Saturday, May 29, 2010

Twenty-First Week (The End of an Era)

Monday, May 24, 2010
New York Foo Chow Restaurant, 68 East Broadway. In spite of its proximity to 88 Palace and the 8 in its own address, little if any luck was associated with New York Foo Chow Restaurant, a medium-sized restaurant with 12 round tables. It had the customary dragon and phoenix on the back wall, above statues of three of the traditional elders. Six photographs of cooked dishes alternated with carved, dark wooden plaques on an adjacent wall. The inevitable flat screen television, not too noticeable with a 32 inch screen, showed only Chinese commercials, or very, very short stories.
The restaurant filled up with Chinese people as I sat there sharing a table with two understudies from a Jackie Chan movie who were the only quiet persons in the joint. Everyone else yelled; customers yelled across the table to each other; waiters yelled at other waiters. Customers yelled at waiters; waiters yelled right back. How Jewish, I thought.
I ordered orange flavor beef ($9.95) and, when it arrived, I was enthused by the heaping portion on the plate until I discovered that the omnipresent broccoli was underneath the beef as well as surrounding it. Even though there was less there than met the eye, it wasn’t good enough to finish. Tea was served to me only upon request.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
East Seafood Restaurant, 17 Division Street, defies one of the axioms I’ve created in this (ad)venture. It does not serve dim sum at lunch even though it has Seafood in its name. I walked in thinking I would have dim sum, so I could avoid having noodles. Why did I want to avoid having noodles, one might ask. Because today is the Seventh Wedding Anniversary of the upper West Side’s leading Power Couple.
East Seafood Restaurant is new, with colorful pennants over the storefront. The interior is bright, with pink tablecloths and pale yellow walls. A dragon and a phoenix glare at it each other on the back wall, both with illuminated red eyes. There are 12 round tables and one very large round table, but there were never more than 11 people in the restaurant, all but one Chinese. It deserves to get more business, based on my one meal. Lunch specials cost $5.25 with rice and tea, and include more than the usual suspects. I ordered veal short ribs with black peppercorn sauce and was delighted by this choice. Short ribs was a misnomer; they were thin veal chops with the bone in. It was a generous portion for lunch (at such a low price), cooked in a dark, gooey, spicy sauce. I did not hesitate to use a knife and fork to cut the meat and a tablespoon to gather up all that delicious sauce and mix it with the white rice.
Oh, what about the noodles? I made dinner reservations at ‘Cesca, an excellent Italian restaurant at 75th & Amsterdam, to celebrate my longest marriage. (Grammarians will observe that it should read "my longer marriage.") And what do they serve at Italian restaurants?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010
The indomitable Stanley Feingold has returned to New York and I lunched at his knee.

Thursday, May 27, 2010
Tuesday night’s anniversary dinner at ‘Cesca was very good, but I didn’t have any pasta a/k/a noodles after all. So, I headed right for Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodle Inc., 1 Doyers Street, a small establishment. How small is it? If 24 strangers went into the restaurant, they would have to come out as friends. The menu, both the eat-in or take-out versions, has pictures of many dishes to help you order. In spite of that, I was surprised that the House Special Hand-Pulled Noodles ($6), came in a broth when I expected dry noodles. The menu in words or pictures does not readily distinguish wet from dry, although you can discern plates from bowls by a closer look at the pictures. The broth was tasty and contained ox tail, beef tendon, tripe, beef and a fried egg along with the noodles and greens. Fortunately, the temperature was in the low 70s at lunchtime, not the high 80s as yesterday, so I was able to enjoy the hot broth without exuding as much moisture as I took in. You could also order knife-peeled noodles as an alternative to hand-pulled noodles. Except for dumplings and rice cakes (I don’t think they are the same as futile dieters eat), the menu was all noodles all the time.

