Friday, October 21, 2016

Croatian Journey

Monday, October 17, 2016
We arrived in Split, Croatia late Sunday morning. I quickly found that as little as I know about Croatian history and politics, I know even less about its geography.  Split is on the western edge of Croatia, along the Adriatic Sea, opposite Italy's eastern coast, roughly at the same latitude as Rome.  Zagreb is Croatia's capital, far inland.  The sight of palm trees surprised me; I don't think of them as European flora.

We are traveling with Road Scholar, which runs trips all around the world, always with an educational component.  It definitely appeals to an older population.  Our group of 21 has only three people not collecting Social Security.  On the other hand, members of this group seem to be more experienced travelers  than your ordinary collection of Americans.  We found the same on our Road Scholar trip to Portugal a few years ago.  The other most interesting demographic is the presence of only four men in the group. 

Croatia is a member of the EU, but does not use the Euro.  (We conclude our tour in Montenegro, where Nero Wolfe came from, which is not an EU member, yet uses the Euro as its currency.  Go figure.)  Croatia's currency is the Kuna (HRK), roughly just under seven to the dollar, or $.15 each.  I have to keep stashed the pile of crisp $1 bills that I got from the bank just before leaving, because the use of anything but the Kuna is more than discouraged, it is illegal for ordinary merchants.  Local prices seem moderate compared to other European locales.  For instance, the menu in the restaurant of our 4 (of 5) star hotel shows reasonable prices, such as, 10 HRK for a cup of espresso, 16 HRK for "white coffee" (more to an American's taste), 22 HRK for universally-beloved Coca Cola.  A shot of Scotch whiskey runs 28-45 HRK, according to brand, and a bottle of local white wine at dinner starts at 180 HRK.  A critical economic measure was the cost of three scoops of ice cream at Slasticarnica Bili San, Nigerova 2, for 22 HRK, about $1.10 a scoop.  I  have also learned that Slasticarnica means "establishment that Grandpa Alan has a hard time passing by."  

Our room in the Cornaro Hotel, Sinjska 6, is very comfortable, with a well-designed bathroom about one-half the size of the bedroom itself.  Most notable is the totally intuitive shower fixture, contrary to contemporary European and Israeli practice of offering plumbing that provides the choice of scalding hot or ice cold water misdirected to random parts of your body or the room in general.  

While we don't have to think about cooking for a while, I found the following New York Times on-line article featuring dishes prepared with few ingredients particularly interesting and worthy of filing for future reference.  

We broke away from the group this afternoon and took a tour with Lea Altarac, a local Jewish woman, who offers an informative walking tour of Jewish interest,  We went to the Jewish cemetery, dating from 1517, high on a hill above the city, now unused and practically inaccessible.

Only a few tombstones were legible, written entirely in Hebrew or Croatian written in Hebrew letters, with one exception for a prominent citizen inscribed in both languages.  Lea then took us to the one synagogue, founded less than a decade before the cemetery, in a building two hundred years older.  There is archaeological evidence of Jews in the area as early as the third century.  Note that many Jews use BCE (before the common era) and CE (common era) instead of BC and AD.  After all, the D of AD ain't our D.

It was our good fortune to meet Lea's father Albert Altarac at the synagogue, a vice president of the small Jewish community, numbering about 100 people.  He explained that, unlike the larger Jewish community in Zagreb, the nation's capital and home to almost one quarter of the total population, Split's Jews are mostly intermarried, as he is, and follow few of the customary rituals and practices.  There is no local rabbi and services are generally held on demand, rather than according to a calendar.  The good news is that Albert claims no local anti-Semitism in a country over 90% Roman Catholic.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016
We did some typical sightseeing today, with periods of heavy rain coming mostly while we were on our bus.  Late in the afternoon, we transferred to the motor yacht Futura, which will be our home base for the next week as we hop town to town, island to island along the Adriatic coast.

The following article, lamenting the decline of Jewish (but not necessarily Kosher) delicatessens in Los Angeles, strikes me as much ado about nothing, although my first hand experience is a few decades old.

Los Angeles delicatessens were never very special, if you had a realistic (New York) frame of reference.  Nate'n Al (sic), 414 North Beverly Drive, remains famous as a Beverly Hills power meeting spot and Canter's419 North Fairfax Avenue, serves as a hangout for an older generation of Jews.  Neither is Kosher, although they may serve some Kosher products.  The only LA delicatessen that I took seriously was Langer's, still at 704 South Alvarado Street, right across the street from the well-sung MacArthur Park.  Langer's, not Kosher of course, had the best seeded rye bread that I have ever had and, as the late, lamented Leo Steiner said, it makes a nice sandwich. 

I found the story behind the following headline somewhat puzzling: "Audience Members Walk Out on Amy Schumer After Trump Criticisms"  Or, maybe too predictable.  What were they thinking?  How about a Hadassah theater party at Jesus Christ, Superstar?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016
We spent the night on the Futura, but it didn't leave the port of Split until late this morning.  Our first stop was Trogir, a tiny island just feet off the mainland.  Its outstanding feature is a cathedral that was constructed mostly in the 13th century. 

