This week for Boston is a tough one. It was the two year anniversary of the marathon bombing on Wednesday and the sentiment of remembrance, sadness, as well as hope, was lingering all around us. Springtime in Boston around this exact time is always special, there’s the Boston Marathon, opening day for the Red Sox and the city is just starting to come out of hibernation.
My husband’s birthday was yesterday and we decided that we would both take the day off and spend it together, going to lunch and whatever we felt like, or should I say, he felt like. We checked the weather and it looked like it was going to be a gorgeous spring day. Yay! What a nice thing to hear after this ridiculous long, cold and snowy winter we’ve had. This of course made us instantly think about doing something that involves being outside, at least for a little bit.
That’s a great idea, we could take a walk on the beach and then grab lunch at a restaurant downtown. Then he said that he thinks the beach might be a bit too chilly. It’s usually around 10 degrees colder, plus it was windy. He thought I’d be cold, I’m always cold. I said I would dress appropriately if he wanted to go and if it was just about me why he was saying that. He said it was just what he was feeling and wanted to figure out something else. I’m glad he scratched that from the list of where to go, because on further investigation, none of the restaurants in the area open until 4:00pm or 5:00pm, only serving dinner. That wouldn’t work for a lunch date!
I started thinking of ideas and suggested the city. I’ve been wanting to try this Cambodian restaurant, my Cambodian friend raves about, and my husband loves ethnic food, any type. So I thought he would be interested in that. Then we could also take a walk through the city, which we love doing on nice spring days. He thought it was a perfect idea.
Boston it is!
The restaurant is called The Elephant Walk I’ve heard such great things about this one Cambodian restaurant in particular, and not just from that one friend, but by food critics such as, the phantom gourmet, articles from the Boston Herald, the Improper Bostonian, and many other local foodies; all being positive, noting the authenticity and top-notch dishes they serve. We were excited to try it and this was a great opportunity to.
We headed into Boston a little after 11 and arrived at noon. We live only about 40 miles north, but with traffic that can be anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 and half hours. Driving, not during rush hour always makes me feel like Boston is so close, “why don’t we enjoy the city more?” I would always ask myself, but then I remember the hellish commute in the morning time or dinnertime and instantly comes flooding back to me why.
We walked in and it had just opened. We were one of only 3 tables seated. We asked for a window seat and they obliged happily. The waiter greeted us and asked if we have ever been before, we of course replied, “No, but we are very eager to try it, as it was suggested by a friend.” He was pleased to hear and offered some suggestions of the popular and signature dishes. I was in no way going to question him and ordered everything he recommended.
The restaurant menu had a selection of French and Cambodian cuisine, which I wasn’t really sure why the two were combined, either way, each dish description sounded wonderful. I did a little research of the history of this restaurant and answered my question about the French food selections. The owner, Longteine de Monteiro, lived in Cambodia until 1975, but moved when the Khmer Roughe took over Cambodia. Her family had to flee, but her mother and her brother were not as fortunate to escape, they died, along with 1.7 million other Cambodians, killed by the Khmer Rouges.
They ended up in France and she started cooking for a living there. She learned French cuisine, but always added her style learned from her mother’s cooking, infusing a Cambodian twist into her dishes. She later opened France’s first Cambodian restaurant, called Amrita. Her daughter Nadsa, also joined the family business, as well as her French husband, Bob Perry.
They all moved to America in 1991 an opened the first Elephant Walk in Somerville, Massachusetts, a suburb or Boston. That location has since been closed, and today there are two locations, one in the South End of Boston and one in Cambridge.
They right from the beginning had outstanding reviews, Esquire magazine, in 1992, the year after, named them one of American’s best new restaurants, heralding Longteine’s food as “absolutely delicious and enlightening!” and other reviews described the food as “a rare taste” and “exquisite”
We started with some special drinks. Non- alcohol ones, sorry to disappoint, but nonetheless, still great! They did however have a vast list of unique alcoholic beverages, cocktails, beers, wines, soft drinks, coffee and teas, by the pot. We ordered their special iced chai drink and a raspberry spritzer -both delicious.
Next we had the spring roll appetizer called Rouleaux, that he suggested. We would have probably ordered it anyway, since we love spring rolls. What was interesting about them was not only their flavor blend of spices, and perfect crunch on the outside, yet moist on the inside, it was how you were supposed to eat them. I’m so glad our waiter told us, because we would have never figured that out ourselves.
You are to take the lettuce leaves and put a spring roll in the center, add the toppings provided; (bean sprouts, mint leaves, peanut sauce, and chili sauce), and then wrap it and eat it. It really added a special flavor mix to the palate, eating it this way. The mint especially, gave it a fresh taste. He said he told us because he knew we wouldn’t have known, since most people just think the side arrangement is for garnish, We thanked him and told him how much we enjoyed it. He smiled.
