Sunday, January 31, 2010

Week Four

Week 4
Monday, January 25, 2010
It was in the mid 50s at midday in New York City, possibly the warmest day of the year so far. However, it was a miserable day because of rain driven by strong winds from the early morning hours. When I got up for lunch, I consciously left my umbrella tightly rolled up near my desk in order to preserve it from the wind and headed outside. At first, going without an umbrella seemed like a good idea as I saw about a dozen broken umbrellas on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse. But then I noticed that the strong winds had deferred to heavier rain, so I got soaked as I headed to Hop Kee at 21 Mott Street, just about the closest Chinese restaurant to 60 Centre Street. The closest that is if you cut the angle, a favorite exercise of America’s Favorite Epidemiologist. Hop Kee is down a flight of narrow stairs as is its brother/sister/cousin/landsman Wo Hop 2 doors away. However, it was closed for yuntiff, 2 weeks until the Chinese New Year. Fortunately as the rain continued, alternatives were steps away. I went across the street into Hop Lee at 16 Mott Street and, to their credit, an aluminum pot of tea immediately appeared for me. I was steered downstairs into a small, plain, clean room because the Rotary Club was meeting on the main level. The tables downstairs large and small were soon filled mostly with Chinese people.
With the hot and sour soup I ordered came a dish of (yes) crispy fried noodles, mustard and duck sauce. The noodles were very good, although rectangular unlike the squares at both Wo Hops across the street. Even better was the thick duck sauce, not watered down, so it stuck to the noodle as you dipped it into the mustard. My mother would have been delighted. I ordered lo mein with three shredded meats which lost something in the shredding although the portion was large. While I ordered from the regular menu, actually not noticing the lunch menu at the edge of my table, Hop Lee charged me lunch prices which somewhat made up for the shredding.
The meal ended on two other positive notes – a hot towel to clean my greasy little fingers and orange wedges to clean my palate. They were both welcome. On the way out, I stopped at the little front desk to get a toothpick and noticed, slightly off the central line of sight, that the wall over the cash register had about 150 embroidered patches from police departments and some fire departments from all over the US and at least one in Spanish, maybe Mexico or Puerto Rico. This is a colorful display which should be shown to greater advantage.
It was still raining as I left and, without an umbrella, I did not stop to observe a funeral party assembling in front of one of the three Chinese funeral homes at the lower end of Mulberry Street. I have seen Chinese funerals using Italian street bands as they drove through narrow Chinatown streets, but I hastily made my wet way back to work without a sound track.

Tuesday January 26, 2010
I slept late and did not go to work. No Chinatown.

Wednesday January 27, 2010
I headed east, expanding my geographic scope along with my waistline. I got to Chatham Square where Worth Street, Mott Street, the Bowery, Park Row, St. James Place, East Broadway and Oliver Street meet. There is a spot west of Arlington, Virginia known as Seven Corners where US 50 and VA 7 intersect along with a couple of local boulevards. I have stood there and counted seven corners at that intersection. Chatham Square easily exceeds that.
I walked right into Fuzhouese Restaurant, 1 East Broadway, thinking it was the Funhouse Restaurant. It might well have been, because, except for the brightly-painted sign outside, the name was not found in English anywhere else. Their business card gave the address and telephone number, but no name that I could read or understand.
When I walked in, no other customer was in the restaurant, but another non-Chinese man walked in alone right behind me and sat further back. Only by pointing to the menu was I able to order from the waitress and the co-worker she summoned to help her. He understood my pointing much better than she did. Just as I finished pointing, the other patron called out, “Does anyone here speak English?” Of course, I said, “I do, but that won’t help you.” He got up and as he walked by me heading for the door, he said with a slight Eastern European accent, “When I came to this country 20 years ago from Odessa, I knew I had to learn English.” Maybe he’ll return to the Funhouse in 20 years.
The lunch menu was conventional and I ordered shrimps with lobster sauce. Only the colorful pieces of freshly-cooked carrots and string beans were notable in the disappointing dish served me. But, I sought disappointment after a fashion, because tonight I’m meeting Donna J. at Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen (38th Street between 7th & 8th) before going to the Rangers game together and I wanted to be hungry and eager to eat (so, what else is new?). Ben’s Kosher is very good; I often go there before a hockey game and I recommend it no matter where you are headed with the possible exception of the oral hygienist because real garlicky sour pickles are gratis. Also, sour tomatoes are provided upon request. On the other hand, Ben’s Famous, on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park, is great and not just because they named a sandwich after that swell human being Michael Ratner. They are not related, that is Ben’s to Ben’s or Michael to either.
Now, I might not have been disappointed in the Funhouse had I ordered off the regular menu which featured real Fuzhou chow, such as Pig Blood with Chives, Doi Chang with Fender Lee, Any Lamb Intestine Fuzhou Style and Sizzling Duck Tongue. In fact, I must admit, my meals to date in Chinatown have been pretty ordinary, free of daring or risk. But, as the name of that pretentious dating service for lazy Yuppies says, It’s Just Lunch. I pose no threat to the Zagat empire nor do I intend to. My loyal followers may choose to walk in my moccasins, but they may not encounter Doi Chang with Fender Lee along the way.

