And it wasn’t close. The only thing that would have stopped Ruan from prevailing would have been if we had been unable to procure food from them in the first place, which almost happened.
Friends joined us for dinner and we took the opportunity to have a Ruan-Nava taste test, ordering dishes from both restaurants. We didn’t order exactly the same things from each place: we got crispy duck kaprow* from Nava, great as usual, and drunken noodles from Ruan, excellent, and a few other items.
But the main event was the pad prik khing (with chicken, this night), which I almost always order because not only is the fiery/savory sauce delicious, but the green beans make me feel like the meal is not wholly unhealthy. I have long been of the opinion that Ruan’s PPK is superior to Nava’s, and our testing proved me right.
Ruan dominated in all aspects of the dish, most immediately/obviously in terms of portion size. The containers were identical, but Ruan’s was full, while Nava’s was barely half full. The Ruan portion also looked more appetizing, with thick dark-reddish-brown sauce thoroughly coating the chicken and beans, while the Nava portion was watery.
And whaddya know, Ruan’s sauce tasted better, too. Both were very spicy, as expected, but Nava’s sauce lacked nuance, while Ruan’s was richer, more balanced. Final point in Ruan’s favor: while the chicken was comparable, Nava’s beans were overcooked and mushy (as they usually are, the primary reason I have always preferred Ruan’s version), and Ruan’s still had some snap.
In sum, a clear victory for Ruan. A couple of caveats: this was just one dish, on just one night, and Nava still has plenty going for it, especially on the kaprow! front. But I had not realized until how the extreme degree of superiority enjoyed by Ruan on this dish.
It may be enough to swing me back to preferring Ruan overall — I have been voting Nava #1 for years — but there was one huge problem with Ruan, namely that they refused to answer their phone, we had to drive over and place our order in person and then return an hour (!) later to pick up our order. Takeout-reliant restaurants should ALWAYS answer their phone, even if they have to put you on hold. This is not the first time Ruan has failed to answer our call, but previously we just ordered from some other joint; this time we wanted to do the taste test, so we took additional steps to get our food.
Ruan was packed, every table taken and three groups waiting, but restaurants should be able to deal with being at capacity; I fear that Ruan’s expansion has outpaced the kitchen’s ability to produce sufficient food in a timely way. The staff seemed on the verge of melting down, and while I was there placing our order, someone else was up at the counter complaining that they had been seated at their table for an hour and still had not received any food, so it wasn’t just us. Ruan clearly still has some kinks to work out — but at least food quality is not among the kinks.