Saturday, September 25, 2010

Thirty-Eighth Week

Monday, September 20, 2010
After a large plate of chicken fried rice at 69 Bayard Restaurant, still bedecked with dollar bills, and always a reliable source of Chinatown Chinese food, I bought a guava from one of the fruit stands at the corner of Mulberry & Canal Streets. The price was $1.60 a pound, and mine was near a pound at $1.50. The guava was the size of a slightly crushed baseball, light-green colored and quite dense. I had no idea how to eat it until one of my lawyer colleagues suggested the Internet where I learned the following from – "Eat the guava like you would an apple--simply take bites of the fruit, rind and all. The rind may be slightly bitter in some cases; however, it is a great source of nutrients and is better not to overlook." Now, the Chinese lady who sold me the guava handed me one when I said "Eat now." As I was about to take my first bite, I thought that she might have heard me mispronouncing the name of an old friend. I chose to quarter the guava, as I might an apple, and then gave away three quarters. When I finally ate my piece, it wasn’t bad, somewhat apple tasting, in fact. On the other hand, I don’t like apples very much.

After work, I tried to shop at the new Trader Joe’s, corner of 72nd Street and Broadway. It was really foolish to think that the crowds would be manageable at 6 PM opening day. The new store operates on two floors below the street-level entrance, which at least kept the crowds from winding out to the sidewalk. However, the check-out lines, regular and express (183 items or less) seemed interminable. The employees holding "End of the line" signs were just about the first thing I saw when I got to the first selling floor. I held on to the four-cheese flat bread pizza ($4.95) that I picked from a refrigerated case only briefly and decided not to continue in search of the chocolate-covered pretzels, chocolate chip cookies and chocolate-covered blueberries that spell Trader Joe’s to me.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010
An errand took me close to Church Street at lunchtime, so I ate at Pakistan Tea House, 176 Church Street, which I used to patronize at least every other week when I worked on the West Side. Even though I’ve been here on the East Side since the first of the year, the woman behind the counter recognized me and charged me only $8.50 for chicken biryani, a naan and a can of Diet Coke, regularly 10 bucks, I think. I enjoyed the food, as I have in the past, and, as I write this hours later, I still don’t have any heartburn.

I returned to Trader Joe’s close to 6 PM and found the selling floors quite uncrowded, and, with a package of dark chocolate lace cookies in hand, headed to the check-out line, which seemed to contain more people than the number still shopping. (Note to America’s Favorite Epidemiologist – This was a test run, conducted for reporting purposes only. The use of dark chocolate lace cookies [made with real chocolate, not brown Crisco] was symbolic, near-metaphorical, to allow me to experience the operational characteristics of this new Trader Joe’s. I had to buy something after all.)

The store has 29 cash registers arranged in little clusters, because there is no room to line up 29 cash registers in a row. As a result, my wait was between 5 and 10 minutes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010
I’ve taken the day off from work, primarily to enjoy the company of Stanley Feingold at lunch. Fortunately, Stanley was visiting a friend after lunch, who by chance lives in my apartment building, so we got to spend extra time strolling from 46th Street and Sixth Avenue to 69th Street and Amsterdam (equivalent to Tenth) Avenue.

Because I was instructed to buy biscotti for a visit to a friend’s Succah (my spelling), I returned to Trader Joe’s on the way home. The big surprise was that, at 6 PM, both Fairway and Trader Joe’s were effectively empty. Competition did not stimulate business for either or both, but rather kept everyone home, possibly ordering Chinese food delivered from Ollie’s.

With biscotti and a few other treats in hand, I went directly to the head of the line. In fact, I was the line. One could cite the advent of Sukkot keeping the pious out of stores, however, sundown was at 6:54 PM leaving just enough time for the most observant Yid to buy at least one package of dark chocolate lace cookies and still get to their little grass shacks.

Thursday, September 23, 2010
There was a demonstration in front of the Moynihan Federal Courthouse to free or repatriate to Pakistan Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. She was, at the same time, being sentenced to 86 years for attempted murder, armed assault, using and carrying a firearm, and assault on US officers and employees. Her story is twisted in fact and implication. Wikipedia has a seemingly balanced version of events at She was born in Pakistan to a very successful professional couple, then moved to the US when she was 18. She has two children by her first marriage to a physician. She divorced her husband and later married a man closely related to a couple of al-Qaeda heavies. What intrigues me most is her education; she received a BS in biology from MIT, transferring from the University of Houston, and then a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from Brandeis University in 2001. Meanwhile, Sarah Palin has a bachelor’s degree in communications-journalism from the University of Idaho. Can the West prevail?

