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Sometimes sitting in small restaurants with small tables very close to each other is a good thing. “The Smiling Elephant Restaurant” in Nashville is one of those small but special places. It has, hands down, the best Thai food I’ve ever had. I didn’t know that so many fascinating flavors could be found on one fork.

The customers are an eclectic mix of people including, students, artists and families who love Thai food. Sitting next to my daughter and I was a girl with a double pierced nose and dyed black hair. The guy who sat across from her had pierced ears and short, choppy rusty hair. Since it was my first time at the restaurant I wanted some advice on what to order. I turned to him just as she got a phone call.

“What did you get? It looks delicious.”

“It’s the Cashew Chicken.” He smiled. “It’s really good.”

“Thanks for the tip,” I said.

My daughter and I looked around as a waiter and waitress as they delivered beautiful steaming dishes of rice paper rolls, dumplings and tall glasses of exotic Thai ice teas to other tables around us.

My cashew chicken arrived and my daughter’s tofu vegetable dish. “This is delicious,” we said at the same time.

When customers left they banged the gong that stood by the door to show their appreciation. It was their way of saying thank you, without words. I loved that idea of using an instrument to express feelings of gratefulness. I think there should be gongs placed in spots all over cities and towns, so we can be reminded often how lucky we are.

Near the end of our dinner, I said to my daughter, “Oops, I need to take my vitamin. I almost forgot.”

“Thanks for reminding me. I would have forgotten my vitamin too,” said the young man who had advised me on what to order. He unfolded a small plastic bag from his coat pocket and popped the contents into his mouth.

“Anytime,” I said. I thought it was charming that he had thanked me for reminding him to take his vitamin. I felt like his mother. I think I could have been. He was that much younger than me.

It was nice to connect with a stranger and at this special restaurant. He had helped me with choosing my delicious dinner and I had helped him by reminding him to take care of his health. The Smiling Elephant had definitely smiled down on us, I thought as I banged my own gratitude with the gong.