Second Chances: Pad Thai

Thoroughly disappointed by our regular ritual ground, we sought out another site to carry out our rites. After some meandering, we discovered an oft forgotten location in the “back woods” of Charlottesville, a little place called Pad Thai. Yes, we knew the place was not Vietnamese. Yes, we knew our last Thai pho experience was less than stellar. But we were so disappointed last week that we just had to try something new.

Certainly the interior of the place gave off a ritualistic vibe. Dim, quiet, and spacious – it was a rather different environment from your typical pho restaurant. The owner, a well-built Thai man in his fifties, greeted us and walked us to a corner table by the window, probably the brightest lit area in the whole building. I couldn’t help but notice his outfit, a bandana likely bound from an American flag, a shirt with a soaring bald-eagle, and torn, rugged-looking jeans. I was hoping the food wasn’t as Americanized as he was.

Pad Thai owners and chefs Santi and Utaiwan Ouypron. Photo courtesy of Elli Williams.

Pad Thai owners and chefs Santi and Utaiwan Ouypron. Photo courtesy of Elli Williams.

We found the same branded “Thai pho,” but this time with a little more variety. After sifting through the meat options and the broth options, I opted for the “traditional/clear broth w/ beef brisket Thai pho.” When our food arrived, I was both pleased and disappointed at the same time – a rather modest bowl of soup, but with a very pleasant aroma. I did notice that the restaurant did not provide us with any condiments or garnishes to add, but with the soup already smelling so delectable, I figured it wouldn’t make things that much better. I dug in.

Small-portioned, but big on flavor.

Small-portioned, but big on flavor.

I immediately found my taste buds washed over by a wave of flavor. I could not quite pinpoint what went into it; it was unlike anything I’ve ever had before. It was definitely not the same as what I expected from a bowl of Vietnamese pho, but it was delicious nonetheless. I could taste the vestiges of some Thai spices with what was likely a beef broth foundation, supplemented by a few drops of sesame oil (you can never go wrong with sesame oil). The experience was turning out to be excellent – great soup, tender beef, smooth noodles – until I uncovered the cabbage. The same nightmare I had from Thai 99 2 was coming back to haunt me.

I still don’t understand what it is with Thai people and cabbage. I figure it’s probably their attempt to add something a little healthy to an otherwise not-too-good-for-you lunchtime option. But why ruin an otherwise pleasant experience with something that does not belong? I wouldn’t have minded if they had provided a separate plate of cabbage to eat with the soup, but certainly not if they directly added the cabbage to the soup. The cabbage takes away from the flavor, and adds an awkward texture. I probably would have been willing to pay an additional dollar to get rid of the stuff – I really do hate cabbage.

More than just annoying.

More than just annoying.

Overall, the pros of the place outweighed the cons. Good service (the owner was a great guy, funny and easy to talk to), high quality of ingredients, and even a delicious complementary desert that I cannot even begin to describe to you (fried banana in something with red bean paste?). All of it was only offset by the anomaly that was cabbage.


Final Rating: 6/10

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