Sherman's Food Adventures: Pink Elephant Thai

Pink Elephant Thai

"IzaThaiYa". Uh what? When I asked Mijune to describe what Pink Elephant Thai was about, this is what I got. You see, it is something along the lines of a Japanese Izakaya; but with Thai food. Thai House's latest venture takes Thai food into the world of little plates. Tapas, little plates or Izakaya - call it what you want, it is seems making things small for sharing is what people want. For me, the best type of sharing food is still Dim Sum... Anyways, despite some skepticism, I accepted an invite to try it out. Once again, Mijune - my new partner in eating - was at the table as well.

We started off with the Spicy Butterfly Jumbo Tiger Prawn dressed with butter, swirled egg, curry leaves, chilis and peppercorn. Although frying a tiger prawn is not exactly something mind-blowing, this was actually quite good. There was plenty of "prawn" aroma intermingled with spice emanating from the peppercorns and chili. I found the egg to be interesting texturally and visually. Next up was the Double "O" Lettuce Wrap. Okay, before your mind falls into the gutter, the "O" represents the ingredients, not the reaction from eating it. However, each to their own, Mijune often does her best porno sounds whilst munching on food. So the double O is actually short for oysters and free-range ostrich. Add in pressed tofu, basil, carrots, onions and peppers, this was a flavourful mix of ingredients. It was more sweet than spicy with a slight crunch from the veggies. Normally, ostrich is quite lean; however, they prepared it in a way that it remained moist.

Our last appetizer was something different named the Floating Market. Consisting of fried spinach tempura topped with tiger prawns and cashews, this really piqued my interest. As you know, spinach wilts very easily. So to essentially make a tempura chip out of it is a challenge. Hey, they were successful at that and not only was it crunchy like a chip, although it was quite greasy though. I could eat a whole bowl of these while watching the hockey game on the big screens here. What helped cut through the grease was the dip consisting of lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, chilis and apple. Familiar Thai flavours that gave the "chips" a jolt of heat and zing. Roasted cashews and bits of tiger prawn completed the dish.

Then arrived a dish which I couldn't easily identify at first. It was the Keang Panang Pla or salmon red coconut curry. Buried underneath the plethora of curry was big pieces of salmon which were somewhat lost. Of course, any kind of fish would get lost in the sauce; but it really all about the curry where the salmon exists only texturally. The curry itself was thick and coconutty. It was mild and somewhat sweet. Naturally, it went well with rice. I personally wouldn't order a salmon curry; but this one was not bad. Then something very familiar arrived - Khoa Mun Gai or the Thai version of Hainanese Chicken. Having just tried the one from Portland's food cart, I might've been spoiled a tad. Hence, I was a bit indifferent with this one. The chicken itself was probably better than the one I had in Portland. It was relatively moist. Where it fell short was with the sauces. Again, there was nothing inherently wrong with it, the problem is that I had a very good one recently. The sauces, for me at least, were too one-dimensional being sweet with modest heat. The one I had in Portland was veritable flavour explosion with big hits of ginger and spice.

Another dish incognito was the Pad Thai. Looking at it, not many would be able to figure out what it was. With a big fat fried soft-shell crab on top, it is no wonder why I had no clue what it was. The crab itself was good. Hey, there haven't been many soft shell crabs I didn't like. As for the pad Thai itself, I'm sad to say it was not to my liking. The noodles were of the thin variety which made them susceptible to softening. Furthermore, there was an absence of flavour even with the squirt of lime juice. Too unlike a traditional pad Thai? Possibly. Now from something that didn't work to something that did. The Kra Pau Moo or pork cheek with red chili paste, lime leaves, fresh lemongrass and sliced chayote was excellent. First off, the pork cheeks were cooked perfectly - with its signature bounce while still being extremely tender. The charring on the outside resulted in a nice smokey aroma which worked well with the aromatic lemongrass and spice from the chilis.

Looking very much like the salmon curry, the Coconut Curry with braised ox-tail and pumpkin was fantastic. Well, I've never met a properly stewed ox-tail I didn't like; but nevertheless, this was well-executed. Each piece of meat was moist and melted in my mouth. The rendered fat and tendon was both texturally pleasing and flavourful. Although coconut curry was the actual name of the dish, there was no mistaking the star, which was the ox-tail. It could've been green curry or yellow curry for all that matter. Then going from indulgent to outright sinful was the Braised Pork Hock. Think of this as a braised version of Crispy Pata, and you'll understand how unhealthy; yet ultimately delicious this dish was. Sure, there was tender melt-in-your mouth pork sitting in rich braising liquid. Sure, there was crunchy pickled cabbage that helped cut through the richness. And sure there was an outstanding dip that was garlicky and tart; but honestly, the best part of this was the melt-in-your mouth pork skin. It reminded me of the Chinese dish of braised pork belly with pickled vegetable.

For our last savoury dish, we were presented with the Pla Salmon which was served with fresh lemongrass, lime juice, cashews and sliced apples. At first, I already had it in my mind I wouldn't like it. Hey, it's a salad of sorts and it's comprised of salmon (which can be horribly overdone sometimes). To my utter surprise, the salmon was moist and flaky with a familiar dressing comprised of fish sauce, lime juice and sugar. It was a refreshing end to a relatively good meal. We finished off with a Mango dessert that included sticky rice with sweet thick coconut milk. The mango itself was ripe and sweet. The rice was okay I suppose. I'm not a huge fan of rice in my dessert nor bread. Just a personal preference. The coconut milk went well with the mango, if one was lucky enough to catch a piece with a drizzle on top.

Okay, I gotta admit the food was better than I had expected (Pad Thai withstanding). After all, I'm not really into the whole fusion thing, let alone the small plate fad (other than Dim Sum and Izakaya). With that being said, I can definitely see some people being turned off right away by this. Who are these people? Well, they are the ones who don't like the Thai House or Maenam because they are not authentic enough. That's fair. I fall somewhere in the middle of that anyways. However, I must point out that most of the population out there are perfectly happy with food that appeals to their tastes no matter what cuisine it represents. And on that level, I don't think anyone has the right to judge what other people like or dislike. In fact, I am probably not their target market either (much like my experience at Charm). Despite this, if one wanted a bit of style and goes in with an open mind, Pink Elephant Thai offers up something a bit different where some items may surprise.

The Good:
- Stylish spot to be seen or to see
- Interesting dishes for those with an open mind

The Bad:
- If the Pad Thai is any indication, don't expect authenticity
- A bit pricey for the size of some of the dishes I saw being served

Pink Elephant Thai on Urbanspoon


Kano said...

Pink Elephant doesn't seem to be very busy, but I want to give it a big thumbs up. We love the takeout - the decor is a bit too "bling" for my tastes and the music was blaring loud when we ate in. But their food is fantastic and they are doing some dishes that are very creative at a reasonable price. Probably the best Thai curries in Vancouver!

Sherman Chan said...

@Kano Well, too bad many people don't want to step out of the "authentic" safety net. Some different takes on certain types of cuisine are actually quite good when given a fair chance.

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