In order to accommodate those quandaries, Blue Elephant in Hyde Park offers sushi, Thai and Italian. (Sadly, cereal has not quite hit the culinary scene just yet.)
Blue Elephant offers not only various cuisines but a sustainable building with geo-thermal heating and cooling and recycled and local building and décor materials. The dining room is small with about 20 tables and a few tables for outdoor dining. The décor is minimalist and clean. There’s a small sushi bar, almost undetectable, in the corner.
Now, down to brass (recycled) tacks: the food. For appetizers, we ordered a Philadelphia Roll ($5.50) with salmon and cream cheese, Grilled Eel sushi ($3.95) and Soft Shell Crab with tempura vegetables ($8.95). I was a bit leery of the eel but, as it tasted similar to many grilled fish, it was not intimidating or overpowering. The Philadelphia Roll was fresh, and, although not traditional, I like cream cheese in my rolls.
The Soft Shell Crab was a sight. It is a whole crab, legs and all, deep-fried. It’s served in an edible bowl with large pieces of fried sweet potato, zucchini, broccoli and onion rings. The crab was succulent, though a bit too much tempura got in the way. The vegetables were tender and the soy dipping sauce, coupled with a more sour sauce, kept the dish from becoming monotonous.
I had every intention of ordering sushi, Thai and Italian but couldn't imagine the combination of meatballs, tomato sauce, curry and seafood settling well.
After contemplating the Penne Carbonara ($11.95) and Spaghetti Tutamare ($18.95) with prawns, mussels, clams and calamari, we decided to stick with Thai.
Blue Elephant offers familiar Thai dishes such as Pad Thai and Pad See-Ew, as well as a variety of fried rice, noodle soups, curries and seafood. Unfortunately, if you have been to any number of the Thai/Sushi establishments around town, you will find a similar menu.
So what makes Blue Elephant special? We asked our server what her favorites were. She mentioned the Crab Fried Rice ($14.95) and the Flaming Flower ($15.95) and appeared excited by the presentation of the Flaming Flower. The dish is served on fire (hence the “flaming”) with a red curry and coconut sauce, prawns, shrimp, scallops and calamari. We could not resist, but I’d had my fill of crab, so we chose the Thai Sweet and Sour with tofu ($10.95).
We were still picking the legs off of our crab appetizer when our entrées appeared, one aflame.
The Thai Sweet and Sour was much too sweet with no hint of sour. Sautéed pea pods, broccoli, cabbage, green onion and tofu sat in a pool of thick, orange sauce. We should have ordered a higher spice level, as our medium did not add anything to the dish.
The Flaming Flower reminded me of Jiffy Pop Popcorn. Those of us who spent Friday nights at home watching Dallas or The Dukes of Hazzard will get the visual. A tin foil-enclosed contraption contained the bubbling sauce and seafood with a steady blue flame beneath. I wanted to dig in immediately.
After what seemed like an eternity, and with the indignant flame persisting, I made an executive decision and emptied some of the sauce to extinguish the flame. It was awkward to spoon the contents from the foil pouch, so I poured it onto the plate, which was a bit more awkward. The rich, spicy brown sauce with the complex flavors of curry and coconut milk was a treat for the palate. The scallops were cooked well, as was the shrimp. The calamari, however, was not, and many pieces were unfortunately inedible.
For dessert, Blue Elephant offers Tiramisu ($5.95), Sweet Custard ($4.95) and a variety of ice cream, some served with fried banana. We chose the Red Bean Ice Cream ($3), and wanted the Fried Banana with Green Tea Ice Cream, but they were out of Green Tea, so we settled on vanilla ($4.95). The banana was dipped in tempura batter, fried, sprinkled with sesame seeds and topped with vanilla ice cream and a bit of chocolate sauce. I love warm bananas and ice cream and this pleased us all. The Red Bean Ice Cream was creamy and the texture of the red beans gave a savory pop of flavor.
The Italian offerings are the proverbial elephant in the room, as I did not see anyone serving the pasta dishes. The sushi and Thai dishes were good, although some were better executed than others and the environmental mission of Blue Elephant is admirable.
With so many restaurants offering a similar culinary experience, I hope Blue Elephant will focus its menu so it can remain a contender.
Go: 2913 Wasson Road, Hyde Park
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10:30 p.m. Friday; 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Saturday; 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday
Entrée Prices: $9-$18
Red Meat Alternatives: Various
Accessibility: Fully accessible