Duck Sticks3.5/6

  • Fried duck confit spring rolls served with a wok roasted chili sauce. $9 a la carte and comes with 4 sticks.
  • This is probably the house favourite appetizer.
  • It’s a crispy thin cigar shaped spring roll stuffed with lots of duck, but last time I had them they had more pickled slaw (see here), so it may be a bit inconsistent. The last time was from the Dine Out menu, so that may explain it.
  • The duck pieces are actually very fatty slices of roasted duck with the skin. The skin is quite chewy and thick, but in the context of the crispy roll you can’t tell and it did give it a lot of duck flavour.
  • The duck meat is savoury, but not juicy for being confit.
  • It’s not saucy or particularly marinated in anything heavy, so the roasted chili sauce which tasted like a sweet and tangy sweet Thai chili vinaigrette was a good match.

Tom Kha Lobster Bisque 2/6

  • Our delightful signature lobster bisque, lemongrass, coconut cream and a gentle kick of spices. A la carte $8.
  • I have a feeling this is better a la carte. I’ve tried this on a few occasions and I feel like I’ve enjoyed it more before.
  • It was quite acidic from the tomato, but I could taste the lobster crustaceans infused into the soup.
  • It was quite creamy, but not thick or rich for a bisque and it wasn’t sweet from the coconut either. Maybe it just needed to reduce more.
  • There was a piece of tender and crunchy lobster and I could taste the tang of lime and tomato as much as I could the seafood, and I would have preferred it less sour.
  • The lemongrass wasn’t that apparent and I think it just needed to be thicker and more balanced with sweetness and perhaps a drizzle of lobster infused olive oil.

**Tiger Prawn Satay5/6

  • Lemongrass marinated prawn satay sticks served with cucumber, red onion chutney and Thai peanut sauce. A la carte $10 and also available in chicken for $10.
  • This has always been one of my favourites here. It had the most flavour and heat out of everything on the platter.
  • I know it’s not Ocean Wise, but they’re still delicious.
  • It’s a crunchy and tender prawn well marinated with lemongrass and curry and its natural flavour was still apparent.
  • Since it was grilled there was an added smokiness and crispness from the charring, but the meat was juicy.
  • The sauce was amazing and it’s more of a Malaysian style peanut sauce than an authentic Thai peanut sauce.
  • The Thai peanut dipping sauce is a creamy, sweet, tangy, nutty, and spicy dip with minced garlic, ginger and crunchy peanuts with soy sauce, fish sauce and some added coconut milk. It’s not overly spicy, but very peanutty and well balanced.
  • They were served with mini toasted garlic bread that were very buttery and garlicky, and that was a fusion aspect that I liked.
  • That dip shouldn’t go to waste, and the bread was a better squeegee than my fingers.

Thai Soup Noodles2/6

  • $7
  • I just know they can do better than this. This is a new item and it’s only available at lunch.
  • So far Charm is the only place offering soup noodles in Yaletown, besides Japanese udon.
  • This tasted very Chinese to me and besides a few Thai chili peppers I didn’t know where the Thai aspect came in.
  • I was hoping for a coconut Thai curry soup broth of some kind, or even a lemongrass broth, but it tasted like chicken or vegetable broth with a dominant Chinese soy sauce flavour. It wasn’t overly salty, but it just tasted like soy sauce soup.
  • I found it a bit oily, and the noodles were a bit soft, but there was a decent amount of ingredients including basic fish balls, deep fried tofu, some minced chicken, bean sprouts, cilantro, green onions and Thai chili peppers.
  • The chicken was just plain minced chicken like the one in the chicken larb salad, and I wish it was seasoned with Thai flavours if the soup wasn’t going to be.
  • It was almost Vietnamese pho meets Chinese rice noodles, but I’d rather have either of those first because this one just fell short and seemed very “make at home”.
  • For $7 it’s a rather affordable lunch in Yaletown, but I have more faith in the soup noodle bowls being offered at sister restaurant Pink Elephant Thai, which I think could be more Thai in style and flavour.

