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.