Friday, November 21, 2014

Good Meals Amid Bad News

Monday, November 17, 2014
Where were you on Saturday night?  I was sent back half a century while listening to the New York City Labor Chorus singing of a once proud labor union movement and a once vital civil rights movement.  Even after such a long time, the words (often quite simple and repetitive) of We Shall Not Be Moved, Which Side Are You On?, If I had a Hammer and We Shall Overcome were right back on my lips.  Now, unions are, at most, an afterthought in our economic system, and a smirking majority of the United States Supreme Court views racism as an historic relic, a relic that, with the obvious exception of Clarence Thomas, never seemed to have interested them before.

The 1,200 seat auditorium seemed full mostly of my contemporaries and our elders, with walkers and canes in abundance.  Were we the conscience of an increasingly-avaricious society or  merely a bunch of frustrated fools whose time has passed?

The lyrics of Which Side Are You On? always interested me.  It was written in 1931, in the course of a coal miners strike in a region that saw labor strife on and off for over 40 years.  
They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there;
You'll either be a union man,
Or a thug for J. H. Blair.

A contemporary version might unmelodiously go:
You'll either be a union man,
Or a thug, attorney, crisis manager, publicist, accountant, media consultant, lobbyist, or portfolio manager for J. H. Blair.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014
The terrible news from Israel this morning is the attack on worshipers in a Jerusalem synagogue by two Palestinians using a gun, knives and axes.  Four Jews were killed, including three Americans.  In order to empirically distinguish this act from anything resembling sanity, the synagogue is located in a section of West Jerusalem that has been occupied by Jews at least since 1948, and several kilometers from the nearest edge of Arab East Jerusalem.  I believe that any attempt to explain this act as anything but criminal insanity would itself be insane.  However, more disturbing to me is the caption under a photograph on the NYTimes web site: “Supporters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Gaza celebrated the attack on Tuesday.”  Tell me why such behavior doesn’t warrant harsh reprisal.  Demonstrating how patient, how rational, how peaceful, how tolerant we could be seems to accomplish little, if anything, in this conflict.  

By contrast, lunch was peaceful and joyful as I had dim sum at Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth Street, with Fumiko and Stanley Feingold, and four CCNY classmates, as an extension of our periodic get togethers when Stanley visits New York.  We shared 18 plates of 15 items.  With a generous tip, it cost $14 per person.  It might have been less except for some uncontrolled Diet Coke guzzling (and you know who you are).  I wouldn’t want it repeated, but a couple of vegetable dishes were very good.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014
The Boyz Club convened at 27 Sunshine Sea Food Restaurant, 46 Bowery, the former HSF.  This gave me the opportunity to compare two major dim sum joints back-to-back.  Jing Fong is enormous, running an entire city block from Elizabeth Street to the Bowery, one flight above street level.  27 Sunshine actually sits directly beneath, a half block long, entrance on the Bowery.  Jing Fong is vividly Chinese red, seemingly awaiting only acrobats and jugglers to complete the festive atmosphere.  27 Sunshine, befitting its name, is pastel yellow almost everywhere you look.  Jing Fong has a lot of Chinese patrons; 27 Sunshine has nothing but (our table aside).  Accordingly, it is a bit easier to understand or be understood at Jing Fong, assuming you haven’t mastered your Mandarin.

We had 9 guys at lunch and the food came and went so fast that I was unable to get a count on the number of dishes (and, unlike Jing Fong, the check wasn’t detailed).  We later estimated 30 plates, including duplicate items.  The bill for this was a staggering $85 upon which I heaped a very large tip, so that each of us owed $12.25.  Jing Fong had a slightly more interesting collection of items, but 27 Sunshine’s scallop dish almost drew a standing ovation.  On the way out, I sought to learn the origin of the name, 27 Sunshine Seafood Restaurant, located at 46 Bowery.  A managerial type patiently explained to me that 27 means 46 in Chinese, or I think that’s what he said.

Thursday, November 20, 2014
Last night, I went to the Jewish Theological Seminary to hear Mike Kelly discuss his new book, The Bus on Jaffa Road, the story of a suicide bombing in Jerusalem in 1996, killing 26.  Among the dead were Sara Duker and Matthew Eisenfeld, a young American couple.  Sara was a classmate and friend of Mayris’s children.  She died just a month after I met Mayris, so my early memories of our romance are combined with sad recollections of this tragic event.  Before the book talk, a study area of JTS’s library was dedicated to the memory of the young couple; Matt was a rabbinical student there.  

Four rabbis spoke at the dedication, two on behalf of JTS and two friends and classmates of Matt’s.  I didn’t take notes, but I tried to hold onto words and phrases that were repeated by various speakers about Sara and Matt.  I heard: hope – peace – love – Torah – learn – God’s image – giving – wisdom.  

Lunch today, although not with a crowd, was still special.  Jay Stanley, policy analyst for the ACLU based in Washington, was in New York for a periodic meeting.  Jay is the son of Charlotte Stanley, the flower of Cheshire County, New Hampshire, and John Langley Stanley, my graduate school roommate, taken from us far too early.  Jay, in his father’s footsteps, likes spicy, exotic foods, so we went to Xi’an Famous Foods, 67 Bayard Street, one of 5 Manhattan locations for this successful enterprise.  Since my last visit, the tiny space has been reconfigured to give a little more sitting room, but don’t expect to host the Cousins’ Club there anytime soon.  

