Friday, March 25, 2011

What A Difference An O Makes

This wonderful photograph: Copyright - The New York Times

Monday, March 21, 2011

I missed out. Yesterday, in Manhattan, as in Paris, according to the New York Times, macarons were given out free. Macarons, not macaroons. We all know macaroons, especially as Passover comes into view. Macaroons are possibly the only reward for your stomach after trekking across the desert for 40 years. However, it’s dubious whether they actually offset eight days and nights and days and nights of eating matzohs.

Macarons, according to the newspaper of record, are "crisp shells of almond flour enveloping dollops of flavored cream or chocolate ganache." Wikipedia says: "It is meringue-based: made from a mixture of egg whites, almond flour, and both granulated and confectionery sugar." The unashamed use of food color is a notable characteristic.
See above.

When I read the paper I realized that America’s Favorite Epidemiologist had ordered a pistachio macaron at Bouchon Bakery in Yountsville, Calfornia, last month, which I sampled and found fabulous (see February 22, 2011). For a rough comparison, a macaron resembles an Oreo on steriods or a shrunken moon pie.

With the macaroon/macaron issue squarely in my lap (soon on my waist), I had research to do.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

This morning, on the way from the subway, I stopped at RBC NYC, 71 Worth Street, a very serious coffee shop "featuring multiple brewing methods and seasonal coffees by a variety of micro roasters." I learned from correspondence with my friend Warren Cohen that his son Danny was in the macaroon business,, and that RBC claimed to carry Danny’s macaroons, not macarons. Once before I stopped in, but a visual inspection turned up no macaroons, so, being a guy, I left without asking. Today, I asked, even in the absence of visual evidence, and, sure enough, a chocolate-covered macaroon (what more can you ask?) was parked in the refrigerator. I bought it and scurried off to my office.

With officemate Michael on vacation, I had the space and the macaroon entirely to myself. But, I paused about one hour before getting a cup of coffee from the little man standing in front of the jury waiting-around-going-nuts-because-you-forgot-to-bring-something-to-read room on the fourth floor. Danny’s macaroon is a real macaroon, very good, very coconutty, very chewy, but more chocolate-topped than chocolate-covered. Note that Danny himself calls it chocolate-dipped; the coffee wench called it chocolate-covered. In all, I had a fine coffee break, although at $2 each, these macaroons serve as an appetite suppressant.

Super Taste Restaurant, 26N Eldridge Street, is a small, busy place. Its seven tables held about 15 people keeping the four cooks in the open kitchen occupying the back half of the space pretty busy. I had Mount Qi beef noodle ($5.75), a bowl of peppery soup crowded with chewy cubes of beef, cilantro, peas, green onions, carrots, egg, mushrooms and lo-mein-type noodles. I only wished it was more wintery outside to really appreciate the warmth that spread over and in me as I ate, drank, chewed, slurped this dish.

I wasn’t finished with macaroons/macarons today yet. Not only did I remember fondly the taste at Bouchon Bakery, but I thought that I had seen macarons closer to home. I had walked in and out of Tribeca Treats, 94 Reade Street, several times over the years, but I think I only made one purchase shortly after it opened. It’s just too precious for my taste, looking like it belongs in a more heavily-trafficked tourist area, such as Carmel, California or Alexandria, Virginia. It sells gifts and greeting cards along with its chocolates, cupcakes and cookies. I was sure I had seen (what I now can identify as) macarons there, so I stopped in on my way home. Taste results tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Well, it turned out that Tribeca Treats’ treats are not macarons, but handmade sandwich cookies, a form of (excuse me trademark lawyers) designer Oreos. While appearing attractive in their combination of chocolate cookie and vanilla or chocolate filling, they don’t fit the New York Times prescription, or display the vivid color palette of macarons. So, I walked out of Tribeca Treats empty handed again.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

83 Kien Tuong Restaurant, 83 Chrystie Street, is Vietnamese/Chinese. Its 8 or 9 tables ran down one side of the restaurant, an open kitchen faced them. I ordered Kien Tuong chow fun ($5.50). It contained shrimp, chicken, American broccoli, pork, and bean sprouts. The dish was carefully prepared but thoroughly bland. As in any Vietnamese restaurant, there were jars and bottles of hot, hotter and hottest sauces on the table. However, I want my chow fun to have that edgy, oily, near-burnt, near metallic taste that I know and love. Kien Tuong needed more than hot sauce.

