I didn't grow up in Pittsburgh, and when I tell people I moved here after being raised in California, their faces often betray incredulity.
"Now why the hell would you move all the way out here?!"
Well, as I soon learned, and as many of you already knew, Pittsburgh is a lovely place, with lovely people. This is a high compliment from a journalist, whose job sometimes involves getting people to hate me.
And it's true -- many times of the year. Pittsburgh is lovely when you're perched atop snow-covered Schenley Hill with a sled, admiring the city's skyline in the distance. Pittsburgh is lovely when the Penguins are in the playoffs and you're huddled on the grass outside Consol Energy Center -- with 10,000 of your closest friends -- watching Sid the Kid tap another one into the goal. Pittsburgh is lovely even when the Pirates are bad, because for $9, you can enjoy a baseball game on a warm summer evening, taking in the delicious view of the rivers.
But you know when it's not lovely? When it's 9 degrees outside and the sun seems to fall after it's barely had a chance to rise -- and even then, it's swallowed by dense clouds. When you risk broken bones for merely daring to venture out on frozen sidewalks. When the wind blows icy daggers into your cheeks.
And these times are when I wish I were somewhere else, somewhere warm. If I can't get out of town, a restaurant can provide that transportive experience.
That's where Red Orchid, a Thai restaurant in Ross, came in. Sure, we were bundled up to our noses against the cold, but close your eyes and slurp a little curry and suddenly you can imagine you're digging your toes into the warm sand in Phuket.
Megan, my equally weather-worn friend from New Orleans, and Brady, who doesn't seem to mind this climate, joined me on our venture north (of the city). Located in a small strip mall off Babcock Boulevard, we nearly missed it.
The restaurant was "cute," said Megan, decorated with Thai accents and arranged in a way that made it feel cozy but not cramped. We started with the nam took ($9), slices of beef cooked with lime and served with a fiery chili sauce atop a bed of greens. The chili sauce made us sweat (the first time that's happened since, like, October). The greens were a bit sad-looking, but the dish otherwise was delicious.
The tom yum soup ($4), a broth infused with tamarind and galangal root, was a nice balance of sour, sweet and spicy. Crispy duck ($15.50) was battered and deep fried and served in a tangy tamarind sauce. It was a huge hit among my dining companions.
The noodles were well sauced and the toppings were generous in the Pad Thai ($11). My personal favorite, the pumpkin curry ($11), came chock full of vegetables and pork, and the sauce -- creamy and spicy -- was divine.
For dessert, we opted for the banana rolls ($5.50), which were like thin spring rolls but stuffed with banana and coconut. They were a fine finish to a delicious meal.
So back to our frigid cars -- and our frigid homes -- we headed, leftovers in hand. The massive meal -- with plenty of leftovers -- rang in a little less than $70, far cheaper than a plane ticket to Thailand. Sure, it's far from the real thing, but while I save my money, it's a fine substitution.
Red Orchid is at 5439 Babcock Blvd., Ross; 412-837-2527 or www.thairedorchid.com.