Meanwhile,  it is estimated that there are 66 million more men on earth than women.  This seems to contradict common sense: men's lifespans are shorter than women's.  More than their female counterparts, young men die in accidents and by criminal conduct;  old men die from heart attacks and strokes.  However,  the contest does not start on an even footing.  For every 100 female babies born, there are 107 males, as if nature recognizes the harder road for little boys.  Why don't we have more polyandry under these circumstances?  Or are women more reluctant to share the wealth, as it were, while polygamous men are found worldwide, eager to mix and match. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016
The Futura left Trogir even as we ate breakfast, but most of us paid no attention to this because we were absorbed in reading accounts of last night's presidential debate.  This was two out of three debates that I slept through in a foreign country.  By the way, the politics of this crowd of older, white people, prosperous enough to afford this trip, was remarkably consistent and not what you might immediately guess, fortunately for my blood pressure.

It took over three hours and one nap to sail from Trogir to Stari Grad, population 2,500, on the island of Hvar, where we walked through narrow alleys lined by stone houses.  Many of the houses now stand empty as inhabitants have given up on agricultural pursuits after generations growing grapes, olives and lavender.  Tourism seems to be the only viable alternative for many of these scenic Croatian islands and that is limited to the summer, because the centuries-old houses usually lack heating.

The Croatian mainland as well as its 66 populated islands are regularly losing population, along with much of Europe, which makes the failure to deal comprehensively with refugees costly for all involved.

Friday, October 21, 2016
We slept aboard the Futura again last night and sailed around Hvar island to the town of Hvar, population around 4,000.  Of particular interest there was a Franciscan  monastery, now the home of exactly one monk.  He was actually out fishing when we came to visit.

On Hvar's central square, I saw something that had eluded me on this trip so far.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Professional Grade

Sunday, October 9, 2016
I added a fifth Chinese restaurant in the fourth city in the third time zone on the second continent in 15 days last night.  Thanks to the urging of certain vocal members of the third generation, we went to Chinese Mirch, 140 Worcester Road, Framingham, Massachusetts.   We have been to this restaurant that combines Chinese and Indian cuisine before.  It does not present a fusion, but rather parallel processing.

Our ordering leaned to the Indian side of the menu. The bold among us had Hyderabadi chicken ($13.99), a South Asian Muslim dish with chicken cubes cooked in dry coconut, tamarind, and red chillies; crispy Szechuan lamb ($17.99), very crispy and very spicy; and garlic naan ($3.25). Occasionally, we dipped into the milder food on the table, saag paneer ($14.49), chicken tikka ($8.99) and the nicely cooked, but bland chicken malai kabab ($9.99).  Our youth delegation dug into Mirch's food heartily, a good sign for the future.  

Jeffrey Heller, major league human rights activist, writes that he was recently in Williston, North Dakota, county seat of the tenth wealthiest county in the USA, discussed last week.  He tersely describes it as "Ugliest town ever.  Oil boom town. Plopped on the plains."  Note the artistic use of genuine Winchester rifles.

Additionally, Ittai Hershman, superior investigator, informs me that Amorino, Gelato Al Naturale, which I encountered in Paris is spreading throughout Manhattan, with locations now at 414 Amsterdam Avenue (79th/80th Streets), 721 Eighth Avenue (45th/46th Streets), and in Greenwich Village, 60 University Place (10th Street), along with the location at 18th Street and Eighth Avenue that I spotted last week.  Worth a lick.

The New York Times reports on a survey of the politics of the medical profession. 

Once upon a time, doctors, in fear of "socialized medicine," were reliably Republican.  That helped block health insurance reform from Harry Truman's time until LBJ got Medicare passed, now the Saran Wrap of public policy.  Of course, it was almost another half century until we got Obamacare, still the target of resentment by those friendly folks who place their own needs first, foremost and exclusively.

Thursday, October 13, 2016
A public holiday, a Jewish Holy Day and I find myself near the end of the week, contemplating some big doings, which will be explored shortly.

Friday, October 14, 2016
Hey, Mom and Dad, some survey results may encourage you to keep writing those checks to support the education of Jack and Jill.  While there have been many stories about the decline in job opportunities in the legal industry, there are some eye-opening numbers about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

While the report emphasizes the income disparity by gender, the raw numbers may be sufficient to lure someone away from majoring in art history or rural sociology. Consider that the average annual compensation for 2,100 partners at law firms nationwide was $877,000.  Men did much better than women, $949,000 compared to $659,000; whites $876,000, blacks $797,000, Hispanics $956,000, Asian-Pacificans $875,000.  

This article reminds me of the other thing that I miss in retirement -- Chinatown #1 -- the free legal publications that arrived daily, which often contained very granular data on earnings, staffing and related demographics, along with other information about the profession.  

In any case, the data offer some hope that prosperity may yet emerge from parental destitution.  

The Upper West Side's Power Couple is off on an exciting adventure tomorrow, so we thought that we would have a traditional Shabbos dinner tonight.  We headed, therefore, to Bengal Tiger Indian Restaurant, 58 West 56th Street, a narrow joint, up a flight of stairs, with about 15 tables hugging the walls in the shape of an L with a little vertical tail.  

