Food & Drink » Restaurant Review

Lessons Learned

At Elephant Thai, stick to the rules and the meal is a winner ... or take your chances.


But, alas, I succumbed to a weakness for softshell crab and ordered one of three variations on the menu, with ginger. It was advertised as crispy, but it actually was mushy and virtually inedible.

I didn't complain, both because the gracious and accommodating staff did not comprehend my version of English very well and because I should have known better.

When his book was published four years ago, Bourdain, now a television celebrity, was the chef at the Manhattan branch of Les Halles, which serves top-notch steaks and seafood at reasonable prices. He served up his warning because some purveyors, even in New York City, don't deliver on Monday, which leads many less-than-the-best eateries to offer leftovers after the weekend.

If you're ordering meat, or fish that has been flash frozen, you're probably going to be all right on Mondays, but if you're looking for freshness — and that's the only kind of softshell worth eating — you should stay away from small restaurants with large menus. Elephant Thai has 74 dishes on its menu.

A good rule of thumb is, stick to what you know. For us, that should have been easy, because Elephant Thai has become the favorite alternative to the pizza-delivery man at our house.

The curries are good — and hot. They come in a green or red paste or in coconut milk with panang or massaman curry.

Among the stir-fries, ginger and basil have just enough hot chilies to get your attention.

The sautéed pad Thai, an egg noodle dish, is a reliable combination of egg, bean sprouts, scallion, ground peanuts and a lime wedge.

All of these entrees come with a choice of chicken, pork, beef, shrimp or seafood. If you choose the seafood, though, you are on your own.

Except for the seasonal specials (i.e., $14 softshells), the entrees are $6 to $9.

For starters, the kanom jeeb, or Thai dumplings, are a standout, and no wonder. Chef-owner Bangon Bonkitthia worked half a dozen years in the original Tara Thai restaurant in Vienna, Va., where its chefs perfected this traditional dish, which wraps steamed minced chicken and ground shrimp in wonton skin. (Since Tara Thai opened a branch at the Short Pump Town Center, its kanom jeeb recipe has been popping up in Thai restaurants all over town.) Both the fresh and the crispy rolls are excellent ways to begin a meal at Elephant Thai. The former combine shrimp and vegetables in a noodle skin for dipping in hoisin or peanut sauce.

Elephant Thai is vegetarian friendly, offering nine meatless entrees and a couple of appetizers, including fried tofu and deep-fried rolls that wrap vegetables and clear noodles.

The restaurant opened a year ago in June and is trying to succeed in a location that has seen a procession of failed ventures, including a bagel shop and a branch of Carytown's Indochine.

Part of the problem may be the difficulty of finding parking on the edge of the VCU campus, although there is a garage across the street.

Despite its shortcomings, Elephant Thai deserves neighborhood support, if only for its friendly staff, pleasant surroundings and prompt delivery. S

Elephant Thai Restaurant
1100 W. Cary St. at Harrison
Lunch: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, noon-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Dinner: 5-9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

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