Friday, May 28, 2010
This is it, Heaven on Earth, 72 Chinese restaurants in Chinatown since January 4, 2010. I chose the ultimate restaurant carefully. Some might argue that it isn’t even a restaurant, but I was true to my mission.
Even though I love ice cream, I have usually denied myself the pleasure most of this year. There is an extremely popular, and very expensive, gelateria named Grom, on Broadway between 76th & 77th Streets, that I have walked by dozens of times since it opened almost exactly 2 years ago, and I mean walked by without even taking a free tasting. Another gelateria opened last year on Broadway between 69th & 70th Streets, almost directly opposite our apartment building, named Screme Gelato Bar, which I haven’t patronized even when they offered gelato Kosher for Passover. Jacques Torres, master chocolatier and baker of superb chocolate chip cookies, located at Amsterdam Avenue and 73rd Street, sells his own ice cream with flavors such as Wicked chocolate, white chocolate raspberry, and vanilla rum caramel, but I haven’t had any of his since last summer. Only some random sorbets have appeared in our freezer when company was coming.
So, my last stop to arrive at Heaven on Earth was, naturally, the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, 65 Bayard Street. This store has been in business since 1978, but I don’t recall ever patronizing it before, in spite of walking by hundreds of times. Some of their regular flavors include Almond Cookie, Black Sesame, Chocolate Pandan, Durian, Ginger, Green Tea, Lychee, Red Bean, Taro and Zen Butter. Rushing to WikiPedia, I learned that the Pandan leaf is a cooking ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisines. Pandan is an upright, green plant with a "nutty, botanical fragrance." Durian is a tree fruit with a thorn-covered husk. I quote from WikiPedia: "Some people regard the durian as fragrant; others find the aroma overpowering and offensive. The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust. The odor has led to the fruit’s banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in southeast Asia."
I did not look for durian on the menu, but I did not just make the easy choices of pineapple, mango, cherry pistachio or that old Chinese favorite Oreo. I had three scoops ($6.50), lychee, Zen butter and almond cookie. Zen butter was purportedly sesame seed and peanut butter, but I tasted very little of either, although I sampled black sesame and that distinctly tasted sesame. The almond cookie ice cream was the clear winner. All three flavors were pale cream in color, so I wasn’t always sure where I was as I tunneled through the large cup.
Yes there were times I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out, I faced it all
And I stood tall and did it my way
(Lyrics by Paul Anka)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Twentieth Week

