Dancing Elephant: a new Colby favorite in Fairfield

I clearly remember the day that I learned that Fairfield’s beloved Kennebec Café closed. My girlfriend Elise and I had woken up on a Sunday morning, still drowsy from the previous night’s festivities and decided to go to our favorite breakfast spot, purveyors of decadent donuts and coma-inducing eggs benedict. So, when we walked up to the front door and saw that it was gone, we were dismayed. From that day on, there was a hole in my stomach that I doubted could ever be filled, much like the empty façade of 166 Main Street.

Although Elise and I eventually discovered that the Kennebec Café had risen from the ashes and became Doc Hollandaise in Augusta, for a long time I didn’t know what would become of the former store front. There were rumors that an Indian restaurant would open there, which I was skeptical of. With Jewel of India in Waterville, I wasn’t sure if the local market could sustain both. However, after months of renovations, the Dancing Elephant II opened to great fanfare and fantastic reviews. While it took me several months to go there myself, Elise and I eventually went after we both awoke after Doghead with a craving for some chicken tikka masala.

Compared to the cozy, diner-like feel of the Kennebec Café, the Dancing Elephant makes for a sharp contrast. Gone are the kitschy paintings and paper placemats; in their place are pressed white tablecloths, plush booths, vibrant mustard and rust-painted walls, and vases of red roses. The room is airy, sleek, and in many ways, elegant. Elise and I arrived at the Dancing Elephant just past four in the afternoon, and the place was—not surprisingly—deserted. However, as friends have told me, the restaurant is well attended during the usual dining hours.

After two minutes of waiting at reception, a surprised waiter came out of the back and greeted us, showing us to a table in the middle of the room. We ordered waters—a requisite after Doghead—along with a chai tea for me and a mango juice for Elise. We exchanged sips and found both to be delicious! The chai was the perfect combination of tea and milk, while the mango juice was flavorful but not overpoweringly sweet.

Since I was hungry but also wary of what the previous night had done to my stomach, I forewent the tikka masala for a lamb roghan josh, a dish that traces its roots to Northwestern India and Kashmir. The dish consists of lamb chunks cooked in gravy with garlic, ginger, and aromatic spices. Elise ordered the restaurant’s lamb curry with a side of garlic naan. The naan came first, and we snacked on it while sampling the trio of sauces the restaurant pairs with the naan. I have had plenty of naan in my lifetime, and I implore you to get this naan. It’s crispy and chewy in all of the right places, and with an even amount of garlic spread across it. It was the best naan I’ve had in Maine.

Once the dishes made their way to the table, I could see why roghan josh translates to “butter intensity.” The dish wasn’t overwhelming, but rather decadent. The lamb was perfectly cooked, and the aromatic gravy mixed with it to create a chorus of spicy and savory elements. All of these ingredients were perfectly balanced, and though I am no expert in Indian cuisine, I found it highly enjoyable. Elise was similarly impressed by her curry, which she said was some of the best she’s ever had. Even after we were both full, we continued working on our dishes, trying not to waste a single drop.

A selection of the Dancing Elephant's finest dishes!

A selection of the Dancing Elephant’s finest dishes!

Overall, we had a wonderful time at the Dancing Elephant. The food and drinks were superb, and the staff was attentive while also keeping their distance. The only thing that I wasn’t completely happy with was the bill. Most of the entrees on the menu exceed $15—though vegetarian meals start around $11—which is not exactly extravagant, but it still adds up. By the time we finished up, I had racked up a $50 bill, including tip. It’s definitely one of those restaurants that is great for date night or a special occasion, though you couldn’t eat there everyday.

For those thrifty eaters among us, have no fear. Between the hours of 11 A.M. and 2 P.M. everyday, the Dancing Elephant runs an unlimited buffet for $9.95 plus tax. This is by far the most economic approach, as one is able to try a multitude of dishes for a set price. Dishes include chicken curry, chicken tikka masala, daal makhini, mutter paneer, and chana masala, along with pappadum, naan, and rice.

While I love Indian food, I was certainly skeptical that I could find a good curry in Maine. However, the Dancing Elephant isn’t just good by Maine standards: it’s good by national standards. I was originally devastated when the Kennebec Café skipped town, but the Dancing Elephant has shown me that I can learn to love again. It has filled the hole in both my heart and my stomach.

Rating: 4/5

The Dancing Elephant (166 Main Street, Fairfield) is open seven days a week, 11:00 A.M. to 10:30 P.M.

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