We each ordered a spicy cumin lamb burger ($3.50) and then shared stewed oxtail noodles ($9.50) and buckwheat cold noodles ($5.25).  Each was spicy in its own wonderful way.  The noodles could only be eaten with your head inches above the place, to keep the delicious sauces nearer to your mouth than your clothing.  The hand-pulled oxtail noodles were very long and wide; the buckwheat noodles were like fat lo mein.  We were both delighted by the food quality.  Unfortunately, Jay had to rush back to an afternoon meeting, so he refused my suggestion that we stop at the Häagen-Dazs shop at the corner of Bayard Street and Mott Street, for, what I consider, the appropriate finish to a superior Chinese meal.   

Friday, November 21, 2014
For those of you who did not have the Washington Post delivered to your front door this morning, here is David Webber's valuable commentary.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/david-h-webber-protecting-public-pension-investments/2014/11/20/85748ee6-66cb-11e4-836c-83bc4f26eb67_story.html

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tricentennial

Monday, November 10, 2014
The New York Times has again found a way to utilize the predominantly self-referential (and often self-reverential) data from Facebook to provide some interesting information.  It aggregates, by county, the “likes” for any college football team, to assess the level of interest in college football generally.  
 
With Alabama leading the way, it pretty much correlates with where in the United States you don’t want to live.  “And the five counties in the United States with the lowest rates of college football fandom are the five boroughs of New York City.  Manhattan manages 2 percent, and the other four are all below 2 percent.”  There is an independent indication that it isn’t just the water locally.  Cook County (Chicago), Illinois also scrapes the bottom of the barrel, along with the counties surrounding Boston.  Significantly, these areas have an abundance of professional sports teams with passionate fans (present company included).  It’s likely, therefore, that we are willing to wait for the finished product before getting all aroused by the athletic accomplishments of our supposed student-athletes.  
 
As I wrote the other day, there have been two major changes to the Chinatown/Little Italy ecosystem, the first, Baz, a bagel joint on Grand Street, just a few feet off Mott Street.  More revolutionary is the appearance of Beijing Pop Kabob Restaurant, 122 Mulberry Street, right in the heart of Little Italy.  Until now, even as the borders of Little Italy shrank under the pressure of Chinese inflow, Mulberry Street remained intact and integral, Italian restaurant after Italian restaurant, interrupted only by T-shirt shops.  This, after all, is the home of the Feast of San Gennaro, held in mid-September each year to celebrate the patron saint of sausage and pepper sandwiches.  Held for more than 88 years, San Gennaro attracts under age drinkers from miles around. 
 
Now, a Chinese restaurant has replaced Positano Risorante, sitting right next to Buona Notte Ristorante.  You might as well be selling knishes in the Vatican.  Not only have the walls closed in on Little Italy, they have been breached by the Chinese hordes.  Fortuitously, Beijing Pop is also the 300th Chinese(ish) restaurant that I have patronized (and documented) since January 2010.  To remind you, I limit myself to weekday lunches in nearby Chinatown – not Flushing, not Sunset Park, not Upper East Side.  Admittedly, I have broadened the cuisine to all of East Asia, thereby including Japanese (10), Malaysian (5), Korean (2), Indonesian (1), Thai (4), Vietnamese (13).  India and Pakistan, and all of the Middle East, however, have been excluded from the count.  
 
I was joined on this special day by Stony Brook Steve.  There are 16 two tops, mostly pushed together, in this narrow joint, whose cream walls are decorated with Chinese scrolls and vivid wall hangings.  Respecting the restaurant's name, we ordered lamb kabobs and beef kabobs ($3.50 per order of 2 skewers), scallion pancake ($1.75), pan fried buns with beef curry ($3.75 for 3), and beef with tofu ($5.75) as a lunch special with rice and soup.  The food was quite good, on the whole.  The lamb was fatty, but lamb fat charred is still tasty.  The scallion pancake was small in diameter, but crisp,  greaseless and so inexpensive.  The three inch round buns were well-prepared, not doughy, but too mild for my taste.  Steve risked the tofu and found it edible.  
 
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
We have the day off in observance of Veteran’s Day (once Armistice Day), but I wasn’t idle.  I stopped off at my periodontist’s office, to help his children continue to acquire the finest private education available.  Then, I had lunch with the Feingold assembly, where Joe Berger, notable New York Times reporter, discussed his newly-published book, The Pious Ones: The World of Hasidim and Their Battles with America.  These very orthodox Jews challenge and embarrass me and most of the wishy-washy Jews of my acquaintance.  The challenge arises from the suspicion (or fear) that they are doing it The Right Way, that is, that their lives, their customs, their worship, their values represent authentic Judaism.  The embarrassment comes from viewing their lives, their customs, their worship, their values so at odds with the modern world.  
 
I put contemplation aside for the evening and went to Madison Square Garden to see the New York Rangers dominate the Pittsburgh Penguins, a fitting end to the holiday. 
 
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
The article contends that many of us harbor an aversion to the traditional Thanksgiving dinner for two reasons: the company and the menu.  I won’t touch the first subject.  For most of us, the Thanksgiving table is populated by the acorns off the family tree.  The selection process ended in the maternity ward.  I’m not going to challenge it now.
 
