Burma on terra firma | September 29, 2006 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - September 29, 2006

Burma on terra firma

South Palo Alto says hooray for Green Elephant Gourmet

by Sheila Himmel

Let's say a neighborhood shopping center needs a new restaurant. The once OK but recently awful Chinese joint is gone. The center has good places for coffee, ice cream, and groceries, but it needs a sit-down restaurant for lunch and dinner.

It needs Burmese!

If focus groups or marketing gurus had been consulted, Burmese cuisine wouldn't have made anybody's Top 25, but Green Elephant Gourmet is exactly what South Palo Alto's Charleston Shopping Center was missing. Also surprising, it is the owners' first restaurant.

I stumbled, literally, into Green Elephant on July 22, a scorching Saturday night deep into the heat wave. I wasn't reviewing, just desperate for cool air. Green Elephant had been open exactly two days.

Maybe 10 other customers ate there that night. But the food, decor, and service by owners Christina Win and Michael Maumg were so nice that I knew I'd be back when they really get going.

They're going now. On a recent Thursday night, Green Elephant was almost full, with neighbors happily bumping into one another once again.

You don't have to be a South Palo Altan to enjoy Green Elephant Gourmet. It is easily accessible on Middlefield Road, half a mile from San Antonio, and therefore, Mountain View. Parking is a snap.

Nor do you have to know a thing about Burmese food. Green Elephant also has loads of familiar Chinese restaurant dishes, from wonton soup to fried rice and kung pao chicken.

But if you want to know, Burma, now called Myanmar, draws culinary influences from neighboring India, China and Thailand, particularly. Seafood and freshwater fish, rice and noodle dishes are fundamentals.

Green Elephant's short life has stoked customer interest in Burmese food. Win and Maumg are working on a separate Burmese menu of about 30 items, including a multi-course Burmese family dinner, and fuller descriptions of each dish.

For now, here's a handful of dishes to look for, and a couple to skip.

Definitely get a salad ($7.25). Starring ginger, mango, tofu or Burmese tea leaves as the main players, the Burmese salads appear as little artworks on your table. The server carefully spoons supporting ingredients into the central pile of chopped iceberg lettuce. In the tea leaf salad, they include fried garlic, chopped tomatoes, sesame seeds and peanuts. Mango salad features fresh, juicy slices of mango with dried corn kernels, dried ginger, fried coconut, sunflower seeds and ginger powder. Ginger lovers, go directly to the pickled ginger salad.

The Burmese soup called On Noh Kauswer ($7.50) is subtle and smooth, like a slightly spicy cream of tomato, but with egg noodles at the bottom of the serving bowl and lots of tender pieces of chicken. Coconut, onion, cilantro and lemon add tang and texture.

On the current menu, the Burmese dishes aren't clearly marked, except for curries. At the top of each protein type is a curry dish, and each curry is a little different. Burmese curries are closer to Thai than Indian in flavor and firepower. They highlight rather than dominate.

All the curries we tried were excellent. Green Elephant curry beef ($10.50) features lemongrass, yogurt, bay leaves, onions and garlic. With prawns ($12.95) there are tomatoes, and the prawns stay juicy. Chicken curry ($9.50) dabbles in fish stock.

Sizzling Seafood Deluxe ($12.95) is a festival of sauteed scallops, prawns, chicken, fish and vegetables kept warm on a metal plate.

Even the mixed vegetables ($7.95) are something special, with your choice of sauce. Get hot garlic sauce. Burmese hot is pretty subtle, unless you ask for hotter.

The Burmese noodle dish called Nan Gyi Dok ($7.50), chicken and rice noodles in coconut sauce, also is assembled at the table.

Jasmine rice cooked with coconut milk ($2.00) is the Burmese style, and it's richly rewarding. Green Elephant also has plain rice and several fried rice dishes.

The one Chinese dish we tried, orange beef ($10.50) hit the sweet and spicy spot. The orange peel was like chewy candy, the beef tender and plentiful, even for the price. A border of steamed broccoli flowerets made it seem healthy.

On the down side, mango chicken ($9.50) should have been called mango bell peppers, for all the chicken in attendance. Maybe the Burmese samusas ($4.95) are crisper now. And the dish called Poodi ($7.95), potato curry served with mu shu pancakes, packs enough carbs to fuel a hike up Mount McKinley.

The wine list is short and well-intended, with a food-friendly Riesling and a Pinot Noir.

Green Elephant's decor is also welcome. It's a little formal, with white tablecloths and art glass on the tables. A red arch and bamboo trunks fence off the dining room.

For dessert, you face a fork in the road. Green Elephant's fried bananas ($3.50) are light and crispy, with bananas cooked through. Or you can go next door and get the traditional South Palo Alto treat: Rick's Ice Cream.

Do you have another new favorite restaurant in your neighborhood? Let us know about it by leaving a comment at TownSquare. Go to www.PaloAltoOnline.com.

Green Elephant Gourmet:

Reservations: yes

Website: coming soon

Credit cards: yes

Parking: big lot in Charleston Shopping Center

Alcohol: beer and wine

Children: yes

Outdoor dining: no

Party and banquet facilities: no

Takeout: yes

Noise level: low

Bathroom cleanliness: excellent

3950 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.


Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily.

Dinner 4:30-9 p.m. daily


Like this comment
Posted by Rev. Zauya Lahpai
a resident of another community
on Aug 14, 2008 at 10:39 am

As a pastor of Burmese Community Church in Silicon Valley, San Jose, I am so glad and pruoid to see your elegant "Green Elehpant Gourmet" website.
I will announce to my Burmese people ( we have over 150 attendendees on Sunday services) about your very attractive and beautiful Burmese Restaurant.
I hope I'll be at your place very soon!
I would like to invite you to our Church's(BCCCSV) Annual Fun Fair on Saturday, September 13, 2008 from 11:30 AM to 6:00PM at : 30 Kirk Ave., San Jose, CA 95127.
Cell Phone:(408)772-9159, Church Office Phone: (408)923-2212.
You will see all sorts of Burmese Food (delicacy) and friends who came from all over Burma. With your presence, I can tell you that you will get more customers from our Church.

May God bless your business with His Grace!

In God's Ministry- Rev. Zauya Lahpai

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