Monday, May 17, 2010
Sweet Spring Restaurant, 25A Catherine Street
What a nice name. I needed a little cheering up as I tried to cope with two major losses over the weekend – the Mets being swept by the Florida Marlins and the end of Law and Order, the original Law and Order, the real Law and Order. Unfortunately, when Lennie Briscoe was enforcing the Law, or was it the Order?, in the early days, I rarely saw an episode because I was still in my bachelor, no TV days. Once I plighted my troth to America’s Favorite Epidemiologist, however, I not only inherited two wonderful adult children, but two television sets as well. Now, I am catching up with hundreds of stories ripped from the headlines. In the future, as I walk up and down the steps of the majestic courthouse at 60 Centre Street, I’ll remember the assaults, press conferences, and asparagus castings that occurred there once upon a time in TV Land.
Sweet Spring sits on the corner of Henry Street, occupying many times more space than it needs for the three tables it holds. Behind the counter are four people, three cooking. Sweet Spring is a dumpling joint, akin to Fried Dumpling and Tasty Dumpling, with a large take-out business. I ordered four lightly fried pan dumplings, shredded pork and chives ($1.25), and one pork choy, a large pan fried dumpling ($1) which, if it wasn’t fried, would have been a steamed sticky bun. They were all very good. Washed down with a traditional Diet Coke, I went away better prepared to begin the healing process.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Yummy Noodle, 48 Bowery, seems to promise a lot. It sells pretty good T-shirts for only $15. There is a miniature Ping Pong table, with rackets and ball, hung vertically on one wall. The wallpaper is made up of anime or manga scenes. My spiky-haired waiter wore a T-shirt saying Chinatown Gang Wars 1978. Yummy Noodle’s web site is well-designed and relatively sophisticated and a framed picture of a scallion pancake sat on the attractive dark wood table. I ordered it immediately ($3) and it was good, but not great as I might expect from a three dollar scallion pancake. Things did not get better. The first cup of tea was warm, not hot. When I drank it quickly, the refill was no hotter, so I has to ask for hot tea. I ordered salt-baked chicken over rice ($4.50), but, in spite of my careful enunciation to my hip-looking waiter, I got boiled chicken over rice. I let it go because I was looking forward to dinner with Jay Stanley, who is spending the day in New York trying to preserve our civil liberties. Even at $4.50, the portion was small, so I didn’t miss much.
On the way back to work, I went into New Kam Man (I think I’ve been calling it Kam Man), 200 Canal Street, joining Century 21, Russ & Daughters, Jacques Torres, Syms Fairway and Zabar’s in defining NYC as the retail shopping capital of the world. While I spent some time contemplating the lovely tins of Belgian chocolate-covered cookies, as I always do, today, I made a purchase in the housewares section, in the basement, overflowing with tea services, rice cookers, bamboo dumpling steamers and sake cups. I bought dirty chop sticks. Not food-encrusted chop sticks, but lust-inducing chop sticks. Now, to find a recipe to go with them.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010
America’s Favorite Epidemiologist turns into Bubbe the babysitter for the day and I accompany her in order to protect Boaz from bad influences. Lunch was falafel, a tribute to his mother. I tried to cover it in chicken fat in tribute to my mother, but Mustafa at the counter would not allow it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010
Canton Kitchen, NYC at 171 Hester Street. I was reminded of the repeated comment that Chinatown has one large kitchen dispensing food through an assortment of storefronts when I ordered crispy fried chicken with garlic sauce ($10.95). I had a dish of the same name a few weeks back at Yong Gee, just around the corner, which turned out to be one of my favorites. It was a very large chicken breast with a crispy skin, cooked intact and cut into one inch slices, sprinkled with toasted garlic bits. Expecting more or less the same, I got instead fried, breaded chicken pieces served in a slightly tangy sauce which they must call call sweet and sour chicken when they add pineapple chunks or General Tso's chicken when they put too much broccoli on the plate. I wasn't thrilled. And, I concluded that there isn't one kitchen servicing Chinatown, but one menu printer.
Lunchtime was not a total loss. Canton Kitchen NYC was comfortably airconditioned on a warm afternoon and, while the smallish place had patrons coming in and out, I was left alone to do most of the crossword puzzle.

Friday, May 21, 2010
I’ve enjoyed eating at 88 Palace, 88 East Broadway, in the past, but today I sought it out with a purpose. 88 is one of the luckiest numbers in Chinese superstition and, tonight, the Mets begin a weekend series with the Yankees at CitiField. I have tickets for tonight and Sunday night and I had to enlist whatever forces I could find to produce a successful weekend.
88 Palace is up one flight, the escalator was not running, in a building that sits under the roadway of the Manhattan Bridge. The ground floor is taken up by 20 or more shops and booths offering jewelry, candy, phone cards, groceries, cellular telephones, and clothing. The restaurant is about 1 block long by ½ block wide, full of Chinese people and very noisy. Much of the large space is lost, however, to the staircase and escalator that emerge in the middle of the floor plan. This also is an obstacle to observing the entire operation. Only as I was leaving did I see three dragon/phoenix pairs hung on the walls and a very large illuminated photograph of the contemporary Shanghai skyline. I could not see all the wagon ladies because of the obstructed sight lines. Oh, didn’t I say that 88 Palace serves dim sum at lunch and does so very well.
I was seated at a table with a Chinese lady, eating alone, who was somewhere between 60 and 85 years old. She had six or seven dishes in front of her, but I silently swore not to compete with her. Eventually, she asked for containers to take about one half the food home with her. Unlike me, she was not returning to a kosher kitchen.
I had shu mei (4 pieces), shrimp balls rolled in boiled rice (3), corn and chicken dumplings (3) and (superior) triangular, baked roast pork buns (3) at a total cost of $8 (tax included, ignored or discarded). I was told that prices are higher on Sunday. For a weekday, though, it was a particularly good deal.
Let’s go, Mets!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Nineteenth Week

