Tucked away in a shoddy hotel in Northeast Calgary is a little gem called “White Elephant Cuisine”, a Thai restaurant that is absolutely worth your time to go to.
At the corner of 16th Avenue and 19th Street N.E. and located inside The Pointe Inn, is White Elephant, a “mom and pop” restaurant operated on the ground floor and situated down the hall of the inn. This restaurant is what one would call a “hole in the wall”, but please do not judge it by its looks.
The small restaurant can seat about 40 guests and is separated by a partitioned wall, likely a remnant from the days where Calgary restaurants had smoking and non-smoking sections.
My family was meeting up with two friends, Kat and Peter, and it had been Kat’s suggestion for us to try this place out (and it was also their first time going to White Elephant as well!).
Kat and Peter were running a bit late due to traffic (we had arrived at 5:15pm). There were two other seated tables when we arrived and one gentleman who was ordering take-out. We quickly noticed that there were many tables that had been reserved, about 80% of the restaurant’s tables were already spoken for before 6pm! The owners notified us later on that if we were ever to want to come to the restaurant after 5:30pm during the weekdays, we had to get reservations or run the risk of not being able to find a seat! (So keep that in mind if you intend to drop by here.)
We were seated immediately and given our menus and at first glance the menu seemed overwhelming, but you quickly get past that as you realize that unlike a menu at a Chinese restaurant, the categorization of the menu at White Elephant is strictly categorization, many of the dishes are simply variations on the same basic theme (e.g. the curry menu is basically the same but with different types of curries and vegetables).
When Kat and Peter arrived we took time to order our food as we chatted up a storm and caught up with one another.
We finally got to ordering (probably around 6pm!), when many of the reservations at the restaurant had arrived and were being filled, and we decided on the Thai-style chicken wings for an appetizer, the yellow curry with chicken, an order of battered deep-fried prawns in a peanut satay sauce, the pineapple fried rice (no eggs), and pad thai (without eggs). [*note: my wife has egg allergies and thus our revised menu choices without eggs]
One thing that I noticed during our service was that there were only three people serving (and possibly cooking) in the restaurant–remember, it’s family owned and operated–and they did a fairly good job and keep our waters topped up and checking up on the guests as the food slowly rolled out.
White Elephant is possibly the epitome of the “slow food” movement for an Asian restaurant. Our food took its time to be cooked, and we spent a lot of time talking about work, life, marriage, and other interests–yet it never seemed like there was a rush to get our food (perhaps because we had such great company! *wink*).
Our food eventually came and we were served the Thai-style chicken wings first.
I love chicken wings, they are one of my favourite things to cook at home and I can enjoy a good “wing night” at a local pub or restaurant. These wings… you need to order them. They are fried, but not oily, and crusted in a herb-batter mix that is fragrant and savoury. The wings are served alongside a hot sauce that is not sriracha (which is a Vietnamese condiment) and not quite Frank’s hot sauce. It was delicious!
Initially when we ordered the prawns we had no idea they would come doused in a peanut satay sauce. Now being Vietnamese, I love satay sauces and this sauce is one of the best sauces I have ever had in my life (and I’ve been to Malaysia where satay is king!).
The prawns were dusted in a light batter and quick deep-fried and then plated and covered with the peanut sauce. The prawns are LARGE! With most crustacean, when they get too big, they often become tougher to eat (e.g. jumbo prawns, lobster… etc). However, despite the size of these prawns, they are incredibly juicy and succulent when you bite into them, and they are cooked just right, recognizing that overcooking would cause the meat to toughen up.
The highlight of this dish is the peanut satay sauce. It is sweet, slightly savoury, a hint of heat, and oh so delish. I could eat a bowl of rice and this satay sauce by itself.
When a diner reads the first page of the menu at White Elephant, you will be greeted with a nice introduction to Thai food, and it is quickly noted that Thai food is not all spicy, and this Yellow Curry with Chicken is a great example of that.
The curry broth is warm (in the comfort-food sense), thick (but not stewy), and incredibly flavourful. You know you are eating curry but it’s not a raging inferno in your mouth. The chicken is plentiful in this dish and again, I could probably be content with eating just this curry and a bowl of rice.
White Elephant is the second Thai restaurant I’ve ever eaten at in my life, and White Elephant’s Pad Thai is also the first Pad Thai I’ve ever had in my life, so I have very little to compare it to. However, this particular dish is amazing. The thick sweet sauce marries well with the rice noodle, tender beef, and vegetables.
This was our final dish that came, and truth be told, it was not my favourite. Partly because the choice of using canned pineapples over fresh pineapples. The pineapples were juicy but the flavour had been lost during the canning process; fresh pineapples would have infused the dish with a brighter flavour.
It was a good dish, but I would not order it again. My favourite pineapple fried rice is still Harbour City’s pineapple fried rice (that is actually served in half of a pineapple!).
I enjoyed this outing to White Elephant and will return again in the future.
If you love Thai food, don’t go to those overpriced restaurants in Calgary (you know which ones they are…). Give this place a go! The service is great and the food is smashing. Just remember that if you are planning to come for dinner, get a reservation, have some friends who you will want to talk to for several hours, and enjoy a slower pace of life with White Elephant’s take on the slow food movement.