Sanur Restaurant, 18 Doyers Street, really classifies as a joint. It features Indonesian and Malaysian food. It is surrounded by hair salons, as previously noted (May 13, 2010), and operates on two physical levels. At street level are a couple of tables and a busy take-out counter. I was the eighth person downstairs, spread over eight tables, varying in capacity from 2 to 8 people. Yet, the space felt crowded, because the tables were very close to each other.

I ordered chicken curry ($8.95), listed under Indonesian specialties. White rice was one dollar extra. The chunks of potato possibly exceeded in weight and size the chunks of chicken on the bone. Yet, I loved the dish. The curry flavor was not Indi/Paki-style, but what I’ve tasted most recently at Malay restaurants, such as New Malaysia Restaurant, and described as having a peanutty tinge. The potatoes had cooked in the curry sauce a long time and they weren’t just potatoes anymore. What a delight. I shall return.

I did not return to Trader Joe’s after work. It’s just not any fun when it’s empty.

Friday, September 24, 2010
I wasn’t surprised by the quality and quantity of the duck Chow Fun at Hsin Wong Restaurant, 72 Bayard Street. I’ve enjoyed it before. However, my walk back through Columbus Park made me witness to an historic event – the cracking, breaking or, at least, fissuring of the bamboo ceiling. On a very few occasions, I’ve seen Chinese men and women playing the rummy card game together, always dealing the cards counter-clockwise as if they were in Australia where the water runs down the drain backwards. But, that inscrutable chess/checker game seemed only to attract Chinese men. I’ve never seen any Chinese women playing it, no less Chinese men and women playing together. Further, I’ve never seen a non-Chinese person playing it at all. Well, today the world of table games changed, never to revert to the dark discriminatory days of yore. I saw, at a centrally-located table, not hidden in some corner near the dumpster, a Chinese man playing the strange chess/checkers game intently against a non-Chinese woman. There was no way for me to tell who was winning and I did not wait until it ended (actually, I don’t recall ever seeing one of those games end). This spectacle attracted some observers, as many of these matches do, but there was little of the hooting and hollering that accompanies some contests. Actually, watching the crowd is much more fun than watching the players, who are staring at the board with great concentration. Kibitzers shout instructions to the players, complain about moves made, reach in to point to winning moves and even try to make the moves themselves. A hot match might have a crowd of 20 men (always men) surrounding the table and, if the crowd is that large, it is very loud and animated.

A final note on Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. The Federal district court judge who presided over her trial and sentenced her, is Richard Berman, whom I knew when he was an undergraduate at Cornell University. While we still have friends in common, I don't believe I've seen him in 45 years. So, I don't think he will let me off easy if I ever come before him.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Starting to sin all over again

Monday, September 13, 2010

It wasn’t Roe v. Wade, but a satisfactory result was achieved last night in Webber v. Stewart, an action in Small Claims Court of the City of New York. When driving across Manhattan Island on a weekday afternoon in March, America’s Favorite Epidemiologist was run into by a taxicab. Only the rear panel of her car was damaged; the adverse vehicle was moving at a slow speed. However, as Cher can attest, bodywork is costly.

The only wrinkle in this case was the denial by the owner of the taxicab that the accident ever occurred. He claimed that he was the only one who ever drove the taxicab and he did not drive it into my beloved’s Lexus. Actually, the light of my life agreed with that contention to a point. He, a short, dark-skinned man of West Indian origin, was not the medium-height, light-brown skinned, South Asian man wearing a turban driving the taxicab that hit her.

The case was conferenced by a court attorney (yes, the sort of thing I did on a regular basis for seven years) who urged the defendant and his attorney to settle, because of the quality and quantity of information that my one and only presented. For your information, New York City’s licensed taxicabs are tracked by a GPS system connected to the meter, so that start and stop time and start and end point of each trip are recorded. Reports are easily gotten through a simple letter to the Taxi & Limousine Commission. The report showed that taxicab 2W29 was in the vicinity of the accident at the time of the accident, one brick in the wall of evidence. The report lacked sound effects, however, so there was no actual evidence of the crash.