Although it was very busy, service was excellent. Unlike almost every Indian restaurant I have ever patronized, our water glasses were refilled promptly without prompting.  Our food was very good too, the purpose of this visit.  We shared onion and sweet potato pakora ($7), fried but almost greaseless.  I had chicken tikka masala ($15), chunks of white meat in a creamy tomato sauce, tasting as if the chicken had actually cooked in the sauce, not just thrown in on the way out of the kitchen.  My young bride had aloo gobi matar ($14), cauliflower and potatoes.  

Get past the narrow doorway and staircase for good Indian food.

Friday, October 7, 2016

How Do You Get To The Carnegie Deli?

Saturday, October 1, 2016
I'm trying to catch up with my reading after returning to the Holy Land.  One particularly interesting story and graphic deals with wealth in America, specifically where it resides.

When 1% is used as a signifier of elite status, we see that not all 1%s are created equal.  It takes an annual income of $112,000 to reach the top of the heap in Dent County, Missouri, while you have to reach an annual income of $1,067,000 to shine in Williams County, North Dakota, the tenth richest in the country.  Of course, the question arises how do you spend all that money in Williams County, North Dakota?  Well, before you go off on your effete Eastern ways, note that Trip Advisor found 51 restaurants in Williston, the county seat.   Rated best of all was Smiling Moose Rocky Mountain Deli, about 1/4 mile from Sloulin Field International Airport.  

Now, I really don't want to be a spoilsport, but flights in and out of Sloulin Field International Airport only come and go as far as Denver, Colorado and Minneapolis, Minnesota, both currently part of the United States of America.  

Sunday, October 2, 2016
If you are having trouble distinguishing an American from a Frenchman/woman/person, ask to see its passport photograph.  The French are required to appear "neutral with the mouth closed," while Americans may smile.

Monday, October 3, 2016
Welcome 5777.  It seems to have taken you long enough to get here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Joe Berger, CCNY graduate and ace New York Times reporter, published a story today on a new English-Yiddish dictionary, designed to cope with words and phrases that were never uttered in the shtetl, such as, "e-mail."

The editors of this new publication not only documented what contemporary Yiddish speakers were saying, but had to create words and phrases where none existed.  The Vatican faces the same challenge in keeping Latin up-to-date.  See Lexicon Recentis Latinitas, published in 2003.  Sometimes the speakers and the editors diverge.  Joe tells us that "Many Yiddish speakers may already be too comfortable with the word 'laptop' to jump ship for its Yiddish equivalent, 'shoys-komputer' (a 'computer for the lap')."  By the way, if you foolishly don't bother to read Joe's story, e-mail is blitspost, lightening mail.

While on the subject of the often-chosen-for-the-wrong-reason people, the Carnegie Deli has announced that it is shutting down after almost 80 years in business.
When I passed it today, there was a very long line of people risking heartburn although the final date is almost 3 months away. 

In the past, I often frequented the Carnegie, developing a friendly relationship with Herbie, the pudgy floor manager, who granted indulgences sparingly.  That was in the days of Broadway Danny Rose, the 1984 Woody Allen comedy that is narrated at a table at the Carnegie.  I remember introducing Nate Persily, prior to his assuming chairs in constitutional law and political science at Stanford University, to Henny Youngman there, a moment that Nate may still cherish along with his first publication in a law review.  

Yet, I can only recall going to the Carnegie once in the last 20 years, a combination of the rise of kitchiness appealing to tourists and successive jobs for me further removed from its location on Seventh Avenue at 55th Street.  I was also disaffected after the sad death (are there other varieties?) of co-owner Leo Steiner at age 48.  Leo, a very animated guy, starred in commercials for Levy's Jewish rye bread, saying, "It makes a nice sandwich."  In 1987, Leo purchased a swell co-op apartment at the El Dorado, 300 Central Park West, probably the third most prestigious building on the West Side, behind the Dakota and the San Remo.  His apartment abutted the apartment of my boss and we gleefully anticipated developing a warm friendship (with benefits) with Leo.  However, before he moved in, he was admitted to the hospital with headaches, dying there from a brain tumor on December 31, 1987.  

Thursday, October 6, 2016
The Boyz Club boldly ventured into the depths of Brooklyn for dim sum at the well-reputed Pacificana Restaurant, 813 55th Street.  The neighborhood is now called Sunset Park and is considered one of the three Chinatowns in New York City.  The joint is large, supposedly holding 500 people.  While it was almost full when we arrived near 1 PM, it was empty at 2 PM as we lingered, in no hurry to go nowhere in particular. 

The women driving the carts around the room were unable to identify what they were peddling (pedaling?), although they consistently tried to interest us in chicken feet.  We wound up with 10 different dishes, a handful duplicated.  It cost us $14 each, including, as always, a very generous tip.  
Driving back home from Brooklyn, never a wise course of action, I observed an outlet for Amorino, Gelato Al Naturale, at the corner of 18th Street and 8th Avenue, the same outfit that served me black fig gelato in Paris last week.  For better or worse, the crush of traffic prevented me from pulling over for a postprandial treat, but this was a very positive example   of globalization. 