Pad Thai3.5/6

  • Pad Thai prepared the traditional Thai way with fresh tamarind juice. With chicken or prawn $13
  • The Pad Thai was actually pretty good and authentic and I did like it better than the Pad Thai at Pink Elephant Thai.
  • The carrots were a modern twist, but I did like the additional crunch and colour of them.
  • It was well sauced with savoury and tangy tamarind, but it lacked spice again and I’d request it with more chili because it wasn’t spicy at all.
  • The noodles were soft, but not overcooked and there was a decent amount of tofu, but I could have used more peanuts and scrambled eggs.
  • This is good, but it’s not particularly something you have to order here.
  • Personally I prefer the Pad Thai at Khunnai Chang Madame Elephant Thai Cuisine more.

Pan Fried Garlic Fish – 3.5/6

  • Pan fried basa fish in a light garlic sauce $15
  • This is a new menu item and it reminded me of Chinese food. It was actually quite home style Cantonese in flavours.
  • Thai food does have a lot of Chinese influence, but this one just seemed very Chinese, but less intense and savoury with the sauce.
  • This was very good, but it’s not something I would order here because I prefer the Chinese version and it doesn’t seem unique to the restaurant.
  • It wasn’t crispy and the fillets were boneless and skinless and coated with a simple flour batter, which wasn’t too thick.
  • It was garlicky and peppery with freshly cracked black pepper and a light soy sauce, and the fish was moist and tender, but not really anything I haven’t tried before since I’m familiar with this type of dish, flavour and cuisine.

Green Peppercorn & Yellow Thai Curry with Beef 4/6

  • Around $13-14
  • This seemed like a modern interpretation of Thai yellow curry and it was much lighter than authentic versions.
  • It wasn’t as rich with coconut milk and it was a thinner broth like sauce rather than a heavier creamy one.
  • It tasted like a basic yellow curry, but it was very herby, aromatic and bright with the strong flavour of fresh Kaffir lime leaves.
  • It wasn’t as sweet as Thai curries can be since there was little or even no coconut milk and I did miss the texture of freshly pureed curry paste and this one seemed a bit pre-made.
  • It wasn’t spicy again despite the many strands of green peppercorns, which alone taste milder than black peppercorns and perhaps a bit bitter with a mild heat.
  • The beef was very tender and well marinated and that part was well enjoyed.
  • It was full of crisp green beans and crunchy sweet bell peppers, but overall it was similar to a stir-fry, but more aromatic, less greasy, and more tangy with lime.

Green Tea Chicken2.5/6

  • Pan seared green tea and lemongrass marinated organic chicken breast with orange and ginger glaze served with sauteed vegetables $19
  • This is very catered to Western tastes and I’ve had it once before, but still feel the same way about it.
  • It sounds more exciting than it actually is.
  • I wouldn’t have guessed it was made with green tea without reading the description.
  • It tastes just like honey orange chicken coated with a mixture of plum sauce and very sweet Thai chili sauce.
  • It’s not very gingery and it’s not spicy at all, but a bit sweet for me.
  • I really think the base of the sauce is the same as the roasted chili plum sauce from the Duck Sticks appetizer.
  • The green tea and lemongrass marinade was more like a breaded paste than a crust and I’m not sure if it was intended to be this way, but I would have liked a crust.
  • The pool of syrupy sauce just made the texture more soggy and paste-like.
  • The chicken was moist and juicy though and I liked that!
  • Overall the dish seemed like a fusion of American Chinese-Thai rather than Japanese-Thai, and I’m not sure what they were going for.
  • The flavours were familiar and I can see why Western palates like it, which seems to be the case here since it is one of the popular favourites and they tend to love it.

**Pineapple Braised Short Ribs 5.5/6

  • Pineapple braised red curry short ribs topped with pineapple chunks $17
  • This was one of my favourites of the night.
  • It’s a sweet and savoury house specialty and I would order this and recommend it.
  • The beef was cut up in pieces off the bone, but it could have been under our sharing circumstances it was served this way.
  • The bone was served, but I prefer it with the meat fully attached. It makes for better flavour when it’s cooked on the bone.
  • The pieces of short rib were buttery and perfectly marbleized. It just melted in my mouth and it was incredibly juicy and tender and required very little chewing.
  • The sauce was a smooth pineapple infused red curry but it wasn’t too fruity or sweet with pineapple. It was less rich than a Panang curry.
  • The pineapple chunks were fresh and juicy and it was overall a delicious fusion dish I could fully appreciate and embrace.
  • It would be nice to have the fresh basil leaves more incorporated into the dish and fried with the curry paste though.