Monday, May 10, 2010
Faisal Shahzad, you are so last week. There was exactly one television truck outside the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse at lunch time and no one carrying a camera for a living was anywhere in the vicinity. So, Mr. Shahzad, unless you were brought up on 75th Street and West End Avenue you might as well be squatting in a cave in Tora Bora.
Noodle King Restaurant, 19 Henry Street, sits at the corner of Catherine Street. Now, Mother Ruth Gotthelf moved to 121 Henry Street, between Essex Street and Pike Street, after she was born at 13 Essex Street and that means born at 13 Essex Street, not brought home there from the maternity ward. And, you should know that 121 Henry Street wasn’t just your ordinary decrepit lower East Side tenement. No sir. As she is quick to remind you, next door, 119 Henry Street, had an elevator, which makes a big difference when 6 kids, parents and an occasional boarder lived in an apartment with the bathroom in the hall.
Noodle King is a small square room; if every seat were filled there would be a 50 uncomfortable people in the restaurant. Instead, there were 5 to 8 people eating there with me. However, there was a very active take-out business. Mirrors lined two interior walls and about 60 3" wide fluorescent papers strips were pasted to the top edge of the mirrors advertising specials in one of the many languages that I cannot comprehend.
While Noodle King advertises Hong Kong cuisine, I chose chicken egg foo yong ($5.25), which I doubt ever crossed the Pacific Ocean. It was a good choice, with a large portion of white rice and a fragrant broth included. Much of the food preparation was done in the front window by two men, but there was a kitchen in back as well. Tea was in a glass and service was attentive, which you had to expect with so few people at tables. I had enough time and space to make headway on the Sunday crossword puzzle before returning to do justice.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Hoy Wong, 81 Mott Street, is the first restaurant you reach when turning off Canal Street onto Mott Street, but it was near empty when I walked a little after 1 PM. It’s small, with 4 round tables and 6 rectangular tables. It only had one chef standing in the window amid the hanging ducks, chickens and pork. The near-omnipresent illuminated color photograph on the wall was only 3' x 4' and showed the Great Wall from an uninteresting angle.
I ordered roast duck chow fun ($7.25) and it was all right. Duck in Chinatown, though widely served, is often iffy. Peking Duck House and other top end joints serving Peking duck usually do a fine job of cooking off the fat, then trimming before serving. The regular restaurants, which are likely to serve roast duck over rice or in soup, take less pains. Maybe fatty duck is a delicacy and that’s what you are going to get. The many small pieces of duck in Hoy Wong’s chow fun were tasty and not particularly fatty.
The high spot of lunch was the next table, where 4 Chinese people, two couples seemingly, sat down and spent many minutes discussing the menu (in Chinese) before asking the waiter over for advice, just like four women from Scarsdale.
Meanwhile, it seems that Faisal (Mr. Parking Space Terrorist) Shahzad is not headed to Larry King when the FBI is through with him, because only a CNN truck remains near the federal courthouse which would be unnecessary if he was going to their studios for a respite after answering tough questions.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010
J & B Seafood Restaurant, 39-41 East Broadway, also called Jing Bin Seafood Restaurant on its business card, is up one flight of stairs. It is medium large, with chandeliers of almost every size on the ceiling. The chairs are draped in a tangerine-colored brocade cloth. It was near full today; I saw only Chinese people including several handfuls of children, a rare sight in a restaurant on a school day. One of the managers suggested they were new immigrants to which I countered that it was Chairman Mao’s birthday.
Along with almost every other Chinatown restaurant with seafood in its name, it serves dim sum at lunch. It also had a table in the center where two women cooked a variety of dishes to order, including sauteed greens, omelets, clams and periwinkles (snails). After getting sticky buns and shrimp dumplings from a cart, I went over to the table to inspect the offerings. While trying to decide, a cart wheeled by with chicken feet and I directed the driver over to my table. I had committed to chicken feet several restaurants ago and now was the time. They were braised in a mild brownish tomatoish sauce which I spooned over the sticky rice I added to the table while eating the chicken feet. I finished off with beef rolls, three large, steamed rice noodles rolled around chopped meat. The bill was $10.75; no one mentioned weekday discounts, but the pricing was in line with other comparable establishments.
As I went by, one still photographer from the Boston Herald took a few pictures of the inactive front door of the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Federal Courthouse and then walked away, leaving the sidewalks completely empty of terrorists and the people who love them.

