I did not realize how much I missed something like this. Now that I have nestled into the throes of parenthood and associated domesticity, my restaurant experiences have been relegated to the middle of the road or the land of take away. Some of those takeaway experiences are quite good – but you are aiming much more for convenience than just a transcendent knockout. But there I was – with the parents in town to give us a hand with the peanut – eating the very best restaurant meal I’ve had in years, probably since making my first discovery of Hong Kong Palace and the wonders of Sichuan cuisine. Hell, this was not even my first glorious Thai experience in these here parts. Thai Square is still terrific, but gosh – what Elephant Jumps offered, especially in its “dining in” form, is just a different matter entirely.
Blessedly, this is not an upscale place. Located in a strip mall at the corner of Rte 50 and Gallows, it is an easy turn to miss. There is not a whole lot to say about the atmosphere necessarily that would not apply to any number of suburban Asian places – ok but not special decor, napkins which might have come from “Party Depot” surplus or something. However, unlike many comparable restaurants – there are small refined touches. The menu was surprisingly descriptive, describing a “smoky finish”, and the manager who greeted us gave a description of the specials that frankly is of the ilk you’d expect from a Capital Grille. There was passion and expertise there.
The restaurant offers the normal Thai fare – Green Curry, Drunken Noodles, Tom Yum – but our attention was drawn to the Authentic Thai section (h/t Tyler Cowen). This section is the heart of the experience, where we got to give ourselves to them. The menu is very dire – warnings to people with allergies and explanations of why the dishes cannot be altered. And aside from a wonderful Pad See Ew, this is decidedly not the sort of Thai food you are used to. Indeed, the three dishes we had represent the best Thai dishes I have ever had.
The first dish is the salad – the best papaya salad I have ever had. The Thai authenticity is here as the shrimp paste they used was the kapi, the Thai roasted shrimp paste which is fired right before cooking. The roasted flavor depth is evident. The heat level was considerable, but was not overwhelming – and when combined with the perfectly prepared sticky rice or the crispy pork rinds, the complete bite works very well.
The main course was the Ka Nom Jee – a noodle dish which was nothing like anything that I have had before. The dish was served in pieces, to be combined. This meant we took the noodles, added the coconut milk-ground tuna-fish ball (cutest tapioca pearl sized ones) sauce and pickled mustard greens and mixed it together. The result was a combination of heat and brininess which evoked Thai yes, but also Keralan cooking and even my limited exposure to Sri Lanka. The veggie dish we got was a Pad Watercress dish, where watercress – only a wee bit less fresh and crunchy than what you’d get in a bonchon sort of salad – is mixed with a sweet soy. The result is a watercress that is wholly watercress and wholly the rich comfort of Pad See Ew. I had enjoyed greens before, but never have I craved them so badly.
It is hard to do a restaurant like this justice – or a meal like this justice. I will just say that both of us were embarrassed when the waitress came back and asked us if we were still working on our food, when she could clearly see how thoroughly we had laid waste to the serving plates. I can’t remember enjoying a meal out so thoroughly.