Elephant, aye

The Elephant’s Eye Cafe hits the mark on most fronts, says Kristen Pickett, still thinking about dessert.

Elephant, aye
K. Pickett
Gingerbread and hot buttered rum sauce.

We decide to have a bite at the Elephant's Eye on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. I call to check their hours and discover that the restaurant closes at 3pm. We hurry down to Barrington Street and when we arrive at 2:30, they're still accepting tables. It's muggy in here, as any restaurant would be on such a humid day. Thankfully, there are a couple fans and an AC unit blasting cold air.

Elephant's Eye used to be an antiques store with an eatery attached, until the food side of the business grew to push the retail out, which may explain the logic of the decor. The floor is almost L-shaped, making two dining areas: one by the front window and one in the back of the house. The kitchen is visible from the dining room, showing the restaurant has nothing to hide. There are a few antique-looking bookshelves with knick-knacks and some elephant statuettes. One of the owners is our server, and when I ask why the cafe is called the Elephant's Eye, she says that in many cultures an elephant is a symbol of good luck.

It's a late lunch and we're staving, so we order the roasted red pepper and artichoke dip ($8) right off the bat. Items on the menu are listed by name only with no description, as the ingredients change daily. I get the vegetarian crepe ($11) and choose the tomato-based over a cream sauce. On the side, my options are soup or salad; I decide on the soup, a savoury carrot. My friend orders the smoked salmon pasta ($13) with fettuccini noodles. Not a fan of cream-based sauces, he requests a substitution to tomato, which the server happily obliges.

Our dip arrives shortly after, delivered by a cook sporting a head rag and kitchen apron. We're not keen on the idea, and agree that the roles of cook/server should be kept separate. The dip plate is lovely in appearance and full of flavour. Not masked by cloying cream cheese or mayo, we can tell that it's composed of just a few ingredients and really lets them shine. To me, though, the show-stopper is the bread made in-house. It's incredible: soft, almost sweet white bread with a slightly chewy texture envelopes a mix of olive oil, herbs and green olives. I'm sad to see it go.

I'm still hungry when our entrees arrive moments later. My friend's pasta is tasty, even if a cream sauce is intended. The tender pieces of smoked salmon, feta cheese and al dente pasta play well together, while a ton of vegetables adds body to the dish. I lack the same enthusiasm about my entree. The crepe consists of roasted vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, carrot, broccoli and spinach in a thin, soupy tomato sauce. A few pieces are slightly burnt, leaving an unpleasant taste in my mouth. The carrot soup on the side is unpalatable; with chunks of carrot and leek, it's a savoury broth indeed ---savoury is all I can taste.

And then, dessert arrives and the sour taste in my mouth disappears. The gingerbread with hot buttered rum sauce is to die for, and worth every minute I'll have to spend working it off in the gym. The soft, fragrant cake is served warm in a pool of luscious, silky sauce that expertly balances the flavours of butter and rum. I keep picking up my fork again for "one last bite."

When I leave in a dessert coma, I can't help wondering what went wrong with my entree when everything else is so delightful, but I'm pleased that the co-owner serving us recognizes my distaste and removes the crepe from the bill. I guess that's one of the benefits of going to a small independent operation; the owners care about your experience---and if it's not all good, they'll try to fix it.

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