Friday, April 24, 2015

Competitive Instinct

Monday, April 20, 2015
I found the Boston Marathon more difficult today than the New York Marathon or the London Marathon in the past. The temperature was 43 degrees. The wind was blowing and it rained throughout. The roads were slippery in places, and squishy shoes have always tormented me. In the 45 minutes that I stood at the 10-mile mark in downtown Natick, I was quite uncomfortable.  Fortunately, Bakery on the Common, at 9 South Main Street, was only ½ block away, and, in spite of large crowds seeking its shelter and nourishment, we were able to find room for three generations to get warm and refuel. 

This marked the end to a satisfying weekend, which began with dinner Friday night at the well-traveled Bergs, whom we met on our trip to Bulgaria and Macedonia, almost two years ago. Their special guest was Professor Xu Xin, director of the Institute for Jewish and Israel Studies at Nanjing University. This topsy-turvy enterprise was founded in 1992 by Xu Xin; it now is one of nine institutes in China devoted to Jewish studies as an academic discipline. The institute has produced Ph.D.s, published and translated many significant works, sent scholars to Israel, organized conferences in Judaic studies, and built the largest Judaica library in China. Quite amazing. I thought the Sino-Semitic interchange was entirely in one direction, from kitchen to table.

Xu Xin proved remarkably erudite, engaging and energetic in spite of a regimen of international traveling, speaking, teaching, fundraising and overcoming the skepticism of American and Israeli Jews about the scope of his endeavors. It all started when Xu Xin was a graduate student in China, 40 years ago, studying American literature. This led inevitably to Bellow, Malamud, Roth, Isaac Bashevis Singer and others, all with the same affliction. He then probed deeper into Jewish history and culture, and Israeli affairs.

The evening, of course, flew by, and the eats weren’t bad either. Note that I was unable to get past the Chinese version of the institute’s web site –

Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Stony Brook Steve and Dan K. joined me for lunch today and I took them to Canton Lounge, 70 Mott Street. This was formerly the site of Mottzar Kitchen, which I found to have the best Peking duck in Chinatown, coincidentally at the lowest price (October 24, 2014, June 24, 2014, May 7, 2014, February 18, 2014, August 7, 2013, April 18, 2012). Mottzar closed suddenly, and after a brief renovation reopened as Canton Lounge. I described my meal there, on February 3, 2015, as "mildly pleasant." Then, again suddenly, the restaurant closed for almost two months while extensive renovations were conducted. The name is the same, but there have been physical changes to the interior, notably the step-up area opposite the preparation area has been leveled. Probably too many personal injury lawyers hovered around as people tripped upon arriving or departing. The menu has changed, too; the new one offers more dishes. Lunch specials have gone from $6.50 to $5.75, a rare change in direction. There is no more mention of virgin chicken on the current menu, although it may be disguised as "house special chicken." A large section of this menu is unfortunately labeled "Beam Crud."

We shared a scallion pancake ($2.25), sesame cold noodle ($3.95), and passed around three lunch specials, beef with orange flavor, braised bean curd with mushrooms and chicken with garlic sauce. To be fair, Dan is a vegetarian, so he got a little less passed his way. In any case, the food was no better than average, with the scallion pancake decidedly bad. Canton Lounge offers Peking duck, whole or half at prices close to average, but I am unsure whether I’ll give them a chance to live up to their predecessor after this meal. The company, however, was excellent.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015
The admirable Danny Macaroons ( has directed my attention to MilkMade Ice Cream ( MilkMade is a small, Manhattan-based company that reputedly makes very high quality, very expensive ice cream, personally delivered only in the New York metropolitan area. Apparently MilkMade is available by subscription only, two different pints a month at $15 a pint. The flavors change each month. Not all of the names are edifying; Cordially Yours turns out to be amarena cherry ice cream with chipped dark chocolate and a white chocolate ganache, Witches’ Brew is a blend of witch finger grape ice cream and fresh peanut butter (whatever witch finger grape is), and Krampus Kreme is chocolate ice cream with a hint of birch bark, for some opaque reason. On the other hand, there is no surprise that Cara Cara Creamsicle is orange ice on the outside, sweet cream on the inside, Maple Glazed Donut is maple-donut ice cream with chunks of glazed donuts, and Buttered Coffee is brown butter and coffee ice cream. As of now, you don’t get a choice, which may be a significant limitation in the Home of the Free and the Land of the Brave. 

But, duty calls and I am enrolling this week, if only for your sake, dear reader, although I have had a dialogue with my conscience about this. $15 for a pint of ice cream is a lot. Wo Hop can provide two heaping plates of chow fun for that amount. Ordinary people can usually buy three or four 56 oz. containers of good quality Breyer’s Ice Cream for $15. Odd Fellows East Village store will deliver one pint for $12, four pints for $40, but not above 59th Street in Manhattan. Häagen-Dazs (14 oz.) and Ben & Jerry’s (a full pint) sell for $4 to $5 around here. Republicans probably think that $15 in food stamps should last a family for a week. And, I am going to spend it on one pint of ice cream, mind you, hand-crafted locally from locally-sourced ingredients by people who like ice cream. We’ll see.

Time Out New York has started giving out free copies on Wednesdays. Today, I couldn’t resist the cover story, "New York’s 25 Best Pizzas."  I can’t say that I agree or disagree with many of the choices, because, on behalf of diversity, the magazine actually left the isle of Manhattan to explore alternatives in all five boroughs (counties). Of the alleged 25 best, 11 are found in Brooklyn, 9 in Manhattan, 2 in Staten Island, 2 in Queens, and 1 in the Bronx. While I would like to fold in these establishments with my lunchtime forays into Asian cuisine, only Rubirosa Ristorante, 235 Mulberry Street, is even a long walk (about 3/4 of a mile) away. I may have to retire in order to do justice to this subject.

