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.