The New Yorker magazine this week was not as obsessed as I was about macarons and macaroons. In an article about a lady who makes underwear, it describes her attendance at a benefit in Atlanta. "'Go for it, love'" she says to her husband "spying an array of pastel macaroons"!!! Dear Fact Checker, Macaroons are brown, beige, tan. If chocolate-covered, they are chocolate brown. Macarons are pastel-colored. Yours truly, Grandpa Alan.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Nice Week

Monday, March 14, 2011

Quickly, 11 Pell Street, is a beverage shop. The name is "Quickly." It serves ice tea, bubble tea, fruit tea, milk tea and slushes. It claims to have branches in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea, Philippines, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Spain, Canada, Japan, England, New Zealand and Vietnam. This branch also serves four snack foods, two of which constituted my lunch. Crispy fried chicken and crispy fried tempura were each $3.50. One item with a hearty drink would make a decent lunch, and the one item should be the chicken, spicy pieces coated very lightly with a starch to yield crispiness. The fried tempura was supposedly fish cakes, but while smelling strongly of fish, it chewed and tasted like tofu. The other choices are fried squid balls and black rice cake. The food is served in little wax paper bags with wooden skewers. Seating is at three high tables surrounded by stools.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I walked many blocks east and north looking for a new restaurant. I wound up at Chang Wang Restaurant, 38A Allen Street, a small place that seems to rely on takeout and deliveries. It has only one round table, 2 rectangular tables (holding four) and 2 square tables (holding two). The cooking area takes up close to ½ the restaurant. I ordered chicken fried rice ($5) which wasn’t bad, but suffered from the problem that all fried rice poses. You can’t eat it alone – either by yourself or by itself. Eating with someone else immediately solves the other half of the equation because it forces you to order more than one dish. Fried rice requires a goopy dish to be combined with, either rice into goop or goop into rice. Ideally, the fried rice would be suspended in the goopy dish in a colloidal blend.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Once upon a time, Eldridge Street north of Canal Street was halfway to Kiev. Now, it is about a half mile from the courthouse and sprinkled with Chinese restaurants. Fen Yang Corporation, 107 Eldridge Street, looks only a few weeks old. It has eight round tables and one small rectangular table, which held the only other patron when I walked in. Eventually, a family group of six and a pair of men, all Chinese, came in. One wall has a large, maybe 5' x 8', illuminated color photo, which annoyed me. I’ve enjoyed such photos, usually of the Li River, in other places, but this was simply a large boring photo of the Temple of Heaven in the Forbidden City. The perspective, the light, the nondescript people milling around just made for a lousy picture. Actually, I found that much of the Forbidden City is more attractive in photographs than in person. But, not this time.

Fen Yang’s menu is beyond conventional, with goose intestines, frogs, pig stomach, and "Noodle w. Rabbie," a nice ecumenical touch. I had clam pan fried noodle ($6.75), where pan fried means lightly stir-fried. It was good, including eggs, celery, green onion in mei fun, the fine rice noodle.

If you want to seem a chopstick wizard (is there a musical for The Who in that?), order mei fun (vermicelli) in the next Chinese or Vietnamese restaurant you visit. Sticking your chopsticks into the tangle of fine noodles always comes up with a respectable mouthful, drawing admiring glances from East and West.

Friday, March 18, 2011

With the temperature at 74 degrees at lunchtime, it is the nicest day in New York City this year. I walked over to Tribeca and had lunch with Marty McC, the senior administrator of the little courthouse at 71 Thomas Street where I worked for almost seven years. We held off on our conversations about physical disasters in Japan and political disasters in the Middle East until after we finished our sandwiches. We were insightful, but inconclusive.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Onward Xi'An Soldiers

Monday, March 7, 2011

Xian, Xi’An or Xi An is a city in central China known for its proximity to the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, containing thousands of terra cotta soldiers buried with him about 2,300 years ago. This army was only discovered in 1974 and is not fully unearthed. The site is as fascinating as Pompeii, and should not be missed on a trip to China. A visit to Xi’An Famous Foods, 88 East Broadway, does not rise to the level of a trip to the tomb, but it is a top spot for lunch. Ideally, you would drive a motor home to the front door of the tiny establishment, no more than 8' by 10', that actually sits on Forsyth Street, around the corner from the 88 East Broadway mall, and order all sorts of things to eat at the table of your rolling residence. Else, you have to stand at a one-foot deep counter, about four feet wide, that faces the front window. I’ve never seen two people dining side-by-side there and, certainly, if you were to accompany me, you would have to wait your turn to eat at the counter.