On the other hand, I love the Thanksgiving menu, the turkey, the stuffing, the sweet potato concoction.  Aside from a good Passover seder, I can’t think of a meal at home that I anticipate more.  However, the Times describes the event as burdened with “unbending tradition, family expectations and dietary totalitarianism.”  It claims that, for Thanksgiving, Americans “want lobster. They want Alaskan king crab and West African peanut stew, Peking duck and pad thai, Neapolitan pizza and Brazilian feijoada. In some cases, they want any form of meat that doesn’t gobble: osso buco, rack of lamb, suckling pig.”  What’s wrong with this is that these items are best enjoyed in a restaurant, where you can expect practiced competency.  You never order turkey in a restaurant, because you ate it at home and your mother did it better.  
 
In contrast to the dishes rattled off by the Times, turkey is relatively easy to prepare, and the basic effort is the same regardless of the size of the crowd.  You need not visit out-of-the-way ethnic emporia or specialized provisioners to gather your ingredients.  Plus the wonderful leftovers.  Mother Ruth Gotthelf always purchased an oversized bird (recognizing her oversized sons undoubtedly) and made a wonderful potato salad to accompany the turkey for days afterwards.  My beloved Calvin Trillin has long advocated spaghetti carbonara as the national dish for Thanksgiving, but that is not even sufficient to separate me from my Pilgrim heritage.
 
Thursday, November 13, 2014
A diamond may be forever, but a name on a wall may be gone with a check book.  Lincoln Center announced today that Avery Fisher Hall, named for a wealthy audio equipment mogul over 40 years ago, was going to be renamed as part of a major fundraising campaign.  Following the advice that you have to spend money to make money, Lincoln Center is giving back $15 million to the Fisher family to free up the space over the doorway.  For its first dozen years, the building was called Philharmonic Hall.  Now, anything is possible.  Maybe downtown Louisville, Kentucky won’t mind us borrowing the name of the KFC Yum! Center from its multi-purpose sports arena.  Or, Sacramento, California may allow the NBA’s Sacramento Kings to revert to the ARCO Arena or the Power Balance Pavilion, so that New York can have the Sleep Train Arena.  Less bother would be involved with the use of KitKat Crescent, which lapsed as the home of the York City (England) Football Club in 2010.  On the other hand, I appreciate the swell of enthusiasm for Grandpa Alan’s Place, but I have to ask you to desist in promoting this choice.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Audio Visual Age

Monday, November 3, 2014
This morning’s New York Times has a special section listing the names of tens of thousands of New York City Marathon finishers.  The listings are ordered by time, not alphabetized like the New York State bar exam results.  That prevents me from applying my patented analytic tools to this collection of names.  My (ab)normal fascination with ethnicity is thwarted under these circumstances.   On the other hand, that furthers the American dream of judging each individual on her/his merits, removing bias from our perceptions.  It just isn’t as much fun as seeing how Us are doing against Them. 

New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio is poised to keep a campaign promise by permitting students to have cell phones in public schools.  He said that for parents it is “very, very important to know how to reach their kids.” He is not just talking through his hat, a device previously kept under wraps by a Korean startup telecommunications company.  He has a son in a public high school in Brooklyn.  Still, I’m thoroughly opposed to the idea.  

All of you over 40 went through high school without even touching a mobile telephone, no less carrying one as close as you keep your reproductive organs.  And, if your parents were concerned about reaching you, it was because of your sullen demeanor that you displayed at the dinner table and just about in any other public place in their company.  You hurt and disappointed them.  They just wanted to get a coherent sentence out of you in face-to-face conversation.  It would have been absurd to think that they actually wanted to talk to you on the telephone sometime between solid geometry and French. 

The psychology of today’s parents and children has not changed.  Cell phones in schools have nothing to do with parents, other than their inability to withstand teenage mewlings based on peer pressure.  Kids must have cell phones in order to talk to other kids at every waking moment, many of those moments otherwise inopportune, or, alternatively to avoid contact with the real world around them.  

I recognize the lure of the cell phone.  While I don’t bother with games, I compulsively peek at the New York Times, ESPN, the Weather Channel and that witty blog about eating in Chinatown.  Come on, Bill.  The kid’s not waiting to hear from you.  If his cell phone were limited to only receiving calls from Mom and Dad, it would quickly wind up in a dresser drawer with socks and underwear.  Stick to trying to govern the city, instead of the impossible task of controlling your teenage son.  Meanwhile, consider the plight of the teachers whose job is made more difficult by the audio and visual distractions offered by these devices.  “It didn’t sound like it, Mr. Goldfarb, but I was just looking up a good definition of iambic pentameter.”  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Congratulations to the inmates.

Lan Larb Soho, Authentic Isan Thai, 227 Centre Street, replaced Saha Thai Cuisine recently.  It appears to be freshly-painted a pale blue-gray.  The dark wood and faux leather chairs are pulled up to 15 white plastic two tops.  The lighting is simple and modern; the Halloween decorations seem an unneeded adaptation to local customs.  

Some basic research revealed that Larb is a minced meat salad, regarded as the national dish of Laos.  Isan is an area of Thailand with many people of Laotian descent.  Sections of the menu are labeled Larb soup and Larb Isan salad.  Other parts resemble a regular Thai menu, accounting for my ordering chicken pad Thai ($9), which came with a small bowl of delicious vegetable broth, and a small spring roll with a good crispy shell surrounding a dull vegetable filling.  The large portion of pad Thai was also very good -- noodles, bean sprouts, egg, green onion, carrots, chopped peanuts and thin slices of white meat chicken.  Service was fast and friendly; about 1/3 of the chairs were occupied.  Worth a return visit or two.  