Dan K. continued his jury duty and I had the pleasure of his company again at lunch. To make sure that the food would not disappoint, we went to the head of the class, Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street. Since he is a vegetarian, we ordered nothing that had ever moved under its own power. We had vegetarian egg rolls, vegetable chow fun and mushroom egg foo young. I must admit that it was a very good meal, even though missing my kind of food.

Friday, April 24, 2015
I received a potentially destructive e-mail this afternoon about my supposed "application for a grant from the government." While I was tempted to respond with vulgarity, I certainly was not going to choose one of the options provided for further inquiry. Even if this crap were not so patently phony, I can't imagine having any confidence in a web site labeled "zombiedivinity."

Last year, thanks to Generous Jeff G., I went to one game in each of the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a new experience for me. Tonight, I went to game 5 of the first round of the Rangers vs. the Penquins, which is really a good name for an ice hockey team, although lacking geographic specificity à la the Washington Capitals or the New York Islanders. Names aside, I proudly pulled on my white Rangers jersey on the way out of the courthouse to Madison Square Garden, with a stop at Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen, on West 38th Street, where Rob T. and I powered up for an exciting evening.

A note on costume – I own a blue and a white Rangers jersey, both fairly authentic, but without any player’s name on the back. These days, the Rangers generally wear their dark (blue) jersey at home and their white one on the road, as is the prevailing convention among teams. However, while I am not superstitious, I recall vividly that the Rangers wore their white jerseys at home in 1994, when they last won the Stanley Cup. While I would never consider body or face painting to aid their cause, wearing the historically-appropriate jersey to this game was the least that I could do. And it worked.  Rangers 2-1, advancing to the next round.  But, I am not superstitious.  

Friday, April 17, 2015

How Old Is That Pizza?

Monday, April 13, 2015
I took a little walk this lovely afternoon on Division Street, which begins at the Bowery and goes east, partially just to walk and partially to see if I could finally eat at Division 31 Restaurant, 31 Division Street. Since October 17, 2013, days after it opened, I’ve tried to eat lunch there. At first, they insisted that they only served hot pot, although a menu on display featured lunch specials. Then, service seemed to be limited to dinner only. Then, the doors were locked and tables and chairs seemed to come and go each time I peered in the window. Today, the metal screen was down, seeming to cut off Division 31 from the flow of commerce all together. I settled for Jing Star Restaurant, 27-29 Division Street (February 15, 2102, August 1, 2014), bustling with Chinese customers having dim sum. I had shrimp dumplings, shu mai, beef rice noodle and sticky rice for $10, including tax. 

The Times on-line reports today on its initial discovery of pizza (September 20, 1944), found at Luigino’s Pizzeria Alla Napoletana, 147 West 48th Street.

I ate at Luigino’s regularly when I worked at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, on West 44th Street, Saturdays throughout college. It felt very much like the old section of John’s Pizzeria on Bleecker Street, with high-backed wooden booths, and thinnish-crusted pizza. The problem with the Times article then and now is, I believe, that it was scooped long before by the Daily News (or was it the Daily Mirror?). I remember a clipping on Luigino’s wall of a story, the work of a good publicist, about this strange food, with a photograph of Rockettes from nearby Radio City Music Hall sampling slices. It’s been a long time, but I really believe that this story dated from the 1930s. A search of my brother’s memory, Arthur Dobrin’s memory (they both worked at the Bar Association at some time), and the Internet only yielded the image below. Arthur confirms the newspaper article on the wall, but has no recollection of a photograph in it. My brother simply relishes the memory of good lunches. The E-Bay seller claimed that this menu was from the 1930s, but offered no support for this.
According to a posting on, Luigino Milone, residing at 147 West 48th Street, registered for the draft in WWII. The location was leveled for construction of the Mc-Graw Hill Building in 1969.  Please understand that I don’t profess Luigino’s to be the first pizzeria in New York, or even as "the oldest established pizza house in the city," as Craig Claiborne speculated in the Times, on November 4, 1966. Lombardi’s at 53 ½ Spring Street, a successor now at 32 Spring Street, claims to have been the first in the USA, starting in 1905. John’s of Bleecker Street, 278 Bleecker Street, my favorite, started in 1929, but on Sullivan Street. Whether or not the Times got to Luigino’s first, it was scooped on pizza by the New York Tribune four decades earlier.

My own earliest memories of pizza was the forbidding bar and grill on the corner of Crescent Street and Belmont Avenue, East New York, Brooklyn, two blocks from the real life setting for the opening chapter of Wiseguy, the non-fiction book by Nicholas Pileggi that was the basis for Scorsese’s great movie Goodfellas. I don’t know if the joint had a name, but a red neon sign announced Pizzeria, a word that rhymed with fizz area to me until high school. Needless to say, a nice Jewish boy never entered those premises.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015
If you are still hungry, read Pete Wells, the Times’ food critic, on the classic bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on a roll.’t-mess-with-my-breakfast-sandwich.html?ref=dining&_r=0.

I have curbed my addiction to these by having a big bowl of fruit and cereal before leaving for work, so that I’m not ready to refuel until lunchtime, when the breakfast grill has been shut down and Chinatown beckons, of course. Eliminating the bacon and even the cheese still leaves you with a great sandwich as long as you keep the roll. I remember stopping at a diner somewhere in the Midwest for breakfast about 50 years ago, in a period of wandering akin to our people in the desert. I asked for two eggs on a roll, freezing the waitress in her tracks. She repeated my order, and paraphrased it in a fashion that I don’t recall. Before my food was delivered, I learned that a roll outside New York is a "sweet roll," properly a Danish. She was puzzled about getting even one egg on a prune Danish. What I wanted would be known out there as a hard roll or a Kaiser roll. Live and learn.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015
An interesting article just popped up on on the growth of Chinatown(s) in New York City, with a graphic illustration of the increasing Chinese presence. It will probably appear in print tomorrow. "Chinese immigrants now the second largest foreign-born group in the city and soon to overtake Dominicans for the top spot."

