Saturday, October 30, 2010

Forty-Second Week

Monday, October 25, 2010
I walked along East Broadway for a couple of reasons. I wanted to go to a branch of the New York Public Library there and, towards the eastern end of East Broadway, there are restaurants I had not yet visited. The library was closed for renovations, but Pho 89 Vietnamese Restaurant, 89 East Broadway, was open, among others. All the customers in the busy restaurant were Asians, presumptively Vietnamese, but me.

Now, I was of age to participate in our military exercises in Southeast Asia, but the government of the United States reasoned that keeping me stateside teaching adolescent delinquents-in-training was more vital to national security than having me confront the Viet Cong. Nevertheless, as I sat in the restaurant, with my white hair, at least, as a sign of my senior citizenship, I thought it was possible that someone might jump up and yell "You killed Gramps!"

I ordered grilled beef with spring roll with sesame seasoning and lettuce on rice vermicelli ($7.50). Except for the seasoning being more peanut than sesame, everything was as promised and quite successful at that. Three fried spring rolls and four 4" rolls of beef rested on rice vermicelli on top of fresh lettuce in a big bowl.

Another benefit of strolling East Broadway, as I’ve written before, is being transported away from tourist Chinatown and even the US, as almost every enterprise is of the Chinese people, by the Chinese people and for the Chinese people.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Skyway Malaysian Restaurant, 11 Allen Street, was undeservedly empty when I ate there today. A small joint at a location that tests your knowledge of Manhattan geography, I received a friendly greeting. It has a big menu, including 19 lunch specials at $3.95 (shrimp, chicken, beef, pork, squid, fishcake prepared different ways over rice) and 14 noodle soups at $3.75. I ordered from the regular menu with excellent results. However, unless the portions are minuscule, the rice dishes or the soups should be great deal, probably I would order a couple at a time if the mood strikes me.

I started with Roti Telur ($2.95), an Indian pancake with a peanutty dipping sauce holding a piece of chicken and a piece of potato. The pancake was eggy, more pancake than crepe. Then I had Mee Siam ($5.95), rice vermicelli cooked with (large, not baby) shrimp, onions, bean sprouts, chives, fried tofu strips (finally a reason to eat tofu), chopped peanuts on top and a sliced hard boiled egg on the side. This was a treat, very tasty, well prepared and a large portion.

Fill this place up, if you can find it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Looked in on Pongsri, saw people waiting, and headed to Hsin Wong Restaurant, 72 Bayard Street, for their reliable Chow Fun.

Thursday, October 28, 2010
I got to Pongsri Thai Restaurant, 106 Bayard Street, at 12:34 PM and was seated immediately, finally, because the restaurant was half empty. When I left at 1:02 PM ten or more people were waiting to be seated. Let that be a lesson to you.

I ordered chicken with peanut sauce ($10.95) and sticky rice ($2). Two chicken paillards dipped in rice flour and fried were served almost grease-free along with a thick peanut sauce. A small dish of chopped vegetables in a slightly-sweet marinade accompanied the chicken. Knowing that I’ll have to arrive early, I’ll return for more.

Friday, October 29, 2010
The Upper West Side’s power couple hit the road to visit the land of Boaz and Noam.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Forty-First Week

Monday, October 18, 2010

Grand Sichuan Restaurant, 125 Canal Street, is one of six or so around Manhattan (with branches in Queens and Jersey City, as well). For some reason, I overlooked this site, which might even be the mother ship. This location, on a stretch of sidewalk that is the edge of the Manhattan Bridge off-ramp, is plain looking and seems smaller than some of its sisters which I have visited. Zagat’s puts Grand Sichuan (collectively) just below the top tier of Chinese restaurants.

The menu had a couple of interesting wrinkles. The first is a full page labelled "Mao Ze Dong Style, Chairman Mao’s Favorite Dishes." Even if steamed whole fish with black bean sauce or diced chicken and potatoes with kung bao sauce were also my favorites, I would be deterred by the memory of the tyranny and cruelty of Mao so effectively conveyed in Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. The second is "Authentic Chong Qing Hot Pot," something we had in China. Each diner gets a pot of broth, spicy or mild chicken consommĂ©, placed over a burner (I’ll call it Sterno if a trademark lawyer isn’t watching). You toss in seafood, beef, vegetables, spices and let them cook. Grand Sichuan charges by the ingredient. You fish out the cooked ingredients and eat them, and at the end, you have, you hope, a richly-flavored soup. In China, our group more typically had burnt lips and tongues, spots on the front of shirts and blouses, and near-immolations as the flames flamed.

