On Thursday, on a hot but splendid day, I headed to Portland to join my daughter Shannon and our friend Kate for one of our thrice yearly birthday luncheons. This time, Kate was the birthday girl, and as our tradition goes, she chose the restaurant—the Green Elephant, which none of us had ever been to.
Whenever I try a new restaurant, there is always a little hum of anticipation, much the way there is when I go to the theater and the house lights drop just before the play begins. I so want to like the food (in the case of the restaurant) or the play (in the case of the theater), but I know very well that not all restaurants serve good food, just as I realize that not all plays are done well.
Still, with both plays and restaurants I am always hopeful, and now that I have started my Good Eater Seal of Approval, I, of course, wondered if the Green Elephant was going to make the list. “Cool it,” I told myself as I approached Portland. “Don’t prejudge. Let the food speak for itself.”
I also had another worry, and that worry was my diet. Over the past year, as I have noted in this blog, I have lost 50 pounds. Very good. The problem is I have 30 more to go, and my weight loss has stalled. I know this is normal, but at the same time, I feel a little like Moses overlooking the Promised Land. I can see my goal shimmering on the horizon, but getting there has proved to be difficult.
This diet worry had a couple of different threads. First, it is difficult to keep the calories at reasonable level, say, 300 or 400 per meal, when you are eating out. Even good restaurants often serve too much food, and if food is on my plate, then I will eat it until it is gone. This led to worry number one: Would I eat too much?
A friend of mine has come up with a good way of dealing with this. She asks for a takeout container as soon as her meal is served, and she immediately divides it in half. If it’s not on her plate, then she’s not as tempted. I decided I would do the same thing and ask for a takeout container, but thus came worry number two: By yapping about my diet and asking for a takeout container as soon as the meal was served, would I be a wet blanket at Kate’s birthday?
“No,” Shannon said when I broached the subject to her as we walked to the restaurant. “You are doing what you need to do to lose weight, which isn’t easy.”
She got that right. Very good, I decided, I will ask for a takeout container when the meal is served, and then, I resolved, the subject of diets would not pass my lips for the rest of the meal. Well, I broke that resolution, but I don’t think either Kate or Shannon minded.
The Green Elephant is a charming little restaurant on Congress Street not far from the Portland Museum of Art. Apropos of the restaurant’s name, above the door there is a canopy with a green elephant. Inside, the restaurant is small but not cramped, and the decorating style is what might be called eclectic. One wall comprises yellow bricks, and chandeliers hang over the tables. Much of the art on the wall involves spoons and forks. It sounds like a strange mix, but it works.
The Green Elephant bills itself as a vegetarian restaurant featuring “Asian-influenced cuisine.” I ordered stir-fry vegetables and and tofu in a brown sauce; Kate ordered a tempura asparagus salad with coconut milk-peanut dressing; and Shannon ordered a vegetable noodle dish. For starters, we ordered Indian style flatbread with a curry dip.
Then came the dreaded question. “I am on a diet,” I told our server, an engaging young woman. “Would you bring me a takeout container when you serve the meal so I can divide the meal in half?”
“I sure will,” she replied cheerfully.
There! That was that. No more talk about diets at Kate’s birthday meal. Except that when our food was served, the server (or the kitchen) had done something so remarkable that it left the three of us amazed with admiration. My plate had half a serving of the meal.
“The other half is in a container in the kitchen, and I’ll bring it to you when the meal is done,” our server said.
“Wow!” I said when she left.
“That is so sweet,” Kate put in.
“Great service,” Shannon added. She’s worked in a restaurant and knows the ins and outs of good service.
After we enthused about the service and talked about diets for a few minutes, the time had come to taste the food. Would it live up to the service?
Readers, I am happy to report that it did. My stir-fry had crispy vegetables and tofu with a tangy sauce—ginger and garlic, I think—served in just the right amount. There were also a few pieces of tempeh, off to one side, and they provided a tart counterbalance.
Kate’s salad was both delicate yet substantial, and Shannon’s noodles and vegetables had a sauce that tasted as though it had fish sauce in it but probably didn’t, as this is a vegetarian restaurant. Whatever the case, the sauce was very tasty. (Shannon let me have a bite.)
And the bread? Well, that was delicious, too.
At this birthday meal, four things were ordered, and all four were very good.
“I love this place,” Kate said, and Shannon and I concurred.
The Green Elephant definitely gets the Good Eater Seal of Approval, for food, atmosphere, and service.
As for our server…well, you can bet that she got a generous tip.