Saturday, July 31, 2010
The Umbrellas of Chinatown
I was very happy to return to work today in spite of the Road Warriors’ wonderful week in Massachusetts. The weather today, after a weekend of thunder storms, was gorgeous, temperature in the 80s, humidity low, bright blue skies with some friendly white clouds. My officemate Michael is apparently still running the streets of Eastern Europe or the upper West Side, leaving the comfortably air-conditioned office to me alone. But it wasn’t these external factors that made me glad to return, it was my job. I like my job (drafting opinions for any one of 40-50 judges on the New York State Supreme Court, New York County), because of the wide variety of issues to be examined with the goal of producing a legally and factually sound decision. What it boils down to is, I was born to judge. I have opinions even where no opinions are called for. George H.W. Bush may have had his thousand points of light, I have my thousand points of view.
I had a modest lunch at Ken’s Asian Taste, the disarmingly named restaurant at 40 Bowery, which serves dim sum at lunch. Modest only in the number of dishes I had, shu mei, fish balls, shrimp dumplings, all steamed, nothing fried, $2 each and all high quality. I was also fortunate to witness a fight by 5 Chinese women over their check, full of pointing and grabbing and screeching and rising in indignation and sitting in indignation. The 8 feet that separated us gave me an excellent view of the bobbing and weaving, the feints and jabs that make for a first-rate check-grabbing battle.
Many of the Chinese women card players and women kibitzers (it is with some disappointment that I must report that kibitz and its variants are spelled with one “b” according to the spell check and, more authoritatively dictionary.com) in Columbus Park and many of the Chinese women pedestrians in Chinatown were carrying umbrellas on this particularly sunny day. This is not an unusual sight even on dimmer days. There are two explanations of why so many Chinese women deploy umbrellas to avoid exposure to the sun, the scientific Sinophile version and the cynical Sinophobe version. The scientific Sinophile version is based on the universal concern to avoid the damaging effects of the sun’s rays not only to the skin externally, but as a carcinogenic. The cynical Sinophobe version is based on the deeply-rooted ethnic stratification in Chinese society, which preceded the coming of Chairman Mao and gives every sign of lasting long after his departure for the Great Collective Farm in the Sky. China counts 56 ethnic groups in its population, but the Han Chinese, 90% of the population, are dominant. While not characterized by the ugliness displayed by higher Indian castes, the Han’s attitude towards other groups often exudes superiority. One characteristic that many of the minorities share is darker skin color, the result of their origins in or intermingling with other Asian populations. So, the seeming ease with which Han Chinese tan, and beautifully to my round eyes, is a threat to many Han women who don’t want to be mistaken for the cleaning woman.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
I walked into Fuleen Seafood Restaurant, 11 Division Street, without noticing where I was going. It was an inadvertent return visit which proved more than satisfactory when I ordered beef with orange flavor ($6 including soup, rice and tea). But, I was overcome with excitement in the middle of lunch that did not arise from the plate, rather from the section of the Sunday newspaper I was reading, two days late. I hurried back to my desk to write a letter to the editor in response, but the policies of the N*w Y**k T***s prevents me from disclosing what I wrote in advance of publication by them. Since the earliest my letter might appear is next Sunday (8/8) and this musing will be electronically disseminated one week earlier, I beg your indulgence even as I tease your imagination. I promise that I will reveal my thoughts next weekend regardless of whether the purported newspaper of record chooses to publish them.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
I was in a bright mood when I entered Xe Lua, Vietnamese Restaurant, 86 Mulberry Street. I had already had a conversation with a young man employed in the colorful shop at 44 Mulberry Street whom I stopped as he was returning to work. I had passed the store many times before and imagined that the brightly-colored papers figures in the window were toys, a dollhouse, a model boat, a jet plane, but I never looked carefully at other merchandise on display inside. Today I was able to get the story when the young man came up the block. This was not a toy store, it was Fook On Sing Funeral Supplies, Inc., strategically placed up the block from two prominent Chinese funeral parlors. Before he finished explaining, I saw the urns, shrouds and altars that would not be found in your typical Toys ‘R Us. The paper figures represented some possession, whim or yearning of the deceased. The paper jet plane, maybe 18" long, cost $45 and apparently is meant to be burned or interred with the Loved One.
