Traveling the windy, rain-swept hills of West Seattle on a dark January evening is not an appealing proposition. Deciding to have food delivered is always a matter of choosing your own comfort over someone else's and being willing to pay the price (sort of like Civil War conscription). The past few months, I've been summoning sustenance from the outside world with increasing frequency and dependency.
On this particular night, my wife answers the insistent knock on the door and returns with a description of the delivery person: "A man of indeterminate age, with nice eyes and a crooked smile." We unpack. The friendly folk at Olarn Thai Bistro (5258 California Ave SW, 932-5273) have packed our dinner in Styrofoam containers that assault my ears with squeaks and shrieks as we expose their lukewarm contents (delivery took almost 30 minutes) to the world.
Once we get our Thai delicacies plated, however, things begin to look up. The tofu Penang curry ($8.50) tastes appropriately silky sweet despite a superabundance of curry and a scarcity of tofu and those crinkly, bitter lime leaves that sneak up and whisper in your ear. The rama garden ($8.50) swims in a peanut sauce that does not have as much kick as I would like, but works well as a comfort in these dark, dark times.
The highlight of the evening's delivery, however, is meang khum ($9.50), a traditional southern Thai dish wherein various ingredients (toasted coconut, peanuts, ginger, lime, tiny dried shrimp, onions, and peppers) are rolled up into a slightly bitter cha plu leaf, sprinkled with a little sweet chili sauce over the top, and then shoved into the mouth. We marvel at the various flavors that somehow come together in an explosion of deliciousness. Then we do it again. Pretty soon, wintry Seattle is just a memory.
The next night when the knock comes on the door 25 minutes after I placed the call to Yen Wor Village Restaurant (2300 California Ave SW, 932-1455), I rush to greet a young, friendly Chinese man delivering our dinner. He smiles, wishes me good evening, and hurries back to his car, shielding his head from the icy rain. We turn out the front light, extricate our food from more Styrofoam, and concentrate on dinner, beginning with some greasy pot stickers ($5.75), which remain bland despite liberal dousings of respectable teriyaki sauce.
Turning our attention to the mu shu vegetables ($8), we spread sweet, sweet plum sauce over a pancake that tastes like warm cardboard. Adding the stir-fried vegetables complicates the flavors in a good way and I eat two of them before realizing that they're really not that exciting. The star of this night's noshing is a tofu variant on General Tso's chicken ($8.25), which consists of deep-fried blocks of soy curd, immersed in a tangy, sticky, sweet, and spicy sauce. It's perhaps the perfect winter dish, warming me from the inside out.
Neither restaurant delivers anything fancy; it's strictly comfort food, but sometimes that's enough. And while Olarn is perhaps a wee bit more sophisticated, it's the General Tso's tofu that I'm daydreaming about as I walk the cold, cold streets of our city in winter.