I stayed wrinkle-free and ordered tea smoked duck ($16.95), which I fondly recalled from meals at other branches of Grand Sichuan, and got half a duck with a smoky, salty flavor, not fat-free, but negotiable, accompanied by a small bowl of a dark brown dipping sauce. I paid an extra buck for white rice which came in handy at the end to mix with the remaining sauce to make all gone.

The way to really have fun at Grand Sichuan is to bring Boaz or another kid 2 years 8 months and 15 days old and sit at one of the tables at the front of the restaurant, right by the near-unobstructed window. Sitting there, you face the traffic coming off the Manhattan Bridge and that means cars and buses and taxis and trucks. You can skip feeding the kid rather than interrupt his excitement as the vehicles seem to be coming right at you. Of course, there is the possibility that some out-of-town motorist might join you for lunch without an invitation.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

According to the New York Times, the blog that displayed what was alleged to be quarterback Brett Favre’s private parts got 3.2 million hits in the week that followed, more than 5 times its normal traffic. So, I’m wondering if I should take similar measures in order to expose myself to a wider audience. Might there be millions of folks out there would like to see me in a different light? Should I display the real Alan Gotthelf? Does a little bit of Alan Gotthelf go a long way?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I delayed one day in going to my 100th Chinatown Asian restaurant for lunch, because I could not think of an appropriate choice. Every place I knew, I’ve been, with one exception. While I wanted to surprise myself, Pongsri Thai Restaurant, 106 Bayard Street, was very familiar to me although unvisited this year. It is just across the street from the lockup (fabled as the Tombs), adjacent to the criminal courtrooms at 100 Center Street. I had eaten there in the past, but in the current cycle I have been frustrated by a wait for tables in this smallish joint. Most of the 99 other restaurants I’ve patronized have been busy, but I was seated almost immediately upon entering. At Pongsri, I had walked in, waited and walked out 3 or 4 times already this year. So, it was an appropriate choice for # 100. Except, it wasn’t. Even though no one was waiting ahead of me, I waited long enough to realize it was not meant to be and left once more, even as 8 or so other people came in behind me.

I thought I’d go to Forlini’s, my favorite inexpensive Manhattan Italian restaurant, just up the block from Pongsri, order a meatball hero at the bar, and put off my 100th Chinatown Asian restaurant for another day. Passing by Pho Pasteur Vietnamese Restaurant, 85 Baxter Street, I could not recall eating there this year, although I knew I had been to Nha Trang One Vietnamese Restaurant, 87 Baxter Street, and Thai Son Vietnamese Restaurant, 89 Baxter Street, its immediate neighbors. So, with the Century mark in mind, I enjoyed Tom Chien Lan Bot ($10.25) in Pho Pasteur, only to learn when I returned to my desk that Pho Pasteur was # 78 on my list, but I failed to report it when I visited on either June 22 or June 23. Hold on, it gets worse. Apparently, as much as I enjoyed Jaya Malaysian Restaurant, 90 Baxter Street on June 24, I left it off my list of restaurants. It should take its place as # 79, resulting in all behind it moving down (up?) a slot, which makes Grand Sichuan # 100. The combination of tea smoked duck and trucks rushing at you made it the right choice after all.

Thursday, October 21, 2010
Friday, October 22, 2010
I paid return visits and ate modestly at restaurants these two days, because each evening we had dinner dates with some of our favorite people, Dean Alfange, Thursday, and Jill & Steve, Friday.
Next week, I start on my second century.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Forty-First Week

Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy Columbus Day, a state holiday. We celebrated with dinner at ‘Cesca, 164 West 75th Street, my favorite (expensive) Italian restaurant in Manhattan.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thien Huong, 11 Chatham Square, is a new Vietnamese sandwich shop. It has only 3 tables and 7 stools where three times as many would fit and would make you feel that someone cared. It is freshly painted and has some very interesting lighting fixtures including matching, highly-stylized chandeliers. The menu is severely skewed away from the solids towards the liquids. It lists only 8 sandwiches (all $4), 7 chicken and pork dishes served over rice or bread ($5.50 or $6), 7 desserts, although one of them claims to be fried shrimps. The balance of menu is given over to ten conventional coffees and teas (4.80-$2.75), 18 milk teas cold or hot ($2.75 small, $3.75 large), 22 flavored teas with free tapioca ($2.75 small, $3.75 large), 11 milk shakes ($3.75 small, $4.75 large), and 32 slushes ($2.75 small, $3.75 large), ranging in flavor from sour plum to cappuccino.