I’ve been to Flushing’s Chinatown a couple of times, but never to the vastly expanding section of southwestern Brooklyn that some consider to house two Chinatowns. Obviously, both areas are out of reach of my lunchtime excursions, and I must confess that the Upper West Side Power Couple usually chooses Indian, Greek or Italian restaurants for dinners out.

Visiting the wonderful world of Lendy Electric Equipment & Supply Corp. at 176-184 Grand Street to buy screws, I went into Paris Sandwich Shop, 213 Grand Street (December 8, 2010), for lunch. I ordered a Vietnamese meatball sandwich ($5) and was glad that I did. Of course, I know better than to ask just what meat goes into the meatballs, but the finished product is excellent. The big sandwich, on a warm, crispy baguette, included shredded marinated carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, that slightly sweet sauce that probably kept Ho Chi Minh alive an additional 4 years, and hot peppers (optional). I noticed that a section at the rear served about 8 ice cream flavors from the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, but I deferred.

Thursday, April 16, 2015
I skipped the home opening day of the Mets baseball season on Monday, but I went to the grand opening today of Genuine Superette, 191 Grand Street, at the corner of Mulberry Street. No explanation is given for the name; the site was previously a souvenir shop. One thing that attracted me to this prime Little Italy location was this further intrusion on Italian life and cuisine by outside forces; Baz, a bagel joint on Grand Street, around the corner from Mulberry Street, and Beijing Pop Kabob, directly on Mulberry Street, replacing a classic Italian restaurant. This new joint is informal, with a bright interior resulting from large windows on two sides facing the street, white- painted walls and white-painted exposed brick. Seating is mostly on stools at slightly elevated tables. All the woodwork is blonde, also lending a light feel. 

You order at a counter near the entrance, and your food is delivered to you, as identified by one of those foot-high numbered markers. Genuine Superette claims to use "antiobotic/hormone free and humanely raised" meat and a frying method that results in precisely 47.8% fewer calories. I inconclusively tested this by ordering a buttermilk battered chicken sandwich with apple/celeriac slaw and sambal mayo (trimmings that I can’t explain in words of my own) ($10.56) and "crisp and golden classic" fries ($2.53) without adding turkey chili cheese for an extra $2.76. The food was good. I wish the sandwich, on a hamburger bun, were bigger, which would probably warrant a higher price. The only discordant note was $3.25 for a can of Diet Coke. Bring a canteen. They also serves Odd Fellows ice cream, a highly-reputed Brooklyn-based outfit previously unknown to me. Since Moderation is my middle name, I had to pass on this as well, at least for a couple of days.

Friday, April 17, 20105
Jaya Asian Cuisine 888, 90 Baxter Street, was once the site of Jaya Malaysian Restaurant.  After many months out of commission, they just opened (or is it reopened) their doors.  The menu is predominantly Malaysian, but also includes familiar Chinese dishes, such as wonton soup, chow fun and General Tso's chicken.  However, I inevitably order roti canai ($3.75) in a Malaysian restaurant, and often have nasi lemak ($7.75), considered the Malaysian national dish, as well.  Both were very good here, a bit spicier than some joints venture.  The pancake/crêpe with the roti canai was a bit too flaky, making it hard to zzup up all the accompanying curry sauce.  The nasi lemak was quite traditional, rice, cucumber slivers, peanuts, fried anchovies, hard boiled egg, sambal (hot chili sauce) and a couple of pieces each of potato and chicken in curry sauce (the same as the roti canai). 

The new restaurant was busy, more than half of the 19 tables were kept occupied.  A stout, two-foot high golden Buddha looked over us.   The interior has wooden walls and wooden ceiling, evoking a traditional dwelling, not that I know what a traditional Malaysian dwelling looks like.  Four back-lit photographs of fruit and coconuts hung in one nook at the back of the restaurant, and a long photo mural of interesting street scenes in Kuala Lumpur was on another wall. 

25 lunch specials are offered at $6.95, including soup of the day.  Many are the same as found in regular Chinese restaurants, but "Sassy Shrimp" and "Ladies Fingers Malaysian Style" make you pause.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Keeping Count

Monday, April 6, 2015
Almost exactly one year ago, a unit of Bain Capital purchased Manischewitz Corporation, the country’s largest producer of Kosher foods. Bain, as you recall, was the business home of Mitt Romney. As much as I would delight in seeing a picture of Romney eating gefilte fish, he left Bain about a dozen years earlier. 

With baseball season opening over the weekend, the New York Times published a very interesting look at baseball records. As even the most casual fan is aware, baseball is obsessed with statistics and records, far more than any other sport. This may result from its long history, beginning organized play much earlier than any other professional sport, and from the long season, currently 162 games, producing such a volume of statistics.

The Times study deals with the duration of records, the likely tenacity of current records of achievement. While Babe Ruth’s home run records have been surpassed by lesser lights, other records now seem untouchable. You may not care about baseball, but I think that it is intriguing to contemplate that the highest annual batting average was recorded in 1901 and has never been approached since. No one has even come closer than 25 points since 1941. It was also 1941 when Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 straight games; second best is 44 games in 1978. Rickey Henderson’s 1982 stolen base record seems untouchable. Henderson stole 130 bases that year, which is more than the combined total of 28 major league teams in 2014.

You may have to be a bit geekish to appreciate the numbers, but they do reflect on baseball’s strange relationship to human development. Americans are generally healthier, better fed, better medicated than ever before. In probably every other sport, records regularly fall as athletes grow bigger and faster, training year round, paying serious (and sometimes illegal) attention to conditioning. Yet, even as modern baseball players no longer spend half the year selling cars or insurance, or tending bar, many critical performance levels recede from their grasp. How about that?

