One of the guilty pleasures I've allowed myself to indulge in over the last seven years is the annual Ohio Linuxfest in Columbus, Ohio. While the conference has always been totally free, in recent years, a "sponsor" level was established to allow those who could afford a donation to make one. The first several years of the conference I actually lived in Columbus, so finding accommodations was unnecessary. However, after moving back to the Akron area back in 2004, this became a new concern every year. Originally I stayed at my aunt and uncle's home on Saturday night, traditionally coming back on Sunday after having lunch with my aunt. The first couple of years this worked out relatively well except that I always tended to miss the early morning sessions on Saturday. Last year and this year, I was fortunate to be able to stay with my cousin at his apartment both Friday and Saturday nights. By going down on Friday evening after work, I was able to get to the conference early enough to hit the morning classes. At least, that was how it was supposed to work in theory.
Being in the fortunate position of having my Friday afternoon free, I decided to head down to Columbus in the early afternoon and hang out at Cup o' Joe at the Lennox complex off of Kinnear Road. Close to both the Ohio State campus and the downtown area, the cafe always contains a nice mix of students, people casually sporting sandals and flip-flops, and some of the technically savvy crowd. I ordered up a cup of honey and ginger green tea, opened up my laptop and reveled in an experience I hadn't had in nearly five years. Even though I do love the friends and experiences I have had over the last few years since moving back, there is still a part of me that really liked living in Columbus, too.
After finishing up my writing and editing tasks at Cup o' Joe, I headed off to my cousin's new apartment near Grandview. On the way up Northwest Avenue, I happened to pass a restaurant that I only discovered shortly before leaving Columbus, Nong's Hunan Express:
I didn't remember too many specifics about the food, but I did remember that my experiences had been fairly positive. While my cousin and I did consider some other restaurants for dinner, my suggestion of Nong's and its proximity to his apartment finally sealed the deal. When you first walk through the front door, you are greeted with a smattering of small tables and a counter where you can order your food for takeout:
If you are there for sit-down service, like we were, simply sit an any of the tables and one of the staff members will stop by to drop off menus and take your order. Seeing as Nong's serves both Americanized Chinese as well as Thai, I decided to get one of the Thai curries. I had originally inquired about the green curry with pork, but my server suggested that if I wanted pork, I should try the red curry instead. As usual, I asked for my curry to be prepared "Thai Spicy" and tried to impress upon her that I really did mean "Thai Spicy." My cousin decided to go with the Pad Thai, spiced medium.
After about a short break, our food arrived. First, a shot of the steamed rice that accompanied my dish:
Next, a shot of the bowl of red curry with pork:
Finally, a shot of my dinner plate, filled with rice and curry:
Let's talk about the flavor of the curry first. It was well balanced and delicious. The creaminess from the coconut milk was a nice foil to the red curry paste. The pork was tender and delicious and the green beans still had a nice snap to them. The sauce was so tasty, in fact, that I would've been happy just eating it spooned over the rice. The pork and green beans just upped the ante a bit. Now let's talk about the spice level. It was somewhere between mildly spiced and medium. It wasn't even spicy enough to elicit any kind of reaction from my sinuses.
I motioned for our server to come back over to the table. I explained that while the curry was very tasty, it was not nearly hot enough. I asked if perhaps they had some fresh Thai chilies I could use to add to the curry. She returned a minute later with a small dish containing two whole green Thai chilies. I sort of looked at her and then the chilies and must have uttered an, "ummm ...," because before I knew it she had whisked the chilies and my bowl of curry back to the kitchen. A few minutes later she returned with my curry, apologized and said something to the effect that the kitchen had forgotten to put the chilies in the sauce originally.
The newly returned curry now had the fresh taste of Thai chilies and it was a little hotter, but it still wasn't "Thai Spicy." Resigned to the fact that I was pretty darn hungry at this point and the fact that I was scared that if I sent it back a second time, the resulting curry might end up being hot enough to kill me, I began to eat it with my remaining rice. The flavor was still delicious, and in fact, improved now that fresh chilies had been added. I ended up eating about two thirds of my curry at dinner and taking the rest home along with a small container of white rice for a nice little snack later on that evening.
My cousin also enjoyed his Pad Thai, commenting that the spice level of his dish was perfect for his taste. I encouraged him to pick up a take-out menu on our way out of the restaurant to tack up on his refrigerator. Hopefully he'll be returning again soon for some more Thai food. I honestly think that the food at Nong's tasted very good. The problem with spice levels at Nong's is the exact same problem I have at every Asian restaurant. Since there is often a language barrier, I cannot entirely fault the restaurant for giving me what they think I want instead of what I truly want. Unfortunately, it will always come down to cracking the spice level code at every Thai restaurant individually in order to solve this problem. Well, that or learn to speak Thai or Mandarin.