Saturday, February 27, 2010

Eighth Week

We've been in Paris all week eating French food only. It rained on and off through Thursday night, but no snow. Friday was clear and chilly and today (Saturday) appears to be the same as we head for Chartres and a tour of the great cathedral. Fortunately, I have my scarf. I resume my gustatory (ad)venture in the middle of the ninth week. Au revoir et bon chance.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Seventh Week (L'shana tovah)

Gung Hoy Fat Choy. Happy New Year.
It’s the Year of the Tiger.
You were born in the Year of the Tiger if you fall in one of these slots:
31 January 1938 - 18 February 1939
17 February 1950 - 5 February 1
5 February 1962 - 24 January 1963
23 January 1974 - 10 February 1975
February 1986 - 28 January 1987
28 January 1998 - 15 February 1999
15 February 2010 - 2 February 2011 (You shouldn’t be reading this, it’s time for your nap)
Good matches - people born in year of the pig, dog, mouse, sheep, rooster or others born in the year of the tiger.
Bad matches - people born in the year of the ox, snake, monkey.
Best match -- Jews and Chinese food.

Monday, February 15, 2010
Chinese New Year is not a legal holiday, but President’s Day is. I haven’t worked in six days and I miss it (working or Chinese food?).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Wet snow falling as I walk to Noodle Village, 13 Mott Street. Medium-sized with 20 or so square tables, a few round tables set with chopsticks and soup ladle resting on a chopstick-soup ladle rest and a small round tray with salt, pepper, soy sauce, clear red (vinegary) sauce for dumplings, thick red pepper sauce in a squeeze bottle, and a small pot of dark red, thick, mean-looking pepper sauce. Some New Year’s decorations on the wall. Mostly Chinese patrons. Tea served in a white ceramic pot, but almost all other dishes, including tea cups, were from a matched set with a Chinese motif.
I skipped the special lo-mein for $60 and ordered the beef chow fun for $7.95. A big portion with good beef, but noodles cooked two snow storms ago. Their toothpick dispenser was unique, however. Not the usual Lucite box with the little wheel, but a cylinder pushed in so it has parallel side walls with a domed top. You slide the flattened cylinder up (it is an outer shell) and put it down causing a little man to pop up from a slit at the top of dome holding a toothpick above his little head.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 (Need we say more)
Excellent Dumpling House, 111 Lafayette Street may not be excellent, but it is very good. When I worked in Tribeca, it was the only Chinese restaurant in or near Chinatown that I went to regularly, about ½ mile each way. It’s small, but always crowded. It has about 10 tables holding 2 to 4 people, 2 tables for six and two round tables where strays like me are placed. The place is hopping with people quickly being seated and served and many others ordering to take out. A pot of tea in a metal pot is placed in front of you immediately. My round table had five people and five pots of tea. Chopsticks and the famous little soup ladle are set at your place.
I had hot and sour soup and the hot appetizer combination – an answer to the dim sum dilemma. This combo consists of one sticky bun, one spring roll, two crabmeat won ton and two different dumplings. It’s like going to a dim sum place with 3 other people. You get one of each at least, but avoid having to scoff up 4 of something, thereby taking away precious gastro-room from another delight. The combo is served with classic, sticky, red, pseudo-sweet and sour sauce to dip in. There were even two chunks of canned pineapple in the sauce to guarantee authenticity. I asked for mustard as well and was promptly given three flat, transparent plastic packets. If only they had taken the time to squeeze the mustard into a little dish.

Thursday, February 18, 2010
My congenial office mate, Michael, suggested that we eat a birthday steak today, his birthday and one day after mine, so we walked to Palm Restaurant on West Street. The exercise was good and the food was very good.

Friday, February 19, 2010
New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe, 50 Mott Street, opened within the last few days. It replaced Mr. Tang, a better-than-average looking place, that had been around for years. It occupies a big corner spot at the intersection of Bayard and Mott. The interior looks brand new, refreshingly modest though stylish in decor with tables of all sizes equipped with chopsticks, a fork, a soup ladle, a small dish of mustard (but nothing to dip in it) and a pretty tea pot – white ceramic, etched with blue Chinese characters, with a bamboo handle. Equally spiffy were the staff in fresh red tunics with black trimming and a gold medallion embroidered on the chest. They were also very friendly.
The lunch menu offered 52 choices with hot and sour soup and white rice ranging from $4.75 to $6.25. I chose fish filet in a spicy sauce at the top of the price range. It was well worth it; a medium-sized portion that was spicy when it said spicy. The sauce was flecked with red chili flakes if you only had to resort to your sense of sight to detect them. More than half the customers were Chinese, but I noticed many tourists looking in without walking in. I imagine when good reviews start to accumulate, as they should, non-Chinese patronage will increase. Then, I wonder if spicy stays spicy. That little red pepper seen on so many menus is often no more than an ink blot.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Alan Comes to Jesus