Speaking of gefilte fish, I know that many of you have been waiting to hear about Aunt Judi’s seder meals, held Friday and Saturday, always a high spot on the Hebrew and culinary calendar. This year, over two dozen people each night enjoyed the imagination and care that she invested in the two dinners. Interestingly enough, each year these seders begin on, what I consider, a low note. The traditional Goldenberg/Gotthelf hard boiled egg, the first real food of the evening after the symbolic ingestion of matzohs and bitter herbs, has been replaced by the Poloner egg soup, a dish of tepid salt water with pieces of chopped egg. Definitely a non-starter.

Fortunately, we got down to business each night, as in year’s past, with fried gefilte fish, a brilliant update of a classic dish. Previously, I attributed this great accomplishment to Aunt Judi herself, but, as with the seven layer cake at the end of the meal, it is store bought, the only food items not created in her kitchen. Yet, to me, it will always have Aunt Judi written all over it.

On Friday night, the meal continued with brisket in a savory gravy, herbed chicken (the exact herbs a secret), kishka (not the traditional stuffed intestine, but a more benign version), mushroom kugel, roasted cauliflower and brussels sprouts, health salad (a suspicious concoction). The homemade desserts were apple strawberry crisp, chocolate chip mandelbread (my personal favorite), and chocolate fudge sandwich cookies.

Saturday night also led off with the fried gefilte fish, as I ignored the egg soup again, followed by corned beef, Aunt Judi’s Famous Meatballs, barbecue saucy chicken, spaghetti squash pudding, cous cous, vegetable salad w/lemon olive oil dressing, cole slaw, and cranberry pineapple relish. The homemade desserts were chocolate chip mandelbread (every appearance a blessing for me), zebra cookies, nut balls, date nut balls, and egg white nut cookies (far more delicious than the name conveys, featuring slivered almonds).

While Aunt Judi mastered the kitchen, as always, Uncle Stu did a formidable job in the wine cellar, offering an array of wines, red and white, that were far removed from the liquid grape jelly conventionally found on the seder table. What exquisite folks to have as in-laws!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015
A Passover seder traditionally begins with the younger attendees asking the four questions. The answers to these questions become the script for the evening. I suggest that a fifth question be added, the young ones inquiring "Why will my college tuition be so much more than Mommy’s and Daddy’s and hugely increased from Bubbe’s and Zayde’s?" While US college populations have steadily increased for decades requiring more (and presumably better) facilities, the primary cost factor appears to be a disproportionate growth in employment. Not more professors, associate professors, assistant professors and lecturers per cubic student. More administrators, many more administrators, not just a few administrators. 

According to Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions. The California State University system, distinct from University of California, currently has 23 campuses. From 1975 to 2008, its full-time faculty grew from 11,614 to 12,019, while the total number of administrators went from 3,800 to 12,183. Note that part-timers and adjuncts fill many faculty positions, and it is likely that they were hired in abundance, another scandal in itself. Public sector employees are often reminded that their better-than-average benefits make up, to some degree, for lower earnings, but some leaders of public institutions are not hurting. A study by The Chronicle of Higher Education, released last year, reported the following top five:

E. Gordon Gee, President, Ohio State University (left June 2013): $6.058 million
R. Bowen Loftin, President, Texas A&M University (left January 2014): $1.636 million
Hamid A. Shirvani, Chancellor, North Dakota University system (left January 2014): $1.311 million
Rhenu Khator, Chancellor and President, University of Houston main campus: $1.266 million
Sally K. Mason, President, University of Iowa: $1.140 million
Of course, these salaries, in many cases, are dwarfed by those of certain faculty members – football coaches (as of November 2014). 

Nick Saban, University of Alabama, $7,160,187
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State University, $5,636,145
Bob Stoops, University of Oklahoma, $5,058,333
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M University, $5,006,000
Charlie Strong, University of Texas, $5,000,270
In summary, lay down your pick and shovel and head for the lofty groves of academe, with or without your whistle.

Thursday, April 9, 2015
Except for Aunt Judi's seder meals, the Passover period is a culinary desert, fitting accompaniment to our journey into Sinai as celebrated by the holiday.  I was, therefore, heartened by the headline "The Ice Cream Sandwich Comes of Age," found on-line.

It seemed to offer me new horizons for my return to eating sandwiches, next week.  However, upon examination, some of the supposed "treats" might only be an aid to dieting.  The article speaks of  "regal ube (purple yam) ice cream" at one emporium and "a roster of flavors includes novelties like edamame and foie gras" at another.  O, Ben!  O, Jerry!  Where art thou?

Friday, April 10, 2015
Today’s newspaper carries at least a couple of stories that illustrate why the term "people of faith" may be replaced by "people of fear." 
1. Christian conservatives mobilized to repeal a local statute barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
2. Ultra-Orthodox Jews are refusing to sit next to unrelated women on airplane flights.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Dare To Take A Step

Monday, March 30, 2015
Regard what Ellen Willis, a radical feminist, wrote in 2003:  
“I count myself an anti-anti-Zionist.  This is partly because the logic of anti-Zionism in the present political context entails an unprecedented demand for an existing state—one, moreover, with popular legitimacy and a democratically elected government—not simply to change its policies but to disappear.  It’s partly because I can’t figure out what large numbers of displaced Jews could have or should have done after 1945, other than parlay their relationship with Palestine and the (ambivalent) support of the West for a Jewish homeland into a place to be.  (Go ‘home’ to Germany or Poland?  Knock, en masse, on the doors of unreceptive European countries and a reluctant United States?)  And finally it’s because I believe that anti-Jewish genocide cannot be laid to rest as a discrete historical episode, but remains a possibility implicit in the deep structure of Christian and Islamic cultures, East and West.”