Thursday, January 28, 2010
When I was leaving the courthouse for lunch, “Law and Order” was shooting a scene on the steps of 60 Centre Street. This was the real “Law and Order,” where the late great Jerry Orbach portrayed Det. Lennie Briscoe, not one of the spin-offs that with 10 minutes left to watch have you saying, “That’s dumb.” The scene featured the hard-charging ADA Michael Cutter (I had to look up the character’s name). When I returned from lunch, some heavy equipment remained on and near the steps, but no sign of actors.
I went over to Chatham Square again and tried QJ Restaurant at 5 Catherine Street. From the outside it looks like a small take-out joint. In back, there were about 8 tables, empty except for two lingering Chinese elders at separate tables. They eventually left and one Chinese woman sat down to take their place. The front counter was busy, however, with take-out orders. All the customers were Chinese. I ordered marinated duck and spare ribs over rice. It was a small portion, but with tip I spent $5. Both meats were fatty, so I had to do some selective gnawing to get to the tasty bits. I still operate under the delusion that for a few bucks in Chinatown I’ll get duck as good as served at the Four Seasons for $40 or more.
The seating area was plain, clean. The tables had only a tray with salt, pepper, two kinds of soy sauce and a squeeze bottle of hot sauce. A fork came with my dish. Besides a couple of people working the take-out counter, there were two waitresses, both wearing orange polo shirts and orange visors. For a moment, I thought I was at Arby’s or Burger King, neither of which I recommend for Chinese food or anything except the bathrooms in an emergency.
QJ’s walls are covered with fluorescent red and green posters announcing specials written, of course, in Chinese. I could only distinguish between $8.25 and $9.50. When I’ve asked about these wall postings at other restaurants, the answer was always, “Not for you.” This is the Chinatown version of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” I respected the code at QJ and ordered only what I could read.

Friday, January 29, 2010
Very cold day in New York. It was 21 degrees when I returned from lunch, possibly the warmest it has been all day. I went to Joe’s Ginger Restaurant, 25 Pell Street, one of a group of six related restaurants, some named Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant. Five of the six are in Manhattan, four in Chinatown, one in midtown. The original is in Flushing, Queens where it had great success popularizing (maybe creating) the soup bun, an ordinary-looking, round bun with soup inside surrounding the meat contents. On Joe’s menu, it is simply called “steamed bun,” but, if you unwittingly bite into it, hot soup squirts out, often on you. The eight buns to a serving are served with tongs; a soup ladle and wooden chopsticks are set on the table. Grabbing a bun with the tongs will usually cause a leak and soup will dribble across the table and up your shirt front (or tie) on the way to your mouth. You have to get a bun onto the soup ladle, nip into the bun and suck out the soup before taking a real bite. Even then, soup is liable to squirt which happened to me today on my last two buns, leaving enough of a mess on the table I did not linger to do the crossword puzzle.
Joe’s Ginger is pretty small, nicely decorated with a mirror along one wall to give it a more spacious feel. It’s busy with Chinese and non-Chinese customers. I also had a scallion pancake, probably the best I’ve ever had; crunchy as if it had been briefly deep fried. Once, in San Francisco’s Chinatown, America’s Favorite Epidemiologist and I, under the spell of the excellent scallion pancakes at Sam’s, 28th Street & Third Avenue, now gone, tried to order scallion pancakes without any success with a Chinese waitress who thought we were searching for IHOP.
In any case, Joe’s is the place for scallion pancakes. Other restaurants now have soup buns and call them soup buns which takes some of the fun away as far as I’m concerned.

