By Kit Waskom Pollard, For The Baltimore Sun
12:03 AM EST, December 24, 2013
From ramen to pho, noodles are not new, but they are definitely trendy. At Noodle Charm, a Towson spot that opened in July, the focus is on Thai-style street food.
Noodle Charm's bowls of noodles, vegetables, protein and broth, flavored with traditional Thai spices and condiments, are not fancy. But they do satisfy, making Noodle Charm a welcome addition to the Towson dining landscape.
Scene & Decor Noodle Charm is in an office park but it's cuter than that sounds. The owners did what they could with the location, painting the walls a bright, warm yellow and adding patterns and art all over the place.
But it's too quiet. When we arrived, just before seven on a Thursday, we were the second people in the small space. It was so silent we felt the need to whisper. Even after several other tables filled, everyone spoke in hushed tones.
Through the walls, we could hear music from Noodle Charm's next-door neighbor, sister restaurant Spice & Dice. It sounded fun, but far away. A little background music would've added a lot of positive energy to the Noodle Charm space.
Appetizers Potato-stuffed fried wontons ($4.95) made a fun snack, thanks mostly to underlying notes of curry and a bright, sticky, sweet and sour sauce for dipping. Though we wouldn't have minded more curry, the appetizer's crispy-meets-soft texture and subtle flavors were good ones.
Entrees Noodle Charm's entrees fall into three categories: "authentic noodle dishes," which come ready to eat, rice-based takes on Bangkok street food, and do-it-yourself noodle dishes that allow diners to pick and choose their noodles and condiments.
We stuck with the noodles, first trying the Bangkok Peanut dish from the "authentic" menu ($8.95). The combination of soba noodles, chicken, fried shallots, fresh carrots and bright mixed greens in peanut sauce wasn't the most adventurous Thai food we've tried — but it was fantastic.
The sauce was sweet, thick and intensely nutty. We loved it. Surprisingly, it was the vegetables, not the sauce, that made the dish so special. Carrots sometimes feel like a throwaway addition, but these were bright, fresh and vital. And a small deposit of mixed greens was unexpectedly appealing.
From the DIY portion of the menu, we tried the duck noodle soup ($7.95 for small or $9.95 for big) with wide, slippery egg noodles. When it arrived, the soup was basic and mostly unseasoned — simple pieces of duck, noodles, mushrooms and sprouts in a thin brown broth, topped with cilantro.
The soup didn't stay unexciting for long. With it, we received a caddy with four traditional Thai condiments: pungent fish sauce, dried chili flakes, sugar and chili-infused vinegar. We doctored the broth with bits of vinegar, sugar and chili flakes, tinkering with the mix until we found just the right balance of spicy, acidic and sweet.
Drinks Noodle Charm does not serve liquor, though they do allow BYOB (with no corking fee). Lagers and bright white wines would pair well with the menu.
We went the nonalcoholic route, with zingy iced ginger tea ($2.95) and Thai tea mixed with lemonade ($2.95) — a slightly exotic take on the Arnold Palmer.
Dessert We wrapped up the meal with slabs of dense, mild Thai custard paired with sweet sticky rice ($4.95), and a less traditional sweet: fried wonton "s'mores" stuffed with marshmallow and chocolate and topped with chocolate sauce ($4.95). Both were simple, sweet and satisfying.
Service One of the few dimmer spots at Noodle Charm was the service. It wasn't technically bad — especially if you prefer perfunctory, but mostly timely, service to the fake cheer encouraged by some restaurants.
The waiter's dry expression wasn't our problem. We were disappointed, rather, that he wasn't more familiar with the menu. When asked to recommend a protein for the Bangkok Peanut (the choices were chicken, beef or pork), he looked lost and admitted he'd only tried the chicken.
Details like the waiter's lack of knowledge and the overly quiet atmosphere suggested that though it's been open for months, Noodle Charm is still tweaking the details.
But they've got the food part down — and that's what really matters.
Back story: Husband and wife team Randy Williams and Lawan Fuangphon opened Noodle Charm in Towson in July. Noodle Charm is the third restaurant in their small, Thai-centric empire, which includes next-door neighbor Spice & Dice and Little Spice in Hanover, which Fuangphon owns with her sister. While the two original spots focus on "restaurant-style" Thai food, Noodle Charm is all about noodle-heavy Thai street food.
Parking: Lot in front
Signature dish: Noodle Charm's Bangkok Peanut dish, with soba noodles, chicken and peanut sauce, is like a soupy, satisfying iteration of Pad Thai. Chicken is a nice, neutral canvas for thick, wet and tasty peanut sauce — but it's the fresh vegetables garnishing the dish, including mixed greens and tons of crunchy carrots, that make it special.
Where: 1220 East Joppa Road, #106, Towson
Contact: 410-494-8424 ; noodlecharm.com
Open: 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Credit Cards: All major
Bottom line: A variety of Thai noodle preparations and a bright, cheery space make Noodle Charm a welcoming spot for a satisfying meal.
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