Akimoto Sushi, 187 Church Street, replaced A.A. Yawa Sushi (May 13, 2011) a few months ago.  The menu remains essentially the same, because small Japanese restaurants in New York, like Tolstoi’s happy families, are alike.  The small interior, though, has been redecorated.  The southern and back wall are a natural appearing wood, but more interesting is the entire northern wall made of fitted small stones.  They are real; I tapped them.  But they may have been rolled out on a sheet.  In any case, it was a different look.
I ordered the lunch special of three rolls, with choice of soup or salad, $11.25, only 25¢ more than its predecessor.  I had spicy crunchy tuna roll, yellowtail scallion roll and eel avocado roll.  Each was cut into 6 pieces, one inch or so long.  All tasted very fresh.  The miso soup (I wasn’t going to choose the inevitable few pieces of iceberg lettuce) was hot, but the green tea was lukewarm.  While only about 8 people sat in the 24 chairs available, there was a steady flow of takeout customers and deliveries.  Still service was friendly and efficient.  

Tuesday, March 31, 2015
“The Supreme Court rejected a free-speech appeal Monday from several California high school students who were told they could not wear a shirt emblazoned with an American flag on the Cinco de Mayo holiday.”  The ban grew from a fear of ethnic conflict in the school that has seen fights between white and Mexican-American students.  This could easily extend to wearing a Mexican flag T-shirt on the July 4th, a Union Jack shirt on St. Patrick’s Day, or an Israeli shirt on Ramadan, although, it is particularly ironic that the red flag, as it were, is the Stars and Stripes.  Maybe it’s not surprising that our Supreme Court (in)justices cannot extend the freedom of speech that they have provided to checkbooks to adolescents.  It’s not the first time that mere human beings, although not necessarily grown to their full height and weight, have been thus disprivileged.  See Morse v. Frederick, 551 US 393 (2007) where the suspension of a high school student who displayed a banner saying “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS” at “a school-sanctioned and school-supervised [off-campus] event” was upheld.  

Grazin’ * Farm to Table - Direct *, 56 Reade Street, open only two weeks, replaced a sandwich shop/salad bar that I used to go to when I worked further west.  What set it apart was big platters of well prepared fried and barbecued chicken at salad bar prices, around $5.99 a pound.  Three or four pieces and a diet root beer (they had a first-rate canned soda collection) always satisfied. 
Grazin’ in no way resembles its predecessor.  After a gut renovation, the place has a rustic/industrial look.  The walls are either painted dark gray or are covered in exposed brick.  Photographs of farm land and animals are placed above eye level.  The 20 or so 2 top tables are natural wood with a dark stain.  Bench seating along the outer walls are natural wood with a medium stain.  The industrial lighting fixtures, kept dim, go with the open duct work under the ceiling.  

The menu proclaims “Animal Welfare Approved” and bears a sticker to that effect.  Of course, with a menu focused on hamburgers, I imagine that the concern for animal welfare ended somewhere outside the kitchen.  Hamburgers come with a piece of lettuce, sweet pickle slices and onion.  The cheapest is four ounces for $10.  The basic 6 ouncer is $16 and with decorations goes up to $21.  A lamb burger is $24.  I had the Stines (the name unexplained), with carmelized onions and chevre ($18), french fries ($5) and unsweetened iced tea ($3).  It wasn’t a cheap meal.  The meat and fries seemed of high quality, but were burdened with too much salt (and I usually like salt).  The goat cheese was whipped, which made handling the hamburger a messy affair.  I can commend them for refilling the small glass of iced tea at no charge.

For those of you keeping score, Grazin’ does not add to my restaurant count.  While well located, it has no perceptible Asian elements, but I thought it worth reporting.  
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Jennifer 8. Lee (yes), author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, has now produced a documentary film "The Search for General Tso."  There is a free preview tonight at the Tenement Museum, but we are meeting the Glotzer delegation, visiting from Delray Beach, Florida, for dinner.  I’ll have to seek out the film another time.

Speaking of films, the other day I was able to see part of a documentary on “The Secret Jews of Calabria,” the work of Barbara Aiello, the only woman rabbi in Italy.
It seems that some of the Calabrian Jews who converted during the Inquisition, under threat of death, continued Jewish practices as a matter of observance or habit for centuries thereafter.  Try to see the film, which may be ordered at the web site above.  Similarly, look for a copy of “The Last Marranos,” a film about the community of forced converts who clandestinely maintained Jewish belief and practice for centuries in their native village of Belmonte in Portugal. 
Friday, April 3, 2015
For the last 15 years, our Republican Party has been guided by the principle that Nothing Succeeds Like Failure.  Now, that African interloper has done what his predecessors failed to do -- reach an accord on nuclear weapons with Iran.  It's Obamacare and Bin Laden all over again.  We cannot allow him to be forgiven for this.
Shh!  Pass it on.  We leave Egypt tonight.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Fiddlers Are Coming! The Fiddlers Are Coming!

Monday, March 23, 2015
Flaming Kitchen is at 97 Bowery, and they ain’t kidding. The word spicy or the little red pepper warning sign appears all over the menu in this entirely redecorated replacement to Full House Café (January 27, 2011). The seating has changed completely; the bland interior has been jazzed up with 6 large red spherical Chinese lanterns, and a glass wall with stainless steel inserts rises the full height of the double level main room. The four flat screen television sets remain, however, and, as an appetite suppressant, they were all replaying last night’s Knicks game. 

The large menu includes 25 dim sum dishes to be ordered from the menu, and 40 lunch specials, in addition to dozens of full size mostly hot and spicy dishes. The lunch specials, costing either $6.95 or $7.50, include white or brown rice and a choice of hot and sour soup, won ton soup, egg drop soup or a spring roll. I had a very small bowl of excellent won ton soup, and fish filets with Szechuan sauce. The sauce was invisible, but the plate was loaded with hot peppers and garlic, and a trace of hot oil, as seen below, after the fish was gone.

While the many thin pieces of fried fish were served dry, the hot pepperiness thoroughly permeated the dish and lived up to the name of the restaurant. About half of the lunch specials, and almost all of the regular entrees are hot and spicy, in true Szechuan fashion. The attractive setting and the aggressive flavors of Flaming Kitchen deserve a try, but don’t forget the Rolaids.