Letter from Tom

...Except for Thai (too sweet), I am crazy for Asian cuisine. (Have you tried the joints in Little Korea? They're as good here in New York as they are in the L.A. counterpart.)

My own favorite Chinese joint is a place out in Elmhurst, Queens, whose name I cannot now conjure. A lady with blue-black hair full of shiny combs—she's almost always dressed in a red chignon—runs the place. She's mysteriously despotic, I gather. Never speaks to anyone, but the waiters all seem terrified. Anyhow, it's got the finest sea bass entree in the city, cooked in salt. It's on the south side of Queens Blvd, hard by the old Elk's Club, where I used to go for Golden Gloves bouts. Also nearby is a suspicious-looking Italian social club and an enormous furniture store full of glass and chrome creations, plus sofas with wooden armrests topped out in animal carvings, heavy on lunging lions and leopards with fangs bared. Tres klassy!

Then there is Asia itself, aka Deepest Queens. Take the 7 train to its terminus out there, walk up to the street and just you try to find English speakers or English signage. Never mind—sit yourself down in any Chinese joint you see (doesn't matter which) and enjoy beautifully spiced & surprisingly delicate food. Closer in, the Chinese joints on Main Street in Flushing are pretty good, too. (I find the ones nearest CUNY Law School uniformly tasty.)

Switching continents, I greatly enjoy Italian joints. I often go to the Bronx for this, specifically Arthur Avenue. Can't recollect the names, but several places over the years appeal to me for the following reasons: an apron-clad waiter with a face like a Mack truck pads over to my table, gives me the once-over and then tells me what he'll be serving, which I should listen to the man's wisdom; at meal's end, he returns, gives me another once-over and announces the tab; I proffer a large bill, and he makes change of it with the wads of cash stashed in his apron.

But my hands-down favorite Italian place is Rao's, on Pleasant Street in East Harlem. As you likely know, this public restaurant is, practically speaking, an invitation-only establishment for semi-connected cops, hard guys and counselors sometimes called by the Italian word for counselor. I have dined there as the guest of Murray "Don't Worry Murray" Richman, dean of the Bronx criminal defense bar. On one occasion, a tipsy good fella arose from a neary table— awkwardly so, thus causing his Glock to clatter from his sharkskin suit jacket to the floor. A bosomy companion retrieved the peacemaker as Good Fella burst into a medley of Sinatra tunes. He had an excellent baritone.

...Then there was the very first Rao's visit. We finished the meal at approximately midnight on a Tuesday. Outside the place, Murray's car drove up and collected him—and off he went (to meet his client, an artist of the hip-hop kingdom who had somehow run afoul of the law). I, who would eventually take the 6 train down to Grand Central for transfer to the westbound M-42 crosstown bus, loitered for several minutes to soak in a picaresque scene. My patience was soon rewarded. A long, black limo pulled up and stopped near the hard guy in a cashmere overcoat standing at my left. A back window of the limo whirred down about two inches, a puff of cigarette smoke escaped, and the commanding voice of an unseen character straight out of Central Casting addressed the guy in cashmere: "Yo, Vito—quit foolin' around. Get in. We got bizness."


