Phoning It In
Chow for the Cloistered on Capitol Hill
Really, is Capitol Hill offering any good excuses to leave the house right now? Every corner is in the process of growing a giant, primary-colored condoplex. Even the comforting haunts I used to turn to when times were lean are going tits-up in the name of urban density; clearly, it's time to hide under the duvet until the construction is done. After all, I've got the internet at my fingertips, Netflix DVDs shoved under the door at regular intervals, and... shit. Food. What am I going to do about food?
In exploring Capitol Hill's non-pizza delivery options, I decided to start with a classic. Palermo (350 15th Ave E, 322-3875, www.palermorestaurant.com) is known for its satisfying pizza, but also offers a few plate-and-fork items on its menu. The food was delivered by a smiling grandfatherly type a scant half-hour later and my hopes were high. The rustic Mediterranean sandwich ($4.25 half, $7.50 whole) dashed those hopes immediately; it was too much poor-quality white bread wrapped around dry roasted eggplant and artichoke hearts—and about as interesting as a mouthful of sand. The Pollo alla Cosentina ($13) proved to be that unobtainable goal made hideously real: too much cheese. There were juicy lumps of chicken breast—wrapped in delicious, tangy bacon, no less—but the whole thing was buried under a mass of garlicky, white goop. If I were high, it would perhaps have been the perfect gut-bomb to eliminate the munchies, but in the cold light of sobriety, it was, simply, too much. The antipasto salad ($5.25 half, $7.25 whole), though, was great: a balsamic-vinegar dressing on top of crisp dark greens, mushrooms, three types of meat (prosciutto, salami, and pepperoni—always a plus in a salad), and a lot of yummy Gorgonzola cheese. The meal was capped by a good key-lime-and-white-chocolate cheesecake, but I could easily have bought its equivalent in a supermarket; it didn't feel like a meal at home so much as prefab food that had been shipped. I was disappointed.
Luckily, India Express (510 Broadway E, 324-9449) was there to keep my winter depression from lolling off the couch onto the floor, where it no doubt would have remained, drooling and sorrowful, until spring. A small cheerful man delivered the food, which was surrounded by a cloud of curry smells that were almost sexually enticing. I'd ordered the assorted Indian snacks ($5.95), which was the right way to go. Besides the uninspired vegetable samosa that just... sat there, there was a handful of tiny vegetable pakoras and chicken tikkas, bite-sized wonders that were just mouthwatering enough to count as foreplay to a delicious meal.
The chicken tikka masala ($8.95) was excellent, just the right amount of spice to keep you involved and alert, but the real revelation was the vegetable korma ($8.95), which was creamy with yogurt, but also fresh and vigorous with carrots and cauliflower. Combined with a good, thick sheet of garlic basil naan ($2.50) to sop up the sauces, this was an almost perfect delivery meal. The basmati rice, though, came in a Styrofoam container and it had picked up a bit of a plasticky aftertaste from that; a cardboard Chinese-restaurant-style takeout box would solve the problem completely.
For dessert there was firni pudding ($2.75), basically a good rice pudding, and a dollop of Kulfi ($2.95)—homemade pistachio ice cream flavored with cardamom and cinnamon—that was exceptional. It was spicy and sweet and cold; upon finishing it I immediately wanted more, which, to my mind, is the definition of the perfect dessert.
Most people are unaware that Teapot Vegetarian House (345 15th Ave E, 325-1010, www.teapotvegetarianhouse.com) delivers—there's not even a mention of it on their website, and, in fact, one Saturday night, presumably when the sit-in restaurant was too busy, they didn't answer their phones, so delivery wasn't available. But when it is, their delivery makes any other option look sad. Don't go with the pot stickers ($6.95)—they're delicious in the restaurant, still sizzling and juicy, but in the stress of delivery they harden into dense, dry balls of bean and dough. Everything else, though, is suited for traveling.
The fresh Chinese greens ($9.95) is a healthy serving of bok choy with a light sauce; it satisfies both the virtuous need for nourishment and the decidedly wanton desire of a salty sauce on fried food. The long, alien-looking enoki mushrooms aren't a meat substitute, but they satiate the craving for a different texture to offset the crisp stir-fried vegetables. And, oh my God, the Mandarin crispy tofu ($9.95)—firm tofu fried in a batter, covered in a sticky-sweet sauce that has a citrus tang—is the dish that puts any other Chinese delivery food to shame. Put away your orange chicken and sweet-and-sour pork and General Tso's beef; this is the best candied-fried meat dish you can get delivered anywhere on Capitol Hill, even without the meat. The mango vegan tofu "cheese"cake ($6.95) brings a homemade-feeling close to a restaurant-perfect delivery meal.
Teapot Vegetarian House may not turn you into a vegetarian, but you won't miss the meat, and everything is kosher, which makes it pretty much the only delivery option in town if you're entertaining conservative rabbis in your home. The unerringly delicious food that Teapot delivers, packed with perfectly cooked vegetables and slathered in yummy sauces, provides enough strength and vibrancy to inspire a sad winter shut-in to raise the window shades, look at the outdoors with fresh eyes, and consider going back out to rejoin the world.