Some people are agitated by things other than spicy food. Last week’s New Yorker magazine had an interesting article about the management and finances of the Metropolitan Opera, which faced the threat of a strike/lockout last year over the wages of musicians and chorus members. The article said that "[Bruce] Kovner was especially adamant that unionized labor costs, which account for two-thirds of the Met’s expenses, be curbed." Kovner, one of 43 managing directors, just below the 11 member executive committee, but (thank God) above 99 other directors situated in four tiers below, is estimated to have a net worth of $5 billion. You see, when you have $5 billion people listen to your expressions of exasperation with fiddle players.

Speaking of economic royalists, the following was in Sunday’s business section of the New York Times: "When the billionaire William I. Koch spent $60 million to start the Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach, Fla., he vowed to teach children ‘how things get done in the real world.’"
Koch may only have a net worth of $4 billion, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t know about the real world. After all, he spent nearly 15 years in lawsuits against his brothers over sale of the family business, has had three wives, been arrested for domestic violence, and donated $2 million to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. How much realer can you get? His views about fiddle players are unknown.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015
The James Beard Foundation announced its nominees for this year’s American restaurant and food awards, the leading distinction in this field. I have to admit that I have not enjoyed any of the local candidates, all situated outside of Chinatown I might add. Here are some nominees -- best new restaurant: Bâtard and Cosme; outstanding restaurant: Momofuku Noodle Bar and Per Se; outstanding baker: Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery; outstanding pastry chef: Ghaya Oliveira, Daniel. The full list is at
Accepting the standards of the Beard Foundation, I can envision a nationwide romp through all the top choices. Unfortunately, funding for such a project might only be available from the sort of people who fear the rising power of fiddle players.

Speaking of revolutionary fervor, some of us might remember the days of the Communist Menace, led by Earl Browder, general secretary of the Communist Party USA from 1930 to 1945, "Stalin’s number one stooge in this country," according to Republican Congressman J. Parnell Thomas, whose career as a freedom fighter was cut short by a 18-month federal prison term for fraud and corruption.
But, we can thank regression towards the mean for news that Browder’s 50-year old grandson Bill is the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of the investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, which befits an economics major at the University of Chicago and MBA graduate of Stanford University.  The dear boy even renounced his American citizenship to avoid paying taxes, an un-American act that would have made his grandfather proud.

Thursday, March 26, 2015
James T. Lindgren, Northwestern University School of Law, has just published a study that finds that white Christians and Republicans are significantly under represented on law school faculties.
He contends that this results in a left-wing slant out of touch with the population at large. I’ve only attended one law school, but this view does not surprise me and has been stated before. However, either these pinko profs are too effective in teaching critical thinking or are ineffective in getting their collectivist views across, because, as I see it, the emerging hordes of young lawyers, on the whole, remain devoted to greed and self-aggrandizement. Maybe we need more white Christian and Republican law school faculty members so that the shallowness of their ideas will turn their students into proponents of generous and tolerant public policies.

Friday, March 27, 2015
I have not finished composing my letter to Indiana Governor Mike Spence, who just signed into law a so-called religious freedom bill, which allows business owners to refuse service where it would offend their strongly held religious beliefs. I will inquire if devout Christians, therefore, may bar Christ killers from their hot dog stands, and, as founder of the Church of Fair Play, may I bar Indiana lawmakers and the honorable chief executive from Grandpa Alan's House of Joy?

Friday, March 20, 2015

How Do You Feel About That?

Monday, March 16, 2015
I'm a week late on this, but I want to reflect on an article in the Times about leaving your psychotherapist. The article itself was just so-so but the circumstances of such a divorce are bound to be interesting. I was taken back over 40 years to the first time that I visited a psychotherapist. It was around the time that I got married, for the first time, in Los Angeles. My wife was born abroad, and did not display a particularly California mentality. Yet, New York style, my New York style especially, was foreign to her. She was puzzled and/or annoyed that one adult (male) would mock or deride another, out loud at least. Actually, this was New York male behavior that was inculcated as soon as you set foot in your neighborhood schoolyard, PS 159, in my case. We called it "ranking." I believe urban African-Americans refer to it as "playing the dozens." I have also heard it referred to as "sounding." Once I graduated to the increasingly competitive realms of Stuyvesant High School and CCNY, ranking was as natural to me as riding the subway. None of this "I love you, man," business. We didn't bro hug even our bros. Today, trash talking is universal, although matched with unnecessary shows of affection by tattooed behemoths. 

In any case, my wife was very annoyed by my frequent, aggressive unflattering references to many people around me, including people whom I otherwise didn't seem to have a quarrel with. I agreed to see a psychologist in order to address my conduct, and bring peace home. A doctor who treated me and whose computer, in turn, I treated recommended a psychologist, and I faithfully made an appointment.

I recall that the psychologist was a nice man, about 10 years older than I. In our first meeting, I started filling him in on my background, who and what I was. I still remember telling him about the time spent with my dear friend Andy Persily, when we were both single, living in New York, he with his father in Greenwich Village, I with my parents in Woodhaven, Queens. I had a secondary school teaching job at the time, and I would get home a few minutes after 3, take a nap and drive into Manhattan for an evening in search of truth, beauty and love, but more often just walking around the Village with Andy. I explained to the shrink that I naturally drove into Manhattan crossing the Williamsburg Bridge off the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, not the Queens Midtown Tunnel (a toll), not the 59th Street Bridge (too far uptown), not the Brooklyn Bridge (too far downtown), not the Manhattan Bridge (awkward on and off). Street parking after 6 PM on a weeknight was allowed, so I never resorted to a garage, an alternative that would have turned me around back to Queens.