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Week Three

Monday, January 18, 2010 – Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, a court holiday. I prepared my own lunch at home, lox and eggs no onions.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Chinese Village Restaurant, 94 Baxter Street, is a small restaurant, nicely decorated with Chinese art and artifacts. The tables are uncovered, but give the impression of a lacquered, framed Chinese manuscript. Each table had chop sticks resting on a napkin, nothing else. Lunch specials include choice of soup, white rice and tea for $7.30 tax included. The choices were extensive, mostly predictable, but included snails in black bean sauce an old favorite of mine. I didn’t order that dish this time (I’ll have return after the first round of 72 restaurants) so I don’t know if they serve the snails with toothpicks to dig them out, the typical method. I ordered sesame chicken which arrived with more chicken than broccoli for a change and a fork. The dish was pretty good; the breading was thin, not having a life of its own as is often the case with this dish, sweet and sour chicken and the like. The only problem was that one of the lumps of chicken, 8-10 fair sized, was only fat.
No Chinese people were eating here, although most table were occupied and one young couple appeared to be Filipino. The hot and sour soup came with a plastic ladle and the good tea was in a ceramic pot. I asked for water when I dipped my sleeve into the chicken turning the page of the newspaper I was reading.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010
America’s Favorite Epidemiologist is in San Francisco visiting America’s Loveliest Nephrologist so I left the house without any coffee. By lunchtime, I was in a rotten mood for several reasons much more substantial than starting the day without coffee. Still, I entered Shanghai Cuisine at 89 Bayard Street, corner of Mulberry Street, with optimism. It’s a smallish place appearing larger because of a mirror running almost the length of one wall. The tables are covered by plastic cloths in the traditional (French) checked pattern overlaid by glass. Chop sticks, napkins and a tray with salt, pepper, soy sauce, hot pepper sauce, and packets of sugar and Sweet and Low are on the table.
It was busy when I entered a few minutes before 1 PM, but it soon was jammed with lawyers and court staff apparently because it is probably the nearest Chinese restaurants to many of the court buildings close by.
As with many other local restaurants, Shanghai Cuisine offered lunch specials, 15-20 ordinary dishes with soup or soda and rice where appropriate, in the $6-7 range. In fact, as an expression of simplicity, I ordered Young Chow fried rice, a mixture of things usually singularly inhabiting fried rice. No white rice comes with the fried rice. Unfortunately, this was not real fried rice, that is fried fried rice, but white rice with stuff, and a small portion, too. Some soy sauce gave it a little life. On the other hand, there was too much life swirling and hovering around me to spend time reading more than one page of the New Yorker or, had I not forgotten to take the newspaper with me from home, work on the crossword puzzle. I left quickly and went to Kam Man, a big, recently refurbished store that I've patronized over the years selling packaged foods, Chinese groceries, tea, tea sets, utensils for use in Chinese cooking and other things absent from Waldbaums. I bought a big tin of cookies using Belgian chocolate as a primary ingredient to share with my neighbors in the library where I am perched until a desk becomes available for me.

Thursday January 21, 2010
I was delighted to have the company of Dean Alfange at lunch today. Dean makes frequent forays into New York City from the bear-infested woods of Leverett, MA, but not usually in search of Chinese food. Rather, Dean seeks various forms of entertainment even older than he is, e.g. vaudeville, minstrel shows and silent movies. However, these are typically night-time activities, so Dean was available as my dim sum buddy today.
We went right to Ping's Seafood at 22 Mott Street which I deserted last week when faced with the prospect of eating dim sum alone. Ping’s was busy, but it is a large space with an additional room downstairs in use during the busier dinner hours. The tables were covered with white cloth, set with chop sticks and forks, and a little dish of hot pepper sauce provided a nice color contrast. Tea was served in a white ceramic pot which was refilled frequently without asking.
Dim sum carts were flying around at a furious pace and the variety was formidable. We eventually had eight dishes, all different. Seven were some version of a dumpling, round, triangular, elliptical, dome-shaped, boiled, sauteed, fried, white and green. The eighth dish was real fried rice, leaning to the side of sticky rice. The dumplings were either 3 or 4 items to a plate and both of us approached the third or fourth item hesitantly. I can’t speak for Dean, but I hoped that the plate with the lone item would empty itself so that another plate with different contents could replace it. After all, my early childhood training in not leaving leftovers still governs me at the table, but here was dueling with my lust to try still another concoction rolling my way. Even after having eight distinct dishes, there must have been at least the same number and possibly twice that many that we never sampled.
One dim sum buddy is not enough. Dean was, as always, charming company (in spite of the gloom on political matters that we shared), but the two of us alone could not breach the dim-sum-double-digit barrier. However, our ranks may soon be swelled by unemployed Democratic politicians who will still have to eat. My only concern then is whether they will realize that there are no free lunches.

