By Sondra Katkin
There were many intriguing aspects to the Blue Elephant. The first was a delicious tiramisu in an Asian restaurant. Co-owner Somsak Wongtouwan, who was a chef at the Hilton Hotels, is at home with both Thai and Italian cuisine. His wife, Saowanit (Leena), a third generation Thai restaurant owner, explained that by offering diners Italian and Thai, families who disagree on what to eat can still dine together. After tasting their tiramisu, I understood why it is so popular. It incorporates what cake lovers want most — the velvety consistency of icing as the main ingredient. The creamy mascarpone (a.k.a. icing) infused with coffee accents provided instant transport to the most decadent dessert domain. And (if that wasn’t enough) “dayenu,” the coffee laced lady fingers dissolved into tasty crumbles and nicely offset the rich cheese. These “ladies” had some body — not just the usual fluff. With its warm “overcoat” of dark cocoa, it was the perfect reward to complement all the other exceptional food I experienced here — a great opaque cake for heaven’s sake!
Another surprise was discovering a spot in the parking lot reserved for an alternative fuel car. Leena said that they are committed to the environment and have spent a considerable amount to have the restaurant certified (LEED) “green,” including the SVAC geothermal heat and air system. “People told me that I didn’t have to do everything to save energy, but I think you get it back…over time. This is my building, like my own house!” she noted. Their dining room is charming with a clean, open ambience. A natural, bicolored stone wall provides a unique focal point with an attractive mural on an adjacent, rose colored wall. Leena chose real leather chairs because she liked their design and lumbar support. What appears to be a wide planked “wooden” floor is actually made of tile. I had to touch it to believe it.
Their exacting environmental standards also translate to the excellence of the food they serve. With two successful Thai restaurants in California, with its large Asian population, she has an extensive knowledge of some superior brands available there, and has them shipped from California. “We use high quality ingredients even if we spend more. We get the best seafood and the best coconut milk even if we can’t find it here,” she added. My husband Steve generally doesn’t care for soups made with coconut milk but he loved the tom kha gai, a chicken coconut milk soup I brought home for him. The coconut flavor wasn’t overwhelming so it didn’t compete with the chicken broth but rather added an extra flavor accent, along with the lemony kaffir leaves, lemon grass, lime juice and other herbs. There was enough white meat chicken in the soup to satisfy your protein needs for a meal. I also loved the broth with its mushrooms and fresh cilantro.
When serving sushi, the quality and freshness of the fish is of highest importance. Not being a lover of raw fish, I was trepidatious about this taste adventure. Nevertheless, a dedicated dining describer must delve into all aspects of delicacies, so raw fish — bring it on! To my surprise, the salmon had the familiar texture of lox, the tilapia was sweet, the white tuna had a fresh saline taste and the yellow fin tuna was simply yummy. I had heard that the fattier the tuna the better the flavor — this must have been a real “gordita” (fatty). I’m ready to try it again. A willing tongue can learn. I had noticed gauges in the sushi case and Leena told me, “They must take very good care of the fish and keep it at the right temperature.” A customer commented, “This is the freshest sushi I’ve ever tasted.”
After the delicious raw tuna, I ate a cooked version nestled in the Blue Elephant Roll with cream cheese, asparagus and spicy mayonnaise sauce. The wonton skin roll was shaped like a mini ice cream cone and fried tempura style. Savory, light, crunchy and attractive, it pleased my tummy and satisfied me artistically. Move over egg rolls and spring rolls. This is an appetizer to share for the table. There are many sushi and sashimi selections to try including rolls with fish and vegetables and a vegetarian friendly garden roll with cucumber, avocado and seaweed salad. The lunch menu offers curries, special lunch combinations and 18 deluxe bento box specials featuring sushi or rolls including soup, salad, fruit and noodles or fried rice from $7.95 to $9.95.
For my entree, Leena served their generous portion of sizzling duck with crispy skin. I enjoyed the rich crunch that only perfectly roasted poultry skin can give. The moist, meaty flavor of the duck reminded me of sweet lamb. The veggies were a perfect color and texture contrast with the kernels of the baby corn so fresh and sweet, they tasted like they had just been picked. The lovely green “ducky” serving plate added to the pleasing presentation. Friends who had eaten duck in China said this duck was better.
There are many wonderful sounding traditional Thai selections on the menu, including pad Thai and pad see ew with thick rice noodles. One diner commented on the extra thickness of the noodles which enhanced the dish for me since I love dumpling style noodles. A plethora of appetizers, salads, noodle dishes, soups, specialties, curries, wok dishes and seafood give customers a large variety to choose from. The Italian selections, which include penne carbonara, penne arrabbiata con pollo, spaghetti and homemade meat balls and the terrific tiramisu, add another dimension to your dining experience. One guest said that he liked the pasta here better than at an Italian restaurant. Kudos indeed.
I was pleased to find an environmentally friendly business with great food and a convenient location — across from Hyde Park Plaza. Blue Elephant has patio dining, serves carryout orders and offers delivery service. They have an impressive selection of beer, wine and saki by the glass or bottle. Lunch hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Dinner, Monday – Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday, 5 – 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 11:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.
The Blue Elephant
2912 Wasson Road
Cincinnati, OH 45209