Thursday, May 13, 2010
Several dear readers have expressed health concerns over my ingestion of oil and salt-ridden Chinese food virtually every week day at lunch. As LeBron James said, I don’t want to be cavalier, but where would that leave French fries?
Others want to know what I will do when I reach the heavenly goal of 72 Chinese restaurants. I’ve considered expanding into Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Malaysian venues, which are found in varying numbers in Chinatown. Or, return to some of the more impressive establishments and start digging deeper into their menus.
America’s Favorite Epidemiologist fears expansion, but of my waistline, not my inventory of cuisines. I’m considering my alternatives with D-Day about 2 weeks away.
Excellent Pork Chop House, 3 Doyers Street, is a relatively small, characterless joint where today I had a bowl of fish ball noodle soup ($4.95 including tax or ignoring tax). Doyers Street itself is much more interesting. It starts at a right angle to Canal Street, just above Chatham Square. It runs about 100 feet and then makes a crooked 90 degree turn to the right (north) and ends another 80 feet away at Pell Street. Because of this bend, Doyers Street was supposedly at the center of tong warfare in the late 19th century, because of the ability to ambush the enemy coming around the corner. Now, the local post office is on Doyers Street as is Nom Wah Tea Parlor, the oldest dim sum house in Chinatown having opened in 1920. What’s fascinating is that the short leg of Doyers Street leading to Pell Street has 7 barber/beauty shops and, on Pell Street clustered around the intersection with Doyers Street, there are at least 9 more barber/beauty shops. Should this be my next obsession? Every month or so, get a haircut in a different shop. It would probably be better for my health unless they put MSG in the hair tonic.

Friday, May 14, 2010
Our dear friends, David and Kathleen Mervin, are here from the north of England to meet their new-born granddaughter, Charlotte Gloria, resident of Brooklyn. America's Favorite Epidemiologist and I met the proud grandparents for lunch at a café in Brooklyn Heights, joined by Kathleen's sister Judy and her husband Henry, a delightful couple themselves. Lack of time, unfortunately, prevented us ending a lovely afternoon with a walk on the Promenade.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Eighteenth Week