Victory, the acceptance of a reasonable payment in settlement, was celebrated at the Excellent Dumpling House, 111 Lafayette Street, a long-time favorite (see February 17, 2010). We enjoyed cold sesame noodles ($4.95) and a scallion pancake ($2.90) and were amused by the sight of three kitchen workers eating their dinner at the next table using plastic forks.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Lunch Box Buffet, 15 Division Street, offers about 50 dishes, many recognizable as animal or vegetable or fish, arrayed cafeteria-style. $4.50 buys you a choice of any 4 or maybe 5, with or maybe without soup, and white rice for sure. My confusion was based on my inexpert Mandarin. If you take the food out, it costs one dollar less. The food was good enough, especially the piece of southern (China) fried chicken. As homage to the good efforts of the kitchen workers at the Excellent Dumpling House, I ate my lunch with a plastic fork.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I want wild at Fried Dumpling, Mosco Street, occupying one of the four stools while eating 5 dumplings ($1) and 4 buns ($1); the Diet Coke cost $1.25. The only apparent difference between the dumplings and the buns is their shape. Dumplings are near-crescent shaped like an empanada, crimped along the curved outer edge. Dumplings are round, gathered at the top. All were pan fried and worth every yuan.

Allow me to make two additional excursions this week, not into restaurants, but into ideas.

My favorite jurist, Judge Judy, often says, “Do you get where I’m going?,” usually to litigants who clearly don’t. I have greater confidence in you, the jury, as I recount the following:

One week ago Saturday, whether as an extension of the worship services for the Jewish New Year, or mere happenstance, I went shopping in Zabar’s. Standing in the check-out line, the woman immediately in front asked me, as she was paying for her purchases, “Where is the nearest liquor store?” I started to reel off the liquor stores that I knew nearby, Beacon on Broadway at 74th, Nancy’s on Columbus near 75th, but she wanted something closer because she was headed for 79th and Columbus and did not want to go out of her way.

With that I realized that placing me at Zabar’s on Broadway and 80th Street took me, in New York terms, far from my home court. Of course, I knew the Barnes & Noble on Broadway and 82nd, the movie theater cluster on Broadway at 84th, the Filene’s Basement at 79th and Broadway, but once north of Fairway on Broadway between 74th and 75th, my granular familiarity with the sidewalks of New York quickly disappeared.

Of course, this is all about Park Place, a street that runs three blocks east-west from Broadway (at City Hall Park) to Greenwich Street. Particularly, a site on the north side of Park Place that once housed Syms and then the Burlington Coat Factory. It has been apparently empty, at least the street-level retail space that I’ve passed on lunch-time walks, for many years. This is the contemplated location of what has been labeled the Ground Zero Mosque.

It’s a very effective debating technique to capture the vocabulary when framing your argument. Few people, I imagine, even many Muslims, feel comfortable hearing about the Ground Zero Mosque. Accordingly, I have to apply some native New York wisdom to the nomenclature here. The site is about two blocks from the closest edge of Ground Zero, the recognized name for the general area of destruction, and about four blocks from the nearest wall of either of the Twin Towers. As illustrated by my Zabar’s tale above, a couple of blocks in Manhattan can transport you to a different world. Another perspective can be gained from looking at the subway map, another way that New York City is defined. To reach Ground Zero proper, you take the E (World Trade Center) or R (Cortlandt Street) train or the 4/5 to Fulton Street (other platforms in the Fulton Street/Broadway-Nassau complex involve a longer walk). Eventually the 1 train (Cortlandt Street) will be closest when the underground transit hub is complete. That’s how a real New Yorker would navigate the trip. To reach the prospective mosque site, on the other hand, you take the 2 or 3 to Park Place. It’s not far, but it’s not the New York way to go.

So, do you get where I’m going? Ultimately, geography has nothing to do with the mosque controversy. Good people, such as Abe Foxman, a national treasure, and others, such as Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani, who share the distinction of three wives each (although no two alike), have expressed their opposition to the mosque. However, for many of the opponents of the project, anywhere is too close, too abrasive, too provocative. For them, Mars is too close, because it’s not about the building, it’s about its occupants.

In an ecumenical mood, I turn to Woody Allen. As he ages, Woody Allen looks more and more like my late father, which increases my anger at him for idiotic remarks in an interview with the New York Times on Wednesday, September 15, 2010. The interview by Dave Itzkoff was about Allen’s new movie, dealing with a fortune teller and invariably raising issues of faith.