Thursday, November 6, 2014
Chinatown’s growth has been extraordinary.  Almost all remnants of the Yiddish-speaking Lower East Side have been swamped by the eastward expansion of recent Fujianese immigrants.  Little Italy has shrunk to a commercial strip on a couple of blocks of Mulberry Street, north of Canal Street, and a few shops on intersecting side streets.  However, I just came across two developments, with important implications for the area's entire ecosystem.  

Baz, bagel and restaurant (sic), 181 Grand Street, just opened, featuring Jewish-style (non-Kosher) food, such as potato latkes ($10), matzoh ball soup ($6) and egg creams ($6).  Bagels start with cream cheese at $3.50, topping off at $16 for Scottish salmon, sable (smoked cod), cream cheese, tomato, onion, and chive.  Hardest to swallow is Dr. Brown’s soda at $3 a can.  So, along with the return of the grandchildren of those who fled the tenements of the Lower East Side about a century ago, we have an attempt to restore Jew food to the downtown scene, at a location that teeters between Little Italy and Chinatown.  I haven’t eaten there, and might only go for a bagel once or twice in the future.  I think that I'll stick to Zucker’s Bagels & Smoked Fish, 146 Chambers Street.  A map app tells me that they are equidistant from the courthouse, at right angles, Zucker's to the west and Baz to the north. Zucker’s prices are 10% to 25% less, and it is populated with kids from Stuyvesant HS nearby, not tourists who ignore Chinatown for a bagel.

The other development is an even bigger surprise, but I'll wait a day or two to describe it.

Friday, November 7, 2014
My cold has lingered and I stayed home from work today to kvetch.  I hope that I will be able to discuss the second important development in the Chinatown ecosystem on Monday.

We expect dumb things from dumb people, cf. Election Day.  However, dumb things from allegedly smart people make for better conversation.  Today's example is the acknowledgment by the administration of Harvard University that it has been secretly filming classes without informing faculty or students.  The proffered rationale by the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching was (according to the New York Times) "to investigate professors' complaints that many students skipped lectures, and that attendance dropped as a semester wore on."  A couple of points jump out at me.  First, HIFLAT was unwilling to believe Harvard faculty.  Think about that.  Professors are professing to be inadequate in getting and keeping students in their seats, but you go looking for independent evidence?  What would be gained by proving the faculty wrong?  "Oh, Professor von Schweinpit, those empty seats were an optical illusion."  Or, "There was such a crush of students attempting to get into the lecture hall, that they blocked the entrance."  

Secondly, assuming there was a valid purpose in pursuing this issue, why couldn't the ordinary exercise of human senses be used?  Stroll by, glance through the door, linger at the end of the hour.  Will we discover, instead, that the brother-in-law of HIFLAT's director is in the business of selling, installing and maintaining surveillance equipment?  That would be the American way, after all.

  

Friday, October 31, 2014

Play Acting

Monday, October 27, 2014
Yesterday’s real estate section reported data from the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey on occupancy in some of the ritziest neighborhoods in the world.  285 of 496 apartments (people in Manhattan do not live in private houses surrounded by white picket fences) are vacant at least 10 months of the year in the area of East 56th Street to East 59th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue.  Immediately to the north, East 59th Street to East 63rd Street (Bloomingdale’s Country), 628 of 1,261 homes, or almost 50 percent, are vacant the majority of the time.  Those areas contain large, very expensive apartments, not cubbyholes where you might leave your yoga pants or skateboards for random fits of exercise after an exhausting day wreaking havoc on the world’s economy.    

At first, I am heartened by the absence of the sort of people who can afford to stay away from these exclusive confines.  Less crowds at Tiffany’s, Per Se, the Metropolitan Opera House, and the Museum of Modern Art.  The price of cocaine is kept in check.  Fewer double-parked Maybachs and Rolls-Royces.  Less demand for electricity and bottled water.  

On the other hand, what if we could arrange a sort of AirBnB for inadequately sheltered New York families using the comfortable space left vacant so much of the time.  While moving is almost always disruptive, our deserving folk may not mind so much if each destination proves fit for a Saudi prince, Russian gangster or Chinese oligarch.  Since the target neighborhood is quite compact, their children should be able to remain in their local schools, eliminating one concern when relocating.  Decent living conditions might lead to greater family stability and improved job performance, and these real New Yorkers would actually pay local income taxes unlike their absent landlords.    

Wednesday, October 29, 2014
The New York Law Journal printed some of my favorite reading this morning, the list of applicants who passed the latest bar exam.  First some numbers: 11,195 people took the exam (none identified as corporations in spite of the generous view of the United States Supreme Court); 7,264 passed.  As usual my approach to the list is somewhat idiosyncratic.  It wasn’t a bad year for Cohens – 21, however, they were edged out by 23 Chens.  The 5 Levys were swamped by the 26 Lis.  There were 13 Murphys, but no Corleones.  The most common last name was Lee (58), which is polyethnic.  I couldn’t find any name that was uniquely euphonious, but I’ll give honorable mention to I’Asia Caprice Scarlett-Jones.  Good luck to all.

