Tucked away in a relatively nondescript red brick building just past M Street on L, Charm Thai embodies the phrase “hole in the wall.” Already an uncommon destination for Georgetown students because of its much closer competitor Mai Thai, this restaurant has more flaws than just its location.
Upon entering the restaurant, the customer immediately encounters an array of traditional Thai decorative pieces. Accompanied with themed place settings on each table, an authentic tone graces the establishment. The menu further perpetuates this feeling, featuring dishes that tout the traditional flavors of Thailand.
Although the options may be intimidating at first, the selection enables the customer to sample any number of entrees that appeal to their specific palate. In the case of Charm Thai, the extensive menu serves as one of its strongest assets.
Unfortunately for Charm Thai, the menu descriptions of the dishes fail to measure up to reality — their execution is nowhere near flawless. The spiced steamed mussels appetizer seemed promising: its basil leaf, pepper, ginger and spice broth sounded exquisite. However, the aroma of the broth was the only characteristic worthy of considerable praise. The mussels themselves were less warm than desired, while their texture was overly chewy.
Disappointed with the appetizer, I ordered pad thai, a staple of Thai cuisine, as my main course. Being that this dish epitomizes the country’s characteristic style of food, I hoped that it would be among the better menu options. Again, the presentation of the food along with its initial aroma was mouth-watering, but in fact the entree harbored the same flaws as its earlier counterpart.
The thick noodles, central to any pad thai dish, lacked significant flavor, and the seasoning was equally bland. The toppings lacked crisp freshness, as their limp texture sadly served as their defining feature. Combined with the noodles, the dish as a whole morphed into one uniform consistency. It’s safe to say that the pad thai was a highly unsatisfactory dish.
Apart from food, a restaurant has the potential to create an appealing eating environment by carefully crafting its interior and making sure the service is impeccable. As mentioned above, the decorative elements of Charm Thai sparked an authentic sentiment that resonated with the diners.
However, aside from this accomplishment, the restaurant struggled with a weak staff. The waitress stood at my table waiting for an order upwards of five minutes without departing, which seemed to be the norm of the restaurant as I noticed several other tables experiencing the same treatment. This attitude caused customers to rush their orders, unnecessarily adding an element of discomfort to the process.
This over-attention at the start of the meal transitioned to inattention after the order was placed and relayed to the kitchen. Waiters and waitresses would sit at an unoccupied table with one another, and rather than periodically checking up on their tables, they sat talking among themselves, eating their own meals.
The next appearance did not even occur when the food was brought out, as a chef would personally (but not gracefully) deliver it from the kitchen. It was not until a table had obviously completed its meal that the waiter or waitress would return with the check and a meek “How was everything?” This overtly rude behavior gave off the impression that the diners were not being cared for with adequate appreciation. Subsequently, the relationships between the staff and customers bordered on sour.
The only place that seemed to hold more impressive social dynamics was Charm Thai’s bar, somewhat uncomfortably placed in one corner of the establishment. The bartender held conversations with those at the bar, maintaining a consistent stream of interactions. But for the most part, the inaccessible service partially spoiled the experience of the regular restaurant goers.
The issues for Charm Thai spread across many different facets of the restaurant. Its initially positive impression as a restaurant priding itself on authentic flavors and genuine service collapsed as the meal wore on, and this failure to meet expectations causes the level of disappointment to be even more profound.
First and foremost, the food needs a major upgrade. However, in a close second for improvement is the service. The dining experience advertised by the menu of Charm Thai has potential that cannot come close to being met. Until that day comes, Georgetown students should continue to flock to closer Thai eateries to fulfill their craving for Southeast Asian cuisine.