America’s Favorite Epidemiologist has had a problem selecting gifts for me, as she will admit, probably because she just can’t manage to master the seating charts at Madison Square Garden or Citifield. This year, she has been especially challenged because my birthday and Valentine’s Day fall very close together. For weeks, she has been asking what I want. I admit, I am hard to shop for, tickets to sporting events and cookies aside. I have a lot of clothes, a lot of books, a lot of recordings. The other day, however, walking to the subway after work on a cold night, I pulled out my cell phone and called her to say that I’d picked a gift.
I’ve always liked those colorful English college scarves with bright stripes running their length. In the early 80s, I had a predominantly maroon scarf with a yellow stripe. I simply don’t recall how I got it or what it represented, but I enjoyed it for years before passing it along to an English-born woman friend/colleague. In the early 90s, Nate Persily, then a distinguished student, now a distinguished professor, brought me a scarf from St. John’s College, Oxford, when he visited to debate at the Oxford Union. This very attractive scarf was black with red and yellow stripes. Once, on Third Avenue at 12th Street, waiting for an uptown bus, an older couple and (apparently) their daughter eyed me for several minutes, before the father figure approached me to tell me with a British accent that he, too, went to St. John’s Oxford. I may have then quoted that immortal adage, “Dress British, Think Yiddish,” but I owned up to having only rowed for CCNY. Years later, I gave up this scarf also.
With the consent of America’s Favorite Epidemiologist, I searched the Internet for “English college scarf” and “English university scarf” with identical results. Nothing at Brooks Bros., Paul Stuart, or J. Press. No British academic institution seemed interested in commercial endeavors and the British retailers confined themselves to their tight little island. However, an outfit called Bridgham & Cook, Ltd showed scarves from 25 different schools, mostly Oxford and Cambridge, in vivid colours. This business happens to be located in Freeport, Maine which is, after all, closer to the United Kingdom than I am in Manhattan. After considering the black, purple and yellow of the London School Economics, the dark blue, red and yellow of Trinity College, Cambridge and the red, white and blue of Balliol College, Oxford (which I never could select because it was the alma mater [nurturing mother] of Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, the worst two-legged roommate I ever had), I picked the wide red and black stripes of Jesus College, Cambridge, two black and one red on one side, two red and one black on the other. The scarf arrived within 48 hours, Praise the Lord!

Sixth Week

Monday February 8, 2010
Tasty Dumpling, 54 Mulberry Street, is tiny. There are three tables (2 for 4 and 1 for 2) and a lege in the window seating 2 or 3. It’s busy, mostly populated by young people and with others taking out. Tasty Dumpling trades in dumplings, offering 8 varieties of frozen dumplings, 50 to a package for $8 to $12, and six varieties boiled or pan fried, 8 for $3. It also has soups and noodles. You order and pay in advance at the counter in front of the kitchen and bring your food to a table which has a large squeeze bottle of watered-down soy sauce and a large squeeze bottle of hot sauce, which may have also been watered-down, but I didn’t taste it.
I had 8 boiled chicken and mushroom dumplings, a "golden pancake" and the traditional Diet Coke. The pancake was a wedge, slight smaller than a pizza slice, about 1" thick, close in taste and texture to a piece of Sicilian pizza without any topping. The pancake was dusted with sesame seeds and there were some pieces of scallion in the dough. Very tasty in all and very filling for $1. The pancake was also served with pork or beef as a sandwich; I intend to try this in 10 or 12 weeks when I able to return after reaching 72 individual Chinese restaurants.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Over the weekend, I ran into Paul (the very good criminal defense attorney) again, on the street, not in Fairway. He urged me to go to Hop Kee, 21 Mott Street downstairs, as soon as it reopened, which I did today. The space looked freshly renovated. The chairs and booths were intact, no scars, no stuffing visible. The tables were a woody-type Formica, set with fork and spoon, soy sauce, hot sauce, salt, pepper and sugar. Tea in metal pot came quickly and a glass of water (which most places skipped), but I had to ask for fried noodles when I saw them on another table. They were 2 to 3" long, narrow, but puffy. Mustard and relatively thick duck sauce came with them. Service was very good over all.
The menu was standard Cantonese food, that is what we Brooklyn-born gourmands might call real Chinese. I was happy to see that it served many things with black bean sauce including clams. I ordered Wor Shu Gai (or is it wor shu gai?), thick fried strips of chicken breast in a brown sauce. The chicken that sacrificed her breast was either enormous or really a turkey. The meat was good; the fried outside stuff was better; the sauce undistinguished. White rice came with the dish.
Now, here’s the problem, or rather the solution to why I so often have just soup, dumplings or noodles for lunch in Chinatown. The Wor Shu Gai was a large portion, appropriate for two or three more people at dinner who would also order some other things for a real meal. After having some beef, some shrimp, the ordinariness of the chicken dish would be obscured. Instead, I left some over, that’s right, I left some over and later felt I ate too much. And, it cost $14. The waiter brought one fortune cookie with the check. I didn't eat it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Snow day. Schools are closed, courts are closed, Chinatown presumably closed.