**Panang Curry – 5/6

  • Choice of beef, chicken or tofu $15 Substitute for prawns +$3
  • We had it with beef, which I highly recommend because they use beef brisket.
  • I find the Panang curry the best here and it’s their curry sauce that seems to have the most texture and flavour. It tastes the most “made from scratch”.
  • It was even better than last time and I feel like they improved the recipe, unless the vegetarian version is just different – see here.
  • Panang curries are on the sweeter side of Thai curries, and it’s usually richer and thicker too because it’s dry fried and made with coconut cream instead of just the milk.
  • In a way it was similar to the red curry from the Pineapple Braised Short Ribs, but it was richer, sweeter and more pungent from shrimp paste.
  • There was also more acidity from tomato, and overall it’s just much more flavourful than a red Thai curry sauce. They are different and not comparable though, but I like this one better.

  • The beef wasn’t as tender as the short rib from the red curry though, and that was the only oops.
  • This was brisket and not short rib, so it’s understandably not as tender, but at the same time it was slightly dry and could have been juicier.
  • The cut was a bit lean, so that could attribute to the slight dryness, but there was enough curry sauce to mask it and it didn’t bother me that much because the sauce is excellent.
  • The quality of this Panang curry paste and sauce, in particular, is more comparable to the ones being served at Pink Thai Elephant, which were pretty solid.
  • If I can recall correctly the Panang curry sauce could be even slightly better in the Keang Panang Pla at Pink Elephant Thai, but overall I liked this one better.
  • If you like this, I also strongly recommend the Coconut Curry with braised oxtail and pumpkin from Pink Elephant Thai.

**Goong Kaeng Kari5/6

  • Curried Tiger prawns simmer in Thai yellow curry with seasonal vegetables $14
  • It was my first time trying this dish and I would for sure order it again. I also love scrambled eggs and this one used a lot of them.
  • It was 4 jumbo Tiger prawns and it seemed a bit pricey, but they were excellent.

  • The prawns were tender, crunchy and juicy and they were smothered with a chunky dry fried yellow curry sauce with scrambled eggs, minced garlic and ginger, carrots, sweet onions and bell peppers.
  • It almost tasted like a fusion of Thai curry and Hong Kong style Chinese curries similar to the ones featuring curry fish balls, which I really enjoy.
  • It was a savoury bold and spicy sauce and it was less aromatic than the beef curry dishes above, but still as strong if not even stronger in flavours.
  • It was super creamy and reduced with lots of coconut milk and tender veggies.
  • The chunkiness of the sauce with sweet caramelized vegetables and silky scrambled eggs made it a meal in itself. On top of rice it was perfect!
  • There was a nice spice from the chili flakes too and it was the only dish that seemed obviously spicy.

Steamed Jasmine Rice with coconut Milk

  • $2.50
  • I have to give a shout out to their coconut milk rice which is one of the better ones I’ve had.
  • At times it was a bit wet, but they drizzled it with coconut milk and I could actually see and taste it.
  • I just wish there was more because the bottom didn’t really taste like coconut milk and it was a bit uneven.

**Homemade Thai Tea Ice Cream – 6/6

  • $4
  • I’ve displayed by affection for this dessert when I first tried it here.
  • Not only do I love ice cream in general, but I’m incredibly enthusiastic about any tea flavoured ice creams including lavender, Earl Gray and Matcha. Rose is not bad, but at times it can be overwhelming.
  • I look forward to this part.
  • It was ultra creamy, smooth and rich, and sweetened with condensed milk. It’s not as sweet as caramel and not bitter either.
  • It tasted literally like authentic pulled Thai tea and it almost seemed malted this time around.
  • It was just as tres excellent as the Vietnamese coffee gelato from Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie.
  • Between me and my sister we went through 4 scoops… which is really nothing… but after all that food, I impressed myself. 🙂

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