On the other hand, my lunch would have been worth waiting for. I had a savory (sic) cumin lamb burger ($3), shredded or coarsely ground lamb cooked with hot green and red peppers (but not too hot), on a 4-inch round bun, looking like an English muffin, but tasting like pita. Great food. Next time, I’m borrowing that RV so that I can sit down to several dishes while at least one other person can squeeze up to the counter.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Is this a great country or what? Two decades ago, the news was full of charges of insider trading featuring all Jews all the time. Today, Boesky and Milken are replaced by Raj Rajaratnam with his associates Rajiv Goel, Anil Kumar, Rajat Gupta, Sunil Bhalla, Ali Far, Roomy Khan, Deep Shah, Shammara Hussein, and Ali Hariri. We lost the lower East Side to the Puerto Ricans, the garment industry to the Chinese, the movie business to the Scientologists, and now insider trading to the Indians. Oh, where are the Cohens of yesteryear?

Nom Wah Tea Parlor, 13 Doyers Street, the oldest dim sum joint in New York, and maybe the whole country, reopened a couple of weeks ago when I was in San Francisco. To be safe, though, I asked if the dragons had come and gone lest I sat down among undispelled evil spirits. The very cordial host, a tall, thin ABC (American-born Chinese) guy, who was only half a foot shorter than Yao Ming, assured me that the dragons had appeared at the reopening. Unfortunately, this kid, was the best thing in the restaurant, friendly, attentive, a big Mets fan.

Nom Wah had been closed for many months, maybe a year, while it was being renovated. However, its current appearance would convince you that nothing has changed inside for the last several decades. The floors were grimy as were the red and white checked plastic tablecloths. The booths were old, and the seats lumpy. The only thing new seemed to be the light bulbs, which made the premises too bright considering its condition. No dim sum carts are wheeled around; everything is ordered by marking a paper ballot. Six teas are available, 75¢ each except for chrysanthemum at $1.25. I ordered steamed scallop dumplings, egg rolls, chicken and mushroom wrap, and scallion pancake. Each of these dishes cost $3.50 (too much for the scallion pancake, and marginally high for the others), but some other items had lower prices. The scallops were shrimps, the scallion pancake and egg rolls were a little too greasy, and the chicken and mushrooms, wrapped in wide rice noodles, were bland, not tasting of chicken. The food wasn’t bad overall; the egg rolls had a very eggy wrapper, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, and the shrimp dumplings were tasty. Renovation isn’t finished, but, except for my young friend, there is little reason to choose Nom Wah over many good alternatives in Chinatown.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Normally, a word I have little use for, I don’t go back to a restaurant in a hurry, no less within 48 hours. Today, however, when I passed Xi’An Famous Foods, 88 East Broadway, and saw it empty, I had to go in. Even so, in the minute that I needed to make my choice, two Chinese women and one Chinese man came in, together taking hardly any more room than I did, and ordered without hesitation, keeping the sole cook busy for several minutes before I asked for spicy & tingly beef noodles $5.50). Fortunately, the three other customers had their motor home outside, or made other plans to eat the excellent food off the premises, leaving me the narrow counter.

While waiting, I watched the cook (one other woman takes the orders, accepts payments and applies the finishing touch to some dishes) pulling my very own noodles. While noodle-pulling doesn’t show off as well as pizza-twirling, it takes skill and a deft touch. The final product, long, wide, chewy noodles were cooked with chunks of beef in, how do you say, spicy and tingly sauce. Since eating in the restaurant requires that you stand at the counter facing the window, my slurping was on view to the several people now waiting on the sidewalk to get in. I think at least one tourist recorded me for YouTube.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Customer disservice week

Monday, February 28, 2011

At lunchtime, I was still enjoying the large amount of Indian food I had had at dinner last night, in the company of Diane and Irwin, so I had only a bowl of chicken rice soup ($3.75) at Wo Hop downstairs. It was quite satisfactory.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

This headline tells the story: "My Unhealthy Diet? It Got Me This Far." It appears over this article: Note that the New York Times usually releases content on-line one day before physical printing. Just reading about Larry Garfield, 95, of Key Biscayne, FL, eating rare calf’s liver with mashed potatoes has the same effect on me as several Lipitors and some blood pressure pills. Of course, Mother Ruth (Have Some More) Gotthelf is still rolling at 101 years old.

