Pink Elephant Thai

Restaurant: Pink Elephant Thai
Cuisine: Thai/”IzaTHAIya”
Last visited: May 31, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Robson/West End/Downtown)
Address: 1152 Alberni Street
Price Range: $20-30+ (Large plates $12-16)

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 3.5-4
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 4 (if you like Pink)
Overall: 3.5
Additional comments:

  • Thai House Group restaurant
  • Authentic Thai
  • Thai chefs/staff
  • Modern presentation/techniques
  • Some exotic meats
  • Meat/seafood
  • Trendy/posh/fun atmosphere
  • Small plates/tapas style
  • Good for game (TV’s)
  • Full bar
  • Thai inspired cocktails
  • Happy Hour 3-5pm ($6 noodle soups)
  • Lunch/Dinner
  • Sunday – Thursday: 11:30am – 10pm
  • Friday – Saturday: 11:30am – 12:00am

**Recommendations: Kra Pau Moo (Pork Cheek), Coconut Curry (Braised Oxtail), Braised Pork Hock, and Pla (Salmon). I really like the Panang curry sauce here too. I’m not sure if you’ll see the value, but the ostrich lettuce wraps are good and I’d top them with cashews.

Na na na na na na na na na na na na [x2]… I got a brand new attitude and I’m gonna wear it tonight, I [don’t] wanna get in trouble, I [don’t] wanna start a fight… so, so what?! Actually I don’t really have a brand new attitude, but I did really wear pink this night! And I actually don’t wanna get in trouble or start a fight, and just in case you’re keeping track, there’s no animosity after my slightly controversial post on sister restaurant Charm Modern Thai (see here). The owner is actually a friend of mine, but nonetheless honesty is the best policy and we both agree on that.

Pink Elephant Thai is the newest restaurant from The Thai House Group and I was invited here for dinner. The concept is based on “IzaTHAIya” (owner Desmond’s word) so it’s the Thai take on the popular Japanese Izakaya. It’s a tapas style menu with some small and large plates suitable for group dining. The atmosphere reminded me of a brighter Thai version of Hapa Izakaya or Glowbal Group’s Society restaurant. It’s a little less of a Pink “Pink” and a little more of a Britney Spears “Pink”, and I was hoping it would be more than a place to be seen, but also a place for some great food and drinks.

I mentioned my biases regarding “modern” Thai food in my post on Charm Modern Thai, and I was a little impartial to the introduction of Pink Elephant Thai. I didn’t want it to be the same thing under a different name. On the other hand it’s meant to be a completely different concept than Charm, and it actually kind of was.

Pink Elephant Thai is not really that modern. The flavours and ingredients are supposed to be authentic Thai and some dishes you would probably see in a fine dining restaurant in Thailand. The dishes actually touch upon different regions of Thailand and I found some Chinese style dishes too since the cuisines do share some similar flavours. The presentation, techniques and ambiance are the modern part and it manages to be playful while respecting Thai flavours and techniques.

The food was good for the most part, and it’s more affordable than Charm Modern Thai, but it’s not “cheap” either. Some of the dishes were very adventurous, new and exciting, while others I couldn’t help but to think I could get it better for less somewhere else. Sure I’m willing to pay for a bit of the ambiance, which I actually did like (but I also just like pink… I know “surprise, surprise”).

Overall I was more impressed by the mains than the tapas, which rarely happens for me; but the meats are executed incredibly well and the (large plate) portions were quite generous and certainly shareable. There are hits and the misses, but I did enjoy most of it, considering I wasn’t really expecting to. It’s rather authentic Thai food with modern presentation in a playful, posh and pink atmosphere.

Photos courtesy of Sherman.