Stony Brook Steve joined me for lunch at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, which centered on soup for me with a blossoming cold.  We discussed a case that I am now handling that has some characteristics resembling my personal experience.  He challenged my objectivity under these circumstances, but, knowing what views I come to the table with, I believe that I can deliver a fair opinion.  We all have biases; managing them is the challenge.  Let's get the alleged economic malfeasors into court, those titans of Wall Street who turned the housing mortgage market into a cesspool of lies and corruption, and then see if people like you and me can render fair verdicts.    

Thursday, October 30, 2014
My cold had morphed from simply annoying me to annoying people around me, so I understand if you step back from the page.  I continued my soup therapy for lunch, today at Wonton Noodle Garden, 56 Mott Street (September 12, 2011, November 5, 2012).  The Cantonese dumpling soup ($4.95) was so good and hot that I had two bowls.  The dumplings were fat with shrimp, but it was the hot broth that I wanted, so I did not object to getting six dumplings in the second bowl of soup after getting seven in the first.   

Friday, October 31, 2014
Last night we saw It’s Only a Play, by Terrence McNally, reputedly the hottest ticket in town, if only because of a cast headed by Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.  By coincidence, it’s the second McNally play that we have seen this week.  On Sunday, we saw Lips Together, Teeth Apart, which I saw originally in 1991.  While I recall mixed feelings about the play back then, as opposed to the almost consistently cold feelings aroused the other day, the 1991 performers stuck in my mind.  The four-person cast was Christine Baranski, Nathan Lane, Anthony Heald and Swoosie Kurtz, none yet as prominent as they later became.  Kurtz was somewhat disappointing in the role of a childless woman whose brother recently died of AIDS.  While the character is supposed to be troubled and confused, Kurtz merely seemed tired.  On the other hand, Baranski and Lane could have raised the Titanic with the verve that they brought to their parts.  Those memories remain clear.

It’s Only a Play is also a revival, but I never saw it in the earlier productions of 1982 and 1986.  The play is far less substantial, a backstage, Broadway comedy taking place on an opening night, populated by the playwright, the director, the producer, the leading lady, the playwright's best friend and the schlepper, literally a new kid in town who is handling guests' coats and drink orders.  It is funny.  By contrast, Lips places two heterosexual couples, with secrets and stresses in their lives, on Fire Island on the Fourth of July, amid gay celebrants on either side.  There are some displays of mordant wit by the unhappy characters, each bearing an apparently incurable physical or emotional burden.  Oy, vey. 

On a lighter note, let's look at global warming.  Today's Times has a very interesting commentary on the political sensitivities on the issue.  
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/31/us/why-republicans-keep-telling-everyone-theyre-not-scientists.html?ref=politics&_r=0
While some Republicans are too busy bandaging their knuckles that have scraped on the ground as they strolled, certainly others are aware of the dangers that are the byproducts of the massive economic progress of the last century.  Yet, many elements of society, trade unions as well as corporations, are unwilling to admit that serious retooling of our transportation, energy, manufacturing, agricultural and mining industries are overdue if we wish to guard the health and safety of future generations.  No surprise that their political acolytes in both parties continue to play dumb (if any playing is needed) on the issue.  There is no doubt that jobs are immediately threatened by the needed reforms (revolution in some cases), but our experience teaches us that more jobs and greater prosperity often result from accepting the need for innovation, consider America's industrial response to the Axis or the transnational expansion of the automobile industry.  Yes, the displaced coal miner will have to be supported because it is not likely that he will have a role in the "clean" economy.  But, we are willing to pay farmers for not farming.  Don't we usually place good health as our greatest personal value, especially when it is absent or threatened?  Don't allow the material interests of the Koch brothers to override the health and safety of your children and generations to come. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Comings and Goings

Monday, October 20, 2014
Dimes, 143 Division Street, was identified a couple of weeks ago as "a new restaurant in Chinatown" in the New York Times. This may be geographically correct in light of the inexorable eastward expansion of Chinatown into what was once the heart of the Yiddish-speaking Lower East Side. It is barely 100 feet from 13 Essex Street where Mother Ruth Gotthelf née Goldenberg was born in 1909. Whether Dimes qualifies as a Chinatown restaurant gastronomically by any measure is less certain. On this bright, crispy day, I thought a long walk was in order, so I hied off to Dimes.

It’s a small joint and people were waiting outside to get one of the six small (two-person) round tables. I sat at a counter on the right side of the restaurant on one of six stools, against a white-painted wall. Opposite was a white-washed brick wall. One guy prepared coffee drinks at a nook in one corner in front of the kitchen. The menu is interesting, different than my normal lunchtime haunts. I ordered a spicy beet sandwich ($10), and I have to confess that I liked it. The spicy beet(s) were really present in the form of chrain, the beet-infused horseradish dressing for gefilte fish. The sandwich was on thick slices of multi-grain bread also containing roasted eggplant, pickled carrots and a hard boiled egg. Dimes was not exclusively vegetarian. There was one chicken sandwich and a gussied up BLT on the menu, but, looking over the salad-laden menu, I temporarily abandoned my carnivorous ways, with a good result.