Friday January 22, 2010
Back on my own, I decided to start spreading out geographically so I turned off Mott Street onto Pell Street one of the streets that have been “Chinatown” for a hundred years or so. I went into ABC Chinese Restaurant, a medium-sized place decorated with nice Chinese scrolls, paintings and two golden dragons leaping out of the rear wall. It was half full with several big tables set for banquets and some occupied by eight or ten Chinese people. The small tables held pairs, mostly Chinese. As with most of the places I’ve visited, ABC had a lunch menu with reasonably priced dishes. I ordered beef chow fun, the wide, flat noodle and an excellent choice it was. They served a big bowl hot out of the wok loaded with beef, onions and scallions. I used the chop sticks provided although a fork and a tablespoon were also on the table. Once I finished, no one rushed me to leave so I spent ten or fifteen minutes with the crossword puzzle, a Friday so no walk in the park. I eventually finished it on the subway ride home.
There was a remarkable occurrence on the non-food front that night. The flight returning America’s Favorite Epidemiologist to her upper West Side love nest from California landed one hour early, that’s 60 full minutes. Does this have cosmic implications or merely prove that with Republican ascendancy things operate better?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hard to Swallow

Unlike Mark McGwire, I’m not waiting until several years into retirement to confess my reliance on performance-enhancing drugs. This run for glory that I am documenting day-by-day is made possible by regular doses of Omeprazole, the generic version of Prilosec, the delayed-release stomach acid reducer.
I have had heartburn almost all my life which is commonplace for someone brought up in a traditional Jewish home who retained a taste for fried foods, fatty meats and Charlotte Russes into adulthood. I recall Buddy Hackett describing his visit to the base infirmary some months after being drafted into the Army. He feared he was dying because the fire in his chest went out, not realizing that the bland food in the mess hall had at least temporarily ended his perpetual indigestion.
In 2009, the heat in my engine room was reaching uncomfortable levels on a regular basis. Lunch at an Indian restaurant near work (my location then was about ½ mile from Chinatown, so I stayed within a few blocks where a couple of Indian restaurants were the only reliable source of good cheap eats) eliminated the need or desire to eat dinner since I still seemed to be digesting lunch until bedtime. However, the tipping point was an otherwise tasty tuna salad sandwich on rye with shredded lettuce and abundant tomato slices from what we unfortunately now label a “deli” in Manhattan, that is a grocery store offering sandwiches and often a salad bar. Once upon a time, when Jews were Jews and in prolific numbers throughout New York City, a deli meant kosher corned beef and pastrami and hot dogs sitting all day on a grill before being served with sauerkraut, chunky, crinkle-cut French fries, and Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Tonic. The only other credible alternatives were Italian delis displaying purportedly edible items that no member of my family would come within a foot of, or a German deli in Yorkville or Glendale, Queens, where I would not be welcome. For two days after that tuna sandwich, I couldn’t eat a thing. I didn’t actually experience heartburn, but simply felt that there was no room for food to pass below my collar line. This was more mentally disturbing than physically disturbing. I was missing meals even as I contemplated what I could have been enjoying.
My reliable internist, Dr. Michael Perskin, referred me to his colleague, Dr. Morris Traube, Section Chief, Gastroenterology. Dr. Traube has a crowded business card, Professor of Medicine, Associate Chair for Clinical Affairs, and his degrees, MD and JD. How about that, he’s a doctor and a lawyer; he must have been an only child. But, the best thing is not recorded on his business card; Dr. Traube is a rabbi too with a congregation in the orthodox enclave of Monsey, New York. I could not resist suggesting to Dr. Traube that he needed a hobby. Undeterred, he performed an upper endoscopy and pronounced me sound, although note that his examination was conducted entirely below the neck. However, he advised me that many foods could be responsible for my indigestion and GERD, including coffee, chocolate, and fried foods. Fortunately, I got a second opinion from my wise friend Gil Glotzer, who is thoroughly qualified in this field as a personal injury lawyer. Dr. Traube prescribed Prilosec for my discomfort and Gil had me eliminate tomatoes as a prophylactic measure. Indeed, I have been free of gastric distress ever since operating under no other constraint than avoiding fresh tomatoes. Pizza and pasta involving cooked tomatoes have gone all the way down leaving ample space for chocolate-covered graham crackers as a post-prandial treat. The only time I strayed from the Glotzer diet was that turkey sandwich at the training session in White Plains which almost prevented me from eating dinner that night. Lesson learned. Thank you Rabbi Traube, Attorney Glotzer and Omeprazole. If the latter keeps me out of the Hall of Fame, so be it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Week Two

