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."
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.
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.
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 Asia...er...Hyde Park.
Price: Moderately Expensive ($11 - $16 per person)