With that in mind, I entered Xe Lua, 86 Mulberry Street, a narrow, very deep, busy restaurant decorated with a lot of real bamboo. I sat almost directly beneath a skylight from which a chandelier hung. The chandelier was made of empty beer bottles strung in and out with fairy lights. The menu was equally enjoyable with headings such as Under the Sea, Frog Style, Where is the Beef, Chicken Little and No Meat Allow. Even when the petite Vietnamese waitress suggested that the assorted appetizer platter ($14) was too much for one person (after all, she had only seen me sitting down) and I switched to rice pancakes with barbecued chicken ($10), I was cheery. I was even more so when I saw my boss walking out of the restaurant, although I was certain he had not seen me.
However, I did what I have not done before throughout this (ad)venture, I walked out of a restaurant without paying. Understand, I’m not a gonif. I wasn’t trying to stiff the waiters or the ownership. I left without paying because, after a half hour, no food arrived. The homemade ice lemon tea sweetened with a little honey ($2) had arrived immediately which had added to my cheeriness (which admittedly could be an ugly sight), but, nothing else came to my table for the next 20 minutes when an energetic waiter came to apologize for the delay, as did the original waitress, now resembling Mme. Nhu, about 5 minutes later. When the three young Vietnamese who sat down at the next table after I arrived, ordered, ate, paid their bill and left, I did the same, left that is. I had nursed my tea waiting for the food, so I had no qualms not paying for it either since most of it remained, although diluted in the long wait.
I hurried back to the courthouse, stopping to get a lamb/chicken combo over rice, with falafel ($7 including a can of Diet Pepsi), from Halal Harry at the corner of Worth & Centre Streets. When Michael (back from distant shores) returned to our office shortly after I did, I apologized for eating there and told him to await an explanation by blog.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
I returned briefly to a state of youthful reverie when I left the courthouse and crossed over to an open space opposite, which, lacking shade or seats, is usually occupied solely by skateboarders. Opposing demonstrations on immigration were underway. The Obamunist, French-talking, Hate-America-First, Welfare-cheating immigration supporters, the larger group, were mostly young, ethnically diverse and vocal. The Service Employees International Union, which I recall being a member of as a nightwatchman during college, was lending support. In opposition, there was an older, all-white group who, but for the grace of God, would be living in Arizona. This conflict itself did not restore my youthful juices. However, a solitary, tall, gray-haired, but not old like me, guy was waving a red flag with a yellow star and shouting at the immigration opponents (Illegal is not legal, read one sign) that they were capitalist tools, racists and imperialists. My heart sang. It was CCNY in 1960 and I was young, fifty pounds lighter, darker-haired, living at home, socially-stunted, smoking cigarettes, and without direct exposure to periodontics.
Friday, July 30, 2010
I’ll finish this week’s report with 3 brief recommendations.
I had great results from return visits to Hsin Wong Restaurant, 72 Bayard Street, and New Malaysia Restaurant, 46-48 Bowery Street, Chinatown Arcade # 28. At Hsin Wong, I had a very large portion of roast duck chow fun ($8.50); at New Malaysia, I had Roti Canai ($3.25), a cross between naan and a crepe with a peanut dipping sauce, and Nasi Lemak ($5.95), a mound of coconut-tinged white rice, two chunks of chicken on the bone and a piece of potato in a peanut-curry sauce, tiny anchovies sauteed in a spicy red sauce with onions, and (sorry Groucho) one hard-boiled egg. All the food was excellent, and the service very attentive.
On the southeast corner of Canal & Mulberry Streets, twice this week, I bought a box of ten doughnut peaches, the squashed kind, weighing near three pounds, for $2.50, sold at Whole Foods (where I almost never buy anything) at $2.99 a pound (on 7/30) and Fairway (where I buy almost everything we eat at home) at $3.99 a pound (on 7/31). After a day or two to ripen, they were great, very close in taste to a white peach. This stand is a reliable spot for high quality mangoes, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, navel oranges at low prices. Tell them you read about it in the Blog.
