Two newish Thai restaurants have grabbed hounds’ attention on the notoriously Asian-challenged Upper West Side.
Charm Thai, open since March, sets itself apart from the pack with fresh flavors, assured cooking, and some Western touches. “Someone knows how to make sauces at this restaurant,” observes dewdropin, who’s impressed by the French-style tangerine reduction that accompanies crisp roast duck. Duck seems to be a smart order here. Another choice, tamarind duck, is a stunner, says cimui—juicy on the inside, skin roasted to a lovely crisp, and topped with another deftly turned sauce, neither too sweet nor too sour. The same care and skill is evident in crisp, seemingly greaseless fried foods, like vegetable spring rolls and kung sala (fried shrimp-chicken roll).
Chile heat is slightly muted, but unlike many other Thai restaurants, Charm appears to be holding the sweetness in check. Standards like pad thai and pad kee mao (drunken noodles) are uncommonly well executed, loaded with fresh vegetables and cooked to a turn. No reports yet on the menu’s fusiony forays, such as baked clams with garlic and bacon, crab pancakes with creamy garlic sauce, and broiled salmon with Thai herbs and Marsala. Prices are gentle, and the décor quirky and cool.
Less than a mile north, two-month-old Thai Market is drawing crowds with fresh flavors, attractively priced lunch specials, and lively Bangkok-modern décor—though some find the seasoning pallid, a familiar Upper West Side complaint.
“Flavors were clearly articulated, well balanced, and wonderfully fresh,” says cimui, who has cut a good-size swath through the menu. One standout is pla meok ping (grilled squid with marinated roasted chile), boasting lovely texture and a surprising burst of smoky flavor that “hit all the taste buds at once.” Crisp-sautéed radish cake is a spicier spin on the dim sum standard, with chile-infused brown sauce and welcome textural counterpoint from bean sprouts and Chinese chives. Also recommended: crab fried rice, gai rad preeg (chicken with chiles and garlic), and sautéed marinated skirt steak (with hot, vinegary jeaw sauce on the side).
Others, however, complain that the flavors are fatally dumbed down. While decent for the neighborhood and “a bit sprightlier than mediocre Thai,” Thai Market is “no Sripraphai, no Zabb, not even quite a Wondee,” concludes mary shaposhnik, drawing the inevitable comparisons to hound favorites around town. Among the misfires, she adds, were comforting but one-dimensional khao soi (curry noodles) and a nouvelle-style yum neua (beef salad), salty and sweet but devoid of tartness, herbal lift, or chile heat.
Thai Market [Upper West Side]
960 Amsterdam Avenue (between W. 107th and 108th streets), Manhattan