Owner Bang-on Domkitphai has taken over the location that once housed a coffee shop and the former Café Indochine and turned it into Thai heaven. The décor isn’t much to write home about. There’s no ABC license (although I was assured it was coming), and the location is a bit off the beaten path, on the corner of Harrison and Cary streets. But none of that matters. Service couldn’t be kinder and the food couldn’t be better.
Prices are reasonable with entrees ranging from $7.95 to $12.95. There are numerous appetizers, a handful of soups and several vegetarian options. Larb kai is an excellent starter of minced chicken, red onion, lime juice and plenty of red pepper to spice things up. Along with the usual suspects of satays, crispy rolls and shrimp rolls, the Tod Mun Pla (Thai curry fish cake) is not to be missed. Served with a sweet and sour sauce, these chewy cakes explode with the flavor of kaffir lime leaves and lemon grass.
The beef salad is another great option. Tender slices of beef, cucumbers, carrots and scallion are tossed in a spicy lime dressing. You’ll be happily sniffling your way through each bite. The Tom Yom soup is an outright tear-jerker with jumbo shrimp, straw mushrooms, lemon grass and basil resting in a tangy broth brimming with red peppers and plenty of heat.
Entrees include an array of stir-fries, noodles, fried rice and curries. Elephant Joe Seafood is a stir-fry combination in a lighter red curry sauce (without coconut milk). Fresh squid, mussels, shrimp and scallops are tossed with artfully cut vegetables and served with fragrant jasmine rice. The emphasis on this dish (like most here) is wok-seared crispness, letting the flavors of the seafood, freshly cut herbs and seasonings speak for themselves.
The ubiquitous pad Thai is a must. Most versions of this rice stick noodle dish are letdowns, with the noodles clumping together in a flavorless, sticky mass. Elephant Joe’s take on this tamarind-infused dish (served with chicken, pork, beef, tofu or shrimp) is light and airy, with a delicate sweetness permeating each bite.
For curries, an array of green, red and panang (a curry paste made of garlic and chilies) abound. Pork Massamum curry, which is fairly reminiscent of a yellow Indian curry, blends lean strips of pork bursting with garlic, ginger, turmeric and cumin. Combined with coconut milk, Chinese five-spice powder, potatoes, onions and peanuts, it’s is an excellent combination of sweet, spicy and creamy.
For dessert, sticky rice with sweet mango is the way to go. Steamed glutinous sticky rice is combined with sugar and coconut milk and served with fresh, juicy mango. Simple yet delicious. Add a Thai iced coffee ($1.75), and you’ve got an excellent ending.
In Thailand, when a dish is both pleasing to the eye and palate, it is referred to as “palace cuisine” or “royal cuisine.” Ingredients must not only be carefully selected and combined, but presented creatively. Elephant Joe has a humble décor, but it’s a palace for your palate. S
Elephant Joe Restaurant
($)1100 W. Cary St.
Lunch and Dinner: Monday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
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