Itzkoff began the interview by asking Allen if it was appropriate to wish him a Happy Jewish New Year. The reply was, "No, no, no. That's for your people." Your people, YOUR PEOPLE! I'm a Hottentot, I'm an Eskimo, I'm a Cajun, I'm a Maori. What's with this Jew business? Where do you come off throwing me in with "your people"? What ever gave you that idea?

I guess the film maker forgot one of his greatest scenes, when Grammy Hall looks down the dinner table and sees a bearded, black-clad Hasidic Jew in place of Alvy Singer, Annie Hall's New York Jewish boyfriend. Grammy Hall recognized Woody Allen; Jews recognize Woody Allen; Gentiles recognize Woody Allen; Jihadis recognize Woody Allen; Nazis recognize Woody Allen. Poor Woody. He seems to be the only person who doesn't recognize himself.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


The new Jewish year began this week. Traditionally, these adjacent days are a time of introspection. In that spirit, I offer my Credo.

You’ve heard it said that some people live to eat and others eat to live. The implication is that those who eat to live are more virtuous, less self-absorbed, more real. As someone who unashamedly lives to eat, I wish to restore some balance, except on the scales perhaps.

Those who eat to live are hurried, indiscriminate, even furtive in ingesting just barely enough nutrition to get them back to the grindstone. "I’m too busy living, so I don’t have time to eat," they seem to be proclaiming. But, I believe that their version of living is riddled with doubt and guilt. Did I eat too much? Did I take too much time to eat? Did anyone see me enjoying myself? Will someone take my shovel while I am off eating? Can I skip eating? What are those other people eating? None of these questions arise for me, except possibly the last, if I don’t recognize the concoction at a nearby table.

A plausible rationale for those who eat to live is that it allows them more time to do good for others, as they are released from the table quickly. I don’t accept that distinction. My abundant eating aids farmers all over the world, wholesale food merchants, the transportation industry, chefs, waiters, bus boys (bus persons? busters?), cashiers, restaurant owners and, of course, the tax collectors who occasionally get a piece of the action. I am a one-man bailout. Other than finding a cure for cancer, nothing I could do with my time helps more people on our home planet.

So, go ahead and ess, kinder. Enjoy pagato’, iskrem, baghbaghag, suet go and fagylalt. In case you don't immediately recognize these words, it's how you say "ice cream" in Greek, Norwegian, Armenian, Cantonese and Hungarian, which certainly should prove helpful.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Thirty-Fifth Week

Monday, August 30, 2010
When the 95 degree temperature prediction had not been realized when I went out to lunch, I was happy to stroll around Chinatown without much thought of eating. I finally walked into Nha Trang One Vietnamese Restaurant, 87 Baxter Street, one of the oldest Vietnamese restaurants in New York. Unfortunately, the ten ingredient fried rice ($6.25 including tax) I ordered felt old as well. Additionally, I could only count up to eight ingredients: chicken, shrimp, pork, egg, peas, carrots, cilantro (more as a garnish, but I’ll count it), and corn.

Columbus Park was busy on this gorgeous day. I decided to hover over a group playing cards, the same game being played at about 15 tables. I imagined that it would be indecipherable as is the chess/checkers game also widely played day-in-day-out in the park. I had noticed that the chess/checkers game was played by men only, while the card game (I haven’t gotten the name yet) was played by men and women, although usually one gender to a game. Once upon a time, I played cards frequently and I thought I might as well try and learn this game. The game turns out to be overly simple, a basic rummy. Far more interesting than the game was the fact that the cards were dealt counterclockwise, while the card games I know are dealt clockwise. Each of four players is dealt 13 cards, arranges them into sets (three Kings) or runs (4, 5, 6 and so on). Then, without betting on the outcome or discarding and drawing cards, the players lay down the cards and determine who has the best hand and pay the winner who has done nothing skillful to deserve the victory. At the very least, there should be a round of betting before the lay down as in a poker game. That would accommodate bluffs and raises and make for some excitement. On the other hand, there are 1.3 billion Chinese and maybe they shouldn’t get too excited.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Mark Dilman of Silicon Valley writes in regard to the Evil Eye:
As someone who had two Yiddish-speaking grandmothers: Frida and Khaya (version of Chaya), I grew up well protected from the Evil Eye. My parents [living in Tbilisi, Georgia] practically lost Yiddish, but inherited all the "kinahora" rules from their parents.
Early in my life I learned that it is impossible to challenge the wisdom acquired for 5700 years. I found it to be much simpler to invent rules that are supposed to counteract bad luck. For example, when my parents were telling me that I must not reenter our house if I had forgotten something, my reply was that someone’s grandma told me that it is OK to re-enter if you look at a mirror inside the house right after.
(It is clear why Mark is a scientist with a PhD.)

