The Squeeze, bless his patience and his willingness to suffer if he thinks he can make me happy, does not like Indian food. So naturally one of the first places I took him was my favorite street cart, the Chaat House (since renamed the Bombay Chaat House after the first cart was sold, in case you’re looking for it). I never bothered to ask if he liked dal or naan or vegetable pakoras because it didn’t occur to me that a person—especially one whom I sort of fancied—might not. So he came on the MAX from one direction and I from another. We bought a Big, Big Lunch Special and some samosas and took them into the South Park Blocks to share. Indian curries are sort of messy, especially eaten out of a flimsy clamshell balanced on your lap on a park bench while trying to look cool in front of a new friend, and I recall mostly being very nervous about getting vegetable masala all over my face. I also recall that I ate like a pig and was so lost in my gastric rapture that it took a few days before I realized that he hadn’t actually eaten much.
We tried again last year. I cajoled him into permitting me to take him to the buffet at Swagat. I have enjoyed the lunch buffet offerings at their NW Lovejoy location many times and together we reasoned that being able to see the food before selecting it might work better than the gamble of the chef’s choice lunch special. And there’s always Tandoori chicken, I said, suggesting that, even if he wasn’t won over by the food, at least he wouldn’t starve. Like a fool, I took him to Swagat’s Beaverton outpost, a new spot for me too. We both gave it two disappointed thumbs down and I promised never to ask him to eat Indian food again.
Yet, somehow, we had dinner at Vindahlo last week.
We had been watching Gordon Ramsay’s show, Kitchen Nightmares, on hulu.com and it had been a very pregnant-feeling day. I was hungry but didn’t want to eat, then I wanted to eat but nothing sounded good. [An admission: we're sort of on a Hell's Kitchen/Kitchen Nightmares kick. I watched them for the first time when The Squeeze was getting his geek on at the Apple Developers Conference last month and I thought it was just a sort of lonely, my-squeeze-is-out-of-town type indulgence. And now we're watching together, and loving it when Gordon throws undercooked scallops at the walls, shouts unintelligible obscenities at poorly motivated line cooks, and uncovers cockroaches and rotting bell peppers in nearly every struggling restaurant he visits. I don't want to love these shows, but I do. I'm also pretty sure that once I've seen all the episodes of Nightmares I'll be qualified to sell myself as a consultant to failing restaurants. Lesson numbers one and two: Don't serve rotten food and Make your menu smaller. End digression.]
Anyway, there was Indian food happening on the particular show we were watching on the evening in question. Gordon brought in a fancy Indian chef to remake the menu and there were some very, very pretty shots of pakoras and curries and tall, creamy lassis and I think I might have drooled a little. In any case, my interest was surely perceivable because The Squeeze paused the show and asked if he should go get me some Indian food. He is like this and I do my best not to exploit it. I believe he would have gone out into the night in search of curried lentils, if I’d asked, but since it was eleven in the evening and we were both in our PJs, I settled for a frozen naan from Trader Joe’s (a pathetic substitute flavorwise, but still better than eating a potato chip when you really want a naan). I ate happily and went to bed dreaming of the naan wraps I used to buy from India Clay Oven at the Monterey County Farmers Market.
Then the next day when he caught me oogling websites for Portland-area Indian restaurants, The Squeeze said only, So when are we going? And it wasn’t, I don’t think, in a resigned, exasperated kind of way. I swear, I was planning to take myself out to lunch at the Bombay Cricket Club, East Indian Co., and Vindahlo. I wasn’t even going to ask for company. Because, after Swagat, I promised.