What with the unrelenting criticism the eXile's been catching at the hands of expat.ru fanatics, Arenseberg's developed an ulcer and is unable to eat anything spicier than mayonnaise. So the task of trying to salvage our restaurant guide's reputation has fallen to me, and it's a task not to be taken lightly. I've grown a mustachio since my review of Shanti, which our Minister of Information Dima Shelya tells me has incurred the wrath of Afisha's main restaurant reviewer Sveta Kesoyen. She apparently has posted pictures of me in the kitchens of most Moscow eateries with instructions to cut my food with a liberal dose of rat poison.
Luckily, Thai restaurant BLUE ELEPHANT is too new to be in the know. So new, in fact, that only 70 percent of the menu is actually available. Blue Elephant is a high priced chain with branches in many European capitals and oil-rich countries like Dubai, Kuwait, Bahrain and, now, Russia. It's lush, palm-filled interior is tucked into Novinsky Passazh, over by the embassy on the Garden Ring and has things like a wooden bridge you have to walk over to get to the toilets.
Given the uncertain status of at least 30 percent of the menu, my companion and I thought it wise to stick with the prix fixe, which we figured they'd have worked the kinks out of already. We were right, to a degree - the food was excellent, even if they still haven't figured out how to cut down the wait times in between courses. And this for a set menu! I tremble to think what would have happened if we'd improvised. But service aside, at least it can now be said that Moscow has an excellent, if expensive, Thai option. While Baan Thai has a couple of decent items, their menu was best navigated with caution, like a Cambodian minefield.
Thanks to their recent opening, the restaurant is offering a startling 25 percent discount on all food. Startling until you see the prices. Even with the sale, and the fact we had nothing stronger than water with our meal, we each ended up dropping about 2000 rubles.
The prix fixe (60 Euros) offers a plateful of appetizers, a soup, five mains, pad thai, crispy veggies and dessert. Since my space is limited, I'll concentrate on the best items, but they were all above par.
The best appetizer, hands down, was the Dim Sim, a clever two-bite blend of pork and seafood. The Spring Roll was great too, although the Satay was a bit dry and even discolored. The Manam Chicken soup was quite spicy and generally fine, although it tasted ever so slightly of those moist lemon towelettes that usually come with Buffalo wings.
Moving on to the mains, which aren't actually the ones that they claim on their website, the best was the Pad Thai. This might even make for a cheap way to enjoy Blue Elephant's food without breaking the bank, as it's only 9 euros per portion, although the portion's a little skimpy. The Lab Kai (which most of us know as Larb Gei) was also as good as you'll get this far from the Pacific Rim. One nice thing about set menus is that you end up eating things you'd be crazy to order, like the Chu-Chi PLA Salmon, a delicious, tender steamed piece of salmon in a sweet red curry sauce. The one serious disappointment was the Green Curry Chicken, which was quite bland (in spite of the chef's willingness to liberally use spice in the soup). They were also stingy with the rice, bringing us only a single bowl to split.
Finally, let me re-emphasize how terrible the service was. My friend said that's only to be expected at a new restaurant, but for $60 I expect that they'd train the waiters properly before opening day. Aside from the long waits in between courses, they somehow forgot my napkin at my place setting and our Kalmyk waitress was constantly dropping things.
My only other complaint was the prices, with entrees starting at 20 euros and drinks astronomically priced. If you've got a hankering for Thai food, I suggest you check it out soon, before the 25 percent off deal ends. Because when it does, tBlue Elephant will be a rare treat for those of us who haven't found a way to tap into Russia's oil-wealth.
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