Monday, May 3, 2010
The Golden Unicorn Restaurant, 18 East Broadway, is one of the best known restaurants in Chinatown. It is favorably reviewed in the Michelin Red Guide and other venues. It is a member of La Chaine Des Rotisseurs which is to restaurants what the Jesuits are to Christians. The restaurant is on the second and third floors of a commercial building. Weekday lunch time is devoted to dim sum and only the second floor is usually open. The room, near square, 40-50 feet per side, is very decorated with the chairs covered entirely in yellow-gold brocade. The mandatory phoenix and dragon had the extra touch of a blinking eye, green for the phoenix, red for the dragon. Almost all the seats were occupied by Chinese in groups of 4 to 8. Counting my imaginary playmate, there were only two at my table. The high ceilings diminished the impact of the drapes, sconces, and illuminated pillars. The three flat-screen televisions were turned to CNN, not the usual fare.
About 5 women at a time were rolling carts around and the food was very good to excellent. I had shrimp/pork shu mei (4 pieces), shrimp/vegetable dumpling (3 pieces), baked triangular roast pork buns (3 pieces) (best in show) and 3 spring rolls. This totaled $11.50 and tea was $1 more. I was sorry I was alone (my imaginary playmate wasn’t hungry), because I would have liked to try more dishes. Noodle and rice dishes and main courses could also be ordered from a menu on the table.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010
I did not have lunch today with Faisal Shahzad, the man under arrest for the unsuccessful car bombing in Times Square, although his presence infused the neighborhood. As I went to lunch, and returned later, the streets and sidewalk near the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Federal Courthouse around the corner were loaded with reporters, videographers, photographers and the merely curious awaiting the comings and goings of Mr. Shahzad as he gets acquainted with the nice folks in the Southern District of New York. There were about 10 trucks from TV stations, with booms sticking up in the air or satellite dishes on their roofs, and more than 2 dozen tripods with video cameras mounted aimed at the front door of the courthouse. Did they expect him hzad to come waltzing in and out, under his own power, ready for his 15 years-to-life moment of fame? "Hi. Is Geraldo here? I’d really like to speak to Geraldo first." You’ll see it all tonight at 5 and 6 and 10 and 11, at the very least.
Buddha Bodai Vegetarian Restaurant, 5 Mott Street, is a certified Kosher Chinese restaurant, the only one in Chinatown, as far as I know. Vegetarian Dim Sum House, 24Pell Street, has a similar menu, but has not sought (or received) Kosher certification. Both restaurants are not only meatless, they are vegan. Buddha Bodai had signs on the walls and in the window promoting its vegan ice cream and vegan cheese cake. There are some lines, however, I will not cross.
The neatly-furnished medium-sized room was busy and occupied by Chinese, regular Americans and observant Jews eating dishes simulating lamb, chicken, beef and fish made out of gluten or soy or vegetables. The lunch menu is $6.95 including soup or spring roll, white or brown rice, tea too. Dim sum can also be ordered from a menu. I had General Tso’s Vegetarian Chicken which wasn’t bad. Whatever made up the 11 or 12 chicken-nugget-sized chicken imitations, lightly breaded in a mildly-spiced sauce, could pass for chicken if you were concentrating on Calvin Trillin in this week’s New Yorker. Even if you were not diverted from the plate in front of you, you would not be easily convinced that it wasn’t chicken.
My choice of the Kosher food at Buddha Bodai was not an ironic nod toward Mr. Shahzad, but a small tribute to my dinner companions tonight – four in-laws, three of whom were yeshiva educated.
One note about the decor at Buddha Bodai. Its back wall is almost entirely taken with an illuminated color photograph (maybe 3' x 8') of a stately building standing behind a big garden, not the Li River for a change. Where or what was this building? The Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, a 19th century Shanghai municipal building? Would you believe the Colorado State Capitol in Denver? It seems the owner visited and liked the scene.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Well, it’s happened. Just before leaving the office today, I reprinted the list of 58 Chinese restaurants I’ve eaten at this year to avoid duplication before hitting the magic number. So, when I was on Elizabeth Street wondering if I had missed any restaurant south of Canal Street and I caught the name Pearl River, I knew I had not been to the Pearl River Restaurant. However, as I was finishing my lunch, shrimps with lobster sauce ($6.95 with soup), I saw that the menu said South China Garden Restaurant, 22 Elizabeth Street, where I had been less than two weeks ago. Pearl River is the name of a retail store nearby, but catching sight of it was sufficient for me to ignore the big, bright yellow sign running over the front of the store that said South China Garden Restaurant. Next time, I’ll have to ignore my peripheral vision. This lunch won’t count in the standings, although otherwise repectable.

Thursday, May 6, 2010
Mr. Shahzad must be lunching elsewhere, although the group (less than a crowd now) of media folk outside the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Federal Courthouse, around the corner, were still waiting in anticipation at mid-day, as they have all week. Unaccompanied and unshackled, I went to Big Wing Wong Restaurant, 102 Mott Street, a derivative of Big Wong at 67 Mott Street. The restaurant is about 4 times as long as it is wide. Dozens of fluorescent paper strips hung on the wall promoted special dishes, only in Chinese. All the cooking was done by four men in the front menu, with the cooked ducks, spare ribs and chickens hanging at eye level.
I ordered Spicy Fried Beef Chow Fun ($7.25), which tasted just like regular beef chow fun, one of my favorite dishes anyway. Unlike most of the Chinatown restaurants at lunchtime, Big Wing Wong was not crowded; it never approached being ½ full. This allowed me to sit and do the entire crossword puzzle without interfering with the flow of business.
I stopped in front of the (regular) courthouse to speak to Wen Qin (last name withheld), a young man, maybe 20 years old, wearing a home-made sandwich board topped by a cross. He wants to pursue a case against the World Health Organization and the US Center for Disease Control, because, he alleges, they have misled the public on the subjects of Avian Flu, Swine Flu and SARS. He believes that people’s physiques determine their immunity and, thus, their susceptibility to these illnesses. The growing spread of these illnesses, according to my young friend, is "the proliferation of sexual behavior in society," resulting in the release (loss) of semen, "the major ‘energy’ resource of human beings." To protect our health, "all of us should restrain sexual behavior, cherish our ‘energy’!" I returned to my desk in deep thought.

