French-Cambodian Elephant Walk pricey, but worth it
900 Beacon St., Boston.By Aaron R. Prazan
Family businesses constantly have trouble battling big corporations in any industry. With the resources big business can muster, a mom-and-pop outfit cannot dream of giving customers equal quality, right? Wrong. The Elephant Walk, a family owned and operated restaurant, offers a fine dining experience that competes with any in the area - and for a comparatively moderate price. By taking advantage of culture, offering impeccable service and a menu to be reckoned with, the Elephant Walk proves that family-run restaurants are alive and kicking in New England.
Upon arriving at Elephant Walk, I first noticed assertive and lavish service. There were valet and hosts at the door. A hostess seated a friend and me immediately, despite the busy hour. Our waiter, Kevin, was at the table within minutes, and kept coming back. Long-stemmed water glasses were never dry. Questions I frequently had about the menu received immediate attention. No customer need worry about being neglected at Elephant Walk.
As for the complex French/Cambodian menu, it clearly is unique to the locale. Chef Nasda de Monteiro and family decided on this distinctive combination because France occupied their home country until the 1950s. Having trained in both countries, Nasda chooses to showcase both styles in separate menu sections. From Cotes d'Agneau Grillees au Riz Parfume a la Citronnelle (lamb chops over lemongrass) to Crevettes Kep-su-Mer (Black Tiger Shrimp with a tamarind and coconut milk sauce), the Elephant Walk leaves no one wishing for something more different. There is also ample consideration given to vegetarians, which occupies one quarter of the menu. Surely, this unique fare finds no equivalent anywhere in the area.
The dishes I ordered were of impeccable quality. Skewered grilled vegetables in a roasted tomato and garlic sauce gave me a really good first impression. The sauce's flavor came in four stages: first, a spicy heat, soon overtaken by strong garlic that relaxes into velvety potato texture, and finally ends with a lasting, sweet aftertaste. It was simply extraordinary.
For entrées, I tried one French dish and one Cambodian. The former was a rare seared tuna loin in chile creme sauces with pear and onion ravioli. Be warned, French food that is "seared" is cooked quickly in a very hot pan and is, for the most part, raw. (The tuna was very good, but I consider it my duty to forewarn all not indoctrinated into the ways of French cooking.) Indeed, the Cambodian dish was the more interesting of the two. I tried Amok Royale, a sweet-hot seafood concoction with coconut milk and many spices, steamed in a banana leaf. Drawing influence from all over southeast Asia, Cambodian food offers a truly unique style. The desserts, none of which I had tried or seen before, were also top notch. I have no complaints about any of the food I had.
However, I did have one major reservation about the Elephant Walk. Though everything about the business - food, service, history, clientele - shone, I was caught by surprise by the prices. The Elephant Walk is reasonable, and even a value compared to the upper crust of Boston dining rooms. But it is still beyond many students' budgets. My bill for two was over 50 dollars. I'm not going to say it wasn't worth it; it was. But I did not expect such a wallet bomb. For those who want to try the Elephant Walk without selling their souls, I suggest lunch, when entrées cost less than half their evening prices.