On the table:

Spicy Butterfly Butter Jumbo Tiger Prawn3.5/6

  • With butter, swirled egg, curry leaves and peppercorn $6 (Photo shows sample, usually comes with 2 prawns)
  • It’s good, but not sure if it’s $6 good.
  • This was a very aromatic dish, and it didn’t seem that spicy, but it gradually builds and then it lingers. It was actually quite spicy.
  • The prawn was quite meaty, tender and juicy, but it wasn’t a BC Spot Prawn (which is in season).
  • It was well seasoned with salt and lightly battered and fried so that the shells were edible. It wasn’t very crunchy, but it was crispy.
  • There was some lemongrass marinade and deep fried lemongrass and Thai basil leaves served with it, which just added to the aromatics and flavours.
  • There were lots of flavours and textures going on, but the Thai spices did play the dominant role.
  • I loved the toasted cashew nuts it was served with and then there were also these yellow strands of what was deep fried egg yolk.
  • The deep fried egg yolk almost tastes like jerky and the flavour is just egg yolk, but it’s very faint and you might not have guessed it unless you paid attention to it.
  • The yellow strands are actually not that crispy but they add a feathery dry texture and then it becomes quite chewy like jerky.
  • There’s also a strand of deep fried pink peppercorns (which turned green) and I ate the whole strand without second guessing. It’s aromatic and not that spicy and it has a slight bitterness in the aftertaste. The heat catches up though.
  • It reminded me exactly of this Malaysian dish I had at Tamarind Hill in Malaysia – see here.
  • I actually prefer the Rock Pepper with Garlic Prawns from Charm Modern Thai better, but they are different.

Crispy Tofu 3/6

  • Deep fried soft tofu $5
  • It was pretty much well seasoned Agedashi Tofu.
  • The corn flour (?) batter was very light and thin and it was well seasoned with salt.
  • The tofu was crispy on the outside and then soft, smooth and silky inside so there was a nice play on textures.
  • In the end it was quite a standard Asian way of preparing deep fried tofu.

**Double “O” Lettuce Wrap4/6

  • Fresh oyster and free range ostrich $8
  • Chicken or beef $6
  • Oohh! I just got the name… how risky.
  • This is very good, but it’s hard to get over the “it’s just a lettuce wrap” feeling, although the ostrich is delicious and what you’re paying for.
  • It came with 4 very small lettuce leaves, and I could have used a couple more.
  • I had the oyster and ostrich version and I would ask for 100% ostrich if they do that because the pieces of battered and deep fried oyster just got lost in the mixture a bit.
  • If you’re going to order the chicken or beef you might as well just go to a regular Chinese restaurant.
  • If you’ve never had ostrich you’re missing out. It tastes like very lean and tender beef tenderloin. It’s not gelatinous, chewy or gamey, but it’s lean and still juicy. It’s very well marinated in this dish too.
  • I loved the exotic proteins in this dish, but I did lose the oyster flavour although I saw the pieces and occasionally tasted it. Since they were deep fried they did become soggy though.
  • It was a rather sweet lettuce wrap predominantly strong with oyster sauce flavour, but it’s a bit oily though.
  • The Hoisin sauce is mixed right in as the marinade so there’s no additional sauce to add.
  • It’s a savoury and sweet wrap with firm tofu, carrots, sweet green bell pepper and some crispy deep fried vermicelli.
  • I wouldn’t have minded some water chestnuts, but that’s more Chinese.
  • I added some toasted cashews from the prawn dish to this wrap and that was delicious! Do that!

Floating Market3.5/6

  • Deep fried spinach tempura and tiger prawns served with a spicy Thai applesauce $7
  • This is something I would have ordered on my own because the “Thai applesauce” sounds interesting.
  • This is pretty much the Thai version of the beloved Japanese tempura. It would be great with beer.
  • I’ve never had spinach tempura, but it pretty much tastes like extremely crunchy tempura batter chips.
  • You can’t taste the spinach at all and it kind of reminded me of pakora.
  • I’m curious how it would taste if it was spinach leaf and Thai basil leaf deep fried together and the vegetable played a more substantial role.
  • The spinach is simply the “thing” that holds the tempura batter.
  • It was a very crunchy chip that was surprisingly non-greasy for what it was.
  • You top each “chip” with a prawn, toasted whole cashews and sauce and it was full of different textures and flavours and I loved the nuttiness.
  • The tiger prawns are a bit small, but tender.
  • The sauce is more sweet and tangy and it keeps the tempura light and just adds a punch of tangy flavour.
  • The Thai apple sauce would be better if the apples were more incorporated and infused into the sauce.
  • It was a sweet, tangy, and savoury vinaigrette sauce made with lime juice, sugar, fish sauce and chili with some julienne Granny Smith apples tossed in. I think maybe mincing the apples in there might be better.
  • The apples really didn’t play an important roll unless you got a piece with every bite. It needed a lot of apple too because it just got overpowered by the chilies.
  • There was a ton of textures and it was very good and flavourful, but not what I expected. It was different though and I liked that.