Thursday, February 11, 2010
I paid a return visit to Rabbi Traube, legal endoscopist at NYU Medical Center. All went well, but I never got south of 32nd Street although he got south of my esophagus.

Friday, February 12, 2010
Lincoln’s Birthday, a legal holiday for public employees in New York State. This is a vestigial remnant of the days when the Civil War was still being fought by selective celebrations of Presidents’ birthdays.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Fifth Week

Week Five
February 1, 2010
On a bright, clear day, little wind, mild temperature for the season, I went to Three Ocean Seafood Restaurant, 53 Bayard Street. Three Ocean has a bright, elaborate new sign, pennants and a Grand Opening sign in front. It’s small/medium size with pink tablecloths on small rectangular and big round tables. Everything looked pretty new except the menus which seemed beat up, as if they substituted for paddles in a recent Ping Pong match. They menus were quite diverse not only featuring seafood (enough to sway me from ordering chicken my intention regardless of where I landed) and parts of animals not usually consumed at any seder I’ve attended, the parts or the animals. The place was busy, all Chinese folk but me.
I ordered Chilean sea bass with teri-yaki sauce, a gesture of conciliation with the Nanking rapists by the chef, no doubt. It’s like seeing all those Mercedes taxicabs in Jerusalem. The fish was tasty and more expensive than the noodles, soups and dumplings I usually eat. I was only bothered that the generosity of spirit demonstrated to old enemies by the chef did not extend to me. I was charged 75¢ extra for a bowl of white rice.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Amazing 66 Restaurant, 66 Mott Street. A very attractive interior, freshly-painted something between parchment and key lime pie without the food coloring. Pale lacquered wooden tables and chrome chairs with yellow leather (or leather-like) backs and seats. Along the walls, there were insets holding tschotschkes behind wooden grills.
The menu had some interesting, but not necessarily intimidating items, such as seafood cooked in a hollowed-out pumpkin for $36. I ordered Amoy mei fun, the very fine noodles cooked with about ten items, animal and vegetable. The portion was huge; I left over about one fourth. The noodles were bland, lacking that slightly burnt, oily flavor of chow fun, but the added ingredients were ample. Besides Singapore mei fun, the curry-flavored dish, they also served Tai Pan mei fun for three dollars more than the others ($7.95), so it must contain chocolate or some other precious ingredient.
My change was $1 short, but they corrected that quickly. Maybe they didn’t realize that I once taught algebra. The other customers were mostly Chinese including a group of great-grandmothers (remember America’s Favorite epidemiologist is a grandmother) carrying bags and bundles. These ladies would definitely have taken home the onion rolls from Ratner’s on Delancey Street.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010 [ Happy Birthday Boaz ]
Great N.Y. Noodletown, 28 ½ Bowery. A small place with two cooks working in the window, chopping cooked chickens, ducks and ribs as they are ordered. The tables have glass tops with the menu underneath the glass for your reading convenience. Every table had hot sauce, 2 types of soy sauce (very salty and saltier), salt and pepper, and chop sticks. The chairs were solid dark wood of a familiar-looking Chinese design. However, where joints worked loose, repairs were made with silver-gray duct tape. About 2/3 of the patrons were Chinese.
I ordered soup with noodles, won ton and roast pork. The bowl was small, but contained far more solids than liquid. The won ton were stuffed with shrimp. Tea was served in a glass like my father used to drink it (a glezzeleh tay), although Great N.Y. Noodletown did not use old yahrzeit glasses. The tea was refilled without asking. Not a bad deal for $5.75.