Onto the main course. My husband had the beef dish called Loc Lac which was a cubed beef tenderloin in a lightly caramelized sauce of black pepper, garlic and mushroom soy, served over lettuce and a dipping sauce. I had a chicken dish that has been the staple dish for over 30 years, that he urged me to try. It was called Poulet a La Citronnelle which was made with sliced chicken breast sautéed with lemon grass onion and red bell pepper sprinkled with crushed peanuts. We shared both dishes to be able to get a taste of each, both were absolutely delicious and you could easily taste it’s authentic ingredients and expertise in the cooking.
The waiter came back to check on our satisfaction and we gushed on how great everything was and that we will definitely be back soon and will tell others to try it. He was very happy and let us know, if we were interested, and were sticking around the South End for the afternoon, that a Buddhist monk was coming to give a water blessing to the restaurant at 3:00.
I was instantly interested,and gazed to my husband to see if he was. He said sure. We told the waiter we were going to walk around a bit and be back around that time to watch the ceremony.
He said, ” Great, see you later guys and go out there and enjoy this beautiful day!”
We were in a wonderful area of Boston, the South End. It is known for its brownstones, and residential friendly area, with shops and restaurants sprinkled throughout. If I were to ever move to the city, this is where I’d want to live.
We walked through little tree-lined streets and neighborhoods of brownstones, towards Tremont St. It was sunny and breezy, with people walking on their lunch breaks from work, and students from the local school just getting out. We walked and talked and just had a leisurely stroll, it was a quintessential Spring day in Boston.
While walking and feeling a sense of contentment and happiness, I couldn’t help but see in the corner of my eye, a glimpse of a spray painted sign of the city’s slogan “Boston Strong” on a construction site. It made me stop dead in my tracks and switch my feeling of happiness to the feeling of empathy. I walked over to the sign, took a picture, and then took a moment of silence in remembrance. Life in the city continues to go on, and the people are thriving, but we can never forgot those who have lost their lives here on that day, two years ago.
We headed back to the restaurant and since we would be a little early, we decided we would have dessert and tea there, but first checking our time at our parking meter to see if we needed to add more quarters. Good thing we checked, because our time was almost out. During lunch, we were much too full for any dessert, but now that we’ve walked around a few hours, our appetizer came back a bit and we could definitely squeeze in a dessert each. Why not? It was my husband’s birthday after all and besides, their desserts looked awesome!
We got a pot of green tea and my husband got the Le peche’ au chocolate, which was a creamy rich chocolate truffle cake, paired with raspberry coulis and I got the Mousse aux fruits de la passions, which was a tart with a passion fruit mousse served in an almond lace cup, garnished with mango. They were both meticulously plated, as well as delectable.
As we were finishing up dessert, we saw the car holding the Buddhist monk pulling up to the restaurant. The owner was driving; she parked and walked him in. She was also with her husband. They came in and she seated him in the front of the restaurant. She started preparing for the ceremony, placing a rug on the floor in front of him, making an altar with a Buddha image, flowers, a candle, rice and cocoa leaves and placed it in front of him, along with a bowl of water (used for the blessing) and a hot tea.
She instructed the bartender to lower the music and locked the doors of the restaurant. The people in the room were the owner, her husband, the monk, a PR photographer, the bartender, a waiter, a cook and us. That’s it! I’m not sure how we were allowed to stay in there, since we were just guests, but I was happy they welcomed us to watch. Every so often a patron would try pulling the door open and then peek in, confused why it wasn’t open? And each time the bartender would send them away.
The ceremony began. The owner and her husband bowed and sat on their knees in front of the monk, her first removing her shoes and draping her shoulders with a white scarf. They began bowing and chanting a mantra in Khmer. Then the Monk started chanting back to them. It seemed like he was saying a phrase and then they would repeat him, but I don’t speak Khmer, so I could be wrong. This went on for close to 40 minutes, and then the monk started chanting a little louder and began lightly splashing them with the water for the blessing.
A Cambodian Buddhist water blessing is a Cambodian sacred ritual that is believed to bring good luck and prosperity that dates back to ancient times.
The owner waved over the manager and he reluctantly went over. She strictly pointed out that he hadn’t removed his shoes. He quickly removed them, joined them on the floor and sat on his knees in prayer position. You could faintly hear her whisper, “Don’t you want to be blessed?” and he nodded, yes, but you could clearly see the whole thing made him a little uneasy. He was definatley out of his comfort zone, but he did it to please her and to be respectful. I would have done the exact, same thing.
As it closed, the monk proceeded outside and began splashing the holy water on the outside windows and the owner asked the manager to set the altar table in the front entrance area, and stated that it needed to be kept there for at least 3 days.
It was time for us to go. We had stayed in the city longer than we originally planned, so we could avoid rush hour traffic, and now it was past 4:00 pm, which means we were sure to be in the midst of it. We didn’t care. It was worth it and an honor for us to be able to witness this special tradition that means so much to the owner and her family.
We said our goodbyes and thanked the manager and he was glad we enjoyed it. He also mentioned that they usually do this, at all the locations, during this time each year, to celebrate Khmer New Year.
As we drove home, sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, I looked over at my husband and asked if he had a nice birthday. He smiled and said,” It was perfect!”