Walking back to the courthouse, I went into the post office on East Broadway and found exactly what I sought, the special edition Batman stamps – a pane showing the Caped Crusader in four different poses. However, I discovered that the postal service had recently released a Janis Joplin commemorative stamp, which was now out of stock. I’ll have to track this down. Thinking of Joplin’s hectic life and death and the seeming inattention to issuing a stamp in her honor, I was reminded of the reaction of some Domestic Enemies of Sanity to the W.C. Fields stamp issued in 1980, on his 100th birthday. After all, said one at the time, "his reputation as an alcoholic, child- and animal-hater was also renowned." And, what better reason to issue a stamp?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014
I have very mixed emotions about The Death of Klinghoffer. Generally, I approach absolutism on censorship, not because of the homilies about the free market of ideas, but out of a visceral distrust of the censor, any censor. (Note that Rudy Giuliani was one of the speakers outside the Metropolitan Opera House last night, opposing presentation of the opera.) On the other hand, facile anti-Semitism is being restored to its place in Western thought, among intellectuals and thugs alike. So, I am unable to be conclusive about this work of art. However, Tom Morris, the director of the current production, said that "it dramatizes terrorism, it does not condone it." (Video embedded in http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/21/arts/music/metropolitan-opera-forges-ahead-on-klinghoffer-in-spite-of-protests.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=photo-spot-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news) In that regard, I must comment that shooting a wheelchair-bound cruise ship passenger and throwing him into the sea, just because he is Jewish, is pretty dramatic to begin with. Skip the singing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Better than Goodnight, Ladies?
"In one of the more inexplicable mysteries of Chinese culture, [Kenny G’s] 1989 saxophone ballad ‘Going Home’ has for decades oozed from speakers across Chinese public spaces at closing time, triggering rapid exits by the masses. The song has no lyrics, yet somehow, when it is played in a mall, Chinese shoppers know what to do. They go home." (From NYTimes.com.)

The Chinese may meet or exceed the US in crowd control, but they still have a lot to learn from us about democracy. Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying "said that one reason fully open elections could not be allowed here was because they would result in ‘a numbers game’ that would force the government to skew ‘politics and policies’ toward poor people." (From NYTimes.com.) Don’t worry, Chief Leung, the Home of the Free and the Land of the Brave has amply demonstrated that universal suffrage has done little to skew politics and policies toward poor people.

It rained all night and through this morning’s rush hour. However, by lunchtime, it was only damp and cold, which led me to the warm confines of Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street. But, lo and behold, there was no immediate seating, so I retreated to street level and went to Shanghai Asian Manor, 21 Mott Street. I didn’t feel entirely thwarted since I had eaten at Wo Hop just yesterday. With no chow fun on the menu at Shanghai Asian Manor, I ordered scallion pancake ($2.75) and wonton Szechuan style ($5.70), resulting in a very good meal. The scallion pancake was near great, big and crispy, but excessively oily. Had it been properly drained, we would have had the new scallion pancake champion. The eight wonton were simmered in a hot Szechuan sauce, peppery, garlicky, spicy, yummy.

The crummy weather kept the crowds away from the post office on Doyers Street, where I continued my search for Janis Joplin. Success! I saw Joplin twice in person, at what used to be call the Fillmore East on Second Avenue, and the stamps bring back distant memories.  Additionally, the kind postal worker pulled out panes of Jimi Hendrix and vintage circus posters, a particularly colorful issue. Given the few times we actually mail letters, I’m equipped for years of correspondence to come.

Thursday, October 23, 2014
I’m attending another CLE (continuing legal education) session at lunch time, so food from the one brother on the Two Brothers Halal food cart will more than suffice.

Friday, October 24, 2014
I had the pleasure of the company of Alan Silverman for lunch. We shared a Peking duck at Mottzar Kitchen, 70 Mott Street, where I have found a consistently high level of duck. Crossing over Mulberry Street, I came across the funeral of someone (I couldn’t get the name) who was either very popular or was in the flower business.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Welcome Mat

Monday, October 13, 2014
Tavish McMullen lives in ski country, about one hour outside Denver.  He gets to New York City only about twice a decade, so I was duty bound to show him a good time.  Friday, our first full day together, was our busiest.  In the morning, we went to the Tenement Museum, centered on a tenement built in 1876 at 97 Orchard Street.  The tour was very interesting, but most compelling for me was to spend time in the 325 square foot, one bedroom apartment, nearly identical to the one a couple of blocks away where my mother was born.  These apartments were heated by a coal stove and a fireplace, leaving black dust everywhere.  Only cold water came into the apartment, lit by gas lamps and candles until electrified during or after World War I.  Each floor had two toilets for the four families, with assorted friends, relatives and boarders, living there.  Toilets were mandated by 1904, after the landlords fought the local law up to the United States Supreme Court.  When my mother was born in 1909, she was probably the sixth occupant of the apartment at 13 Essex Street, with her parents, her older brother and sister, and, as I recall, her maternal grandfather, a widower by the time she was born (she was named for her maternal grandmother).  We walked down Orchard Street after leaving the museum as I explained why people came from the suburbs to buy underwear there in my youth.

We went to Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth Street, in Chinatown, a favorite of mine for an upbeat dim sum lunch.  We continued walking to the 9/11 site to see the two waterfalls positioned on the footprint of the destroyed towers, where we had gone to the rooftop on an earlier visit by Tavish.  