Friday, July 23, 2010
But, it wasn’t all fun and games for the Road Warriors. We explored the darkest corners of the Hadley Hampton Inn and, for the first time in this century, mapped the entire second floor of the Pittsfield Ramada Inn. We obviously did not shrink from challenges. Of course, this vagabond existence has its rewards and punishments. You get free HBO which is not free at home and, therefore, not at our home, but copies of USA Today appear at your front door unasked. However, without the weekend edition of USA Today (July 23-25) I would not know that the routine Americans “absolutely” cannot live without on vacation is praying (28%), shaving (22%), putting on makeup (18%), checking e-mail/smartphone (17%), exercising (12%), and reading newspaper (9%). Allow me in closing to explain my further decline into agnosticism. The Mets lost 7 of 8 games while I was on vacation praying like a son of a bitch.
Best bet – Another Fork in the Road, 1215 Route 199, Red Hook, NY, a couple of miles west of the Taconic Parkway; open for breakfast and lunch everyday, and dinner Friday and Saturday. Honest food.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
The daily New York Times crossword puzzle has been a vital part of my weekday lunches since 2002 when I got my first job with a judge. Lunch at the courthouse is usually 1 to 2 PM; I’ve heard that certain unions require this. One might expect a judge to set the courtroom hours, but the weight of authority easily shifts downward when a newly-seated judge attempts to make nice to the unionized courtroom staff.
I found immediately that I had to get out of the courthouse at lunchtime for two reasons, the more obvious one was the need to get away from the contentiousness of the morning session. However, even if the morning was mellow (usually because no lawyers appeared in court), my boss the judge always had a lot of work to do and could rarely spare the time to go out for lunch. In spite of the judge’s busyness, the judge, mistaking me for a good listener, felt the need to chat. Not idle chat, mind you, but judicial chat, legal chat. Today’s cases, yesterday’s cases, tomorrow’s cases, cases in the New York Law Journal, cases in the New York Times. I wouldn’t be bored; the judge was articulate, insightful, intelligent – the perfect companion for the other seven hours of the day that I was being paid for. Lunch was my time and I headed for the door everyday without hesitation.
Once on the street, alone in the Tribeca neighborhood, I had a hard time finding an appropriate joint with reasonable food, room to sit and linger and, in summer, effective airconditioning. The indigestion factor aside, my top choices were any of 3 Indian/Pakistani restaurants on Church Street or West Broadway near Chambers Street. While none of the three were particularly roomy, they met all my criteria except during the summer. Apparently, the owners/operators, to a person, missed the heat and humidity of their native lands. Even if the airconditioner hung over the front door was turned on and set to something above feeble, the door was left open in case Elijah was in the neighborhood. The result, hotter inside than outside and Alan on the way to find another joint.
The space and climate to linger were necessitated by the presence of the weekday New York Times crossword puzzle that I had carried from home. One of the compromises that America ’s Favorite Epidemiologist and I effected to insure a happy marriage is the allocation of the New York Times crossword puzzle. She gets Monday and Tuesday and I get Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The puzzles get harder during the week, so I might finish quickly on Wednesday, but, by Friday, I am spending the entire hour bent over the puzzle only to return to chambers leaving noticeable gaps on the page. I need the the time and comfort to work on the puzzle.
Moving from Tribeca to Chinatown has put my lunch dilemma to rest. There are so many restaurants in Chinatown, unlike Tribeca which has some very good places, but very few places overall to choose from. Most Chinatown restaurants are busy at lunchtime, but few are impenetrable. In the summer, unlike the Indian/Pakistani places, I've found that many Chinatown restaurants are reasonably cool. This might arise from China’s huge geographic spread where much of the country experiences real seasons, not just hot and hotter. So, it’s natural that during hot weather you'll find Chinese people saying, “Hey, how about some cold air in this place.” Also, Chinese waiters have no interest in kibbitzing when I work on the crossword puzzle.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
The Invisible Hand has pushed the price of Chinatown’s cherries up to $3.50 per pound, so I chose small, red seedless grapes at $1.30 per pound for my snack after lunch and the little man only charged me $1 for what his rigged scale clearly registered as one pound. I was ready to share my grapes with anyone appearing needy as I walked back through Columbus Park, since I was not carrying a fortune cookie. The park was jammed with card players, checkers/chess players and their vocal audience with the temperature at 92 degrees in stark contrast to the emptiness last week at 100 degrees. In any case, I saw no one in need of my charity, so the best I could do was offer some grapes to J.D., a very successful family law practitioner who was passing by and passed on the grapes.
