Smile and say Pad Thai
2213 8th Ave South
A few days ago I was driving down 8th Ave South just like I have done on many days in the past, but today I saw the lights on in a little white building with a sign saying Thai Food. I quickly took a double take, trying to remember what was there before. What I remember from years gone by was that this was a "used car lot" next to the Berry Hill Animal Hospital. The sign said, and still says P & K Auto Imports. I remember a few years ago, the used cars disappeared, and I thought the little white building was sitting empty. I just thought the little white building was going to be yet another 8th Ave building to go into decay. Was I surprised when I saw the lights on in the little white building, and it was not at all in a state of decay. I had to satisfy my curiosity and find out what the story is about this little white building, so instead of going to the gym, I went into the building.
I went inside was met by a really interesting visual. The interior is completely hand made light wood paneling, wood pillars, and wood ceiling. The trim is all hand made and stained. It is really a neat-o look and feel. The owners are a married couple of Thailand origin, and the wife met me at the door. She let me sit down and review the new, and limited menu: braised pork in 5-spice and shiitake, or pad thai for my takeout menu. I opted for to try the pork. She brought me tea while I waited, and I started talking to everyone who was in the restaurant. And who should be there but Patti and Win Myint. Patti, as I know her, is the Matriarch of the International Market on Belmont Blvd. I was talking to Patti, and she 'fessed up that Sam, owner of Smiling Elephant is her little brother, who thinks that his cooking is good, and good enough that people will want to buy his food. Sam owns the auto repair business and the former used car lot, and has been a mechanic for years. He also is a wood working kind of guy, and has spent the past three years making all the wood paneling, pillars and ceiling. Since he renovated the complete inside of the little white building, he might as well open his restaurant and make a little income off of the building, maybe make a little money to help send his kids to college, and have a little white building business waiting for his kids when they are ready. I then asked about the menu, Sam said his pad thai is the best. He really thinks his pad thai is the best, and even put that on the sign. Look at the photo, it says, "Best Pad Thai Restaurant". I thought to myself that he has to be kidding, there isn't really good pad thai in this town. Then again, if his pad thai is just better than the best in this town, and the best is only ok, then I guess he can write that his pad thai is the best. At that time, my take out meal was ready to go. Sam handed my container to me, and said, there is sauce in there, make sure you put the sauce on your pork before you eat it because the sauce is really good and a part of the dish. He also said the sauce is home made, it is his special recipe. It is a vinegar, garlic and chili based sauce. As I was making my way to the door, he said, "Use the sauce, it is really good!" I said, "Yes, the sauce, I will use it!"
At home, I opened the box and pulled a little pork out of the box to taste it. Eh, it was ok. It was braised pork with 5-spice and shiitake flavor. I put it in the fridge for lunch the next day. The next day, I heated up the pork and rice. I looked at the sauce, and poured some of the sauce over the pork. My taste buds were so happy! I could not get enough! Sam was right, the sauce, the sauce, use the sauce! It was definitely an ensemble dish, a bit of rice with pork, braising liquid and the sauce is how it is to be eaten. Really good. Now, I was ready to try the pad thai after being pleasantly surprised by the pork dish. I needed to know if Sam's pad thai is the best.
Off we went to Smiling Elephant the next day to see if Sam's pad thai is truly the best. We ordered the pad thai, and I looked around and decided to talk to the people who were there. There was Sam and Patti's baby brother Ju there, and he is just a character. Ju owned Salathai, the former Thai restaurant on West End (now it has been torn down to make way for a mini-strip mall with generic chain restaurants in it). Salathai ended when the property owner wanted to do something else with the property. Ju said he told Sam to not open a restaurant. It was too much work, too hard, and there isn't a lot of money in it. He said Patti said the same thing, too hard, not enough money in it. Sam and his wife's really want to have this restaurant, they believe in their cooking, and they want to feed Nashville their home cooking. Sam said they are starting slowly with only two menu items, and will add items as the restaurant matures.
At that time, the pad thai came up. It was certainly different that any other pad thai in town. It had no sugar or tamarind in it, it had no ubiquitous corn syrup sauce on it, rather is is more like a good New York Chinatown special fried rice dish, but made with noodles. I don't mean the mushy msg fried rice you get here around Nashville, which I don't care for, I mean New York style wok fried good fried rice. The noodles Sam uses are wide soy bean noodles, not rice noodles. The benefit of the soy bean noodles is that they hold up to stir frying, they have a toothiness that I like, and they don't become mushy. Rice noodles are hard because they become a pile of mushy paste if not handled correctly, so I think that using soy bean noodles is really a smart move. He added eggs, tofu, fresh bean sprouts, peanuts, scallions, tiny shrimp, onions, and zucchini. He served the dish with lime to squeeze on top. There is also the super secret, crushed red chili pepper and spicy thai style vinegar to put on the pad thai, but you need to ask for it. Sam and his wife are more than happy to bring the caddy with the condiments for the pad thai.
By the way, they use olive oil. Those who are interested in omega-3 healthy oils, they use olive oil.