Keang Panang Pla3.5/6

  • Panang curry with salmon $12
  • The salmon was boneless and skinless and it wasn’t pan-fried, crispy or particularly anything special. It was a bit dry and plain, but the size was pretty good.
  • The highlight is for sure the panang curry in this dish, which I really loved here.
  • The paste had thick texture and it’s made in house and on the sweeter side, as panang curry usually is.
  • It’s rich, thick, creamy and velvety smooth and strong with coconut milk and cream flavour with a slight heat at the end.
  • There is a slight tang from the lime leaves, but it is on the sweet side and it tastes peanutty, but there are no peanuts in it.
  • There’s lots of sautéed sweet bell peppers and the ingredients weren’t anything new, but the sauce is really good.
  • If the salmon wasn’t over cooked it would be a solid 4/6 and I’d recommend it.

Khoa Mun Gai – 3/6

  • Singapore style Hainan Chicken (boneless). Steamed half range chicken served with ginger rice $16
  • This is a very traditional Chinese dish, but this is the Thai-Singaporean version of it. A lot of Asian cultures have their own style of this classic.
  • The chicken was quite moist and the meat and skin was decently slippery and silky smooth, but it could and should be even more.
  • It lacked that infused garlicky, gingery and onion flavour from the cooking process which usually would turn the chicken yellow too.
  • The ginger rice was chewy with a hint of curry flavour, but the ginger was a bit old and wrinkly and it was coarsely chopped in the rice. I had to pick it out.
  • The rice usually has some chicken oil flavour as the oils are used in the steaming process, but this one didn’t have that quality. I’m not sure if that’s just the Thai way of making it though.
  • It was served with a spicy Thai chili sauce as opposed to the green onion and ginger oil and it’s comparing apples to oranges, but I love that green onion and ginger oil sauce.
  • For a place that doesn’t specialize in Hainanese Chicken it’s a fair shot.

Pad Thai 1.5/6

  • Traditional Pad Thai with tamarind and soft shell crab $11
  • The Pad Thai was the only thing I really didn’t like out of everything I had.
  • The redeeming factor for this dish was the soft shell crab. How can you go wrong with deep fried soft shell crab though? That was what made this dish different than most Pad Thai’s, but the flavour of the actual Pad Thai was disappointing.
  • The crab was juicy with a crunchy puffy tempura batter and it was well fried until golden brown.
  • The Pad Thai was made with thin noodles and tamarind, but it was very bland, dry, sticky and almost sauceless.
  • It just tasted like plain tangy tamarind sauce sautéed with noodles and some crushed peanuts, egg, and tofu.
  • I would rather have the Pad Thai at Urban Thai and top that off with this deep fried soft shell crab.

**Kra Pau Moo 4.5/6

  • Pork Cheek with red chili paste, lime leaves, fresh lemon grass and sliced chayote $12
  • The new found love for pork cheek to a main stream market is incredible. It’s definitely accepted almost as much as bacon is. It’s almost the same anyways (super fatty cuts of the pig).
  • The ones here are well marinated in lemongrass and Thai spices and then perfectly grilled with a crispy charred exterior.
  • The pieces of cheek are bit sweet and almost glazed and just full of flavour.
  • They’re incredibly tender strips (I bet marinated overnight) and they still have a nice chew, but it doesn’t have that really resistant snappy bite pork cheek tends to have.
  • The meat is not gelatinous tasting for those that don’t like fatty textures (I don’t like it unless it’s creamy and unnoticeable). This one was amazing.
  • It was sautéed with lemongrass, garlic, galangal, lime and basil leaves for aromatics and also some sweet bell peppers, baby corn, tender eggplant and choyote for the vegetables.
  • It’s very aromatic and medium spicy, so the choyote is supposed to balance it out and make it more mild. It’s a crunchy firm vegetable that looks like a pear and tastes like a mild zucchini.
  • The grilled pork cheek here was even more tender and better than the Inihaw na Liempo (grilled pork belly) from Kumare.

