Saturday, February 26, 2011

Trip Notes

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Normally, I limit my reporting to lunchtime in Manhattan on working days. However, in these extraordinary times, I must take extraordinary measures.

My young bride, her favorite daughter and I went to Sushi Bistro, 431 Balboa Street, for dinner. Although we are staying in Japantown, surrounded by sushi restaurants, this excursion was very worthwhile. Sushi Bistro looks like a neighborhood tavern serving bar food, except for a small sushi bar in the rear. This is deceptive, however, because behind the sushi bar is a large kitchen turning out weird and wonderful combinations. For instance, we ordered, among other things, "Omega-3," deep fried albacore, salmon, avocado and asparagus, topped with fresh albacore, salmon and tobiko, drizzled with spicy soy ($9.75), "Ahi Tower," lightly seared ahi tuna on grilled zucchini and asparagus, served with house spicy sauce ($11.95) and "Magic Mushrooms," chopped salmon and yellowtail mixed with macadamia pesto in mushrooms, flash fried, drizzled with a sweet and spicy fish sauce ($8.95). Each of these were delicious, as were the straight salmon and yellowtail sushi that we used to fill in the gaps.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Yank Sing, 101 Spear Street, is at or near the top of everyone’s best dim sum list and everyone in San Francisco seemed to get there ahead of us this afternoon. Yank Sing is located outside of Chinatown, near the waterfront and the Giants baseball field, whatever its name is this week. It is in the lobby of an office complex, and, at least on a busy Sunday, it doubles its capacity by putting dozens of tables in the atrium. Our timing was near perfect, however, as the atrium space was shutting down as we arrived and we had to wait for a table in the regular restaurant.

Unique among all other Chinese restaurants I know, it limits itself to dim sum in daylight hours. It closes at 3 PM weekdays and 4 PM weekends. As other bloggers and reviewers have observed, Yank Sing is very good and very expensive. Carts buzz around, English is understood, if not mastered, and the women drivers wear headsets left over from Britney Spears’s last tour which they use to get things from the kitchen not immediately available on a cart.

I ate the treyf -- shrimp dumplings ($5.60), BBQ pork steamed buns ($4.50), Phoenix tail prawns ($10.50) (fried, stuffed butterfly shrimp), Szechuan spicy chicken ($7.65) -- and shared the superb honey-glazed walnut and shredded cabbage salad ($9.60). My charming companions had a couple of plates of spinach dumplings and savory vegetable dumplings with the salad. It was all very good and expensive, as promised. I also imagine that weekday crowds would keep me away at lunchtime even if geographically feasible.

Monday, February 21, 2011

We relocated to the Napa Valley and had a nice dinner at Mini Mango Thai Bistro, 1408 Clay Street, Napa. It was a delightful, small, family-run place, downtown, but not easily located. A young local couple at the next table were thoroughly surprised that we found it. Go, enjoy yourself and surprise some other locals.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

We went to Beringer Vineyards for a tour and tasting ($20 includes three wines). Beringer is worth a visit because it has tunnels dug out of volcanic tufa where wine in oak barrels is kept at 58 degrees naturally and the lovely Rhine House, a 17-room mansion, built in 1884 for one of the founding Beringer brothers, with beautiful exterior stonework, stained-glass windows and interior wood paneling.

Lunch was at Bouchon Bistro, 6534 Washington Street, Yountville, Thomas Keller’s casual restaurant, one block from his flagship, French Laundry Restaurant. Lunch at Bouchon today cost us (without wine, I admit) almost exactly 10% of dinner at the French Laundry in 2003. Under the circumstances, I think we enjoyed it more. Oops, let me recalculate because, for dessert, we went into Bouchon Bakery next door, and spent almost $10 dollars for two cups of coffee, a fabulous pistachio macaroon and an excellent chocolate chocolate chip cookie. Together, our entire lunch cost about one-eighth of our French Laundry dinner.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The aircraft that was supposed to depart San Francisco for New York at 11:30 AM on Thursday must have left its heart, and maybe a propeller, in Kansas City. We actually took off after 3 PM and set foot in the Palazzo di Gotthelf after midnight. As a result, I arrived at work at 11 AM today and only had the energy to walk 1 ½ blocks to a sidewalk Halal food cart where I bought a melange of Eastern delights to consume in the office.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Happy Week

Monday, February 14, 2011

Today is Valentine’s Day, but no longer Saint Valentine’s Day. While there were 14 martyred Saint Valentines in ancient Rome, according to WikiPedia, the Church ceased "universal liturgical veneration" of him, her and/or them in 1969. In any case, the weather was wonderful today, 55 degrees, bright, cloudless, so I had to find a new restaurant, which I was unable to do last week. WZW, 88 East Broadway, is in the basement of the mall at this lucky address, crowned by 88 Palace, the very good, very large, very successful dim sum joint. I had no idea that there was a basement below the ground level duplicating its dozens of stalls selling jewelry, phone cards, clothing, groceries and cellular telephone plans. In the spirit of Dora the Explorer though, I found this open space with a random collection of tables and benches next to an open kitchen. I was the only non-Chinese customer until a young couple came in. They did not otherwise spoil the demographics, with everyone but me under 30.