My lunchtime was not fruitless, however, not counting the grapes. I ate again at what I had identified on Friday, February 19th as New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe, 50 Mott Street. In early April, I witnessed a visit there by two dragons and accompanying percussionists driving away the evil spirits at the (re)opening of the restaurant. After enjoying a large plate of Shanghai chow fun today, loaded with chicken, shrimp, pork, green pepper, red pepper, onion and bean sprouts ($6.95), I asked the cashier why the neon sign in the window said New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe while the menu and business card said Old Shanghai Deluxe. He explained that the restaurant used to be down the block on Bayard Street and called New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe, but now that it has moved it is the Old Shanghai Deluxe. In other words, the old restaurant was the New restaurant, and the new restaurant is the Old restaurant. Care for a grape?
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
A driving tropical rainstorm began shortly after Noon and continued for over 90 minutes. Once it diminished to a light rain, I went to lunch at 1:45 PM. When I left Mandarin Court, 61 Mott Street, after only average dim sum, the sun was shining through in spots. The avid card players in Columbus Park had returned and were already playing on tables covered with newspapers to handle the moisture. The chess/checkers players were thwarted mostly, because they use the special engravings on the table-tops to guide their play.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
It rained hard again late morning for a shorter period than yesterday, but the lunch hour was not interfered with. However, I did something today that I had not done this entire year – I ate in, that is after I went out to get what to eat to eat in. This course of action was influenced by the absence of my office mate Michael, off to visit the Baltic states and Poland, the Captive Nations to you old Cold Warriors. I have almost never eaten in for the entire time I’ve been employed by the court system; one reason I will explain in a separate writing. But, while my office is roomy and has a new, fully-functioning air conditioner, I don’t want pungent odors to linger for the rest of the afternoon, in fairness to both of us. To date, Michael has not eaten lunch at his desk nor I, until today when he is presumably explaining Lindsay Lohan to Latvians.
I went to the sidewalk wagon at the northwest corner of Worth Street and Centre Street where Halal food is served. Halal parallels kosher to a certain extent, barring flesh of a pig, carrion, and other animals not ritually slaughtered. Halal has no bar, however, on combining dairy and meat items in a dish or a meal. Alcohol is disallowed to Muslims, but they are permitted to eat non-Halal food if Halal food is unavailable, something that many orthodox Jews would not do in regard to kosher food, save in a health emergency. In any case, feeling healthy myself, I ordered a chicken/lamb combo over rice, heavy on the white sauce, a little hot sauce and throw in a pita. The whole thing, a big portion, cost $5, stayed hot until I got back upstairs and was excellent. A true Best Buy. As far as I could tell (my nose is almost always congested), the office did not stink afterwards. Is that a compliment, or what?
Thursday, July 15, 2010
I stayed home today to await delivery of our brand new gas range to replace our almost new gas range. The trucker promised delivery between 9 AM and 1 PM and, sure enough, they showed up at 12:45 PM. That allowed me to spend the whole morning writing the minutes from last night's synagogue board meeting, an arduous task. I went through entire law school classes producing three pages of notes; I don't have the facility to transcribe while paying attention to a speaker or, more typically, speaking myself. Last night, however, I took four pages of notes, possibly because I knew that they would eventually be read by others while my law school notes were solely for my benefit.
