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.

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