Friday, October 7, 2016
Another episode in "The Invasion of the Grandparents" begins today as we head to Massachusetts to visit the second and third generations.  I hope that they are up to it.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Traveling Man

Saturday, September 24, 2016
Trafalgar Square was packed with people swarming about dozens of colorfully decorated booths and a stage with live entertainment at midday, as I wandered off by myself.  It was Malaysia Fest '16 and, to my great good fortune, most of the booths were serving Malaysian food.  There was a wide assortment of items, some familiar, some not.  All main dishes were £5 for an ample portion.  Wandering booth to booth, I chose roti canai, chicken with sweet soy sauce (no "native" name provided) and beef rendang over rice, patronizing three different booths.  The roti canai, a pancake-crepe with a buttery curry sauce, also had strips of white meat chicken.  The sweet soy sauce chicken was small chunks of fried chicken served with lo mein-like noodles.  The rendang beef in its thick, rich sauce was particularly spicy.  Everything was very good and it was only my fabled self control that stopped me after three booths.  

For the third straight day, London's weather was marvelous, mild temperatures, dry, bright skies.  So, once refueled, I continued my stroll to Covent Garden, the permanent street fair, where the latest in London T-shirts gather, among other memorabilia and tschotckes.  I headed for a stall featuring games and puzzles that I have patronized on almost every prior visit to London, yielding interesting Hanukkah stocking stuffers.

Sunday, September 25, 2016
Although I only muddled through the strict academic demands of Stuyvesant High School, I have been proud of my attendance there. However, I have been uncomfortable for decades by the racial imbalance of the student body in spite of efforts to make the singular admissions test yield more diverse results. On December 26, 2011, I pulled out my 1958 senior yearbook and tallied the photographs of the (all male) graduates by appearance and name: 700 whites, 13 blacks, 5 Hispanics, 3 Chinese and 1 Japanese. This was in response to the then current report of the breakdown of Stuyvesant's recently-entered class of young men and women: 569 Asian-Americans (thought to be mostly Chinese with some Koreans, Japanese and South Asians), 179 whites, 13 Hispanics, and 12 blacks.

While not in direct response to this seemingly intractable issue, the Department of Education has announced a change to the standardized test that governs admission.  An opening sentence was given, followed by 5 random sentences to be arranged to create a coherent paragraph.  I think that eliminating this component, dating only from 1994, is a great mistake.  
Even if we only listened to contemporary political rhetoric, we know that we have to strain to make sense of some explanations of policies and positions.  Personally, I spent more than 13 years reading legal papers, the work product of lawyers aiming to convince the court of the rightness of their clients' claims.  Looking back, I am surprised that I did not carve a deep crater in my scalp from scratching my head in an attempt to understand what counsel was propounding.  Can we at least make an effort that some of our high school students are able to express themselves clearly?

Still in the company of the Brodies, I took the Eurostar from London to Paris, for the first time.  The trip took 2 hours and 15 minutes, only about 20 minutes spent under the English Channel.  It was remarkable in how unremarkable it was.  We left on time; we arrived on time; the ride was smooth; missing was the clackety-clack of normal rail travel.  I checked into a hotel down the block from where the Brodies' maintain what I would call a pied-à-terre, however they say it in Paris.

Monday, September 26, 2016
We went to the Louvre today, sampling only Italian sculptures and Islamic art from its vast holdings.  From there, we continued walking to the Île Saint-Louis, an elegant neighborhood in the middle of the Seine.  It was not real estate that we sought, rather Berthillon, 29-31 Rue Saint-Louis en l'Île, possibly the best ice cream maker in the world. Even though my young bride was not at my side, I showed notable restraint and only had three scoops in one cup (6.50€) -- dark chocolate, moka (coffee with whole beans) and Grand Marnier, which I would like to call la crème de la crème if that weren't a silly way to describe ice cream.  Be aware that these scoops were typically European, not healthy Baskin-Robbins sized.  David had one scoop of moka and Katherine appears to continue to operate solely on solar power.  By the time that we arrived back in our Montparnasse  neighborhood, we had walked over 5 miles, so don't bug me about three small scoops.

I went alone to dinner at My Noodles, 129 Montparnasse Boulevard, a popular Chinese restaurant with some hints of Indo-Chinese influence.  It has about 12 two tops inside, some pushed together, and another 4 outside on the sidewalk.  The sliding entrance doors were completely open to the street on this very pleasant evening.  I ordered steamed chicken dumplings (8 for 6.50€) and "Lok Lak beef" (a Cambodian dish with a sauce consisting of soy sauce, oyster sauce, tomato sauce, sugar, fish sauce, ground black pepper and garlic) with red rice (9.80€), rice stir fried with egg and tomato sauce.  It sounds much better than it turned out.

A blessing of the 6 hour time difference between Paris and New York was being fast asleep during the first presidential debate.  However, to fortify myself against the unknown, and in tribute to how every Chinese meal at Wu Han's on Pitkin Avenue in Brooklyn ended in my youth, I went to Amorino, Gelato Al Naturale, 2 Rue de la Gaité, one of a chain that has moved into the UK and the USA.  

Now, before you cast asparagus on me because I had ice cream earlier today, recognize that gelato, the Italian word for ice cream, isn't really ice cream as we know it.  Gelato uses milk, but rarely cream, no egg yolks, and is churned at length, resulting in a very smooth, dense delight.  Also, how could you skip the figues noix (black fig) flavor, which went well with the tiramisu (4.70€)?   

Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Went for another long walk, a few miles with the Brodies, a few miles on my own, or kilometers as they say over here.  I wound up in Le Marais, the traditional Jewish quarter of Paris, now interleaving chi-chi boutiques and Kosher falafel shops.  I was drawn to the window of Sacha Finkelsztajn's establishment, where, no doubt, his Yiddish sandwiches are piled high with guilt.

We reunited for dinner at Wadja Restaurant, 10 rue de la Grande Chaumière, a small family-run restaurant, where your choices for the evening's 42, three course dinner are presented on a blackboard.  The food was very good and a liter of more than potable house Chardonnay was 16€.  Drinking was very much in order after watching the rerun of the presidential debate on CNN International, happy drinking that is.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016
David and I visited the Musée du Général Leclerc de Hauteclocque et de la Libération de Paris – Musée Jean Moulin, located atop the Gare Montparnasse (railroad station).  This handful is an attempt to bridge the lingering resentments over military and civilian behavior during the Nazi occupation of France.  Leclerc, an established military commander during WWII, looked very good standing at attention and went on to completely hash France's attempt to maintain colonial dominance in Indochina.  

Moulin, by contrast, was a leader of the underground, making frequent clandestine trips between London and Paris to inform and hear from General de Gaulle directly.  He was betrayed to the Nazis and tortured and murdered by the Gestapo.  Suspicions remain that Moulin was betrayed by conservative elements in the resistance who suspected that he was secretly a Communist.  
Katherine caught up with us and we strolled through the Montparnasse Cemetery, a much more interesting place than I might have imagined, only two blocks from my hotel.   There was a design flair to many of the tombstones and mausoleums.  But, it was the inhabitants that fascinated me, among them Baudelaire, Major Dreyfus, Samuel Beckett, Raymond Aron, Jean Seberg, the sad little actress, and, side by side, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.  We found it strange that the Sartre/de Beauvoir headstone had half a dozen fresh lipstick kisses.  Huh?

Our last dinner together was at Chez Marcel Restaurant, 7 rue Stanislas, a very popular small restaurant which we couldn't get into the night before.  Its tables are lined up along the walls without interruption; a table had to be pulled out in order to be seated on the inside.  Bathroom breaks were disallowed.  

Its menu, including daily specials, was entirely à la carte, but the bottom line was about the same as Wadja.  I had pâté maison, pressed duck with a potent portion of scalloped potatoes, and a fruit tart in a shell of chopped nuts.   A liter (called a pot) of house wine, Mâcon-Villages this time, was 16€.  An excellent end to a wonderful week with kind and gracious friends.

Thursday, September 29, 2016
I customized my flight home by stopping in a boulangerie (bakery) for some freshly-made sandwiches to eat on the plane.  The flight attendants kept me awash in Diet Coke, so I was content throughout.

Friday, September 30, 2016
I spent a quiet day at the Palazzo di Gotthelf exchanging stories of our travels with America's Favorite Epidemiologist (she, Moscow and Odessa; me, London and Paris) who apparently saw more and ate less in her time away.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Foreign Affairs

Monday, September 19, 2016
In the 1950s and 1960s, the label Made In Japan was typically associated with cheap and shoddy merchandise, before the emergence of the Japanese automobile and electronics industries. Whether it was true or not, I remember hearing back then that there was a town in Japan named Usa, allowing goods to be labelled Made in USA.

I'm reminded of this by the appearance of the red, white and blue cans of America beer, a product once known as Budweiser beer.
When it was Budweiser it was owned by Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc., founded and based in St. Louis, Missouri. Now, ownership of the beer company is in the hands of Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, a Belgian-Brazilian multinational beverage and brewing company with global headquarters in Leuven, Belgium. So, do we make America great again by removing its name from a foreign beer, or do we continue to honor our great national traditions of fake IDs, binge drinking, and DUIs by keeping the name on prominent display wherever self control is under attack?
What's the difference between San Francisco and Pittsburgh? $129,557. That's how much more you have to earn annually in San Francisco to buy a median priced home there. They are at opposite ends of a list of 27 metropolitan areas.

New York runs a measly fifth, only 53% as expensive as San Francisco by this measure, although I don't think that is such bad news.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Today is the official publication date of Ten Restaurants That Changed America, by Paul Freedman. It's too soon to have read it, but the New Yorker had a very informative review of it last week and the New York Times had an equally informative article today.

Freedman is a Yale historian, who examines the role of race and class, immigration and assimilation in American dining. His list contains Delmonico's, considered to be the first major French restaurant in the US; Le Pavillon, originally installed in the 1939 World's Fair; Mandarin, San Francisco; Mamma Leone's, once the largest restaurant in New York City, which both elevated and desecrated Italian food; Antoine's in New Orleans; Sylvia's, Harlem's soul food mainstay; Schrafft's and Howard Johnson's, chains that have now disappeared; the Four Seasons, my personal favorite; and Chez Panisse in Berkeley, which started the locavore trend. Unlike some of the "best of" lists that I've seen lately, I didn't draw a blank with this group.

