Smiling Elephant Makes Eyes Water With Joy

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A cool Thai iced tea or coffee is handy when trying the pad thai at the delightful Smiling Elephant on Eight Avenue.
  • A cool Thai iced tea or coffee is handy when trying the pad thai at the delightful Smiling Elephant on Eight Avenue.

This week's dining review features The Smiling Elephant, the twee Thai restaurant on Eighth Avenue owned by the uncle of ChaChah's Arnold Myint and brother of International Market's Patti Myint. (Can you imagine a family dinner with this restaurant dynasty?)

I love the Smiling Elephant. In fact, virtually my only criticism was that some of the foods -- green curry and lettuce wraps, in particular -- were too spicy. But wait ... was it the very fact that those dishes were too spicy that made me love Smiling Elephant?

Compare the bold, unapologetic flavor of Smiling Elephant to the carefully calibrated menus at so many restaurants, and you can see what makes Sam Kopsombut's tiny eatery so endearing. Every extra daub of eye-searing chili or hair-singeing pepper is the authentic output of a kitchen powered by the muscle memory of cooking family favorites over a lifetime.

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If a runny nose and numb lips are the price to pay for that kind of cuisine, then I'll just order an extra tongue-cooling Thai tea and pack some Kleenex.* As the saying goes, if you can't stand the heat, go eat at P.F. Chang's.

*Or you could just specify you want your dish with mild spice, but what's the fun in that?

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