I ordered the grilled chicken baguette and a peach slush. Unlike the Paris Sandwich shop, Thien Huong does not indicate the ingredients of its sandwiches except what is discernible by name, such as shredded pork baguette or sardine fish baguette. Mine was very tasty, the fresh baguette slightly toasty, carrots, cilantro, hot peppers (I accepted "spicy"), maybe cucumber, along with the chicken in a pleasant sauce. The peach slush was very good, not sickenly sweet as I feared (what risks I take).

As I walked to and fro, I noticed that almost every lamp post and many balconies in Chinatown were bedecked with American and Taiwanese flags, because today is Taiwanese independence day. I found this display unusual, because the influence of mainland China (Red China to those of us on Social Security) seems pervasive in Chinatown, although not particularly heavy handed. Pictures of Mao, copies of the Little Red Book, and publications from the mainland are easily spotted. The fraternal battles that must take place, though, are kept well hidden from us round eyes, so I was surprised by this show of partisanship.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I took my time getting to Cong Ly Vietnamese Restaurant, 124 Hester Street, because of the beautiful weather. I strolled up and down, back and forth and saw so much. First, lining two of the four streets that border on the courthouse at 80 Centre Street were ten or a dozen trucks from the new TV cop show "Blue Bloods," clearly involved with recording at least part of an episode inside the courthouse. As far as I know, the courtrooms in all the adjacent state buildings (I’ve never been in the Moynihan or Marshall Federal courthouses), with the exception of 60 Centre Street, are pretty dreary, architecturally undistinguished or worse. 60 Centre Street, the home base for the Supreme Court in New York County, has some striking architectural and design elements, but, even the best courtroom in 60 does not approach what is seen on "Law and Order" even for the most mundane arraignment or procedural motion. In any case, someone thinks that there is some place in 80 Centre Street worth using as a setting or backdrop for cops and robbers.

As I walked through Little Italy, I came upon another camera crew filming a documentary at the corner of Hester Street & Mulberry Street. While only involving about 8 people, the set up looked very professional as they recorded a plainly-dressed, middle-aged man with gray muttonchops answering questions from an off-camera interviewer. As I walked by, he was explaining who Lucky Luciano was.

Cong Ly, as with the name of almost all the Vietnamese restaurants I’ve patronized, is spelled with accents – aigu, grave, circumflex and a bunch of others that I last saw on a Torah scroll – that I don’t try to reproduce. The restaurant is small and plain, with ten tables, but cheerful because its entire front is glass, free of signs or banners, and one long wall is mirrored. The other patrons were all Vietnamese or Chinese trying to pass, until the end of my lunch when a few random round eyes came in. I ordered grilled beef with vermicelli rice pancake ($11) and got a plate of nicely-grilled beef, about 3/4 inches thick, sliced into pieces manageable with chopsticks, a small dish of vaguely-sweet dipping sauce, a dish of carrots, cucumbers and baby onions, a plate heaped with lettuce leaves, and a plate containing the pancakes, thin layers of woven rice vermicelli. Chopped peanuts and slivers of spring onion were on top of the beef and pancakes. Since I’m a guy who drives without asking directions, I attacked this dish (these dishes) as if it were a four-course meal without seeking advice from the friendly waiter. In other words, I ate some of this, then some of that. At the end, the entire pile of lettuce leaves was untouched. I thought that you might toss everything into a lettuce leaf and roll it up, as you might with Peking duck. However, why bother then to shape the vermicelli into pancakes? The pancakes themselves were too delicate to be used as wrappers. I guess I’ll never know, because I'm not going to ask.

I did seek knowledge on the way back to the office. I bought a container of jackfruit for $3. Now, jackfruit are enormous, at least they are in Chinatown, about the size of a watermelon, but even fatter around the middle. Outside, they are greenish-grayish-yellowish with a nubby skin. Usually they sell for about $4 a pound in huge hunks, which has kept me jackfruitless. Today, I found a fruit stand that sold a container already filleted for $3 and I’m glad I did. Jackfruit pieces look like large marinated Italian artichokes, although thoroughly dry, with pale orange flesh. They were sweet and quite tasty. Inside each piece (or think nodule) was an irregularly-shaped stone or pit which are not eaten, at least by me.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Our family went to a funeral today.