Freedman, clearly democratic in his approach, claims that there are now more Chinese restaurants in this country than the combined number of McDonald's, Burger Kings and KFCs. There may yet be hope yet for our way of life.

In that vein, Stony Brook Steve and I followed the recommendation of the Hymans and went to Canteen 82, 467 Columbus Avenue, a nicer than average neighborhood Chinese restaurant. It has a full bar and a sushi bar to broaden its appeal.

Steve ordered from the lunch menu, giving him a small portion of cold sesame noodles and a regular portion of pad thai with chicken for $12, while I ordered Peking duck bao (3 for $9.50) and chicken chow fun ($11). My sample of the sesame noodles was very good. The bao (big buns) were mostly dough, filling but not at all worth the money. The chow fun was good, especially after a shot of very hot mustard and soy sauce. The restaurant reaches far back, with a large section behind the sushi bar. It is nicely decorated, with simple Asian touches. As much as the Upper West Side is densely populated with restaurants, Chinese food is poorly represented. Under these circumstances, the generally good food at Canteen makes it a local standout.

Note that Canteen's takeout menu by the cash register and the 2 on-line menus that I looked at do not have current prices and organize the lunch specials differently.

Wednesday, September 21, 2106
On Sunday, America's Favorite Epidemiologist left on a trip to Moscow and Odessa, with a women's philanthropic group. Tonight, I am going to London and Paris on a solo hedonistic mission. As a fitting sendoff for my 8 o'clock flight to England and France, I went back to the Bolivian Llama Party, 1000 Eighth Avenue, a fictitious address meant to indicate the southern end of the Columbus Circle subway station (August 24, 2016). I thought this was a fitting symbolic farewell to the New World and a chance to have another delicious beef brisket chola (sandwich) ($12), dressed with pickled carrots and onions marinated in beer. Yummy.

Thursday, September 22, 2016
My flight on Virgin Atlantic was pleasant and uneventful.  Border Control a/k/a immigration took an hour and I was further delayed by the closure of the nearest underground station to the Brodies, my gracious hosts.  However, I enjoyed their company for about 90 minutes before I tucked in for a restorative nap.

Awake and refreshened, with David alongside, dinner was at  Sichuan-Folk Chinese Restaurant, 32 Hanbury Street, in the Spitalfields neighborhood, away from the traditional Soho Chinatown, highly rated by Trip Advisor and noted for its spicy food. We started with cold sesame noodles, one of my universal common denominators (£5.20). While the dish was familiar, the sauce had a spicy kick, unexpected, but effective. This prepared us for the "boneless chicken in numbing and spicy sauce" (£7.20), almost as fearsome as its name. The "fish in Szechuan style" (£13.20) was the mildest of the lot, slices of breaded white fish cooked with red and green peppers. The "special" fried rice (£4.80) wasn't. Our waiter was very friendly and listened attentively to my report on the condition of Chinese food in New York City.

Friday, September 23, 2016
The Anglo-American expedition went to Soho for lunch and chose Haozhan, 8 Gerard Street, in the very center of Chinatown. What attracted us was the long dim sum menu. There are no carts rolling around; selections are made from a printed checklist. We had scallops siu mai (£3.80), roast duck dumpling (£3.50), steamed barbecue pork bun (£3), prawn garlic roll (£3.50), House Special Cheung Fun (rolled rice noodles, similar to blintzes) (£4.20), chives and prawn dumpling (£3.20) and, just in case this sounded too ordinary, duck tongue in black bean sauce (£3.20). Only the latter was served without a wrapper. The sauce was excellent, spicy, but I think the ducks sacrificed in vain. The 2" long tapered cylinders seemed to be all bones and gristle. Otherwise, very high quality dim sum. The restaurant got too busy for me to educate our waiter.

Tonight, the three of us went to the Duke of York's Theatre for a performance of How the Other Half Loves, by the prolific Alan Ayckbourn. I am uncertain whether I saw it decades ago in New York or London, it debuted in 1969, but I will remember tonight as one of the funniest shows that I have ever seen.  Hurry, it closes October 1.

Before the show, we ate at Mon Plaisir, 19-21 Monmouth Street, a charming French bistro that I first visited in 1985.  It currently offers a 3 course dinner of traditional items (salmon, tagliatelle, or steak frites as a main course), coffee included, at £17.95.  Its continuing success is justified by the food, the ambience, the service and the location.  

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Walk On The Wild Side

Monday, September 12, 2016
Serious Eats has been a reliable web site for fressers like me.  In looking over recent articles, I found that fell within my realm of experience, a review of chocolate babkas.  

I agree with their conclusions, including the surprising inclusion of Trader Joe's babka among the recommended treats.  Is it possible that Trader Joe was once Trader Yussel? 

Usually, I offer suggestions on how to spend your time (and not too much money).  Today, I want to save you some time.  Soon after reading the New York Times review that called it "an irresistible and indispensable 360-degree guide to the new technology establishment," I got a copy of Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley, by Antonio García Martínez.  The author, who left Wall Street to join a software startup company, start another, went to Facebook about one year before its IPO.  