Thursday, February 4, 2010
Delight 28 Restaurant, 28 Pell Street.
Somewhat deceptive from the outside where only one window looks out on the street, but inside a very large space in two rooms. Either room was larger than any restaurant I’ve visited so far this trip, although I know there are big spaces such as Triple 8 in Chinatown. The other surprise was the almost exclusive serving of dim sum to the many patrons, 95% percent Chinese. I had chicken in mind for lunch, roasted, fried or barbecued, but once inside I decided to be delighted with dim sum. I was seated at a large round table across from a Chinese couple who were later joined by two friends. The tables were covered with white cloths and were set with chop sticks. Very hot tea was served in a metal pot.
At first, the women pushing the dim sum carts ignored me unlike the rush Dean and I experienced at Ping’s. On reflection, I don’t think I was discriminated against on ethnic grounds. I was seated with my back to the flow of the carts; all the pusher ladies could see was a broad back, easily taken for a well-fed broad back. With my back towards them, I couldn’t make eye contact or gesticulate in a universally meaningful way that I was hungry. Also, the others at my table were schmoozing, not eating, so the ladies rolled on by them without giving me a chance to see what was under all those lids on the carts. The actual number of possibilities had to be two dozen or more. There was also a menu, but it consisted mostly of noodles and rice dishes, no roasted, fried or barbecued chicken, at least not for lunch.
The drought ended, however, and I had four dishes, each with three or four pieces. Two were steamed and two were fried. All were very good, except the fried items were not hot which is not the way my mother would have served them. With tip about $11 and next time I’m facing the on-coming traffic.

Side trip – On the way back to work, I stopped in Kam Man, the wonderful market at 200 Canal Street. Japanese dried abalone is up to $798 per pound, but if you are only going to your in-laws, you can bring the South African at $298.

Friday, February 5, 2010
I went north of Canal Street, following the spread of Chinatown in that direction, and went into Jobee Chinese Cuisine at 3 Howard Street. Now, forgive me for some nostalgia, but my first summer job at age 14 or 15 was on Howard Street, one block north of Canal. There was a sporting goods wholesale business that hired a lot of kids as shipping clerks, inventory clerks and such. I recollect that my brother and some of his friends from our old neighborhood in East New York worked there before. My friend Melvin Rockowitz and I were hired for the summer along with random other teenagers. I managed to get fired after a few weeks, because I screwed up some filing. Specifically, I was asked to file purchase orders by city of origin; in retrospect, this might have tied to salesmen’s territories.
Most customers were teams, professional, amateur, college and high school which gave me an extensive knowledge of the names of obscure institutions – have any of you ever heard of Pestalozzi-Froebel Teachers College? It’s real. Imagine the Pestalozzi-Froebel fight song. In any case, filing was a good, clean assignment and I got right into it. However, the boss fired me, because I misfiled a purchase order from the (then) Baltimore Colts. "B" right? Baltimore with a B. No! The Baltimore Colts business office was in Annapolis, Maryland and I hadn’t noticed, or took the B for granted. After a few days at home, I went back and asked the boss for forgiveness and was rehired.
Howard Street is still a dump and I was surprised to see any restaurant there. Jobee is easily ignored. It looks rundown from the outside and strangely-configured inside. Almost half the main room is taken by a bar. I later noticed a backroom set up for music performances. Maybe I had come upon one of the hot downtown clubs, that I never go to, in its daytime guise. I was the fourth customer, but soon eight young men and women, Gen Y for sure, sat down at a big table. I had them pegged, probably a group of Europeans (until I heard them speaking English), mid-westerners then, probably Pestalozzi-Froebel grad students on a break visiting New York. Economy, or blogging, seemed to be the only reason to enter Jobee. I ordered chicken curry with brown rice and got a vegetable egg roll and hot and sour soup with it for about $7. Tea was served in a metal pot, but was made with a tea bag. While I ate, another half dozen or so Chinese customers came in.
When I got up to leave, I had to confirm my insight, my analytic ability, my deductive powers, so I went over to the group of kids. "May I ask, where are you guys from?" "Around here, we work around the corner."

Fortune Cookies

A note about fortune cookies. In spite of my well-known interest in desserts, I almost always leave my fortune cookies untouched or pass them off to America’s Favorite Epidemiologist or whomever I am splitting the check with. This aversion goes back to Thanksgiving weekend 1964 in the festivities surrounding the wedding of Charlotte Whitcomb Colony and John Langley Stanley, formerly my graduate school roommate. Friends and family of the about-to-be-wed couple gathered for dinner at the (shamelessly-named) Keene Tiki in Keene, New Hampshire, certainly the leading pan-Asian restaurant in southwestern New Hampshire at the time. At the end of the meal, fortune cookies were handed out. Adrian Cruttwell-Vaughn, our marvelously debauched English friend, now missing in action 20 years, opened his fortune cookie and read a gloomy message about the next-day’s nuptials. I was very disturbed by this, but it proved to have no predictive value when John and Charlotte remained happily married for the next 34 years, ending only with John’s too early death.
While the dread was unjustified on that occasion, fortune cookie power asserted itself on the eve of my first marriage in December 1972. Again, friends and family gathered at a Chinese restaurant, this time in Westwood, California. My fortune cookie said: “Don’t worry, things won’t be all right anyway.” I kept that message with me for almost as long as the marriage lasted. And I’ve been afraid of fortune cookies ever since.