Friday, October 15, 2010

456 Shanghai Cuisine, 69 Mott Street just opened, replacing the unlamented Singapore Café. Unlike some changeovers, this was thorough, not just new signs and business cards. The storefront is completely new and the inside space is neat and clean. Handsome scrolls and paintings hung on the wall and there was no flat screen TV or paper streamers hawking special dishes.

The medium-sized place was busy with a mixed crowd (you supply the mixtures). I ordered a lunch special, spicy chicken with orange flavor ($5.95), which can also be called tangerine chicken or orange flavor chicken. Included was a good small bowl of hot and sour soup and white rice. The chicken was quite good, although not offering any surprises. It tasted freshly cooked which I took to reflect the newness of the restaurant. Sometimes, dishes like this (sweet and sour chicken, General Tso’s chicken, sesame chicken, tangerine beef) taste like they have been sitting on a low flame for weeks and dished out on demand, the Chinese equivalent of the cholent that observant Jews cook during the week, put on a low flame and serve on the Sabbath when they are barred from any work including cooking or even lighting a fire. Cholent, obviously, is never served al dente.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Fortieth Week

Monday, October 4, 2010
Are we running out of electrons? Are electrons, like the rest of us, slowing down as a result of the aging process? Are there too many electrons, so that they are crowding each other out?
Recent events give rise to these questions.
This morning, around 10 AM, my cell phone informed me that I had a message. Playing it back, I found that my dear British friend David Mervin, in New York to visit his Brooklyn-based five-month old granddaughter, was available for lunch today, Monday. However, the message came in 6:22 PM Sunday. I don’t care so much that I missed the call while the phone was turned on, because I was shopping at Trader Joe’s and Fairway between 6 and 6:30 PM, and it is likely that I missed the ring in the hubbub. But, why did it take about 16 hours for the message prompt to pop up?
Not long after the cell phone did not ring on Sunday evening, I returned to my palatial home positioned between the Hudson River and Central Park and looked at my e-mail. I found a message from the widely-admired Stanley Feingold confirming his attendance at an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York on John V. Lindsay, former New York City mayor. The message appeared in my electronic Yahoo in-box at 6:51 PM, Sunday, October 3, 2010, in response to my announcement of the event sent to Stanley and others at 9:20 AM, Thursday, September 23rd. The event itself was held on Tuesday, September 28th and Stanley and his lovely wife Fumiko attended. I was not able to identify the time Stanley sent his message, but I imagine that it was probably later on the same day I announced the event, that is Thursday, September 23rd, because Stanley is a fastidious person, personally and intellectually. The lag time, therefore, was something like 240 hours; it took 240 hours for Stanley’s e-mail message to get to me telling me that he and Fumiko were coming to an event 111 hours in the past.
16 hours for a cell phone message to be registered. 240 hours for an e-mail message to be received. What’s up with that?
Is it possible that all that stupid twittering, friending, texting, sexting has made it difficult for adults to exchange information efficiently? Where have my electrons gone?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010
An unexpected call to take someone home from the hospital, pulled me out of the office most of the day.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010
A nice, mild, dry day with moderate temperatures and all sorts of things going on outside and I forget to take a pen with me at lunch time. So, working from memory, I first noted on the courthouse steps a group of 30 or so lawyerly types arrayed behind a speaker endorsing Daniel M. Donovan, Jr., the Republican candidate for New York State Attorney General. Facing them were about 15 reporters and cameramen capturing the historic moment. I did not recognize the endorser. Around the corner, near the Moynihan Federal courthouse, a blond lady was primping before saying something for the benefit of those watching CNN maybe live or maybe later. There were two other television satellite trucks parked nearby, but no other signs of activity so I rolled right by. I entered Danny Ng’s Place, 52 Bowery, thinking I was entering the Golden Bridge Restaurant, directly opposite the Manhattan Bridge. However, the staircase and escalator to the Golden Bridge, likely a large dim sum establishment, were closed off and, where they reached the second floor, dry wall covered the former entrance to the restaurant. Instead, walking straight led me into Danny Ng’s, a medium-sized restaurant which promised to also be a dim sum establishment. The familiar green-eyed phoenix and red-eyed dragon were on the back wall. The long wall to the left held six attractive Chinese paintings and scrolls. Six small crystal chandeliers illuminated the premises which contained mostly large round tables. The long wall on the right side, however, was mostly covered with photographs of presumably Mr. Ng with all sorts of people, often police in uniform. I have to note that Mr. Ng, judging by the photographs, is not aging well. Right above my head was a framed white, Harvard tennis team polo shirt, celebrating its Ivy league championship for 2004-05, signed by the team members, two of whom apparently were Chinese.
All lunch specials were $5.25 and I ordered roast chicken with garlic sauce. Now, I’ve commented that chicken with garlic sauce appears on virtually every Chinese restaurant menu and never is served the same way twice. This dish, however, was the epitome of roast chicken with garlic sauce. A very small piece of chicken, maybe one-eighth, was gently roasted and topped with slices of (aromatic) sauteed garlic. No more no less. I enjoyed it very much, making up for the small portion by inhaling the white rice served on the side.
I also did not mind the small portion because America’s Favorite Epidemiologist has cooked a beef vegetable soup and beef stew to lay in for the winter ahead, leaving portions out for tonight’s dinner. However, I thought to add a little fruit to lunch and, noting the pints of strawberries at $1, a best buy, I bought one pound of rambutans for $4. According to our friends at Wikipedia, rambutans, also the name of the tree it grows upon, are round to oval and 3-4 cm broad, growing in a loose cluster of 10-20 fruit. The leathery skin is usually reddish and covered with fleshy pliable spines. It looks more like an animal than a fruit, a red, hairy golf ball that is about to propel itself across the room. Be sure and see for yourself. According to (go ahead, I dare you), one approaches a rambutan "by either cutting part way into the rind or, if fresh, biting into it as the spines are quite soft and pose no threat." Well, I cut away and tasted a pleasant fruit similar to a grape. Officemate Michael accurately likened it to a litchee. I think it should be prized for its decorative value, but I'm finding it impossible to insert a picture right here.