**Coconut Curry – 4.5/6

  • Braised ox tail with pumpkin $15
  • This dish was an extremely rich and decadent coconut curry stew. It’s very hearty and perfect comfort food, but it’s very indulgent.
  • I loved seeing the exotic meat again, well the exotic part of it at least.
  • There is a bone, but the meat tastes almost like brisket. It’s incredibly tender and there are lean parts, but it is a pretty fatty cut of meat. The fat is very creamy though and it just melts in your mouth like butter and only surrounds the lean parts. You barely chew it. This is the fat that I do like and will eat.
  • The meat was almost falling off the bone and it tasted like it was slow cooked and braising all day (it likely was).
  • The sauce has to be heavier and thicker to stand up to such a rich and substantial piece of meat, and it was.
  • It was very thick and it tastes peanutty with lemongrass, but there were no peanuts again.
  • The sauce was a made in house fresh red curry sauce and it wasn’t as sweet as the panang curry, but it was still sweet.
  • It was very reduced so it was noticeably much thicker than most curries, but also too oily for me.
  • I loved how they used Japanese Kaboocha Squash in this and it was the ideal starch for such a heavy dish. It was tender and creamy and it just held on to the curry sauce well and almost melted right into it.
  • I couldn’t help but to want roti with this.
  • It kind of reminded me of Hor Mok Fak Tong Talay this AMAZING dish I had at Tuk Tuk Thai Restaurant in Hong Kong. I wish they had that presentation too.

**Braised Pork Hock5/6

  • Marinated and slow cooked with Thai herbs $16
  • If you like pork hock it’s a solid 5/6, but if you don’t and this is your first time trying something so exotic, then I’m hesitant. It’s acquired.
  • This is a very traditional Asian (Chinese) dish and the flavours and execution were more traditional than I expected. I’m not sure if a Western palate would like it.
  • This is a Thai version though, but I couldn’t really tell and it tastes Chinese.
  • I didn’t think I would enjoy it, since I don’t really like the traditional version, but ironically it was still a bit Westernized and I liked it!
  • It’s just not as fatty and the sauce isn’t as greasy, gluey or starchy as more authentic styles.  This is more appealing.
  • The meat was fall off the bone tender and juicy and the layer of fat surrounding it was incredibly indulgent and buttery, but also quite tender.
  • The fatty part is a bit much for me and it was still a bit too gelatinous (naturally is), but also a tad too chewy for me. I’m very sensitive to this, so for most people it would be considered “melt in your mouth” tender.
  • The lean part of it was excellent! It’s almost like pulled pork or shoulder that’s been slow cooked.
  • It was well marinated in a sweetened soy sauce and the sauce isn’t as salty as ordinary soy sauce, but more broth like.
  • It was served over wilted spinach and some preserved pickled Chinese cabbage to help “cut the grease” and balance things out.
  • I think traditional older generation Asian folk that don’t like these fancy kind of “modern” cuisines would even like this!