I ordered fried sea clam with Mei Fun ($6) which came with a tasty clear broth that almost made me wish I had a cold. The noodles, gently stir-fried, were mixed with green onion, onion, lettuce, egg, bean sprouts and very chewy pieces of clam. It was a very good dish, just 50 cents shy of the most expensive on the menu. My chopsticking was flawless, even as it was scrutinized by the many Chinese youth surrounding me.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wise counsel Nick Lewin, Stuyvesant and CCNY graduate, was in court today along with a senior member of his firm. We went to Ping’s Seafood, 22 Mott Street, but avoided seafood dishes because of Nick’s allergies. However, picking dim sum from the rolling carts and ordering from the menu gave us a wide variety of choices and enough good food to fill us up. We had egg rolls, baked pork buns, sesame meatballs and beef in rice noodles from the carts. Then, we had beef Chow Fun and garlic roasted chicken. Almost everything was very good, the sesame meatballs more sesame than meat. The chicken was exceptional and will probably shield us from evil spirits for the next day or two.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Michael, with whom I share an office, a Stuyvesant diploma, a taste for good food and single malt Scotch, and adjacent birthdays, and I walked over to Wolfgang’s Steakhouse, 409 Greenwich Street, for our birthday celebration at lunchtime. We both had Cajun rib-eye steaks served with mashed potatoes and creamed spinach on the lunch menu. The food amounted to 1/3 of the total bill once drinks, tax and tip were included. The Palm remains Numero Uno.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Name two superstars born in Brooklyn on February 17th. Hint, the other one is Michael Jordan.

The Chinese Lantern Festival was held today. East Broadway, from Catherine Street to Market Street, one long stretch measuring at least two blocks, but uninterrupted by a cross street, was festooned with red lanterns hung every 5 feet on both sides of the street, a veritable Chinese Eruv. The street and the sidewalk were covered by colorful confetti, shot from yard-long red tubes wielded by dozens of school children. A street fair was set up at Market Street, with a platform laden with dignitaries, and tables along the curb representing different civic groups.

When the men at one table, who were inscribing bright red paper with Chinese calligraphy, learned that today is my birthday (how did that happen?), they pushed me forward to give me a square-foot paper with the symbol for Long Life, now pinned to my bulletin board.

Lunch was somewhat special as well, a tiny joint I had not visited before, Hua Ji Pork Chop Fast Food, 7 Allen Street. It had six stools pressed against a narrow counter that ran around two of its four walls. I had an excellent scallion pancake ($2) and good Chow Fun with curry sauce ($5), which turned out to be Singapore Chow Fun, as I know it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

America's Favorite Epidemiologist and I flew to San Francisco to visit America's Loveliest Nephrologist. We arrived at around 3 PM, our luggage at midnight, but by then we had had an excellent meal at Garibaldi's, 347 Presidio Avenue, which elevated our mood. I almost left no room for my meal by eating the delicious bread, focaccia, baquette and Tuscan, with chopped and whole olives set down when we sat down. Fortunately, I left enough room to get really stuffed with the 5 appetizers ($7 each) that they bundled for $27, beet and goat cheese salad, chicken liver pate (assume an accent) with aspic, fried risotto balls, humus and salume (salami at a higher price point). All of these things were very good, and by the time I finished them off, with a little help, I almost had to pass on the hot chocolate cake concoction with caramel ice cream and nuts. It wasn't easy staying awake until midnight to greet the luggage after that meal, but I managed over the roar of the surf washing over the pillow next to mine.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Special Week

