The Elephant Walk
Cambodian-French CuisineBy Erik Blankinship
2067 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge
Price range for entrÉes: $9-24
If you are hungry for Asian cuisine, are willing to pay three times more for your meal, and wish to dine in posh environs, then stick your arm in front of your nose and do the “elephant walk” to Porter Square. The Elephant Walk offers a sophisticated and intimate atmosphere for the gastronomically adventurous and well-off. The restaurant was named after an Elizabeth Taylor movie that no one has ever heard of, except the owner’s mother, who named the place.
I brought my date on a Saturday evening to celebrate her birthday. The atmosphere is casual, with some people wearing t-shirts and shorts and others in dress attire. Some tables have extra chairs pulled up to accommodate larger parties. The restaurant has a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere.
The Elephant Walk is Boston’s first French and Cambodian restaurant; its menu is strictly separated between the two cuisines. In addition, there is also a substantial vegetarian section of the menu. If you are accustomed to Thai food, the Cambodian dishes offered will have a familiar taste.
The dishes, profuse with spices and chilies that made me break out in a sweat, will satisfy most diners’ desire. For an appetizer, we chose Nom Pang Chien B’Kong ($8.50). This Cambodian dish is composed of shrimp, chopped and seasoned, then placed on baguette slices fried to a golden crisp. It is a light and flavorful surprise. I noted a western influence on the part of the chef, as the dish was presented on a bed of mesculin salad drizzled with balsamic vinegar. It was delicious, but the taste was definitely not what I’d expected.
The waitress was very friendly and recommended the Amok Royale ($16.50), saying it is the equivalent of an American hamburger in Cambodia, since it is a very common dish. On that complimentary comparison I decided I should try it. Amok Royale is a great seafood curry, served steamed in a banana leaf bowl with a side of jasmine rice. It wasn’t spicy, but it still managed to make me break a sweat.
My companion ordered Mee Siem ($11.95), described in the menu as “rice noodles sautÉed in a sauce of shredded chicken breast, tofu, crushed chilies, garlic, shallots, Chinese chives, and bean sprouts with a shredded omelet.” This dish is similar to the well-known Pad Thai dish from Thailand. However, this dish used thinner rice noodles, had more of a tomato base, used less vinegar, and not all of the ingredients were fried together. All in all, my companion found it delightfully flavorful.
From the desert menu, which is all French except for red bean ice cream, we had Tarte au Citron ($5.95) garnished with frozen berries. Like the appetizer, this desert is not substantial in size. However, as is often the case in restaurants of this caliber, the presentation was attractive and the taste wonderful.
A trip to the Elephant Walk is a rewarding experience. When you’re there, be sure to take a look at the little shop tucked in a corner of the restaurant, where you can buy a copy of the Elephant Walk cookbook. But don’t get your hopes up: there’s no recipe for elephant in there.