Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
The Elephant
1st Street, Lower East Side, NYC
212-505-7739
Review by Diana, MaceVindaloo

Sometimes when you have a dinner date, you get there a bit early because of nervousness or something ... and it really is too early. And because it's a date, you haven't eaten and you're edgy, and suddenly you feel queasy because you really should have eaten. And you'd like a drink, but you can't get it at the place you are meeting your date because you don't want to be in there when he arrives. You know ...

So you go a few doors down and have a quiet drink and maybe a snack in friendly, quiet suroundings so you can get your wits together. Don't worry that it looks like a place that'll rock; indeed it does, but later. At 5:30pm, with the sun still high and blazing hot, this tropical-looking place is fairly empty. And it really does transport you somewhere else. Note the Thai theme — the elephant is native to Thailand, and the white ones are considered symbols of royalty. The hot red tables, beads, bric-a-brac, gilded mirrors, carved picture frames ... it's all very ex-pat bar decor. The bananas are a really nice touch, and note they hung them up the right direction, too.

But something does seem odd ... and then it hits you! The staff is all French ... or at least affect a French accent. The waitresses all spoke French and the barman had an almost-Senegalese-French accent. It's like a Frenchman's take on what Thailand is like. So it's a bit Vietnamese-like too, but mostly it's what it is, and the food is good and the drinks are great. And it did feel a tiny bit like Casablanca, like the ones in your fantasies.

We tried a French beer called Fisher, which was an amberish lighter beer, a bit hoppy in flavor. It's refreshing and a very good choice for a hot summer's day. We also tried something called the Wounded Elephant, which came from a drinks menu with names reflecting the various moods of pachyderms. This one was a lychee-based drink, and it was delicious and unusual, and not at all "Chinesey" despite the Chinese fruit. Wish we'd had time for more. And for comparison, we ordered a rum and coke, and it was mixed well, without being overly rummy or badly cokey or syrupy.

The waitress was a beautiful voluptuously plump woman with a sexy French accent and cute brown hair. When we asked if we could just have a snack and drinks, she said, "But of course!" and settled us in. We ordered chicken satays and crab dumplings in a coconut cream sauce. They came on clean restaurant style plates (you know the Villeroy & Boch stuff everyone seems to like these days). The servings were both large for their little appetizer prices.

The satays came with a piece of banana leaf beneath and some lightly pickled cucumbers and a chunky peanut-based sauce. It was expertly marinated and grilled; the sauce was a bit sweet, as it should be, and very tasty.

The crab dumplings and their sauce were really good and surprisingly light. The best surprise on the dumplings were their garnish — shredded carrots, deep-fried to crisp perfection, and piled high over the shu-mai style dumplings. I ate the carrots with a spoon with a bit of the soupy sauce.

It was all so good and refreshing that I very nearly decided to bag my date and stay here ... And wouldn't you know it, he spied me in here and came over; I'd sat near the front of the open-walled restaurant because it was such a hot day and I wanted to catch any breezes happening by on 1st Street. He insisted we honor the dinner reservation down the block. Phooey!

But maybe just as well ... the place does get some really negative reviews regarding their serving and overcrowding on online reviews from very unhappy customers. The tables are smushed together cheek-by-jowl, and it's a long, narrow space like many in the lower part of Manhattan. We can imagine it does get crazy and reservations might fall by the wayside. I can only recommend the place early in the evening before even the first dinner reservation may be slotted. And I do know that people who want to complain do tend to do so vociferously ... grain of salt, I guess?

So I don't know what the night scene is like, but if you're early, the quiet, relaxed mood is just what a girl needs!


Disclaimer: The opinions and observations noted are the property of the author. Neither Wookieehut nor any associates makes any claims or lucre from the posting of this report or review. This webpage is presented by Wookieehut.com. Enjoy!