I had to give him all this detail because he wasn't from New York; he wasn't even Jewish. And, that’s what was wrong. I would have to spend thousands of dollars educating him on New York geography, no less New York manners and mores. Lord knows how long it would take to get to my psyche when we had so much other ground to cover. Of course, it wasn’t just the sharing of an information/experience base that would prepare him to deal with me; I needed to know about him. How would he get from Woodhaven to Greenwich Village? Was he the type to stop and smell the roses, taking a route on a whim or for its scenic value, ignoring the clock? Was he a spendthrift, willing to pay the extravagant toll on the tunnel just to save a minute or two? Was he overly curious or indecisive, unable to settle on one route? But, how would I ever know anything about him if he lacked the grounding in the details that defined my existence? I think that I went back one more time, but then never returned. Admittedly, ending such a flimsy relationship did not evoke separation anxiety, but you never know.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Chi Dumpling House, 77 Chrystie Street, was C&L Dumpling House when I first ate there (January 13, 2011). An outside sign still carries the old name. The menu seems much the same except for the addition of 15 "Chef’s Specials," all familiar concoctions at $7.50. As has often happened before, I ordered some of the same things as I had one change of name ago. The fried dumplings (5 for $1.50) again were excellent. The thick, doughy scallion pancake ($1) still resembled "a warmed scallion bialy," and added more bulk to my lunch than I needed. I also had chicken fried rice ($4), which was a side dish in search of a main course. I came away full, but knew that I had not ordered wisely. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Happy Anniversary to Me! I started working for the New York State court system 13 years ago today. It was my first paying job after law school, and the opportunity was presented to me by the Honorable Marjory D. Fields, Acting Justice of the Supreme Court. Justice Fields, whom I knew from college days, hired me as her junior law clerk, although, for budgetary reasons, I was listed and paid (not very much) as a stenographer. Now, identified as an associate court attorney (a level between principal court attorney and senior court attorney), and paid a decent salary, I have been employed here about twice as long as at any place prior. 

To celebrate, I went to Yeah Shanghai Deluxe, 50 Mott Street (February 19, 2010, July 12, 2010, April 12, 2011, November 6, 2103, September 19, 2013, May 8, 2013, June 12, 2013). Because of its commanding position at the corner of Mott Street and Bayard Street and the bright, attractively decorated premises, Yeah could easily be taken for a tourist joint. However, the near full house contained slightly more Chinese patrons than not, and, as indicated by my frequent visits over the years, it’s the real thing. I came to Yeah for Peking duck, Mottzar Kitchen my favorite duckery having closed down. The half duck ($22) was excellent, as fat free as I have ever seen in Chinatown. It came with 4 pancakes, hoisin sauce, slivers of cucumber and green onion, the classic arrangement.

Thursday, March 19, 2015
First Stop, 124A Hester Street would properly be called a hole in the wall if it were not on a corner (at Chrystie Street). It’s very small, three low tables and an assortment of low stools. It probably gets its name from its location amidst a raft of Chinatown bus companies, a thriving industry unknown to many round eyes. Chinatown bus companies, almost all headquartered in the less gentrified area of Chinatown around Chrystie Street, East Broadway, and Allen Street, originated as a service for Chinese restaurant workers, scattered throughout the Eastern United States, who used their one or two days off to shop and visit in New York City. After all, bamboo shoots and Szechuan peppercorns are not often found on the supermarket shelves of Roanoke, Virginia. Low, low prices are needed for this market and the signs outside the many operations list just about every city east of the Mississippi river, with prices $40 or less. Today, college students and other members of the underclass use these buses as well. Thus, emerging onto the streets of the Big Apple, the First Stop might seem like an appropriate, well First Stop.

The welcome offered by First Stop is actually quite modest. There is no menu, but a set of color pictures in the window display the choices. I asked for fried dumplings, but they were out. I ordered then the spicy noodle soup ($7) to deal with the cold weather that returned this week, and I got the hottest spiciest dish that I have every had in Chinatown. The bowl was thick with beef, yellow and green onions, glass noodles, cabbage, two kinds of sausage and an ingredient or two that I can’t put a name on, in a broth whose red pepper flakes could not be avoided. My feeling is that this dish was, as we say in old Shanghai, sui generis. I think that the next time, the cook will empty a different part of his refrigerator when someone orders spicy noodle soup. And good luck to you.

If you were wondering what America’s Favorite Epidemiologist was doing while one of her two favorite husbands was running around eating lunch, check out the latest issue of Arthritis & Rheumatology, wherein she determined that prolonged exposure to the ruins of the World Trade Center was linked to an increase in various autoimmune diseases including arthritis and lupus.;jsessionid=E8D0562FE88A7B45F191A1703B207E5C.f02t04?

Friday, March 20, 2015
It's the first day of Spring, which did not stop the snow from falling for several hours.  It also Macaron Day. 
15 bakeries are offering one free macaron to each customer, and proceeds from sales thus stimulated will go City Harvest, an organization that distributes food to the needy.  I realize that by the time that you read this, and even by the time that I finishing writing this, the moment will have passed.  Sorry, but I only learned of this event last night, so I had no time to jiggle my schedule to take advantage of this largesse.  However, it's not too early to plan for next year, when the first day of Spring will be Sunday, March 20th (Leap Year, you know), which gives us all day (after Mass) to scurry around for the free goodies.  For those who follow the old-time-religion, be aware that Passover, when our attention turns from macarons to macaroons, doesn't begin until the following weekend. 

August Gatherings, 266 Canal Street, is about one month old, replacing Canal Best Restaurant.  It is attractively decorated, suggesting the interior of a temple, Buddhist not Reform.  It has 7 round tables and 8 four tops, all occupied today at lunchtime.  Much like Yeah the other day, more than half the customers were Chinese, although the restaurant was in a prime tourist location, two doors from McDonald's.  I ordered duck chow fun ($9), which was not explicitly on the menu, but was suggested by the presence of duck lo mei fun and duck lai fun, spaghetti-like egg noodles or rice noodles.  The portion was medium-sized, and, if not for the real estate, I would have knocked at least one dollar off the price.  August also offers lunch specials for $6 to $8.50, all with rice.  Service was friendly and efficient.  Note that it is the third new restaurant that I found this week.

