It is a classic weekend dilemma at Tufts. The older relatives are in town, and they are sick of going to the same restaurant in the North End every time they visit. It would be foolish, however, to pass up the opportunity to enjoy a delicious, pricey meal. After a semester of bringing Tupperware to every Tufts event with free food, an exquisite meal is well deserved. Avoid the stress of last-minute Yelping and waiting for that foodie friend to offer suggestions. Dare to impress and head to The Elephant Walk.
Just a short walk from the Porter Square T station, The Elephant Walk’s décor blends the modern with the elegant. It is simultaneously minimalist and visually stimulating, making use of bold colors and frequent displays of its namesake. A large, three-dimensional elephant mural emerges from the wall with a torch in its trunk, welcoming guests into the unusually situated waiting area. Two red couches right in the middle of the restaurant take up a considerable amount of floor space, as if the giant elephant in the room was not enough to grab a guest’s attention. A waiter leads the way to a table, and the pillows on the seats are decorated with elephant designs. For a Jumbo, it is all too comforting.
A Prix Fixe menu offers three courses for $34 with a dessert added for an additional $4. Ordering à la carte is an option for those who desire more choice. The menu is divided into starters and entrées, separated into Cambodian and French cuisines. Yet there is clear linguistic and flavor crossover, drawing from the blended cuisine that arose with the French colonial empire in Southeast Asia. Without expertise in — or frankly, familiarity with — either cuisine, it is difficult to ascertain the authenticity of The Elephant Walk’s dishes. But one claim can be made without a doubt: the food is delectable.
The Rouleaux, normally filled with pork, is available vegan with shitake mushroom. These crispy spring rolls are also filled with onions, carrots and crunchy peanuts. It is served with a variety of accompaniments, and the waiter instructs how to experience the dish properly. Wrap a rouleaux, a few bean sprouts and a bit of fresh basil in a leaf of lettuce and dip in a peanut and fish sauce before taking a bite. One small bite encompasses an immense complexity of flavor and texture with the umami from the mushroom, acidity from the sauce, herby basil and crunchy peanut. A second appetizer, Salade de Chèvre Chaud, is just as pleasing. Two toasted baguettes of goat cheese, honey, dried cranberry and walnuts rest atop a bed of an arugula and chickpea salad coated with fig vinaigrette. It is an experiment in interactions — the subtle interaction of sweet with sour and the interaction of hearty cheese and bread with light greens. The experiment is exceedingly successful, evident from how quickly the plate empties.
Entrées at The Elephant Walk live up to the expectations promised by the starters. Crevettes Amrita, with organic tofu in lieu of shrimp, arrives with button mushrooms and onions cooked in a sweet and spicy satay sauce. The Elephant Walk illustrates its ability to layer a great depth of flavor in this seemingly simple dish through its use of cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger and lemongrass to elevate the coconut milk base. While the generous amount of turmeric may be slightly overpowering in terms of flavor, this is what gives the dish its vibrant yellow color, emphasized by beautifully plating it against plain white rice. The addition of peanuts on top provides needed textural contrast. The Mee Siem Au Poulet is a great option for those who crave something less creamy. The dish’s vegan interpretation features rice noodles in a sauce of salted soybeans, tofu, shredded vegetables and pickled shallots. The acidity of the noodles provides a refreshing balance to The Elephant Walk’s richer dishes.
The food is by no means affordable, but the flavors are worth the cost. Cambridge local and Tufts senior Kayla Blackborow puts it best, “On a college student’s budget, I can’t eat at The Elephant Walk regularly. But for a special occasion, its food is well worth the price. In fact, I had my bat mitzvah dinner there!” Next time there is a reason to celebrate, indulge with family and friends at The Elephant Walk.
The Elephant Walk is located at 2067 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Mass. They are open weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and weekends from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.