Basmati rice. Dirty Rice. Sticky Rice.

Cincinnati Bites
Enchiladas at Jalapenos Mex-Mex

Posted Friday, February 12, 2010
Note: the following review is for a restaurant that has since closed.

Does Cincinnati need yet another Thai restaurant? That has been the discussion among area food bloggers, who have questioned the logic of placing Blue Elephant within walking distance of three other Thai restaurants: Wild Ginger, Green Papaya and Lemon Grass. Throw in the other Hyde Park Asian joints --Yat Ka Mein, Beluga, Doodles, Bangkok Bistro and Amarin-- and you've got yourself a "Little Asia" in the making.

Blue Elephant opened last week and is housed in a brand new, LEED certified building, complete with geothermal climate control and chock full of high-tech, energy efficient, cost-saving features. Perhaps they chose the wrong color for that elephant.

The Writing Fiend At Large blog states that the owners come to Cincinnati from San Jose, California and are related to the Ban Thai owners in Eastgate.

I say the more the merrier: if another Thai restaurant wants to cozy up next to and compete with other Thai offerings, it's a win-win for the consumer. More Thai choices means more of us get a seat somewhere during the weekend.

We arrived on a cold Friday night, parking in the last available parking spot of a lot that holds about eight vehicles. Blue Elephant apparently takes "going green" seriously, as one of the parking spaces was reserved with a sign that read, "alternative fuel vehicle only."

alternative vehicles only

We sat down shortly after 7 pm to a less than half-full dining room. The place smelled new and the large black menus with the silver-embossed elephant logo cracked as though being opened for the first time.

We'd chatted with the hostess and the sushi chef a week earlier while picking up a take out menu. They had made a point to emphasize that Blue Elephant also serves a number of Italian pasta entrees.

"Our chef is well trained in preparing Italian dishes," the hostess said, pronouncing "Italian" as "IT-ah-lynn." Molto bene!

True to her word, there were no less than seven pasta dishes available, from the eggy Penne Carbonara to the seafood-packed Spaghetti Tutamare. Intrigued, my girlfriend wasted no time ordering the Penne Arrabbiata con Pollo, which promised to be a spicy tomato sauce served with tender slices of grilled chicken.

I ordered the Pad Kee Mao, aka "Drunken Noodles," with steamed tofu as my main protein. This is my usual Thai noodle dish ordered everywhere in town, so I thought it'd make a good standard by which I judged Blue Elephant's version.

The restaurant's spice scale is 1 to 3, and I opted for the full heat, secretly hoping their chef approached the levels with the same care that Mekong Thai does with their three-level heat scale.

fresh summer rolls

Finally, we ordered a "fresh roll" appetizer, summer rolls served with a thick, tasty peanut sauce. The rolls had a pleasing basil aftertaste, packed with tiny, thin rice noodles, basil, lettuce and large, plump shrimp, all wrapped in rice paper.

The Pad Kee Mao was perfectly spiced: not too hot, but enough heat to cut through the winter's bite. The smoky flavor of the sauce balanced the hint of basil quite nicely.

My girlfriend's Penne was also flavorful, but lacked the spicy punch one would expect from a classic Arrabbiata sauce. The chicken was abundant and perfectly cooked. Her roll of bread was warm and fresh.

Penne Arrabbiata
Pad Kee Mao

Our water glasses were kept perpetually full throughout the meal and the waitress was very attentive. Our dinners and appetizers were served promptly. As the evening wore on, I got the sense that the staff were a little more stressed and service for others seemed to degrade slightly as patrons continued to pour in.

Overall, it's a promising start for Blue Elephant. The place was filled to near capacity by the time we left, so it's our hope word of mouth keeps it in business for years to come, right alongside the many other Thai restaurants of Little Park.

Blue Elephant on Urbanspoon
Blue Elephant

Price: Moderately Expensive ($11 - $16 per person)
Service: Excellent
Rating: 3.0 out of 43.0 stars


Posted: 2010-02-13 10:31:26
Very weird to have another Thai restaurant. It's getting to be the norm in Hyde Park. Guess they're all trying to cater to the sushi craze. I'll probably try it, though.

David R.
Posted: 2010-02-15 01:59:03
I like Mekong in Kenwood also

Posted: 2010-03-08 19:47:29
I googled this restaurant last week and came across your review. Once I saw the picture of the fresh roll, I had to go. Since I live in the neighborhood and eat at either Wild Ginger or Green Papaya about once a week, I was eager to check out the new kid on the block. Oh boy. I can say that my experience Friday night was probably the worst Cincinnati dining experience I have ever had. The service was HORRENDOUS. Absolutely horrible. They were so understaffed...really really poor service. For example, despite having a reservation, we waited for about 15 minutes before being acknowledged when we walked in. Fine. Then once we were seated no one came to bring us water or take a drink order. After 15 minutes we flagged someone got worse from there. Mixed up orders, forgotten orders, very average/poor food, and such sloooooow service really made for a pathetic situation. Once we had our sushi we realized we didn't have chopsticks. Eventually we ate it with our hands since our waitress was coming by about every 25 minutes at that point. To their credit, our waitress was very sweet and apologized profusely throughout the (very long) evening. Especially when she twice knocked my purse off of my chair into a puddle of soy sauce on the floor. (Dining room was cramped and we were in a high traffic area.) I will definitely NOT be back...and I'd be surprised if they make it work.

Cincinnati Bites
Posted: 2010-03-17 20:57:59
That really bites, Christa. That truly bites.

Posted: 2010-05-01 11:04:16
I must add to this thread by saying that there can never be enough Thai food in town. I love it all, but as with anything, it's all about the details.

I think most would agree that you have your favorites at every restaurant. Fried rice here, curry there, spring rolls over here... So, that being said, I really enjoy Blue Elephant. I've only ever gotten carry-out, but I've been consistently impressed.

Great fried rice, although, I'm one of those people who eats extremely spicey, and I always tell them that, but I've yet to have them give me anything even remotely resembling what I want. That's no biggie, though. I have to train each new place, so I'm sure they'll get it.

I'm going to try the Italian. A good carbonara is easy, but at the same time, you'd be surprised how hard it is to find a good one, so we'll see.

My recommendation...Blue Elephant is some good eats. Try the Volcano Maki, and the Treasury Bags. You won't be disappointed. Also, the Siam fried rice, but again, you have to ask for it to be hot. I've also had the satay, which is good, but not my favorite. The best satay in town is still either Thai Nam Tip, or Bangkok Bistro. Best fried rice is Thai Nam Tip, or Sukothai. If you agree whith that, then you'll know that I know my Thai food.

Anyway, enjoy it. Variety is the spice of life, and there can never be too many Thai restaurants!!!

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