Speaking of synchronicity, August has a small counter right inside the entrance selling macarons from Macaron Parlour Patisserie (111 St. Marks Place and 500 Columbus Avenue), one of the Macaron Day participants.  Unfortunately, the lovely young woman at the counter was unaware of how special today was, so I had to pay retail, with no free samples.  But, since the covey of macarons that I purchased are destined to delight and reward America's Favorite Epidemiologist, I completed the transaction without cavil. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Where Am I?

Monday, March 9, 2015
The New York Times reports today that the examination for prospective New York City taxicab drivers has changed to emphasize knowledge of safety over geography. The paper provides an interactive test of local geography to accompany the article, so you can figure out how to get to Carnegie Hall.

"[Florida Department of Environmental Protection] officials have been ordered not to use the term ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting." This policy went into effect after George Orwell took office as governor in 2011.

New Kim Tuong Restaurant, 83 Chrystie Street, takes the place of 83 Kien Tuong Restaurant (March 24, 2011). The small space was crowded with Chinese customers; the 5 two tops and the 6 four tops were all occupied. I shared one of the larger tables. A long food preparation area along the right hand wall takes about 1/3 of the floor space. The furniture looks newish, but otherwise I can’t really distinguish the new from the old. By chance, four years later, I ordered exactly the same dish, Kien Tuong chow fun, with the same name, but now one dollar more at $6.50. It contained, chicken, pork, broccoli, scallions and bean sprouts cooked with a generous serving of the wide, thick noodles. Looking at my past notes, I found the dish to be much tastier this time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 has a fascinating graphic on "The Changing Nature of Middle-Class Jobs," contrasting employment in 1980 and today. The overarching conclusion is that the middle-class occupations that declined most were male dominated, such as, machine operators and production supervisors, while those that grew were often female dominated, such as, registered nurses and health technologists.

On the other hand, it is reported that "[t]he number of hedge funds hit new heights last year, and the amount of money flowing into the funds was the highest since before the financial crisis. Even so, hedge funds’ performance lagged the broader stock market." So, your kid should go to a fancy Ivy League college, get a job playing with other people’s money, produce mediocre results, and command a salary that could buy the whole block that your grandfather lived on.

The courthouse steps were covered with people and equipment when I walked out to meet Michael Ratner for lunch. Fake lawyers, fake reporters, fake cops and fake crooks were hovering around as real people operating cameras, reading scripts, applying makeup, testing lighting and sound, holding clipboards, worked among relatives of the producers as they set up the next scene for the pilot of a television series tentatively titled "Doubt." As always, I marveled at the number of people needed to get an image on a screen.

There was one interesting touch that may require watching this episode, if it ever airs, in order to understand. A bicycle rack was temporarily set up at the curb along Centre Street, with several bicycles in position; not CitiBikes, but real bikes used by messengers or otherwise athletic people. At first, I thought that this was transportation for crew members, but, as I left work later, I saw the rack and all the bikes being loaded onto a truck with other props and equipment. So, as Chekhov said: "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there." 

Lunch with Michael is always enjoyable, but not long enough to catch up on his trips to Florida, Burma, Colorado and Mexico since I last saw him. He knows how to retire. On the other hand, I know how to order at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, where we had the quintessential Chinatown lunch, won ton soup for Michael, egg rolls, shrimp in lobster sauce and pork fried rice, all shared. The good news/bad news is that Wo Hop’s portions are so large that we had no room to order more of their fabulous food.     

Time Out New York recently published a list of the "100 best New York restaurants." I’ll offer it to you with the understanding that it isn’t.
For example, neither the Four Seasons nor Wo Hop makes the list. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Last night, on the way to our tax accountant, I passed by the Park Avenue Liquor Store, known for an excellent selection of single malt Scotch whiskeys. It was closed, empty. One of my classic bits of New York trivia was about to disappear: "What do the Park Avenue Liquor Store and the Park Avenue Synagogue have in common? They are both on Madison Avenue." Sadly anticipating this hole in my repertoire, I almost missed the new store at the corner of Madison Avenue and 39th Street, a larger, brighter Park Avenue Liquor Store, still safely situated on Madison Avenue.

Happy Tea Time, 98 Walker Street, just opened, connected physically, if not operationally, to Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen next door. The space, almost a cube, contains 4 two-top tables, each with a chair, opposite a cushioned bench, and a small, L-shaped ledge with four stools. Even with two beverage coolers, the space seems almost barren. A little life is added by two large photographs, roughly 3' x 5', over the cushioned bench; one shows the Seine at night, crossed by six lighted bridges, the other taken on the walkway of the Brooklyn Bridge, looking over to Manhattan.

Happy offers teas hot and cold, and banh mi, the signature Vietnamese sandwich, in nine versions. All the sandwiches are $5 except for the vegetarian at $6, an example of less is more. I had the Banh Mi Ga, grilled chicken, with shredded carrots, cucumber, bean sprouts and hot peppers, on a hot, plump baguette. Unfortunately, the usual tangy, sweet and sour, lime-based dressing was in very short supply. In all, the sandwich was filling, but dull.

Thursday, March 12, 2015
Wah Kee, 150 Centre Street, was the first restaurant that I visited when I started this (ad)venture on January 4, 2010. It later became Red Square Café (July 26, 2011). Then, it morphed into Maid Café NY, featuring Chinese waitresses poorly imitating naughty French maids (September 16, 2013). Now, it has changed into Uncle Mike’s Café, staffed by Chinese people, serving a limited menu of hamburgers, chili and Caesar's salad.  Nothing east of Suez.  So, there was no reason for me to eat there and include Uncle Mike in my list of Chinatown chefs.