**Pla – Salmon 5/6

  • Seared with fresh lemongrass, lime juice topped with cashew nuts and sliced apples $12
  • I really enjoyed this dish, but I would have liked it to come earlier because it was such a light main compared to all the other rich red meats we had.
  • This would be great with a summery bright citrusy white wine too.
  • It’s a warm dish and the salmon was incredibly moist, tender, flaky and juicy. It wasn’t crispy though and I wish it was. There was no skin either, which is a personal preference, but I like skin. I can see the majority of people not liking it though.
  • This was a very aromatic, flavourful and yet simple dish and almost like a salad.
  • It was well dressed in a sweet, savoury and tangy vinaigrette made with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and chilies and it tasted just like the sauce served with the “Floating Island” appetizer above.
  • The apples were much more apparent in this dish and they did play their role in adding a sweet and tart crunchy contrast.
  • I also loved the addition of buttery toasted whole cashews which made for great texture and nutty flavour.
  • The salmon just picked up flavours from everything and since the marinade was lemongrass and less Thai spices it just kept each ingredient vibrant and each flavour distinct.

Three Princesses2.5/6

  • Sweet sticky rice with egg custard, fresh mango and homemade sweet coconut strips $6
  • This is a very traditional Thai dessert and they even made it quite authentically, but with modern presentation.
  • It’s a chewy, moist and sweet sticky rice and the grains and al dente. Some black sweet sticky rice versions would have been nice too.
  • It’s very light, but filling from the rice and the sweetness is more from the fruit and coconut sauce topping.
  • The custard is a bit salty and that’s how it is in Thailand. Authentic Thai desserts tend to traditionally have salt to them so it’s not for everyone.
  • The coconut strips were a bit lost and I would have preferred more coconut.
  • This is almost the same dessert I had at Koh Thai Restaurant in Hong Kong – see Thai Sticky Rice and Mango.

Pink Elephant-Tini 4/6

  • A cool mixture of pinky vodka fermented with rose petals with cranberry and fresh lychee juice $12.50
  • This is their signature cocktail and they do offer a regular lychee-tini for $8 and the level of “goodness” is probably about the same. So, I’d just go for that.
  • The Pink vodka is pretty, but you do pay for the brand.
  • It tasted like a floral fruity girly martini, but it wasn’t too sweet.
  • I actually couldn’t taste the cranberry or any of its tartness, but I could taste the lychee juice.
  • There’s a slight bitterness from the rose petals, but it’s not as strong as rose water.
  • It was a solid, good lychee-tini bit with a floral aspect and I enjoyed it, but a lychee-tini would have done the trick for me too.

Siam Caesar 3/6

  • Our Thai version of the popular Caesar but X-rated hot! $8
  • I like Caesars and I asked for mine extra spicy, and it was pretty spicy, but actually quite sweet as well.
  • The spice is flavourful though and not just hot.
  • It had a strong tomato flavour and then the bottom had this puree of what seemed like roasted Thai chilies and sweet bell peppers. I almost thought it was Sweet Thai Chili sauce at the bottom.
  • It was good and they had the lemongrass as a stir stick which was a nice touch.
  • It was sweet and spicy and good as a starter drink, but I wouldn’t have it with food.

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11 Comments

  • Billy says:

    I went with some work colleagues on opening day for lunch. Right from the beginning, things went sideways: a colleague ordered Stella but got a Tiger instead. When asked about it, the waitress said both are listed under as the same item in their POS. My colleague looked at her in some strange ways but let her slip. But, when he ordered a Tiger, he then got a Stella. Figure that out…

    That wasn’t the worst part. After ordering the food, we waited and waited and waited. We should have followed suit from the table next to us: It seems they left before the food arrived and after almost an hour wait. Food eventually arrived (almost 80 minutes later) but not at the same time. Some dishes arrived around 20 minutes after the first. No, we weren’t sharing so it was sort of annoying. As for the food itself, dishes were hit or miss. Pork hock was served cold (heresy!) but the noodle dish (don’t remember the name) was spicy – as if they didn’t hold back.

    During the meal, the waitress was apologetic; however, I can’t help but wonder. Given this is from a chain, not a stand alone restaurant, shouldn’t they “borrow” some of the staff from the other locations for opening week and have then the staff up to date? What about the kitchen? Granted, it was their first week; however, as mentioned, it is not a stand alone restaurant. They should know better. The one part that really ticked us off and the reason why we won’t be going back: despite we chose to stay and “suffer” through their growing pains, they didn’t offer us anything. No free dessert at the end, no comp, no coupon for next visit. We paid full price for a sub-par experience. If they had showed some good will, I would re-consider it. Alas, they didn’t and that seals the deal to me.

