Blue Elephant Thai Cuisine
718 W. Channel Islands Blvd.
Mon.-Sun. 11 a.m.-3 p.m.;
4:30 – 9:30 p.m.
I like to maintain that I have a genetic predisposition to Thai food. And even if nam pla sauce isn’t actually coursing through my veins, my parents have passed their adoration of this cuisine to me. So I empathized with my mother when she called to tell me that her favorite Ventura Thai restaurant changed owners — and menus — and with her desire to find a new haunt.
Enter Blue Elephant Thai Cuisine, a Port Hueneme restaurant tucked between two vacant stores and an H&R Block on the corner of Victoria Avenue and Channel Islands Boulevard. It is an unassuming storefront, to say the least. Mom and I had to cruise by twice before we noticed my father waiting outside.
Dad had suggested we make the drive from East Ventura to experience a place he and his co-workers frequent for lunch. And Blue Elephant’s lunch specials are varied and affordable, going for about $7.50. But when we entered around 6:30 on a Thursday evening, we saw only two other diners. It smelled wonderful.
In about five minutes, our waiter had guided us through the expansive, 93-item menu. The prices range from $2.95 for a small salad to $15.95 for a seafood dish. Once over the initial shock of so many choices, we dove in with gusto. Leftovers from this meal were practically guaranteed.
After the whirlwind ordering experience, I settled in with my sweet, woody-flavored Thai iced tea and scoped the place out. True to its name, Blue Elephant’s décor is pachyderm-centric. The walls are bedecked with wood carvings and colorful textile portrayals of elephants. Ceramic elephants even wandered around the edges of our plates. Bamboo decorated each table, and I noticed a Thai statue next to the cooler of Asian and domestic beer behind the bar. With the music TV station VH1 humming on the television mounted in the corner, east and west coexisted harmoniously.
Perhaps this emphasis on harmony in Thai culture translates to the food’s international popularity. The tom kha gai soup, for example, arrives with a fire still lit under it, and is simultaneously salty, sweet and refreshing. A pot of soup, at $7.95, would easily feed four. The tofu satay comes with great peanut sauce, but the star of the appetizer is the tofu itself, which is grilled and has the fluffy, soft consistency of a marshmallow.
My order of pad Thai arrived with sumptuous, steaming noodles and a large shrimp curled on top. I’ve had plenty of pad Thai exposure, and Blue Elephant’s ranks pretty high. Contrasting the slippery rice noodles and eggs are crunchy mung beans and ground peanuts. The red sauce is savory with a subtle seafood aftertaste.
Dad’s tastes in spices are a bit much for me, but the bamboo, bell peppers and marinated tofu bobbing around the pot of red curry are delicious. Asking for medium spice at Blue Elephant should be enough for all but the most numb-tongued diners.
In direct opposition to Dad, Mom orders everything as bland as possible. Her panang Salmon was mild but still full of flavor and, arriving on a bed of asparagus and panang curry, this dish is the perfect splurge at $15.95. Even I — with my notoriously rocky relationship with seafood — found the salmon’s light and flaky texture appealing.
As I tried hard to curb the pace of scarfing down my pad Thai, a steady stream of take-out customers began. By the time Dad and I were discussing the dessert menu, a handful of patrons
filled up barstools and booths. Despite its inauspicious exterior, the local, familiar atmosphere at Blue Elephant is a testament to its unforgettable food. It harmoniously marries amazing Thai cuisine with a charming, eclectic local flair. Very Zen.