A Change of Guard

សូមស្តាប់វិទ្យុសង្គ្រោះជាតិ Please read more Khmer news and listen to CNRP Radio at National Rescue Party. សូមស្តាប់វីទ្យុខ្មែរប៉ុស្តិ៍/Khmer Post Radio.
Follow Khmerization on Facebook/តាមដានខ្មែរូបនីយកម្មតាម Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/khmerization.khmerican

Friday, 14 October 2011

The Elephant Walk: [A Khmer restaurant] Plagued by Inconsistency

Brookline-area restaurant talks the talk, but do they walk the walk?

By Cristin Nelson

When a restaurant has thrived in Boston as long as the Elephant Walk, winning accolades and opening two new locations since opening in 1991, it earns a certain notoriety. People talk about the Elephant Walk, and I’ve heard it all: the mix of French and Cambodian menus that reflect the owners’ international upbringings; the reputation for extensive vegetarian and gluten-free options; the amazing tastes of the food.

But what I found, over multiple visits, was an inconsistency in food and service, and a startling duality between reality and a longstanding reputation.

Here’s the rub: when the food is good, it’s really good. Cambodian flavors dazzled in the Crevettes Amrita, shrimp in an extraordinarily complex sweet-spicy sauce, with hits of star anise, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, and lemongrass, each surfacing in individual waves over the undertones of peanut. Loc Lac is another Cambodian favorite―chunks of marinated beef tenderloin, cooked simply with black pepper, garlic and mushroom soy sauce until gently caramelized, with a bright lime sauce on the side.

Meanwhile, from the French side of the menu, my Poulet Rôti was flavorful and well-cooked, and accompanied by gnocchi and an ultra-buttery white sauce. At a brunch visit, the mushroom crêpe was delicious under an ivory smear of crème fraîche melting with the heat of the bronzed mushrooms, and over the top an emerald sprinkle of scallions.

But these finds were interspersed with just as many lousy dishes, beginning, first of all, with the pale, undercooked French baguette that arrived alongside our drinks. It lay uneaten in its basket, doughy and flavorless—perhaps a harbinger of the dishes to come?

The raw tuna in the Avocat Kanthor, a salad featuring a tower of tuna and avocado doused in an overwhelmingly salty peanut sauce, tasted a little too fishy. I wondered whether the smothering of sauce was an attempt to mask the quality of the fish.

One evening’s special featured a salmon filet over a bowl of buckwheat noodles and broth (Khar Saumon Nouilles au Sarrasin). The elements melded winningly when tasted all together, but the broth on its own was almost disgustingly sweet. It’s true that Cambodian food is traditionally less concerned with balancing spicy, sweet, and sour flavors within one particular dish—it's instead more interested in balancing those flavors throughout the arc of a whole meal—but a little menu description or preemptive explanation would have been nice, so that we don’t feel like we’ve been blindsided by a bowl of hot sugared water with noodles.

Trey Tuk Peng Pah, a fish soup with a tomato-based broth over rice, was oversalted almost to the point of inedibility. I wouldn’t order it again, but then, I wouldn't have ordered it in the first place if it hadn't been confusingly misrepresented in its description on the brunch menu.

The story is no different at the bar, among the pricey list of cocktails. Soy sauce, chili, and a stalk of lemongrass lend a Cambodian flair to the traditional Bloody Mary, but my drink wasn't mixed properly, and essentially formed a tri-leveled glass of vodka, tomato juice, and soy sauce. A fruity Pear Sunrise was sweet and gentle immediately out of the shaker, but cloying later on. I found an effective antidote in the tart effervescence of the Blackberry Sour.

Service was well-paced, but again, spotty. Our server used our table as a tray for a plate of white rice, whisking it away to another table after we thought it was ours. Upon delivery to our table, a beer splattered out of its overflowing glass, pooling on place settings and tablecloth and my dining companion's sleeve, and went ignored by the server.

I came away from each visit confused, feeling as though I had missed something—and not just the money that I spent on those disappointing meals. Established restaurants carry perhaps an even heavier obligation than others to remain consistent in standards, if nothing else than as a tribute to the loyal customers that sustain a local business over the years. The Elephant Walk has won their laurels, yes, but laurels are not for resting; praise should encourage thoughtful growth, and transcendence—or at least maintenance—of a reputation once earned.

The Elephant Walk is located at 900 Beacon Street, just past the Brookline border. Lunch and Sunday Brunch offered Sunday-Friday: 11:30am - 2:30pm; Dinner Sunday-Thursday 5:00pm - 10:00pm, Friday and Saturday 5:00pm - 11:00pm. MBTA: Green line (C) to St. Mary’s Street. Locations also in Cambridge and Waltham. All locations have lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch hours. Visit http://www.elephantwalk.com for details.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've been there, the food is very pricey!! Prop to the guys/gals who opened that restaurant--it's good ripping rich white guys off. If you want authentic Khmer cuisine, come to Lowell.