Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fifteenth Week

Monday, April 12, 2010
Ken Klein, attorney, wit and generous soul, joined me for lunch. It was in none of these capacities that he was in the vicinity, but rather as juror in a criminal case at 100 Centre Street. We went to Mandarin Court at 61 Mott Street, a restaurant I’ve been to many times before. Dim sum is served at lunch time, but the long, relatively narrow space inhibits the wagon flow a bit when it is at its busiest. We compromised, ordering from the lunch special menu, $5.95, he bean curd, chicken and salted fish, me General Tso’s chicken, and picked three dishes from the carts, chicken shu mei, steamed vegetable roll and steamed spinach dumpling, at $2.50 each. The food was only average good, but we enjoyed conversation so much, it was secondary.
I was delayed leaving 60 Centre Street to meet Ken because I ran into another WES member, a very successful lawyer. When her client, a distinguished business type, heard my name he piped right up, "The famous Swiss author." You see, until now, the most famous literary Gotthelf was Jeremiah Gotthelf, the nom-de-plume of a 19th Century Swiss clergyman who wrote of the scenic Swiss countryside. His work is still read in Swiss schools, said Mr. Client, where this gentleman brushed up on his Gotthelf.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010
I’m not sure how to count, 51 Bayard Street, in compiling my list of Chinese restaurants. First, it has two names, the alternate is Tao Hot Pot Restaurant, which appears on the neon sign in the window and on the check. Else, on the menus, in-house and take-out, Happy Time Café is the name. Incidentally, a search of the internet finds no Tao Hot Pot, but Happy Times Café in Melville, NY;, the blog of Cynthia Enciso, a graphics designer from southern California; and, an internet, ping pong, billiards and darts café, open 24 hours daily somewhere in Japan.
The Japanese connection may not be an accident, since almost half the menu at Happy Time is devoted to Japanese food, mostly sushi and sashimi with some udon, teriyaki and tempura thrown in. The rest of the menu, however, was not what you might call echte Chinese. It included Swiss Chicken Wings, "Borsch soup," Toast with Peanut Butter, Baked Ham & Shredded Chicken in Alfredo Sauce over Rice (Alfredo also covered salmon, tuna, shrimp, fish filet and baked chicken & mushroom), and various dishes with Portuguese sauce. So, what’s the count – 2, 1 or maybe ½ a Chinese restaurant?
I ordered Baked Chicken in Portuguese Sauce over Spaghetti, not lo mein which appears elsewhere on the menu, but spaghetti. Of course, one man’s lo mein is another man’s spaghetti. For $5.95, I was served a big round plate containing chicken, onions, potatoes, mushrooms generously arrayed over spaghetti in a light cheese sauce. While I’ve never been to Portugal, I was surprised by the cheese. It was quite good, if a little odd. Also odd were the plastic glasses that tea was served in, the kind you might use when brushing your teeth. Maybe that explains why, with about 20 tables with enough room each for four people, I was the fourth person in the restaurant before two customers entered and three left.
If I return, it will be to order the Evil Fried Rice at $6.50, which I only noticed when I read the take-out menu later.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010
I thought about beef with ginger and scallions last night, a long-time favorite dish that I realized I haven’t eaten in a long time. I was pleased I ordered it at X.O. Café & Grill, 96 Walker Street, because that was the only thing I found pleasing there. The restaurant sprawls over three rooms; there must have been separate businesses there once upon a time. The waiters appeared in fits and starts although the restaurant was no more than half full. I had to ask for tea. Ask for tea which was served in toothbrush glasses just like yesterday at Happy Time Café. Correction – today, the plastic glasses were larger and all the same color.
A medium/large portion of beef with ginger and scallion ($11.95) came out sizzling hot on a platter and tasted just right. When I ate all the solids, I dumped rice onto the platter to sop up the tangy sauce. The rice cost a buck extra, by the way. X.O. spells take-out.

Thursday, April 15, 2010 (Don’t ask)
Golden Bowl, 51 Division Street. I headed directly to Division Street (I have no idea what it once divided), because I realized, in spite of my wanderings through Chinatown, I had not been on Division Street for many years. Once, it was a favored destination because of the Canton Restaurant, a very popular and successful enterprise. Canton offered a gloss of sophistication with very good, yet comfortable Chinese food. It was where thousands of New Yorkers first ate minced quail rolled in a lettuce leaf.
Now, Canton long closed, Division Street contained several large restaurants featuring seafood and several tiny joints that operated in a way I had not encountered before. Golden Bowl was a small, narrow space with about ten tables for 2 or 4 people. In the window and as you immediately enter a couple of women stand over 20 or so pans of food, fish, fowl, vegetables, tofu, eggs. You ask for, or in my case, point elegantly to what you want and your server puts 2 or 3 spoonfuls on a plate. I chose sweet and sour pork (when was the last time there was sour in any sweet and sour dish?), a fried egg, roast duck and hard shell crab (I thought soft shell until I took a bite) mixed into scrambled eggs. As soon as I sat down, a bowl of a clear soup (tasting like miso soup) with cubes of a very potato-like tuber in it and a plate of rice were put on the small table where I pulled up a stool, no chairs to tempt you to linger. All together, $3.50. I didn’t notice the absence of tea, but I would have paid another half a buck if need be. The place was very busy with only Chinese customers. It was a decent cross between a cafeteria and a buffet. You don’t come away stuffed, but you got your $3.50 worth.
Sharing the same address is Yi Mei Gourmet Food Inc., seemingly identical in operation except that the food and the cash register were on the left instead of the right.

Friday, April 16, 2010
New Bo Ky Restaurant, Inc., 80 Bayard Street seems to have around a long time, or, at least, I recall seeing it for decades. It actually represents the nightmare of American foreign policy in the 1960s, an alliance between China and Vietnam. The sign over the wide storefront, the restaurant is wider than deep, is written in Vietnamese as well as Chinese and the restaurant’s business card features Pho, the traditional Vietnamese broth, and several other Vietnamese dishes. It is medium-sized, but the interior space is deceptive because of several mirrored pillars throughout. The entire kitchen is in the front window, to the left of the entrance, where four cooks chop, fry, and boil. Most of the menu consists of soups and noodles, so they do quite well in the narrow space. Speaking of narrow space, my little table was almost half covered with salt and pepper shakers, sugar dispenser, napkin holder, four different bottles of sauce and two small pots of pepper and onion relish.
Keeping with the Indochinese theme, I ordered Cambodian rice noodle soup. The very tasty broth had lots of noodles plus shrimp, pork, beef and one inch round fish balls, which if left untasted could pass for small matzah balls. This cost $5 and helped chase the chill of a sub-par Spring day. Because I was still hungry though, and to be seasonally correct and stay on theme, I ordered Vietnamese Spring rolls when I finished the soup. For $6.50, I got eight smallish Spring rolls with an excellent dipping sauce, sweet and peppery. Eight was more than I wanted to complete my meal, but, remembering history, I soldiered on.

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