He has lots of good stories to tell, in a tone that is consistently snarky and derisive regarding almost everyone he worked with and for, and that is one reason the book gets tiresome long before its end.  Another reason to stop about halfway through the 500 pages is his manic dissection of the intra-Facebook battle between Custom Audiences (CA) and Facebook Exchange (FBX), which takes up almost the entire second half of the book.  While the author tries to use clear language and offer parallels from common experience, the inevitable reliance on jargon left even this old techie confused.  If the conflict between CA and FBX involved a choice of opposing modalities in the fight against cancer, it might be worth slogging through the book.  But, instead, we are asked to agonize over how best to target advertisements to Facebook users.  Spare yourself.  
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Monsieur David Goldfarb invited me to his home for lunch.  While David is retired from teaching history, he has not retired from the world of food and wine, where he continues to excel. He served heirloom tomato soup, baked branzino, fingerling potatoes, string beans, endive salad, all prepared by himself.  Additionally, David makes it a point to print the menu whenever he has guests.  Of course, he selected a special wine to accompany the meal, Philippe Foreau Domaine du Clos Naudin Vouvray, 2010.  Even though we did not conclude with chocolate cake or ice cream, the meal was first rate, as was the company.

Last week, an economic survey showed that the middle class experienced little if any growth in earnings over a 15-year period.  Today, focusing only on the last year, we see better results. 

The best news was, "The share of Americans living in poverty also posted the sharpest decline in decades."  Should we credit Barack Obama's policies, or the Republican's refusal to implement Obama's policies for this happy turn of events?

Black Votes Matter.  While the richer, older and more educated you are, the more likely you are to vote (and typically vote Republican, as we used to inform our classes in Government 101), voting turnout among black Americans consistently leads other racial groups, in a trend that began before the emergence of Obama.  

What do Indiana, New York, Hawaii and West Virginia have in common, according to this article?  Generally, they have the lowest turnout in presidential elections since 1980, and try to make sense of that.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Even as my chances to be accepted into the coterie that produces the results in Opinionated About Dining fade, I am confronted with another restaurant reviewing site that is unlikely to welcome me. 

Renzell (I couldn't find the reason for the name) collects opinions from 2,000 "regular, non-industry patrons of high-end restaurants," eschewing professional reviewers and ordinary lunks who might express themselves on Zagat's, Yelp, and the like.  I looked at the membership application, which anticipates that you dine frequently on an expense account or a trust fund.  Once upon a time, when I worked for a major professional services firm, I was doing okay, almost, but never entirely blending in with the movers and shakers.  I was able to manage my way into some of the fancier joints of the time and was able to eat without too much regard for the bottom line.  However, it's been quite a while since I've dined in the high rent district.  On the other hand, do you want to hear about Chinatown?

I don't really cook any of our meals at home, but I do prepare many of them.  By that I mean that I shop for, organize, heat up when needed, and present the food to be eaten.  Under these circumstances, recipes are of little use to me.  However, I was interested in what the New York Times called the most requested recipe in its history.  It was first published in 1983.  Let's take a moment and think what it might be.  

I wouldn't have guessed a plum torte, but that takes the cake, as it were.  

Time has not apparently diminished its popularity.  "A recent Google search of 'New York Times plum torte' yielded nearly 80,000 search results."  I have a vague recollection of being served something similar, claimed to be an Eastern European family favorite.  In any case, I am willing to sample your version.  

Thursday, September 15, 2016
I am intrigued by The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel, which "explore[s] the hypothesis that bestsellers have a distinct set of subtle signals, a latent bestseller code."  The authors, an English literature professor and a former book editor, have developed an algorithm for success based on a computer analysis of 20,000 contemporary novels.  They boil it down to a "bestseller-ometer," for predictive purposes.  If the authors are right, might the next step be the automated writing of bestselling novels based on the formula?  Then, of course, we can let computers read the books written by computers.

Why New York?  Let me give you one example -- Amsterdam Avenue between 80th Street and 81st Street has seven restaurants on the east side of the street and nine on the west side.  In addition to those in operation on the west side, one other is closed for renovation and a laundromat sits among them.  I went into Luke's Lobster, 426 Amsterdam Avenue (west side), maybe nine feet wide, decorated like a sea shanty, complete with a fishing rod and reel in the bathroom.  

I sat on a stool at one of the 4 1/2 high tables inside, a few more conventional tables and chairs outside.  I had the lobster roll ($17), the reason for Luke's existence and justifiably so.  The lobster meat was sweet, tender and fresh.  Was it too expensive?  An Internet search for lobster rolls in Maine came up with some in the $15-18 range.  If you happen to be in the vicinity of the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., at lunchtime, the Kingbird restaurant has a lobster roll for $26, served on a brioche bun with yuzu mayo, scallions and a side of housemade potato chips.  