Monday and Tuesday, January 11 and 12, 2010
I was in a training session for court staff held in White Plains, New York. The only food news was the confirmation that raw tomatoes cause me great indigestion even in skinny slices on a turkey sandwich.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010
I was back on Mott Street, this time aiming directly for New Wonton Garden at 56 Mott Street which I had passed many times before without going in. This is a very small place with no trace of a garden. It reminded me of Calvin Trillin’s admonition that vivid names of real estate developments, such as Shady Brook or Willow Mount, most often describe the obverse of the property’s actual condition.
I had noodle soup with chicken not unlike what is served in a traditional Jewish home on Friday night as long as you think kreplach, not won ton. The noodles were also different than the Goodman’s egg noodles found in mamaleh’s soup or the thin noodles other Chinese restaurants served. These were almost ¼ inch wide and 1/8 inch deep. I recall having them, or something very similar, at the now departed Sam’s on the corner of Third Avenue and 29th Street, as their marvelous cold noodles with sesame sauce, a portion so large it lasted me two lunches when I worked nearby for a four-year stretch before going to law school. America’s Favorite Epidemiologist and I would go to Sam’s of an evening, share the cold noodles with sesame sauce and a scallion pancake, also world class, without breaking a ten dollar bill adjusted for inflation.
Back at New Wonton Garden, I sat next to three young women, maybe college freshpeople. Two of them were disputing whether Desmond Tutu was still alive. After a couple of minutes back and forth they called a mother to settle the issue, but requiring the mother to check it on-line, of course. In an act of rare self-control, I did not offer the correct answer before they resorted to the cell phone. I must be getting old.

Thursday, January 14, 2010
I attended a retirement luncheon for the judge I worked with almost continuously since 2002. It was held at Forlini’s, an old-line Italian restaurant at 93 Baxter Street, just south of Canal Street, where judges, assistant DAs and criminal defense lawyers congregate at lunchtime and to celebrate retirements, promotions, birthdays and other simchas. About 40 people attended, mostly active and retired judges plus two court reporters, the judge’s wife, mother-in-law and oldest son, and another lawyer who worked for the judge. We had a choice of about 10 of the most typical dishes from Forlini’s large menu – chicken, veal or eggplant parmigiana, veal marsala, lasagna, filet of sole, with penne or escarole on the side. Fortunately, Robert Johnson, Bronx DA, longtime friend of the judge, sat opposite me. Because he had to rush off, he agreed to order a cannoli for dessert so I could have two. They were excellent.

Friday, January 15, 2010
I decided to end the week in fine fashion since my first writing assignment had been approved by the head of my department and sent along to the deciding judge. I entered Ping’s Seafood at 22 Mott Street, recognized as one of the finer restaurants in Chinatown, but immediately encountered a problem with my mission that is sure to arise again. Ping’s at lunch focuses on dim sum which are typically served 2 to 4 pieces to a plate. That’s great if you’re with other gourmands. I recall that David McMullen and I, accompanied by two women with unserious appetites at least for food, wound up with a foot-high stack of empty plates in front of us at a San Francisco dim sum palace. However, by myself, two or three plates with 2 to 4 pieces each quickly irons out the abdominal creases. Many of the better Chinatown restaurants devote lunch to dim sum so this could be a major obstacle to my progress. If I’m having dim sum, I want 12 different things for lunch, not three things 4 times over. I’ll have to find a dim sum buddy.
Alone, I retreated from Ping’s in disappointment and went a few doors up to the Peking Duck House at 28 Mott Street hoping that I might be able to get half a duck at a reasonable price. That too was not to be, since they serve Peking duck as a dinner to a minimum of four people at $27.50 each. Instead, I ate and enjoyed a big serving of beef with orange flavor, one of the pricier items on the lunch menu at $9 and worth it. Peking Duck House covers its tables with white linen, serves tea without being asked (or charge) and sets the table only with knives and forks, but no fried noodles.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Week One

