A&E

Restaurants: Border crossing

Green Elephant offers both familiar Chinese dishes and the chance to try Burmese flavors

In many ways, the cuisine of Burma (also known as Myanmar) is a combination of the influence of its neighbors, Thailand, India and China. Many of the ingredients are the same but countered with different combinations of spices and sauces. At first glance, dishes can seem like familiar territory, made with the curry, chilies, noodles and coconut milk seemingly culled from any Asian menu. But there is definitely a difference.

Green Elephant Gourmet, located in Palo Alto's Charleston Shopping Center, allows diners to sample some classic Burmese cuisine, as well as offering an extensive menu of easily recognized Chinese dishes. While Chinese food is in the majority, much of the appeal of Green Elephant is in the opportunity to try something new.

The decor of the 7-year-old restaurant reflects a multitude of influences as well, from strangely decorative objets de art to Welsh dinnerware and Chinese cloisonné. An effort has been made to bring the cream-and-cranberry decor a few steps up from shopping-center neutrality. The entryway is defined with spikes of bamboo and a dramatic arch resembling an elephant tusk. White tablecloths add a touch of formality.

Owners Christina Win and Michael Maumg are both 20-year veterans of the restaurant business and have integrated both traditional and family recipes into the mix. Green Elephant Gourmet tones down the fiery complexity of both its Burmese and Chinese offerings, most likely as a concession to Midpeninsula sensibilities. Even chopsticks are not provided unless specifically requested.

A perfect introduction to Burmese cuisine is the tea-leaf salad ($10.25). Fermented green tea leaves, called laphet, are hand mixed at the table with sesame seeds, peanuts, fried garlic, sunflower seeds and dried yellow beans into a base of lettuce and tomatoes. It's a pretty dish when presented, with its little piles of different-colored ingredients, and the mix is a wonderful blend of textures and flavors. The restaurant imports the laphet directly from Burma since this ingredient apparently is not readily available in the States.

A lunch special of poodi ($8.95) included a bowl of thick, well-seasoned hot-and-sour soup and a sparse and skippable plate of tired iceberg lettuce with a sweet sesame-based dressing. Poodi is a Burmese potato curry rife with onions, garlic and chili, served with rice and two thin pancakes. Our waitress graciously explained the best technique for compiling the saucy dish into messy but satisfying roll-ups, with plenty left over for another meal at home.

A menu special of shrimp with eggplant ($12.95) was rendered Burmese style with a piquant basil sauce. The ingredients were well prepared, the flavors unified into one of our most satisfying selections.

Less successful was the appetizer of fried eggplant sticks ($7.95), which were so thick with batter that the eggplant was virtually undetectable. The two garlic and chili sauces that accompanied the dish provided the only splash of flavor — and color.

While Burmese selections take up one page of the menu, the rest is devoted to Chinese dishes, including egg rolls, sweet-and-sour shrimp, Mongolian beef and Kung Pao chicken. We feasted one evening on hot and spicy tofu ($8.95), braised silken tofu bathed in a delectable but benign chili-garlic sauce; and a mild chicken with green beans in black-bean sauce ($10.95). Dishes were generally very light-handed in terms of spiciness, despite the printed pepper warnings on the menu, and most entrees benefited from an extra dab of chili sauce or peppers.

Service was exceptional. Servers dressed in richly colored sarongs embroidered in gold stopped by often to see how we were doing and took time to explain ingredients and preparations. They accommodated a request to use gluten-free soy sauce with a smile, and made sure water glasses were filled constantly and unobtrusively.

Green Elephant Gourmet is a pleasant neighborhood stop and an opportunity to cross borders, with an introduction to Burmese food and a broad cross-section of more traditional Chinese staples.

Green Elephant Gourmet

3950 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto

650-494-7391

greenelephantgourmet.com

Hours:

Lunch: Daily 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner: Sun.-Thu 4:30-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 4:30-9:30 p.m.

Comments

There are no comments yet. Please share yours below.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Choose a category: *

Since this is the first comment on this story a new topic will also be started in Town Square! Please choose a category that best describes this story.

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Touring the Southern California “Ivies:” Pomona and Cal Tech
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 5 comments | 2,933 views

Chai Brisket
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 2,094 views

Couples: Parallel Play or Interactive Play?
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,252 views

Sometimes "I'm Sorry" Doesn't Cut It
By Cheryl Bac | 7 comments | 1,189 views

SJSU Center for Steinbeck Studies to Honor Author Khaled Hosseini on Weds Sept 10
By Nick Taylor | 0 comments | 736 views