Curt Doughty

Delivery food is like masturbating at your parents' house during the holidays: an embarrassing necessity. But the moment you pick up the phone you're fighting a losing battle. Your opponents are time, traffic, and a teenage delivery driver that allows your food to slowly congeal in the back of his teenager's hatchback. And still, it is one battle that must be fought, especially in winter, when people are most likely to be contagious and lazy. So if the battle is inevitable, what's your best bet? For an answer, I critiqued three restaurants in the Fremont/Wallingford/South Lake Union areas, based on ease of ordering, quality of food, delivery time, and attractiveness of delivery driver.

South Lake Union's I Love Sushi (1001 Fairview Ave N, 625-9604, www.ilovesushi.com) offers no online menu, but the waitress I spoke with was patient and helpful. The beauty of delivery sushi is that it won't spoil in the car ride from the restaurant kitchen to your house. The downside is that you must be willing to order over $50 dollars worth of sushi from I Love Sushi for delivery. With suggestions from my waitress, I ordered a spider roll ($9), spicy tuna roll ($9), Fairview roll (shrimp tempura and asparagus topped with broiled crab and scallop, $13), along with several pieces of nigiri (unagi, $5; chutoro, $7.50; salmon, $5) and a roasted-garlic calamari dish ($8.50). To keep things simple, I would be paying in cash. I also requested a receipt.

The delivery order took 30 minutes to reach my door. My driver was a handsome young Japanese man. He was affable and polite. He had forgotten my receipt, but offered to drive back and deliver it to me. I was charmed.

The nigiri was outstanding, the rolls were decent (although they forgot my spicy tuna roll), and the calamari dish was horrible. Even with the quick delivery, the breaded and fried calamari had turned from hot and crisp to lukewarm and chewy. It was a bad choice, not the fault of the restaurant. After the meal, I concluded that I wouldn't mind ordering from I Love Sushi again or accompanying my delivery driver to his prom.

The following evening, I called the Fremont Thai restaurant Kao Samai (404 N 36th St, 925-9979). On the waitress's recommendation, I ordered fresh prawn spring rolls ($5.95), spicy tom yum goong (a hot-and-sour prawn soup with mushrooms, onions, and lemongrass, $9.95), and garlic pork ($8.50). Again, I requested a receipt and would pay with cash. I was told my delivery would take between 15 and 30 minutes.

Fifty minutes later, I received a call from the driver announcing he was lost. With new directions, my delivery guy—a cute Thai teenager still dressed in his school clothes behind the wheel of, yes, a hatchback—was able to find my place. But my driver had not brought along any change for my meal, or a receipt. I was forced to tip him $12 for a $28 meal. In exchange, he told me that if I called the restaurant with my receipt number (which he provided) he could deliver a receipt to my door by the end of the evening.

I called Kao Samai again as my food grew cold. The woman I spoke with refused to send a driver out again to deliver the receipt. We fought. She bargained. Finally she promised to fax a copy to me if I could provide her with a fax number. I did.

When I got around to eating, the food was delicious. My tom yum goong was incredibly spicy and flavorful with perfectly cooked prawns; the spring rolls were filled with fresh veggies, and their accompanying peanut sauce was addictive. The garlic pork was loaded with enough garlic to make me stink for days.

But by this time, I had been on the phone for half an hour trying to get a receipt and was unable to enjoy the meal I'd overpaid for. Angst overpowered every flavor. Hours later I was still considering strapping on my bitch gloves and driving down to the restaurant to fetch my goddamned receipt. But my food was already cold and Kao Samai was no longer taking my calls. The battle was over and I had clearly lost.

My next meal was ordered from the Wallingford Indian restaurant Chutney's Bistro (1815 N 45th St, 634-1000, www.chutneysbistro.com). Chutney's has a helpful online menu from which I ordered garlic naan ($2.75), tandoori prawns ($16.95), and mughlai lamb biryani ($12.95). Forty minutes later, my dinner was delivered by a well-mannered guy in a tie and slacks with a muscular frame and pretty face. He handed me my food, change, and receipt in one fluid motion, slid into his Toyota, and sped away.

The meal was as perfect as delivery can get. Warm and doughy garlic naan shuffled scoops of saffron and spinach-flavored mughlai lamb biryani into my watering mouth. The lamb was tender and well-seasoned, and my tandoori prawns were plump and smoky. Best of all, the food (plus coveted receipt!) was delivered by a man I would gladly imagine naked. Instead of a battle, Chutney's Bistro delivered the meal I asked for, on time, with a side of masturbation fodder. Who am I to fight a win-win situation.