Alan Heim of Hollywood writes:
I thought you should know of the new, glatt kosher, taco truck prowling our Los Angeles streets. It joins the ever expanding ranks of Korean, burgers, normal tacos and a grilled cheese truck (done in a charming yellow), to name a bare few. I tried it today, outside the Trader Joe’s in an orthodox Jewish enclave near my home. The briskettaco was yummy but underspiced, no doubt a concession to the Jewish digestive tract. The latketaco, which will never pass my spell check no matter how many times I type it, was two nice potato balls served on a taco with an apple relish on top. Not greasy at all and thus a failure. The Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray was, as ever, flawless. $8.50 for the whole.

(Alan, another distinguished CCNY graduate, inadvertently touches upon one of life’s little tragedies. About 4 years ago, Dr. Brown stopped making diet Cel-Ray. Apparently, the good doctor now only produces diet versions of his cream and black cherry sodas. Full calorie versions of all three flavors are peddled, obviously in Los Angeles, as well as New York. This news about a kosher taco truck also reminded me that I saw Holy Cow Kosher Beef Jerky in Fairway recently. Now, that’s a solution without a problem.)

With the temperature at 94 degrees, I abandoned the discipline I usually show at lunch time. First, I bought 4 large, beautiful white peaches ($2.50) which will certainly ripen by Thanksgiving. Then, I stopped in the Mulberry Meat Market. Inc., 89 Mulberry Street, for some precooked takeout, Singapore Mei Fun and sesame chicken ($3.25), and hurried back to eat it in my airconditioned office. It was a gesture more than a meal.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010
With the temperature again at 93 degrees, cold sesame noodles was the natural choice for lunch. Joe’s Ginger Restaurant, 25 Pell Street, served a solid B plate of cold sesame noodles ($4.65), nowhere near their scallion pancakes, however. Most noticeable about the dish was the no-frills presentation. No toasted sesame seeds, slivers of cucumber or slices of green onion were anywhere to be seen.

Seen in abundance in the window and on the shelves of Kam Man, 200 Canal Street, my favorite grocery store south of 74th Street, were mooncakes, described by Wikipedia as having a "thick filling usually made from lotus seed paste . . . surrounded by a relatively thin crust and may contain yolks from salted duck eggs." Wikipedia helpfully notes that mooncakes are not to be confused with moonpies. The reason that mooncakes, often packaged in attractive tins or boxes, are so prominently displayed is the upcoming holiday, of course. Do I mean to imply that the Chinese are one or all of the lost tribes of Israel? After all, isn’t food central to Jewish practice? Should a pre or post Rosh haShana meal include mooncakes? Actually, September 22, 2010, the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, is the Mid-Autumn or Zhongqiu Festival celebrating lunar worship, and, also the first night of Succoth for the non-Chinese among you. Is this a coincidence?

Thursday, August 26, 2010
I could not see through the front window of Hua Du Seafood Restaurant, 31 Division Street, because big red papers signs covered the part that wasn’t frosted. When I walked in to the empty restaurant the two Chinese waitresses seemed surprised to see me. I said, "If you’re cooking, I’m eating" and was shown to a table. I ordered chicken with garlic sauce ($4.50), one of those dishes that are different in every venue. This version, notable for a spicy sauce with flecks of hot pepper, contained, in addition to thin slices of chicken, red peppers, green peppers, green onions, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and dark threads of something which none of the staff were able to identify in English, my favorite language. The portion was modest, but reasonable for the price.

Something was in the back of my mind from the moment I entered Hua Du though. A quick search of my previous contributions to human knowledge turned up the information that Gao Xin Seafood Restaurant at 31 Division Street was closed by the Board of Health about two weeks ago. I obviously arrived today just after the ink dried on the new menus and business cards. It reminded me of garment firms on Seventh Avenue that would shut their doors and turn their backs on their creditors after a bad season, yet reemerge at the start of a new season under a slight variant of their prior name – JorAl Frocks to AlJor Fashions to AJ Dresses to JA Styles. Just remember -- Cut velvet!