Friday, March 12, 2010

Tenth Week

Monday, March 8, 2010
I set out along East Broadway today to search for Little Shanghai, which, in days of yore, Jon Silverberg and I patronized frequently. (Actually, I forgot the name until Jon answered my e-mail query.) It is apparently long gone, possibly because of the foul rumor Jon spread that he had seen a rat the size of a cat traversing the dining room.
Happy Garden Palace, 54 East Broadway.
As I have admitted, most of my Chinatown lunches have been pretty ordinary. I have not explored regional specialities or mysterious delicacies, rather sticking to what Mama Ruth Gotthelf would call Real Chinese Food, the kind we all grew up with. Today, I crossed over.
Happy Garden Palace, with a big, bright sign across the front, carries out the decorating theme of more is more. The restaurant is smallish, holding 12 tables varying from small for 4 (or just right for me) to a large, roundtable easily fitting 10 or more people. One wall has an illuminated color photograph of a Chinese hillside where the yak and water buffalo play, roughly 4' x 8'. Opposite is a set of beveled mirrors. A flat screen TV straight ahead was showing Chinese language programs with subtitles in another Chinese dialect, probably Fuzhouese. There was a crystal chandelier and several red lanterns hung from the ceiling.
All the other customers were Chinese and the only English word I heard from staff or customers was "OK." Happy Garden Palace has a large menu, including Frog w. Mussel Soup, Pig Blood w. Chives, Goose Intestine w. King Mushroom and (that old standby) Dai Ching w. Fender Leek. While I momentarily considered Shrimp w. Lobster Sauce, a mainstay of Real Chinese Food, I chose Fish w. Fuzhou Style for $10.95. White rice and tea in a glass came with it, but first I waited longer for the dish than I had for any other in this (ad)venture. I kept busy with a copy of the New York Law Journal, but I considered whether pointing to # 134 while saying "fish, fish" was sufficient to indicate my preference or whether the chef simply was picking through his fish collection for the apt treat.
Fish w. Fuzhou Style doesn’t sound too exotic, too far off the path of Real Chinese Food, but once it arrived I knew I had elevated my game. First, only the appearance of a little fin indicated that the large slab on the plate before me was piscine rather than bovine, ovine, porcine, feline or even ursine. The skin was slightly crisp, as if it had been broiled briefly, and the whole dish was bathed in a dark red fluid which had a good taste as long as you banished the thought of its possible origins. Of course, the presence of many bones and the size of the portion were the reasons I ate only about one third of it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Chatham Sq Restaurant (sic), 6 Chatham Square
Its name aside, Chatham Sq is thoroughly Chinese, especially all the other customers in the crowded restaurant. It seemed rather new, nicely decorated, medium-sized with only round tables big enough for 8 or so. After I sat down at a partially-occupied table, people stood around waiting for space to open up. Although not obvious from the outside, Chatham Sq is devoted to dim sum at lunch. However, very few carts patrolled the aisles; most ordering was done from a list of 50 or so items presented instead of a menu. I did not see any carts at first and was examining the list to create a nutritionally balanced meal when eventually a cart came over to me. I chose a shrimp blintz and sticky rice. Later, when another cart came, I picked vegetable dumplings. Almost everyone else was getting items ordered from the list, filling in with food off the carts. I was relieved that only two carts showed up because, although the food was good, I wasn’t very hungry and America’s Favorite Epidemiologist was preparing dinner tonight. Since I has also forgotten to take anything to read during lunch, I did not linger to see what else might tempt me. The three dishes came to $11.70 with tax. Tea, of course, was included.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Hsin Wong Restaurant, 72 Bayard Street
It gives the appearance inside and out of having been around for a long time. Small and crowded with about a dozen tables of various sizes, often shared by random ones and twos. A plate with chopsticks is in front of each seat and a pail of silverware sits in the middle of the table along with soy sauce and hot sauce. A metal pot of tea comes with the menu. Much of the available wall space is occupied by colorful strips of paper, about 4" x 12", identifying special dishes in Chinese only.
The menu is full of soup, noodle and rice dishes, all moderately priced. I ordered spicy beef chow fun and got a large portion, modestly spiced, beef cut a little too thick, but cooked through. It was filling and worth the $7 tax included. By chance, Mark Jaffe, formerly my colleague throughout 2009, now, by coincidence, working for Judge Jaffe, walked into the restaurant right behind me. It’s one of his favorites and he ordered chicken in black bean sauce over rice, which I tasted and can recommend for under $5.

Thursday, March 11, 2010
The unfortunately-named Chanoodle Express is at 79 Mulberry Street. It deserves a better handle. There was nothing rushed or fast-foody about it. It is a relatively new place, square, with about 15 tables. Decorated in dark colors, bright lighting and a wall-length mirror along one side nevertheless made it feel open and airy. When I walked in, almost all the customers were non-Chinese, but the mix changed as I sat there. I had spare ribs, six 2" pieces bathed in a sticky sweet sauce which I ate with a soup spoon, and fried quail legs, a real treat. The six teeny tiny legs were coated in rice flour, seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic, and deep fried. The plate also had red peppers and pieces of scallion to add more zing. Both dishes were $4.95 and that made the quail legs even better.
Before I finished, four non-Chinese women needed help settling their bill. Whether they were accountants or merely fans of Ayn Rand, they sought precision in their economic reckoning. So, the waitress gave them back a copy of the menu and a calculator in order to determine what sweet-and-sour chicken and a Coke cost with tax and tip as opposed to shrimp lo-mein and Won Ton soup and so forth.
The waitress brought tea in a glass after I asked for "Cha" which is not half a dance. That request in the Mama Loshen and my Hello in Chinese ("Nee How Ma" originally taught to me by John Langley Stanley) kept her hovering about my table admiring my vocabulary and refilling my glass after every sip of tea. As I learned in Beijing almost 2 years ago, Big Nose is a common appellation for Westerners in China and, I guess, she was impressed by the real thing.

Friday, March 12, 2010
The short stretch of Spring-like days with temperatures in the 50s this week ended today with chilly rain showers and the promise of heavier rain on the weekend. My plans to walk with Boaz, the Wonder Child, to the Moroccan falafel joint on Steinway Street tomorrow night (which is my version of babysitting), therefore, may not be realized.
Pell Street has been a classic Chinatown address for 100 years or so. It runs two blocks, roughly east-west, between Mott Street and Canal Street. Its restaurant population now is down to about a half dozen, but there are three times as many beauty parlors, barber shops and backrub/foot rub joints in that short distance. Maybe when I am finished eating, I’ll turn to relaxing and improving my appearance.
Famous Sichuan, 10 Pell Street, is better looking inside than out. The room, near square, holds 15 or so tables of varying sizes covered in pink linen with glass tops. The two walls perpendicular to the entrance are a light-colored, glossy knotty pine from waist level to ceiling hung with some pleasant photographs. The customers were mixed, homeboys and roundeyes.
The lunch menu was a great bargain. I had egg drop soup (hot and sour and Won Ton were the other choices), which came piping hot, shrimps in lobster sauce, white rice and tea, particularly flavorful and served in an ivory-colored pot with blue trim and a bamboo handle, for $5.50 including tax. The shrimps were served in a soup bowl which was needed because the abundant lobster sauce was very soupy. I kept spooning it unto my bowl of white rice evoking memories of my boyhood when all I would eat in a Chinese restaurant was the lobster sauce on the lobster Cantonese that my parents invariably ordered. This sauce was rich with egg and a touch of garlic; this was Real Chinese Food. I repeat $5.50 including tax.

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