H.K. Wonton Garden, 79 Mulberry Street, replaces Chanoodle Express, which I visited on March 11, 2010. It opened only last week, while I was traveling. The place was redone, although it appeared relatively new even on my prior visit. The menu focussed on soups, noodles, soup with noodles and noodles with soup, with a dozen or more dim sum items as well. I had beef Chow Fun ($7.50), which is becoming my signature dish. It was good, not great. The portion was no more than medium-sized, but it had a generous amount of beef. Service was quick and friendly.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What a miserable day. I stayed home to wait for the cable guy for what promised to be a three to four hour installation of new equipment by a new provider (named Verizon for illustrative purposes)– fiber optics, wireless router, digital video recorder. The cable guy arrived at 4:20 PM and we sat down and had a little chat about corporate responsibility. I told him that I would consider allowing him to return after I stopped steaming and had exacted appropriate concessions from his corporate masters. Late in the afternoon, before the cable guy showed up, I called my existing provider (RCN for the sake of argument) to reopen negotiations on price, the real reason I was making the change (the Verizon goodies were attractive, but I was willing to forgo them at the right price to avoid disruption to our happy household). At the end of a one-hour conversation, RCN and I agreed to continue negotiations at or after month-end when their new rate charts would be published; they insisted that they could not quote rates to be in effect after March 31 and I am contractually bound to have their current service at least until March 31. However, I was not entirely surprised when, minutes after 10 PM, the cable television and internet services ceased, because RCN ignored the import of our lengthy afternoon discussion and pulled the plug. Tomorrow, I face the prospect of dealing with two sets of idiots, Verizon and RCN, in order to first restore cable and internet service to status quo ante while getting an installation appointment which Verizon can honor without being as much as 8 hours and 20 minutes late.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Hok Zhou Restaurant, 95 East Broadway is the 138th discrete Asian restaurant I’ve eaten lunch in (Manhattan’s) Chinatown since the start of January 2010. By now, it’s hard finding new places. Tuesday, I went to a place that had changed name, decor slightly and ownership possibly since a prior visit. Today, I noticed a hole in the wall that I had missed on previous jaunts down East Broadway. Hok Zhou is very narrow with seven tables so crammed together that no more than 2 people could be comfortable at each, in spite of their theoretic capacity for more. A woman chef stands at the front, just inside the door and you tell her your order. Actually, I essentially pointed out my order, four mixed Mei Fun ($5) as it appeared on the menu, since she only said "Good" to any item I pointed to. The four ingredients were of my choosing from the 10 raw materials in pans before her. Only clams were recognizable to me and I was unable to recognize raw or cooked any of the other ingredients I chose. I can only say that they looked a little less mysterious than those I rejected. The broth was hot, gaining flavor from the items thrown in, as in a hot pot. When I received the bill for $6 instead of $5, I figured that I had mistakenly been given the ESL menu.

Friday, March 4, 2011

As I walked up Mulberry Street, past Columbus Park, I heard drumming and cymbals. After a few more steps, as a result of my height, I saw the heads of dragons popping up over the crowd ahead. I wasn’t surprised then to see the festivities in front of H.K. Wonton Garden, the new restaurant where I had eaten on Tuesday. However, my visit preceded the dragons who of course drive off the evil spirits lurking on the premises, so now I’m concerned for my well-being. What is the gestation period for the bad things that might befall me from the lurking evil spirits that were not dispelled until 72 hours after I went into H.K. Wonton Garden?

At the least, I needed to find another new (to me) restaurant to try to immunize myself from the evil spirits. New Chiu Chow Restaurant, 111 Mott Street, has a lot of Vietnamese written on its sign outside, but the menu was pretty conventional Chinese. Possibly, if I knew the secret handshake, I would have been offered a Vietnamese menu. On the other hand, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times several years ago, "Chiu Chow (Chaozhou) cooking is filled with exquisitely light yet assertively flavored dishes and is punctuated with the occasional peppery punch. These are qualities esteemed in modern China — and for that matter, by cosmopolitan diners around the world." Vietnam is not in the picture.

Still, I chose something that sounded a bit different, beef with spicy black bean sauce on rice stick ($8.25), which turned out to be another name for beef Chow Fun, my signature dish. This version was better than Tuesday’s, because it was more generous and tastier. It wasn’t perfect, however, because the black beans were only seen but not heard. The waiters were attentive to the near-full complement at 3 round and five rectangular tables and understood me both in Chinese and Vietnamese.

By the way, RCN is scheduled to restore service tomorrow afternoon; Verizon promises to make a happy customer of me on March 29th. We'll see.