Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Elephant Walk a worthwhile venture

The Elephant Walk's decor is characterized by warm, welcoming lighting, simple decor and cozy settings. (Media Credit: Max Breistein Matza)

By Njideka Orjiako
The Justice (Massachusetts, USA)

Cambodian-French cuisine. If this combination sounds like heaven to you, then welcome to my world. The chance to savor two completely different cultural dishes in one meal had my taste buds zinging before I, a lover of ethnic food, even sat down. The destination for this meal? That would be The Elephant Walk, a Cambodian-French restaurant on Main Street in Waltham that would be a welcome change for students who are bold, bored or both and are looking to deviate from the usual Moody Street eateries. The warmly lit restaurant is cozy and casually elegant, with a simple decor that is more Western than Cambodian. But although the restaurant is not fancy, the food is; while the eclectic pairing of Asian and European food under one roof might seem surprising or odd without prior knowledge of Cambodia's French colonial past, it makes for a very interesting meal.

The Elephant Walk's menu is divided into sections, with separate areas devoted to original French (dishes prepared according to their chef's interpretation of French cuisine), traditional Cambodian (authentic recipes) and original Cambodian food (dishes inspired by Cambodian traditions)-the restaurant strives for authenticity in its recipes. I sampled both cuisines, first starting with the Crêpe de Canard aux Poires appetizer, a French dish consisting of a savory crêpe filled with braised duck, diced pears and scallions, with crème fraiche and a balsamic vinegar reduction as sauces. The presentation was so good it made my dinner dates jealous. Then, I ordered an original Cambodian dish called crevettes amrita for my entrée, which was a dish of sautéed shrimp with a colorful array of vegetables in a Cambodian satay sauce, served with white rice.

Although the dishes were skillfully prepared, some subtleties in flavor were lost in the shuffle. For instance, the pear in the crepe dish was diced very finely and did not really add much to the dish, as its flavor was masked by the sauces. Also, the shrimp entrée claimed to contain up to eight spices, including cumin, cardamom, galangal and star anise. However, the sugary satay sauce took center stage over the exotic spices I had looked forward to tasting. Moreover, while I like to think my dishes were such outstanding choices to have won my friends' attention, it could also just have been that their choice of saucisse grillée et ragout d'edamame was underwhelming, being a drab, brown dish of pork, rice and edamame that left them the small satisfaction of tasting better than it looked. Another friend ordered a calamari dish that she enjoyed, though, so in general, I think the dishes scored well.

Overall, my experience at The Elephant Walk was very pleasant. I enjoyed the food, the warm atmosphere and the full and lively crowd of Saturday night diners (I recommend booking a reservation to avoid the wait). Our waiter was friendly and polite, leaving my table eager to tip him well. I recommend The Elephant Walk highly-it makes an excellent choice for when you want to feel a little high-class. On the other hand, the prices encourage the high-class feeling, because although items generally don't cost more than $20 each, cheap, delicious food is available close by. Whatever the cost, the food is good, and the menu offers gluten-free and vegetarian options as well. I wish there were more actual Cambodian-French fusion dishes on the menu, though; the proprietors try to keep the two culinary genres separate so as to preserve traditional recipes. For this reason, they don't make food concessions for customers outside of changing the cut of your poultry and meat.

So, if you've never been to this locale, then consider The Elephant Walk for your next restaurant venture. Given a chance, this once-unexplored Waltham eatery could make your list of go-to, familiar favorites, and the food heaven you've been searching for could be waiting in the form of a tasty, East-meets-West meal.


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