Monday, January 4, 2010
On my first day in my new position, I randomly entered Wah Kee at 150 Centre Street, a small joint with some nicely lacquered dead ducks hanging in the window. That was the extent of the décor. I was the only non-Chinese person in the place.
Because it was a cold day, I ordered a large bowl of won ton soup with roast duck and very fine, vermicelli-like noodles. The soup was nice and hot and I was satisfied although the pieces of duck were very fatty. That duck hadn’t hung in the window long enough where they are placed to allow the fat to drip out slowly just as you hang a salami in a quiet place to go from soft to hard concentrating the garlic and spices as well. The Formica table was bare, no condiments, no napkin dispenser, no utensils except the plastic soup scoop that came with the bowl of soup. (Does anyone have a name for that implement?) Everything the other patrons ordered seemed to come in a bowl as well.
A plastic cup of tea was served without asking. While the whole experience was characterless (present company excluded), there was nothing wrong with it if you are looking for a hole in the wall with hot soup cheap.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010
I went to Wo Hop downstairs at 17 Mott Street. This is quintessential Chinatown. Down a flight of stairs, small, tight space, walls and floors yearning for a cleaning. Because it was crowded, I sat down with another lone customer who, as so many of the other eaters (diners is not the right word here), appeared to be a regular.
Wo Hop immediately passed the Mama Ruth Gotthelf test of Chinese restaurant authenticity when the waiter placed a dish of big, broad fried noodles on the Formica table with hot mustard and “duck sauce” to nibble on. Please note that the fabled Shun Lee Palace, on East 55th Street, with the second highest food rating for Chinese restaurants in the current Zagat’s, failed the MRG test and has not had her patronage since. Even though Wo Hop’s alleged duck sauce was to duck sauce as Coors is to beer, the noodles were a great start. After that, I was prepared to delight in anything I ordered, which happened to be triple-header chow fun – chicken, shrimp and beef mixed into wide, wet soft noodles.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Feeling lucky, I went to the other Wo Hop at street level, at 15 Mott Street. This is far roomier than its downstairs kin and the brighter lighting revealed better housekeeping. I ordered what my anonymous tablemate ordered yesterday, spare ribs in black bean sauce over rice. For under $5, just the salt you ingested was worth it. Very tasty. As happened downstairs the day before, a dish of big, broad fried noodles was placed on the Formica table with hot mustard and runny duck sauce. This time, I did not even have to pretend to share them with someone else at the table. I also had a small bowl of hot and sour soup to provide an alternate dipping/soaking spot for the noodles.

Thursday, January 7, 2010
I fell off the wagon that I had barely gotten on and had two slices of pizza that were memorable only as a wasted opportunity.

Friday, January 8, 2010
I strolled along Mott Street, Chinatown’s Main Street considering alternatives. For the first time in my recollection in Chinatown, a man (the owner?) came out of a restaurant to hustle me just as so often happens on 6th Street between First and Second Avenues on the lower East Side which is lined with cheap, mostly indistinguishable Indian restaurants. Actually, these are almost all cheap, mostly indistinguishable Bangladeshi restaurants, but how are we to know that. The man made telling arguments, such as “Good food,” which I found persuasive and entered Singapore Café at 69 Mott Street. Appropriately, I ordered Singapore chow mei fun, very fine curry-flavored rice noodles mixed with shrimp, pork, chicken. Ordinary and no fried noodles to nibble on. I was reminded why I usually ignore various types of sidewalk solicitations.

Friday, January 15, 2010


A popular misreading of the Koran promises an Islamic martyr the reward of spending eternity in the company of 72 virgins. For several reasons I am an unfit candidate for such a reward including the lack of physical fitness to meet the demand of enjoying the reward. Instead, I have set about a course of martyrdom appropriate to an aged, Jewish lawyer employed at 60 Centre Street, the courthouse which provides the backdrop for many critical conversations on “Law and Order.” 60 Centre Street is immediately adjacent to Chinatown, that is New York City’s original Chinatown, the first of three now functioning. My path to eternal bliss shall take me through 72 local Chinese restaurants, although I have already heard doubts as to the existence of 72 discrete Chinese restaurants in Chinatown. In the next several months, I will at least determine whether this threshold can be met.
I will not insist on eating only in Chinese restaurants each day at lunchtime, although I will vigorously try to avoid unwarranted diversions. I relocated to 60 Centre Street from a Tribeca courthouse on Monday, January 4, 2010. By the end of the second week, I had had to attend a class for two days in White Plains, New York, where box lunches were provided containing nothing that required chop sticks, and a farewell luncheon for the judge I served for almost seven years, held at Forlini’s, one of my favorite Italian restaurants which happens to be surrounded by Vietnamese restaurants. Also, somewhat distracted, I had two slices of pizza, always a disappointment, for lunch at a nearby joint on Thursday, January 7th. If anything, my progress towards eternal bliss was set back several paces by this. In sum, in ten days, I had lunched in six Chinese restaurants as described in the next entry. In the future, I plan to keep this log/journal/blog/hallucination relatively current.