With the appliance here, not installed until tomorrow, I walked up Broadway to have lunch at Big Nick's Burger Joint, 2175 Broadway, near 77th Street, which I patronize about three times a year. I only order a Bistro Burger, a cheeseburger with sauteed mushrooms on grilled challah, with a side of waffle fries ($11). It was even better today because it was noticeably larger than the last time I had it, with a price increase of about 10%, much less than the increase in size.
Passing Citarella, I stopped to admire the fish art in their window, a beautiful array of swordfish steaks, scallops, two cuts of salmon, shrimps, lobsters, whole fish (maybe bass or bluefish), spread on an edge-to-edge bed of bright green lettuce, trimmed with dozens of cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes and grapes. If you're visiting from out-of-town with friends or family, take them over to Citarella's, Broadway at 75th Street, without an introduction. Except maybe for the Statue of Liberty, this will be their visual memory of New York City thanks to you.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Greetings from BoazLand, the innocent-looking suburban house in Massachusetts which now shelters the Wonder Boy. Bubbe and I drove here today in under 4 hours, anxious to spend time with Boaz now that he has been gone from New York 16 days. Fortunately, he recognized us after this interval, just one of his amazing powers at age 2 years 5 months.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Friday, July 9, 2010
I've been taking inventory and realized that I know 5 people born on July 3rd, more than any other date that I can think of: Aryeh G., David G., Carl H., Nate P., and Meredith S. Also, I am friends (in the pre-Facebook sense) with David B., MD, David G., PhD, David McM., PhD, David M., PhD, David B., Esq., David W., Esq., and David P., and you know who you are.
David G., PhD, appears twice which demonstrates how special he is.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Many times, I've seen a picture of the Li River on the wall of Chinese restaurants. Two years ago, America's Favorite Epidemiologist and I, accompanied by our stalwart friends Jill and Steve, took a three hour cruise up and down the Li River. To me, it was probably the most visually exciting part of our two weeks in China. This photograph is so good that I am tempted to open a Chinese restaurant just to put it on display. I think I took it, but maybe Steve did.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
I returned to the scene of an early triumph, Wo Hop downstairs, 21 Mott Street. It seemed physically more attractive today, maybe because it was only about one-third full. The 90 degree temperature with high humidity may have kept a lot of potential diners off the streets. Sitting in the center of the small restaurant, facing the long mirrored wall allowed me to see the small collection (compared to 69 Bayard) of dollar bills pasted on part of the ceiling and wall, and the random array of photographs on most other available surfaces. The lighting also seemed brighter. Another contrast with my prior visit was the amount of salt in the food, from quite excessive to add some soy sauce. One constant, however, was the wonderful, wide fried noodles to nibble with mustard and watery duck sauce.
This weekend we had dinner at the nearby apartment of friends. They divide their time between a home about 50 miles away and this local apartment. America’s Favorite Epidemiologist was fascinated by the garbage disposal in their kitchen sink, a device that is allowed in very few Manhattan apartment buildings, because of the burden put on pipes and sewage systems. I don’t recall whether we were barred from installing a garbage disposal when we moved into our upper West Side love nest in 2003, or merely discouraged from doing so. In any case, to make my One and Only happy, I plan to take our garbage to our friends’ apartment regularly for disposal. It’s these gestures that keep our love alive.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
My next obsession may be to eat everything served by Dim Sum Go Go, 5 East Broadway. I returned for the second time today, after reaching Heaven on Earth. On prior visits, I ordered the plate of 10 assorted dim sum, which invariably contained 11 different items. Today, with the help of a friendly waiter, I picked specific items – rice roll with beef, baked roast pork bun and duck dumpling. The rice roll, a big, square, steamed rice noodle rolled à la crepe or blintz around a flat layer of chopped beef, was very good. The baked bun and the duck dumpling were excellent. I love duck, but I’ve written of the perils of Chinatown duck. This dumpling, however, tasted solely of shredded duck meat, no fat, no gristle. Each dish was about $3.50 and worth every yuan.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Last night, on my commute home, I read the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen written in The New Yorker. I don’t mean a quote from some bozo politician or self-enamored celebrity; I mean the writer-reporter’s own words in an article about "Afghanistan’s first media mogul," Saad Mohseni. "His biggest [television] advertisers, six Afghan banks and four mobile-phone companies, pay a top price of five hundred dollars for a thirty-second ad. (A similar ad on the Super Bowl sells for about six thousand times that rate.)" If that apples to camel dung comparison impresses you, allow me to cite http://www.fyitvnetwork.com/index.php, a web site that offers "Local 30 sec TV spots from $3.00 per insertion [and] National Network spots from $20 per insertion." If I were interested in a career change this late in life, I might consider bringing fyitvnetwork to Afghanistan and cause more parenthetical gasps at yes, The New Yorker.