  • Bow says:

    Don’t think much of the Pad Thai. ‘cos I associate it with noodles, mebbe it would have tasted better with chopped soft-shelled crab tossed w. noodles and it’s sauce. Like the pork hock because I love the gelatinous, fatty meat. Think the lettuce wrap is too soggy. Don’t like farmed salmon in Asian recipes, prefer white fish(although sea bass, snapper and rockfish aren’t sustainable…and tilapia would fall apart; perhaps cod, although I haven’t tried it inChinese recipes..halibut works).

  • Adam says:

    Mmm I love “chicken rice”! Fond memories of eating it in Singapore. Maybe I’ll have to give this place a try… Nice post as always!

  • Linda says:

    mmmm thai food + izakaya style? i’m just surprised there weren’t any satay sticks!

    all the dishes seem pretty traditional with a few modern touches here and there – the floating islands definitely look interesting.. you’d think that a $6 tiger prawn dish would have more than one prawn although the title doesn’t lie – it doesn’t actually say prawnS lol

    the kra pau moo looks delish as does the coconut curry and the lettuce wraps – i’ve had some really good ones here and there and this one here looks pretty yummy as well 🙂 i make it a point to NEVER order pad thai from any thai or malaysian restaurants only because they never have the traditional kind that i like – everything i order always ends up smothered in a red ketchupy sauce 🙁

    i love pork hocks so i think i would probably like this dish, especially since it’s braised in thai herbs – i really have a thing for thai basil lol 🙂

  • Mijune says:

    @Billy – Yikes! And your experience is why I give restaurant at least a month before I go visit them… just to get their feet wet. It always takes at least a month for them to get menu, prices, service, food, recipes etc, sorted out. 1 month at least I find. Sorry to hear you had a bad experience and I’m sure they have a better hang on things now. Well I hope so at least. It looks like we ordered different things so maybe give the things I tried a chance… ? Not sure if they can get your business back, but if you are curious it might be worth a try before you write them off entirely.

    @Bow – I actually prefer the soft shell crab served whole.. then i can see how much I’m getting too. The fish.. good call.. except the last fish dish worked well with salmon. The curry with halibut would be great since it was so heavy. Bow if you like the gelatinous fatty stuff try the Cow’s foot I had at Jamaican Pizza Jerk…. more fatty than pig’s.

    @Adam – Thank you adam! So kind! Let me know what you think… but if you’re comparing “chicken rice” to Singapore… I wouldn’t make the comparison or you’ll be disappointed. They have other things better than that dish.

    @Linda – Yup they try to do something different for sure.. yet still traditional with flavours. For pad thai all you have to do is ask for the tamarind version at most thai places and they’ll make it that way for you… Even if it’s not on the menu 🙂 Try Khunnai Chung n Denman.. no ketchup. Thangthai doesn’t use ketchup, and Swadastee shouldn’t use ketchup either. but just ask them and they’ll change it. Oh and yes you’ll love the pork hock dish!!

  • Ron McMurtrie says:

    I found the whole thing sort of just so-so and a sense of sloppiness to it. Even spelling “Khao” as “Khoa” on the menu sort of stuck out at me. I also found the waits interminable even after they got their feet wet and food flavours good and not so good, depending on the day. I think they have traditional Chinese-Thai cooks trying to create so-called “modern” Thai food, of which I have never experienced in Thailand, even when I was there in May in Bangkok. But I think the management is not there. In comparison I went to the Talay Thai Restaurant on Granville on their opening day and both food and service and attention and properly and timely delivery of the food were impeccable right then on the first day and has been since then, even on those crazy, busy nights when it is rocking. And the food is truly authentic and only Lhy Thai comes close to it here in the Lower mainland; it certainly is not Chinese food trying the wannabe Thai food game like in all the Thai House chain places. Anyway, that’s OMHO

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