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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

New in Milwaukee’s Little Bangkok

Elephant Café offers good Thai at reasonable prices

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Perhaps the area around the intersection of Brady and Farwell should be called Little Bangkok as there are so many Thai restaurants in the neighborhood. EE-Sane, Jow Nai Fouquet, Mai Thai and Thai-Namite have been joined by a fifth restaurant, the Elephant Café. Members of the Nanthasane family, the owners of EE-Sane, run the new place.

The café has an inviting décor with a cozy bar seating four and two dining areas. Thai handicrafts, featuring elephants, are the decorating motif. This is a nicer and quieter setting than the often noisy EE-Sane.

The menu is smaller, though there are still several dozen items to choose from. Most items are Thai/Lao but there are a few not on the EE-Sane menu. There are also four versions of Vietnamese pho ($7.95-$8.95), those large bowls of soup usually made from beef stock and rice noodles. At the café, cilantro leaves are already in the bowl, brought to the table along with a side plate of bean sprouts, basil, jalapeño slices and lime wedges to be added at the discretion of the diner. There are also a few condiments—hoisin sauce, chili powder, dried shallots and a chili-garlic much like sriracha. Meat options include beef, chicken and mixed seafood. The vegetable pho is made from meat-free stock. This is a full meal in a bowl.

Most diners gravitate to the Thai/Lao items EE-Sane is known for. The café serves the usual assortment of Thai soups. The tom kha, made with coconut milk, and the tom yum, with its hot and sour flavors, are offered with a choice of chicken, shrimp or vegetable and are sold as cups or hot pots.

The menu spiciness is on a scale from 1 to 5, but the actual spiciness depends on the dish. In the ginger scallops ($15.95), level 5 is not actually all that spicy—and it’s wise to order it milder as the predominant flavor in the brown sauce should be ginger. The sea scallops are plentiful and served with nearly every vegetable this kitchen stocks. In the case of the papaya salad ($7.95), level 5 means serious business. Shredded raw green papaya, in the Thai version, is mixed with fish sauce, limejuice and peanuts. At the spicier levels the heat is from fresh mashed hot chile peppers. This calls for an ice-cold bottle of Beerlao!

Try the “Crying Tiger” ($12.95), a good-sized piece of beefsteak cut into slices. It’s prepared much like the beef salad nua num tok, in which smaller pieces of beef are dusted with roasted rice powder. All of the usual Thai/Lao accouterments of cilantro, red onion, basil, mint and lemongrass are there, plus lime juice in the marinade. The Crying Tiger is served over lettuce and a bowl of rice is included—not always the case with Thai salads. The lemongrass pork chops ($10.95) is a plate of two large chops marinated, grilled and served over assorted steamed vegetables. The marinade does not have a lot of flavor but a side of sauce, laced with lemongrass, sure does. It is served warm with chili pepper customized for each order.

Patrons of EE-Sane will find many familiar items, from the wide selection of curries to laad nah and those crispy egg rolls. Service is usually very good although it’s best to visit when there isn’t a rush. The Elephant Café offers fine Thai/Lao fare in a pleasant setting at prices that also please.

 

Elephant Café

1505 N. Farwell Ave.

414-220-9322

$-$$

Handicapped access: no, step at door (ramp coming this summer)