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

This is the third day without lunch in Chinatown. A quick recap: Monday, we were still celebrating Boaz’s third birthday on his home turf. We did not return to Palazzo di Gotthelf until Monday night. Tuesday, I stayed in my office at lunchtime in order to take a conference call on furthering the International Jewish Conspiracy. Unfortunately, only one other person got on the line. Wednesday, I had to go home at midday to welcome our new sofa bed, part of the reconfiguring of our library, computer room, music room, study, guest bedroom, television room and meditation room.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I tried, I really tried. I walked about ½ mile north and about 1/4 mile east of the courthouse, but I could not find a new Chinese restaurant. I admittedly skipped several Chinese bakeries, which usually limit themselves to leaden buns with dubious ingredients, as I trudged around on this sunny, very cold day. I set out prepared to walk, because I wanted to buy halogen bulbs and that meant the Bowery above Canal Street. I rejected two offers of bulbs at $14 each, as much as a whole pizza on Mulberry Street, and bought half a dozen at $9 each at Lendy Electric’s Lighting Showroom, 137 Bowery, my new best friend. However, I still needed to eat and eventually got almost to Prince Street before I turned back, unfed. I got that far north because of Torrisi Italian Specialties, 250 Mulberry Street, a highly-reputed, casual Italian restaurant that had no room for me. On the way back to Chinatown I went into Hoomoos Asli, 100 Kenmare Street, a small joint featuring Israeli and Yemeni food. You could make a case for counting this in my lunchtime collection, because Israel is on the Asian continent, but that's too Talmudic for my reckoning. I ate a shawarma sandwich ($8.75), where the pita was stuffed with meat and vegetables, a preferable arrangement to wrapping the pita around them and having everything explode into the palm of your hand with the first bite.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Lincoln’s Birthday and New York courts are closed and my obsessiveness stops short of running down to Chinatown to get one lunch in this week.

However, I can offer a choice if you choose to spend your holiday weekend visiting Boaz and his Thomas the Tank Engine collection. Sichuan Gourmet, 271 Worcester Road, (Rte. 9), Framingham, MA, near exit 13 of the Mass Pike, is very popular with Chinese and round-eyed families, and deservedly so. We six adults, Boaz and Noam ordered scallion pancake ($4.95), Sichuan cold noodles ($4.95), tangerine crispy sliced beef ($14.50), sliced cumin flavored tender lamb with chili sauce ($13.95), shredded chicken with Yu Xiang sauce ($9.95), Chinese eggplant with Yu Xiang sauce ($9.50), fried tofu with vegetable family style ($9.95), and broccoli with Yu Xiang sauce ($8.95). Portions were very large and the quality high, easily justifying the prices. Except for the inherent composition of the scallion pancake (a Boaz favorite), and the fried tofu and broccoli by request, all the other dishes were appropriately spicy. Accordingly, I skipped the fried tofu and broccoli, and still had plenty to eat. Yu Xiang sauce, where we were allowed to indulge it, is a garlicky, peppery sauce. Noam napped throughout and I gave my fortune cookie to Boaz, along with several others he garnered at the table. As a result, the next day, he made some counter-intuitive, but successful moves positioning Gordon, Toby and, his latest acquisition, Harold the Helicopter.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Monday, January 31, 2011

It seemed much colder than 29 degrees when I went out for an abbreviated lunchtime, having spent part of it on-line considering suitable offerings for a three-year old Thomas-the-Tank-Engine afficionado. Yet, I still had the time and energy to break new ground, as it were. The sign for Shun Wei Restaurant, 45 Catherine Street, says Chinese Food to Go, but two small tables and four chairs invited me to enter. Shun Wei is classic hole-in-the-wall Chinese take-out. Its proximity to Chinatown is incidental. It could be found in any downscale urban neighborhood, and it would be a benefit to the neighborhood.

I ordered roast pork egg foo young accompanied by fried rice, won ton soup and tea ($6.75). Mustard and soy sauce were served in little plastic packages. The tea, along with the soup and the brown sauce for the egg foo young, came in a plastic container of the sort that Fairway uses for whitefish salad or olives. Two hands were needed to drink the tea, made with a Lipton’s tea bag. That being said, the food was hot, made to order, tasty and filling. What more can you expect from a neighborhood joint if you pretend that Chinatown is far away?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Having braved freezing rain, icy sidewalks and slush-clogged intersections to get to work this morning, I was ready to face my V-phobia at lunchtime. I went to Vegetarian Dim Sum House, 24 Pell Street, the last of the Chinatown V joints for me to try. The restaurant itself, medium-sized, was fairly attractive, not over-decorated. A scroll painting, about one foot high, ran 18 to 20 feet along one wall. Smaller art works were well-placed. However, the bulbs in a few of the contemporary-style sconces were out, leaving the restaurant a little dim and gloomy. A waiter was potschkeing with one fixture as I left, so the next visit might be in a brighter setting.

