Sunday, January 31, 2010

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."


1 comment:

  1. The restaurant on Queens Boulevard I know but haven't eaten in. It is a former diner and a few blocks west of the intersection of Queens Boulevard and Broadway in Elmhurst, or approaching from the east, across from and 1 mile past Macy's.