277 Schuylkill Road (Route 23)
Kimberton Square Shopping Center
Thai L'Elephant is the new kid on the block, and it blows into town with some mighty impressive credentials... Proprietor Wansawang (Michael) Raethong, for example, has been a chef for over 15 years and has been responsible for starting up a slew of restaurants in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area. In addition, the restaurant's Website lists his numerous awards, as well as the establishment's most popular dishes. Couple this with the spacious interior - walls of beautiful dark wood, tapestries and artifacts, and a staff decked out in Thai sartorial finery - and you have a recipe for success. Well... perhaps...
In actuality, however, after several visits, I've come away shaking my head. There are, given the proprietor's experience, and the gastronomic hype, a series of inexplicable disappointments. So let's begin with the food... Among the starters, the freshly grated cabbage salad tossed with an evocative lime-chili dressing ($5.95) was excellent... On the other hand, the highly-touted aubergine salad ($7.95) - grilled Asian eggplant cut lengthwise and topped with minced chicken, two tempura shrimp, and splash of the same lime-chili dressing -- was not terribly attractive to the eye and just OK in the flavor department.
Of the other starters, the corn cakes with sweet cucumber relish ($4.95), vegetable rolls ($3.95), and Thai dumplings ($6.95) - fried ground pork with mushrooms, water chestnuts, and side of soy vinaigrette - were all good, though hardly exceptional..
Entrées had their own unique problems. The macadamia-crusted tilapia ($17.95), for example, was slightly on the dry side. And that goes double for the Au Curry Rouge ($15.95), slices of grilled marinated chicken arranged on a bed of Asian vegetables surrounded by a pool of Thai red curry basil sauce. The sauce was delicious... but the chicken was as dry and tough as Clint Eastwood's Rawhide saddle.
From the wok, the Au De Basilica ($12.95) featured morsels of dry, tasteless chicken sautéed with onion, red pepper, and green beans in a murky basil garlic sauce. The significantly less than attractive concoction looked like it had been dropped onto the plate from twenty thousand feet. And the Pad See Lew ($12.95) - stir-fried wide rice noodles with shrimp, broccoli, and eggs in a sweet black soy sauce - was generic at best.
My biggest bone of contention, however, involves the pace of the kitchen - or blatant lack thereof. On a crowded, free-for-all Saturday night, it is not unusual for the kitchen staff to be stressed to the max, often resulting in some minor delays in receiving your orders in a timely fashion. On a quiet weeknight, on the other hand, you generally expect things to run more smoothly.
At this establishment, however, the exact opposite appears to be the case. During a recent Saturday evening visit, we were still savoring our appetizers when entrées appeared at the speed of light. Conversely, on a quiet Tuesday night, with only two other couples in the entire restaurant, the kitchen moved along like a herd of turtles. This is precisely the kind of erratic service that drives people out the door in droves..
I must confess that, when I have a hankering for Thai cuisine, I much prefer Thai Place (700 Nutt Road, Phoenixville Plaza, #730, 610-917-9943, www.eatatthaiplace.com, which I reviewed in the July issue of the newsletter). The environs may not be quite as grand, and the carved radishes & carrots not quite as fancy, but the food & service have infinitely more to offer& and you also receive a significantly better bang for your buck... It's your call.
The Artful Diner
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