We stopped into Century 21, 22 Cortlandt Street, the discount department store, where foreign tourists are directed upon emerging from passport control at JFK Airport.  I went in only to look for one thing, a shower curtain, and mirabile dictu, I found exactly what I wanted at $15.99, half off to $7.99.  But, to show you yet again what a great country we live in, the computerized cash register rang up $1.84 including sales tax, which I paid without complaint.  

America’s Favorite Epidemiologist cooked dinner before we went to the evening performance of the Lion King, the brilliant staging of a fable for early adolescents.  

Saturday was much quieter, partly because we slept so late after Friday’s busy schedule.  Tavish and I visited the New York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, where the current exhibits include Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion (until the 1960s, our history was more the former than the latter), and A Brief History of New York: Selections from A History of New York in 101 Objects, based on reporter Sam Roberts’s book, including the first subway token (when the fare rose to 15 cents in 1953), a Spaldeen (the pink rubber ball actually made by Spalding, owned by every boy that I ever met in Brooklyn), and a black-and-white cookie (my father’s favorite).  We walked back to Palazzo di Gotthelf, stopping at Jacques Torres, 285 Amsterdam Avenue, to buy the greatest chocolate chip cookies in the world, saving one for my young bride at home.

Because of the quirks of our schedule (I was attending a funeral midday on Sunday), we ate bagels and lox (from Fairway) for dinner Saturday night, and why not?

Sunday was meant to be the high point of the weekend, opening night at Madison Square Garden for the New York Rangers 2014-2015 season.  I was, of course, appropriately bedecked, although the Rangers T-shirt that I had bought for Tavish was ill-sized.  Our apparel did not seem to make a difference, however, because Our Boys in Blue appeared to be covered in gray, shrouded in an energy-less pall that resulted in a 6-3 loss.  Oh, the horror!

At least, before the game, the three of us ate very well at DB Dhaba, 108 Lexington Avenue, the 2 New Yorker’s favorite Indian restaurant.  Madame then proceeded home, leaving us anticipating the thrill of victory when we only experienced the agony of defeat.  

On Monday, Columbus Day, a holiday for the courts, Tavish and I went to Greenwich Village, where I showed him where I lived for almost 3 years when I was his age.  We looked at (the exterior of) residences dating to the early 1800s, and former warehouses and factories now containing multi-million dollar apartments, and the dump that I lived in on Morton Street, which fit neither category.  We ate lunch at John’s Pizzeria, “No Slices,” 278 Bleecker Street, which I first patronized in the 1960s.  I am pleased to report that it has changed less than I have.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Bobby Bowden is a retired football coach, who holds the best winning record in major college coaching, even after vacating 12 wins for the 2006 and 2007 seasons because of an academic cheating scandal.  Of course, had Penn State’s Joe Paterno not been stripped of 111 wins because of the child sex abuse scandal, Bowden would sit second.  Now, Bowden has coauthored a book, The Wisdom of Faith.  The publisher’s blurb sums it up: “The success . . . the influence . . . the accolades . . . the wins. . . none of it matters if our lives are not rooted in faith.  God trumps our best hand.  He always wins.  Which is how it should be.  That is the wisdom he wants to share.  Let him tell you why faith and happiness are inseparable.”  

I suspect that the average Florida State football fan during Bowden’s long tenure kept the faith only as long as the team had a winning record.  Happiness came from no higher than the scoreboard above the stadium.  Since I believe that faith is ultimately delusion, I have no reason to allow it to guide me in critical moments, if any.  The book I would like to see would be entitled The Faith of Wisdom, but I doubt that it would emerge from any locker room.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014
While I eschew faith, I have room in my life for revelation.  A good example arose the other day when my dear friend Lyn Dobrin called me to discuss my comment on the change in rabbinical views of chicken -- not meat to meat -- which was codified in the 15th century (see Shulkan Arukh [Yoreh De'a 87:3] whatever that means).  Lyn suggested, and I heartily agreed, that chicken parmigiana would, therefore, have been Kosher in days of yore.  With that I had a revelation.  

"Chicken parm" was Carmela Soprano's signature dish.  And, the Inquisition scattered Iberian and Mediterranean Jews all over the world.   Aha!  Carmela Soprano was Jewish, descended from a Jewish family expelled from their native land, only to land on the shores of New Jersey, which helps explain how her daughter Meadow got into Columbia University.
  
Friday, October 17, 2014
We welcome other guests this weekend, America’s Loveliest Nephrologist and her companion from San Francisco.  Because they have an array of friends and family to visit in the vicinity, we will do less entertaining and, regrettably, see them only at random intervals, but we expect to enjoy every moment together. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Praise the Lord and Pass the Salt

Monday, October 6, 2014
One problem that I have with organized religion is the sanctimonious pretense to hold eternal verities, without conceding that eternal is often not forever.  For instance, a thousand years ago, the big rabbis decided that chicken really was meat, an important definition within Jewish dietary rules.  Before that, chicken wasn’t considered meat, allowing it to be served with dairy dishes.  St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, Roman Catholic theological giants, placed “animation” at about 40 days after conception.  I’m not going to put English words into their Latin mouths, but they seemed to be speaking of personhood, if not life.