Lunch was pleasant at the Paris Sandwich shop, 113 Mott Street, a Vietnamese fast food joint befitting its name. You order at a front counter, pay and get your sandwich further back in the café. I ordered a shredded chicken sandwich which comes with Vietnamese mayonnaise (there was a dressing, but I would not call it mayonnaise), pickled carrot threads, cilantro, cucumber and jalapeño pepper (which I skipped) ($4). You are also offered hot sauce, which I accepted in moderation. The sandwich comes on a fresh baguette (the French connection) and was quite good. I also ate 3 good, small spring rolls ($2.25) while my sandwich was being constructed.
[For the eyes of Dean Alfange only.] I read a bit while eating my Vietnamese sandwich, but was left with ample time to stroll in and out of several grocery/variety stores in the area. While in Sun Vin Grocery Store, 75 Mulberry Street, I saw in the ice cream freezer cabinet Sweety brand durian ice pops and Polly Ann brand durian ice pops. Sweety was more expensive at 4 for $2.39; Polly Ann was only 4 for $1.99. I had no intention of buying either brand, at least not right then, but I puzzled over the choice. Given the highly suspect flavor/aroma of durian, is it wiser to pay more, presumably for a higher quality product, or less so that the likely bad taste test costs less? On the other hand, it’s possible that higher-quality durian has more characteristic durian-ness, that is a pungent, offensive odor, and I would be getting too much of a bad thing. I await Dean’s next visit to New York, so that we might experiment jointly.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
I went to lunch with Attorney Glotzer and arrived at the lobby of his office building a little early, allowing me time to read the building directory. I found many familiar names among the attorneys at 225 Broadway, perched close to the nearby state and federal courthouses. The most interesting tenant, however, was an enterprise called "Y Shaped God LLC." Let’s pause a moment and consider the possibilities. I immediately thought of what the British call traditionally-constructed men’s knitted briefs – Y fronts, jockey shorts to us in the good old USA. Even now, I can’t get the idea out of my head or out of my shorts, although the theological or eschatological implications elude me.
Now, here’s the scoop. According to http://yshapedgod.com/, "at the Studio of Y-Shaped God, we approach your hair the same way we approach you as an individual - with an abiding interest in who you are: your character, lifestyle, and all that makes you unique." Yoshi, the proprietor (there's the Y), moved here from Japan in 1986, at age 19. The core belief of his philosophy is "hair and lifestyle, including mental health, are deeply related." Let that be a lesson to you.
Friday, July 2, 2010
I did not expect to report today, as many of you fervently hoped. However, as I wandered through Chinatown on this gorgeous day, I passed so many familiar establishments, that I decided to go into a new place. XO Kitchen, 148 Hester Street, is very deep, but about 1/3 of the width is taken up by the open kitchen. Most of the vertical space in the dining area is covered by 8 ½ x 11 sheets of paper with color photographs, names and prices of dozens of dishes. This made it easier to order from the very long menu, which contained a section of Japanese dishes as well as those strange spaghetti with cheese sauce hybrids. I chose the House Special Pancake with Peanut and Sesame Paste ($5.95) and a shrimp and avocado egg roll ($4.95). Both were excellent. The pancake, close to a crepe in texture, would have been great with either a cup of coffee or a scoop of ice cream on top, it was that versatile. The egg roll, a couple of inches longer than the conventional egg roll, was stuffed with (surprise) shrimp and avocado. It was hot from the fryer and was served with a very mild wasabi mayonnaise and freshly pickled ginger. How could I keep this to myself?