When I first started visiting, then subsequently moving to, Portland I quickly became familiarized with a few places around. Places like Benkay, Portland Public Market and Vientiane became my ‘go-to’s’ when ever I was up for a weekend. But, a lot changes in six years. Portland Public Market has been relocated and renamed. Benkay has long been replaced by King of the Roll as our place for inexpensive and tasty sushi. Yet, for a while, Vientiane remained a sentimental favorite for us. For me, while the food was filling and inexpensive, it was the smile of the owner–a woman whose name I can’t remember–and who was always dressed nicer than the interior called for. She was always very kind, very engaging and very thankful. So, it’s easy to understand why we went there so often, she made me feel familiar in a town that I was a complete stranger in.
But, again, a lot changes. I had heard from the Missus that the owner retired and passed the establishment onto her son and/or daughter over a year ago. Truthfully, until June, it had been over a year and a half since we had gotten take out from here and my last venture, completely on a whim and feeling sentimental, wasn’t that fantastic. Two stars, to both the Drunken Noodles and Laab Gai, left my mouth uncomfortably burned and unable to enjoy the meal. But, because I loved this place so much, I chalked it up to my own fault for not ordering one star. Duly noted and not a mistake I would repeat again.
So, when the heat index on Monday reached well into the low 90’s, I was so thankful that we would be picking up Vientiane for dinner. Thankful that I didn’t have to cook and looking forward to our first Thai–outside of Boda–in a while.
The Missus opted for the Pad Thai, minus shrimp as she’s adverse to the shellfish since a bad experience back in March at Vietbangkok Thai. This use to be her favorite Pad Thai, but when I asked her for her opinion of it after she started digging in she replied, “Oddly sweet.”
“Do you want any of my Noodles?” I asked.
“No, thanks, they look like a volcanic bed of fire,” she replied
She was right. My trying to undo the last experience I had with the dish, knocking down the heat level from two stars to one, didn’t quite work. It was, it seemed, as hot as it had been in June. Thankfully, though, the nuoc mam sauce that came with our standard issue non-Thai Rangoon, was just sweet and acidic enough to cut into the heat. I’m sure it was also helped by the fact that I stirred in some of her Pad Thai to lower the temperature a bit. Otherwise, the flavors and ingredients were wonderful and, as it has always been, the portion was generous for the price. But, a short time after the meal, I reflected that it didn’t ‘Wow’ me as it once had.
Later on that evening we talked about our dishes and I came to a conclusion: Perhaps, over the past six years of trying other places in town, it wasn’t really Vientiane that had changed but us. The meal was still enjoyable, just not the best we’ve had. Our tastes and preferences now lie elsewhere in the Thai spectrum offered in and around Portland. Like any relationship that fades away because people change I have this to say to Vientiane, “I’m sorry, it’s not you–it’s me.”