Friday, May 7, 2010
Few Faisal followers remained in front of the federal courthouse around the corner. The large media contingent (which got smaller each day this week) must have heard that immediately after he finishes his interrogation by the FBI, brother Faisal will be appearing directly on the Larry King Show, without stopping to meet new friends in the federal courthouse.
The other day, I repeated myself by accident when I did not lift mine eyes above the front door to read the big sign, which said, in Chinese of course, you’ve been here already dummy. But, today, because I read the big sign over the door, I returned to 103-105 Mott Street, which is no longer reads Dunhuang Seafood Restaurant, but now proclaims Royal Seafood Restaurant. Operationally, it seemed the same, although it was even more crowded. Five or so women rolled their carts around while waiters scurried to get special orders. The 3 flat screen televisions were all showing the same Chinese soap opera, with Chinese subtitles.
I had shrimp rolls (rice noodle crepe), steamed vegetable dumplings, very sticky rice (stickiest so far), spring rolls and meat rolls (same rice noodle crepe as the shrimp). Everything was very good. I was told that lower prices apply Monday through Friday; the sticky rice was $3.75, all the other dishes were $2. On the way out, I was assured by the cashier that there was, in fact, a new owner. Back at my desk, I compared the two business cards, which looked nothing alike in spite of having the same telephone and fax numbers. I checked with Wikipedia to make sure Dunhuang doesn’t mean Royal and learned that Dunhuang is an ancient city in northwestern China, in Gansu province, not far from Mongolia, on the old Silk Road. It is about 1,600 miles from the Pacific Ocean which is a good reason drop the connection to seafood.
When I returned to the courthouse, I was pleased to see that Wen Qin brought a chair to make it easier to keep his vigil. I hope he is using sun block.

On the way

This (ad)venture offers other pleasures besides just eating lunch. Everyday, I encounter sights and sounds foreign even to the cosmopolitan reaches of the upper West Side. The shortest path to Mott Street, the traditional center of Chinatown, from my office cuts through Columbus Park, a city park/playground with basketball courts, concrete tables with embedded playing surfaces, a turf-covered playing field and equipment for the little kids. Every day, unless the weather is at its foulest, older Chinese people move like dancers silently doing their graceful exercises, while another group of black, brown and white, but not Chinese, men exercise on a sparse arrangement of horizontal and vertical iron bars, very evocative of a prison. The sight of handcuffed perps being led in and out of the Manhattan Detention Center (the Tombs familiarly), directly across from the park, strengthens this association.
Meanwhile, groups of Chinese men, three deep in some cases, surround the concrete tables watching and commenting on fiercely competitive Chinese chess games (or maybe this is the real Chinese checkers). The playing surface resembles a typical checkerboard, but it has a series of lines, straight or right angles, made of brass embedded in the squares. The moves, back and forth and sideways, elude me. Chinese only is spoken at these games, but I have no way of telling whether they are all speaking the same Chinese or whether each table attracts a different language group, e.g. Cantonese, Mandarin, Wu, Fukien or Hakka (for more see Whatever they are speaking, players and spectators are very engaged and disputatious, in common with almost any group of urban dwellers out of doors regardless of native tongue. Card games, more likely conducted by Chinese women, are also going on. They seem to be playing a version of rummy, but I haven’t figured it out. Betting prevails. With very few exceptions, everyone watching or playing these games is my contemporary or older, if possible.
Emerging from Columbus Park, I enjoy walking the crowded sidewalks back and forth to the restaurants, with virtually every storefront in operation, many thrusting fresh fish, t-shirts, toys, vegetables, silk scarves and baseball caps into the path of pedestrians. Individual men approach you offering, not sensemilla as they might in other neighborhoods, but genuine counterfeit wristwatches. Signs on stores convey mystery, as with the promise of the “Best Hopia” available in six flavors at an establishment that also offers Butsi, Puto, Slopao and Ticoy. This is not your cheap humor based on typographical errors from Chinese restaurant menus. This is true opaqueness, no more than a mile from where my mother was born.