Dancing Elephant – A Hidden Gem

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Every once in a while, you find a restaurant that doesn’t seem to have anything going for it – it’s hard to find, doesn’t look like much when you do find it, and always seems to have such a small crowd that it makes you think they might not even be open for business. When you do finally discover the place, sometimes it turns out that they actually can create a great meal if only you give them the chance to prove it. Dancing Elephant is one of those places.

Dancing Elephant Indian restaurant has been around for a year or two now. Located in an unassuming, easy-to-miss spot on Main St. in the heart of Westbrook, they have a large, albeit sparsely furnished, dining room with a full bar. They serve lunch six days, dinner seven, and offer takeout for those who hate leaving the house for more than a few minutes at a time.

Decorated just enough for you to be able to be able to determine they serve Indian cuisine, Dancing Elephant has maybe a dozen tables with room for probably few more if they wanted. They have a decent beer, wine, and liquor selection with a few unusual bottles including some Indian wine.

When taking a look at the menu, what stands out is the sheer number of available items. I would normally say that there are too many, but they do all seem to be unique and have their own feel and flavors. That being said, there is definitely some room for improvement on the physical menu as it needs a bit more division between items to make it easier to read.

The long list of choices at the restaurant includes some starters such as various appetizers, soups, and breads. The huge dinner selection contains several items each of chicken, lamb, seafood, vegetarian, tandoori, and other categories of food. If you can’t find something interesting here, it’s entirely possible you should never eat at a restaurant again because you are certainly much too picky.

After considering the possibilities, we started with the garlic naan. If you’ve never had naan, it’s a popular Indian bread. The garlic version at Dancing Elephant is fresh and has fresh garlic pressed into it. When our food came out, it was consistent with what we had come to expect from prior visits and, as is typical, it was delivered with three freshly made chutneys.

I have no idea what the chutneys at Dancing Elephant are called so I name them by color – red, green, and brown. They each have a distinct flavor. The red is relatively mild and chunky with an onion base. The green seems to be made of a number of different herbs and spices. The brown is a sweeter sauce and the most liquid of the three. All of them have fantastic flavor but my favorite is the red which goes really well with the naan. Regardless of which you prefer, you’ll have plenty as I believe they provide enough for a table of at least eight regardless of how many people you are actually with. They could probably ease up on this a little for the smaller parties.

We enjoyed the naan and I found an appetizer that looked good. The name of it escapes me, but it was essentially deep-fried squares of cheese. Upon first tasting them, I found them to be fairly bland, but I suspected they were made to be eaten with my beloved chutney. I was correct. The green chutney paired perfectly with the cheese as though the sauce contained the specific spices that could or should have been cooked into the app itself.

Moving onto the entrees after a thorough perusal of the menu/book, I picked out a chicken dish I had never tried before – Chicken Shami Korma. The Shami Korma is made with boneless chicken, cashews, raisins, almonds and creamy sauce. It’s definitely got one of the coolest names on the menu and I ordered it hot cause I ain’t no sucka. My wife ordered the Chicken Saag which is chicken in a spinach cream sauce. The entrees all come with basmati rice.

Our meals came out in their deceptively-sized serving dish. The dish looked tiny, but contained a substantial amount of food. I plated a bed of rice and spooned a generous portion of the Shami Korma on top of it. The sauce was outstanding. I was a bit skeptical of a creamy sauce with Indian food, but my concerns were unfounded. The chicken was very tender and the spice level was perfect. In all my fatness, I was able to finish my food which amounted to about four small plates of rice covered in the chicken. My wife really enjoyed her food too. She brought some home and suggested that Dancing Elephant might just be the best Indian food in the area. She’s a huge fan of Indian food and has dined on the aptly named “Curry Row” in New York City on numerous occasions. She knows her Indian food and insists this is the good stuff.

Without any room left for dessert, it was time to head out. The meal was a bargain at under 40 smackers before tip. The service was good, the food was flawless, and the place was actually lively that night which was nice to see. They tend to be slow when I’ve been in the past, but they undoubtedly should be busier based on the quality of the food. Check them out or try their sister restaurant in Portland – Dancing Elephant II – which recently opened on Wharf Street. They really put effort into making sure you leave with a smile on your face. If you like Indian food, you’ll love Dancing Elephant.

Stay hungry.

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or feel free to post your thoughts below.

1 thought on “Dancing Elephant – A Hidden Gem

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