It would only be a slight stretch to say that the Roti Canai at Green Elephant seduced me into moving to Portland. At the time of my first bite, I knew nothing about the fabulous food scene awaiting me here. I just knew that the Indian flatbread was the best I’d ever tasted.
It was a pleasant, eye-opening surprise for someone who’s lived in San Francisco and eaten her way across Asia. I distinctly remember chewing and pondering, “God, this is good – I am in Maine, right?”
Since that fateful March afternoon, I’ve returned to Green Elephant numerous times and it never fails to please. In fact, the vegetarian Asian bistro – with its 95% vegan menu – is one of this committed carnivore’s favorite go-to spots.
Lightly fried and slathered in ghee (clarified butter), the Roti Canai may be a bit slick and chewy (read greasy) for some, but I adore it. Paired with a sweetly piquant vegetable curry dipping sauce, I could make a meal of the generous serving – if Adam didn’t insist on sharing (grumble).
Filling up on flatbread, however, would deny me all the other wonderful menu items, such as the hearty Tofu Tikka Masala. Loaded with dense tofu strips, spinach, edamame, and chick peas, the dish comes with a generous pile of brown rice seasoned with curry powder and shallots. The Masala sauce, though, is the entrée’s undisputed star. Savory and creamy with just the right amount of kick, it makes you forget there’s no chicken!
Another cherished dish is the Spicy Pad-Sha Rotini. The pleasantly pungent entrée blends stir-fried tomato and spinach rotini pasta (yes, pasta) with cherry tomatoes, basil, onion, bell peppers, bamboo shoots, string beans, soy meat, and kra-chai (a mild cousin of the ginger root).
On a recent visit we branched out from these favorites to explore other options. My Siamese Dream Curry Noodle was grand at first, but after a few spoonfuls it proved too sweet and rich. I prefer the restaurant’s lighter sauces that allow the fresh vegetables and soy proteins to shine through. Maybe I should have known better – the dish features coconut curry and cashews, for heaven’s sake – but I felt the other ingredients were completely overwhelmed.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Adam’s Char Guay Teow was the epitome of fresh. Although more aromatic than flavorful, he thoroughly enjoyed the Malaysian stir-fried wide rice noodles cooked with bean sprouts, scallions and tofu “ham”, and topped with shredded lettuce and cilantro.
Green Elephant’s small but thoughtful wine list (with generous pours) also earns high marks from me, as do the affordable prices and the ambiance. Stylish drop lights and quirky crystal chandeliers mix with faux golden brick, bamboo floors, and giant flatware cut outs that double as coat hooks. The effect is all cozy and ”Buddhist hip.”
But, it is the food – specifically that Roti Canai – that keeps me going back.