The menu had a lot of those mock meat and fish items, which never satisfy, except for my memory of a divine vegetable cutlet at Rappaport’s (a lower East Side dairy restaurant, closed maybe 30 years). I ordered from the dim sum menu, spinach dumplings ($2.95), mini spring rolls ($2.95) and sweet and salty dumplings ($2.95). The spinach dumplings were fat, filled with chopped or shredded vegetables. The spring rolls had an extremely crispy wrapper around the vegetable filling. Both were very good, and good bargains. I really had no idea what the sweet and salty dumplings would be. They were three pillowy, football-shaped, greasy, mushy, sweet and salty tasting things. Take it from me, chocolate-covered pretzels wrote the book on sweet and salty. Asher’s Chocolates, headquartered about 20 miles northeast of Philadelphia, is a reliable source for real chocolate-covered pretzels and graham crackers too, found in Fairway and Zabar’s.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Happy Birthday, Boaz.

While Chinatown resounded with bursts of fireworks, the pounding of drums stirring up the evil spirits and the pitter patter of dragon feet chasing off the evil spirits, in celebration of the arrival of the Year of the Rabbit, I actually ate lunch in midtown with Stanley Feingold and company. We had intellectual fireworks, but no soundtrack.

Today, Zagat’s released its list of the 8 (lucky number) "top" Chinese restaurants in New York City. It designates them as top, because of their voting popularity, not to be confused with best. Only 2 of the 8 are located in Chinatown, that is the original Chinatown in lower Manhattan, now 1 of 3 in New York City. The two are Oriental Garden (April 27, 2010) and Nice Green Bo Restaurant (March 29, 2010). Of the other 6, I can endorse only, Shun Lee Palace, 155 East 55th Street, and Phoenix Garden, 242 East 40th Street, which used to be in the alley connecting the Bowery and Elizabeth Street, where Ed Koch had a stroke eating lunch. While Shun Lee Palace is a grand establishment, expensive, and tony, its food keeps pace. Two others, Tse Yang and Philippe do not warrant my patronage. The New York Times says of Tse Yang, "Expensive and pretentious Chinese food for people who would really rather eat with forks and not be bothered by bones." Philippe has not been reviewed by the Times, but a contributor to recently wrote, "what you really crave after the meal is a couple of cigarettes to eradicate the taste in your mouth." Even more persuasive is the 45 minute wait at Philippe for Peking Duck costing $75.

I have not revised my top Chinatown 8 since last year (March 24, 2010), at the midpoint of my initial quest for Heaven on Earth, but I’ll offer it as counterpoint to Zagat’s. I promise to have an updated version soon.

1. Wo Hop downstairs, 17 Mott Street is the quintessential Chinatown joint. Down a steep flight of stairs into a crowded space where you share a table with a stranger. Fabulous fried noodles with mustard and weak duck sauce (maybe you should bring your own) are given to nibble. The very standard Chinese food is just what you expected. And it’s cheap.

2. Peking Duck House, 28 Mott Street is the place to go for (you guessed it) Peking duck, but at lunch by myself I had beef with orange flavor, the single best main course I’ve eaten so far.

3. ABC Chinese Restaurant, 34 Pell Street had great beef chow fun. A large portion with lots of beef and that edgy, oily, smoky flavor to the wide noodles that places it second only to America’s Favorite Epidemiologist’s lukshen kugel as the Noodle Supreme.

4. Joe’s Ginger Restaurant, 25 Pell Street served a scallion pancake that left all others behind. After pan frying, it must have been deep-fried briefly to give it a little crunch. Yet, it wasn’t greasy, messy. It was really a treat.

5. Dim Sum Go Go, 5 East Broadway not only solves my dim sum dilemma, that is, how not to eat like a pig eating alone when they give you 4 things on a dish and you want to try several things and you grew up eating for the starving children of Europe, but offered a high-quality olio (very handy crossword word along with oleo and Oreo) of tastes, colors, and shapes.

6. Fried Dumpling, Mosco Street. You get more dumplings for one dollar then there are seats in this minuscule joint on a hidden street.

7. 69 Bayard Restaurant, 69 Bayard Street has its walls and part of its ceiling covered entirely by US dollar bills adding up to at least a thousand dollars. The food, classic Chinatown Cantonese Chinese is also very good.

8. Jing Fong Restaurant, 20 Elizabeth Street is enormous, a whole city block long able to hold several weddings or bar mitzvahs at once. 15 women roll dim sum carts around while you can get ten hot foods served from chafing dishes and/or order from the menu. I had very good dim sum, discounted Monday through Friday. Go with a lot of people even if you don’t intend to marry them.