One of the things we've been doing in recent months is trying to align our self-perception with that of our customers. Our first step down that path was recognizing that most people view us as Asian restaurants first, and not fine-dining. And since most people expect non-sushi Asian restaurants to be inexpensive, we realized that we needed to lower our prices and did so in October.
Tomorrow night's "Challenging Flavors" dinner at The Elephant Walk in Waltham is another step in the direction of seeing ourselves as others see us. While perennial Elephant Walk favorites like Poulet la Citronnelle, Loc Lac, and Khar Saiko are authentic Cambodian dishes, they offer fairly mainstream flavors - very approachable for the vast majority of our clientele.
Most of our Cambodian menu consists of more approachable dishes for one simple, sound business reason: People like them and rarely send them back. For a vocal minority in the dining public, however, our playing it safe has been tantamount to a betrayal of sorts.
As you probably already know, there are relatively few Cambodian restaurants in this country, and precious few with a national profile such as ours. So when some people come to The Elephant Walk and find that prahok - a fermented and salted fish paste that is Cambodian cuisine's one truly unique ingredient - has only a bit part in our play, they feel let down and really slam us for it.
Those critics make a fair point. As a more mainstream Cambodian restaurant concept, it makes good business sense for us to emphasize the flavors that we've learned our clientele wants, and avoid serving those flavors they've taught us they'd rather not try again! But what about that vocal minority that craves the rustic intensity of prahok, bitter melon, shrimp paste, tamarind, and durian? What about their needs? One answer is our Challenging Flavors dinner tomorrow night in Waltham.
It is a small irony that our Cambodian, chef-owners, Nyep and Nadsa - who are mother and daughter - themselves prefer the more challenging flavors of their cuisine even as their customers do not. So they're pretty excited about tomorrow night!
Predictably, there's still some space available if you want throw your palate for a loop. But if you want to have this experience but can't make it tomorrow, don't worry: "Challenging Flavors" is a very special theme dinner we are sure to host again soon!