Of course, if you are in Washington, D.C., you would not be one block away from Zabar's, 2245 Broadway, where I headed after lunch.  There, I was delighted to find the artisanal efforts of Danny Macaroons (not macarons, mind you).  I bought a package of coconut macaroons, hand-dipped in chocolate.   Small and spherical, they did not look like your ordinary macaroons; more significantly, they did not taste like your ordinary macaroons.  New York, I told you.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Pray Ball

Monday, September 5, 2016
Neither Rick nor Ilsa actually spoke the exact phrase, "Play it again, Sam" in Casablanca. Similarly, I don't know if my mother Ruth Gotthelf actually said, "Open a mouth," a phrase I associate with her memory.  However, the idea is a powerful one and I try to keep it in mind.  I thought of it yesterday when I heard a discussion on public radio about safe spaces and trigger warnings on college campuses.  But first, I must apologize for listening to a discussion on public radio about safe spaces and trigger warnings on college campuses, instead of the good jazz on WBGO-Newark or sports talk on ESPN-Radio or WFAN.  I was moving our car to a street parking space to make room for a guest.  Since America's Favorite Epidemiologist had last used the car, she naturally turned to more serious fare than I was likely to choose.

So, I hear this college professor explaining that trigger warnings and safe spaces increase freedom for students, because they buffer the students from oppression by the choice of language, images, and ideas imposed by faculty members, wielding the authority of the institution.  Hoo, boy.  When I attended CCNY in the 1950s and 1960s, faculty members, if anyone, may have needed trigger warnings and safe spaces, because of the intense political debates that were commonplace in any of our social science classes.  Challenging ideas, whatever their source, was central to our education.  As kids from working class and lower white collar families, we came to campus without a sense of deference and we left the same way.  We were not gratuitously insulting, but the trappings of position or office rarely, if ever, deterred us.  

In contrast to the freewheeling discussions in the classroom at the time, the administration and local politicians maintained a speaker ban for years, notably to keep Communists off campus.  We finally defeated it and I nominally hosted the appearance of Benjamin Davis, an officer of the Communist Party USA, who had been jailed for several years for conspiring to overthrow the federal government under the Smith Act.  

Now, more than a half century later, some students claim to be in a (semi)permanent state of PTSD and cower at the ugly words uttered by the tweedy academic at the front of the classroom or in the pages of a reading assignment.  This is, after all, the generation(s) that grew up with slasher movies, rap music and violent video games.  Bah, humbug.  

Thanks to Linda Rich, pursuant to last week's observations, for an update on the state of Zionist iconography.

In a feature on fashions at the US Open (tennis), currently being played in Flushing Meadows, two of the six people interviewed by the New York Times gave their occupation as "social media influencer."  Didn't they get a trigger warning about Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders?

A quick word about The Smith, 1900 Broadway, an enormous restaurant just opposite Lincoln Center.  It has basically a pub food menu and I was quite satisfied with my "Brick pressed chicken" ($25), served on a healthy pile of garlic mashed potatoes.  But, I want to call your particular attention to the unlimited amount of sparkling water served, without asking, at no extra cost.  That's hospitality.

A front page story today describes a new local crime wave, stealing containers of Ben & Jerry’s, Talenti, and Häagen-Dazs ice cream from big stores and reselling them to small stores.  (Talenti makes a high quality gelato in spite of its origins in Minneapolis, Minnesota.)
Fortunately, the story, both in print and on-line, includes photographs of the perps, none of whom I can be said to resemble.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016
The New York Times presents a fascinating graphic feature on income inequality.  It shows that the rich got richer, as did some of the poor, in the last 15 years.  Generally, the middle class (that so-hard-to-pin-down group) saw its income lag or even retreat, but that is not perceived as a problem as long as the rich got richer.

If you're interested in where the elite meet to eat, Opinionated About Dining has released its survey for the coming year.

My application for membership in OAD is pending, although that doesn't stop me from being opinionated.  As I have admitted before, I am consistently absent from the customer rolls of the kind of establishments they feature.  However, in the section of the survey headed Cheap Eats, OAD includes Ample Hills Creamery's Brooklyn flagship (more like a row boat).  I visited and commended Ample Hills's   West Side location recently and would vote for them, when and if I'm allowed.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016
The Jewish Holy Days are late this year, one of the only two choices that we get.  Therefore, the Boyz Club decided to fill September's spirituality gap by gathering to worship at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street.  As usual, services were well attended by dissenters from a variety of denominations.  

Ordering for a crowd is one of my favorite activities and I took full advantage, having the kitchen provide fried wonton, duck chow fun, beef chow fun, shrimp fried rice, chicken fried rice, beef with scallions, eggplant with garlic sauce and gong bo (kung pao) chicken (spicy with peanuts).  All for $11 each, tipping almost 30% because we are good human beings and we sat around for a long time taking space.

Friday, September 9, 2016
Unlike my dear friend Jon S., I have stuck with the New York Mets through thick and thin, mostly the latter.  Now, my devotion is being tested.  Tim Tebow, a short lived sensation in college football, has been signed to a minor league contract with the Mets.  While skillful, he was best known for his very public piety on and off the field.  Note that when athletes, such as Colin Kaepernick, quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers, try to bring political consciousness into the sports world, eyes bulge, veins burst and indignation rings throughout the land. However, overtly sectarian prayer and other religious mumbo jumbo are welcomed and celebrated in much of our amateur and professional sports.  The solemn kneeling seen on the football field and in the locker room does not seem to divert the players, God love 'em, from their mission of violence.  

So, I don't want Tebow on my team, but I will abide with it. But, Mets beware!   Should DT aim for an ownership position when his attempt to put his brand on the White House fails, I'm outta here.