This philosophical exercise is inspired by comments from Neil L. Andersen, of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, the second highest Mormon governing body.  In explaining his church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, he recently said: “While many governments and well-meaning individuals have redefined marriage, the Lord has not.”  The trouble is that Apostle Andersen forgot that, “in 1890, President Wilford Woodruff, fourth president of the Church, received what Latter-day Saints believe to be a revelation in which God withdrew the command to practice plural marriage.”
http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/polygamy-latter-day-saints-and-the-practice-of-plural-marriage  [Offical Mormon media outlet]  So, the Lord never changes her mind, unless she does.   

Conservation of Resources Headline: “ISIS’ Ammunition Is Shown to Have Origins in U.S. and China”

What a start to a new year.  Last week, I found a new restaurant, and today I found another one.  Kaede, Japanese Restaurant, 90 Chambers Street, is barely open one week.  Its interior is quite attractive, with two-foot square slate-looking tiles, very dark brown faux-leather upholstery, a wall of cherry-toned wood and a sleek sushi bar on its back wall.  However, the vacuous “pop” style background music was too much in the foreground.  

Because we had two different types of salmon at lunch and dinner yesterday, I skipped the sushi, which was probably a mistake.  Instead, I order a bento box ($11.95) with teriyaki chicken.  It had four small pieces of a very good California roll (crypto-crabmeat and avocado), three mini shu mei dumplings, also very good, a salad of iceberg lettuce, as if you needed to be reminded why iceberg lettuce makes a bad salad, and a thin piece of tough white meat chicken, cut into strips and covered with a vague sauce.  It also came with a bowl of cloudy miso soup.  The California roll was so good, although not what I usually order, that I’ll probably return for straight sushi in the future.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014
While I have to admit not having much luck with new restaurants this year, I can report on an outstanding ice cream flavor that has made its seasonal return – pumpkin at Trader Joe’s ($3.99 a quart).  It tastes enough like pumpkin if you like pumpkin, and not enough like pumpkin if you don’t like pumpkin.  It is very creamy with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves.  It is so seductive that, last night, America’s Favorite Epidemiologist had some even after her bedtime teeth brushing ritual.  

I went to an in-house educational session at lunch time, equipped with a chicken-lamb combo over rice ($6) from the Two Brothers Halal cart on the corner of Centre Street and Worth Street, although the cart was only large enough to hold one person.  If Jews and Muslims spent more time eating together, many of our problems might be resolved, or just forgotten in the glowing aftermath of an excellent meal.  

Wednesday, October 8, 2014
In spite of my rumored facility with language, I’m really a numbers guy.  After all, I taught ninth-grade algebra for a whole year.  So, I’m fascinated by the New York Times’s interactive college football map, which displays fan loyalty throughout the United States, by zip code, based on Facebook data.  
Forget the sports angle, it’s the sociology that intrigues me.  Why do minority neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan, Newark, Trenton, Camden, Boston, Worcester and Philadelphia “like” the football team of the University of Florida Gators so much?  I simply don’t believe that many of their residents have second homes in Gainesville, Florida.  Why are the North Carolina Tar Heels so popular in Montana, and along the border of South Dakota and Nebraska?  A very predictable result, however, is the national constituency for Notre Dame, with the exception of Utah where Roman Catholics are probably as much a threat as homosexuals..  
  
Thursday, October 9, 2014
The sign says Cheung Wong Kitchen, 38A Allen Street, but the menu says 38 Yummy Kitchen. In either case, it is a new restaurant for me, although not newly-opened.  It is small, 2 rectangular tables seat 6 each, and one small round table can fit another 6.  Half the floor space is taken by the open kitchen.  The restaurant sits on a corner and its north face and half of its west face are glass, allowing a lot of light into the otherwise dingy interior.

It offers almost 60 dishes over rice costing $4.50 to $6.75, most $5 or less.  I had Singapore chow fun, one of my signature dishes ($6.75).  It’s not on the menu, but Singapore chow mai fun and several chow funs are, so there was no hesitation in giving me what I asked for.  In spades.  It was the biggest portion of any noodle dish that I can recall, and well prepared, too.  The spicy curried noodles were mixed with green peppers, beef, pork, egg, shrimp, and bean sprouts.  I was very hungry, but still left about one quarter over.  A Styrofoam cup of tea was gratis.  

Friday, October 10, 2014
Trip Advisor, the website that aggregates reader’s opinions about hotels, restaurants and attractions all over the world, has just released its list of the 25 best restaurants in the United States, according to its respondents.  I’ll provide the top ten.  See http://www.tripadvisor.com/TravelersChoice-Restaurants-g191-a_Mode.expanded

Alinea – Chicago
Eleven Madison Park – New York City
Restaurant Gary Danko – San Francisco
Halls Chophouse – Charleston, SC
Victoria & Albert’s – Orlando
Uchi – Austin
Bouley – New York City
Canlis Restaurant – Seattle
Pappas Bros. Steakhouse – Dallas
Daniel – New York City

Note that Bouley and Daniel did not get three stars from Michelin last week; only Eleven Madison Park did.  Three of the other seven top-rated New York Michelin group hit the top 25: Le Bernardin (11), Per Se (19) and Jean Georges (24).  In contrast to the Michelin 8, none of which we ever patronized, we have eaten at 3 of the 25: Bouley (before it moved around the corner), the French Laundry (Yountville, CA), and Chez Panisse (Berkeley, CA).  It looks like I have a lot of eating yet to do.

Tavish McMullen arrived last night for visit over the long weekend.  We have several interesting things planned, which will begin next week’s report.