Thursday, October 7, 2010
King of Casserole, 21 Division Street, looks like a Chinese luncheonette. No effort has been made to make it look nice (although such efforts in Chinatown often have the opposite affect). It is medium-sized, busy only with Chinese customers. The menu consists entirely of noodle or rice dishes including pulled noodles and knife cut noodles. One grouping of dishes was labelled South Wind Rice. Could they have meant South Park rice?
I ordered roast duck fried noodle ($6.25 no tax added) with a choice of noodle. I chose Ho Fun, which is Chow Fun (my favorite) by another name. The fried must have meant stir-fried, because the noodles were cooked the same as the better Chow Funs of my acquaintance, while I was expecting something crisp and crackley.

Friday, October 8, 2010
Friend and neighbor Steve came downtown to join me for lunch. We went to Jing Fong Restaurant, 20 Elizabeth Street, the marvelous, cavernous dim sum joint, ate up a storm and paid $10 each including a generous tip. A good way to end the week.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Thirty-Ninth Week

hirty-Ninth Week

Monday, September 27, 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
For the second murky, rainy day, with a head cold, I went out at lunchtime for a bowl of soup. For the sake of symmetry, I went to Wo Hop upstairs on Monday, forgiven for the salt-laden plate of cold sesame noodles on July 6, 2010, and Wo Hop downstairs today. In each case, the presence of wide, fried crispy noodles was as much a lure as the soup itself. After careful comparison, upstairs is the better choice. It was relatively empty, with large booths available, while downstairs required a wait before I squeezed onto the end of a table occupied by three young lawyers. They were eating up a storm, even though two of them were girls, and that was somewhat punishing for me to observe. Upstairs the soup bowl was larger, I think, and the soup was definitely hotter; downstairs it was barely warm. Downstairs was cheaper, though, because they did not charge me extra for the wide, fried crispy noodles.

Wednesday, September 2, 2010
My head cold has advanced and kept me home. Nothing to report.

Thursday, September 30, 2010
Feeling a little better, but left work at midday. No lunch.

Friday, September 24, 2010
Since Wo Hop upstairs won this early round of the soup bowl, and my cold was not all gone, I returned for more soup. But, I changed the menu somewhat. This time I had a large bowl of egg drop soup and two egg rolls. The soup was served hot and I stirred in some mustard to jazz it up. The egg rolls were classic, those fat beauties you remember from early restaurant meals with your parents. Hot from the deep fryer and stuffed with little bits of wonderful things. I skipped the fried, wide crispy noodles, because the egg rolls satisfied my daily fried food requirement.

Just across the street from Wo Hop is the Chinatown Fair, 8 Mott Street, once the home of the tic-tac-toe chicken, immortalized by Calvin Trillin. Someone asked me about the chicken a few days ago and I looked in on its former home, still an arcade full of video games manned (entirely) by anomic Asian teenagers. There was an empty spot where the chicken once stood/perched/played/resided and the somewhat-battered sign outside still advertised the tic-tac-toe chicken. Remember, the chicken always goes first.