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.

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