THIS SPRING: A bunch of us at the India Pavillion restaurant in lovely Central Square, Mr Tim Hsu and I included. We order various dishes, Tim's being the Chicken Vindaloo. "That is very hot," warns the waiter. "What? I'll have it a la carte," sez Tim blithely, hearing not being his forte but rather his piano.

Our dishes are placed in front of us, the waiter mumbling the appropriate dishname along with each. As he puts Tim's food on the table, he enunciates loud enough for all to hear, "Chicken Vindaloo. HOT." A trace of a smirk can be detected on his face.

The Chicken Vindaloo is indeed hot, and Tim does not finish it. In fact, he could use a beverage to soothe his burning mouth. "Excuse me," he calls to a passing waiter, "could I have a Sprite?" The waiter begins to smile, and says "Sprite?" Tim repeats, "yeah, Sprite." The waiter: "Sprite?" Tim: "Yeah." The waiter, pleased enormously that the Vindaloo has been victorious, walks around the table, stands directly behind Tim, and with an air of great condescension and glee: "SPRITE?" Tim, chagrined: "Yeah." The Sprite is finally brought to the glum Tim, with an emphatic "SPRITE." Then and there, Tim vows to return to the restaurant and conquer the Chicken Vindaloo.

A FEW DAYS AGO: Tim, up from Princeton for the week, heads over to the restaurant with jb and me. Tonight, the Vindaloo falls. jb, with an air of assurance, orders "Three Chicken Vindaloos, HOT." Tim jokes about ordering some chutney and confuses the waiter, perhaps in revenge.

The Chicken Vindaloos arrive, along with some extra rice. jb is first to finish. I am second to finish. Tim's face is red, he's sweating profusely, he's out of water, and looking at his dish, he realizes he's in trouble: he's eaten all the chicken, and all that's left is sauce. Spicy, vindaloo HOT sauce. And not enough rice. He gulps once, twice. "Some call this a tactical error," he pontificates. "I call it finishing in style." He dips a tablespoon into the sauce and brings it to his mouth, swallows. A littler redder, a little more sweat. A few more spoonfuls, and it's gone.

Five minutes later, Tim has not moved, his eyes are two-thirds out of their sockets, and he says "Well, I think it was a tactical error." I, sitting across the table from him and within spitting distance, become very nervous. Despite some threatening hiccups, Tim does in fact keep the Chicken Vindaloo Hot down. Eventually the check is paid and Tim staggers home, a little worse for wear, but with a vindaloo notch in his culinary belt that he proudly remembers to this day.

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