Saturday, September 24, 2011

Wide Range

Monday, September 19, 2011

I headed directly to 456 Shanghai Cuisine, 69 Mott Street, again today and was not thwarted by Grandpa Alan’s Rule 14 § II (D) (3) (a) (iv). Although it was busy throughout lunch, I was seated immediately. But, before I got there, I heard drumming and cymbal crashes, and, sure enough, two dragons were outside Wonton Noodle Garden, 56 Mott Street, in front of a bevy of red-ribboned, tall plants and a covey of dignitaries with roses in their lapels. I had beaten the dragons by one week when I made my initial visit last Monday, thereby exposing myself to undisbursed evil spirits who like nothing more than ruining a meal. My luck held then, as it has the few other times I’ve beaten the dragons to the punch.
456 is the reincarnation of a joint that used to be on Chatham Square. The current version can’t even qualify as a joint yet. It’s bright, clean, attractive. At least a few years of poor hygiene are needed to qualify for this label. Interestingly, just as the newly-opened Wonton Noodle Garden, which replaced New Wonton Garden, claims to have been in business since 1978, 456's menu avows "Since 1963." I’m dubious.

I had spicy shredded beef Szechuan style ($6.50), a lunch special which came with soup, rice and tea. The liquids were very disappointing. The metal tea pot held one tea bag, fighting a losing battle with a lot of hot water. I asked for and received another tea bag, although tea leaves are clearly called for. The small bowl of egg drop soup was barely warm and barely egg droppy. Fortunately, the beef was good, cooked with red peppers, yellow onions, scallions, bamboo shoots, and celery.
Thinking about the old 456 brought back memories of other past favorite Chinese restaurants, now gone to that big egg roll in the sky – Wu Han’s, upstairs on Pitkin Avenue in Brownsville, where I first tasted Chinese food with great reluctance as a wee tot; Hunam and Shun Lee Dynasty, which each got 4 stars from the New York Times at their peak; Goody’s, originally on 63rd Drive in Rego Park, possibly the first place in New York to serve soup dumplings; Canton on Division Street, where the nice lady helped you roll the diced quail into the lettuce leaves and showed proper attention to Mother Ruth Gotthelf; speaking of nice, the Nice Restaurant on East Broadway, one of the very first giant-sized, Hong Kong-style restaurants; HSF on the Bowery, which was the leading dim sum spot in the 1980s and 90s until the Hong Kong invasion; and Mandarin Something-Or-Other, upstairs on Bayard Street, where I accompanied Nate Persily and his parents when Nate was one week old and look where he is now (Google in case you don't know).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I’m qvelling today because I received an e-mail from Jerry Latter with an attachment over 60 pages long, the Latter family genealogy. I always believed that my father was related somehow to the Latters of New Orleans, which included Kate Latter, creator of Aunt Kate’s Old Fashioned Pecan Pralines, and founder of Kate Latters (sic) Candy, LLC, of Metairie, Louisiana. In fact, the only time I visited New Orleans, I bought a couple of boxes of pralines as a souvenir. We knew that my father had an Aunt Fannie in New Orleans, his mother’s sister, whom he visited a few times 70 or 80 years ago. It was also family lore that I was named for Fannie’s deceased husband, but these days none of the few remaining Gotthelfs knew anything more, not even what Fannie’s last name was.

In anticipation of our trip later this week, I decided to do a little digging, starting with an Internet search for Latter in New Olreans. The first hit was a winner. Steven Latter is the current owner of Tujague’s, the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans, famous for its Creole cooking. Steven answered when I telephoned the restaurant and we had a great conversation. I made a dinner reservation for Saturday night, and, most importantly, learned that his brother Jerry has diligently research the Latter family. An e-mail to Jerry quickly produced the Latter family history.

In brief, Yetta Lato (the family name became Latter when many members migrated to England from Poland at the end of the 19th century), was one of six brothers and sisters, four of whom wound up in New Orleans (one died as an infant apparently). I already knew that Yetta married Joseph Gotthelf in Poland and came to New York in 1906, with two young children, including my father Jack. Yetta’s sister Fannie, I learned for the first time, married Abraham Ezkovich, who died in 1939. Mother Ruth Gotthelf always said that Aunt Fannie called her and my father, near to my birth, to ask that I be named for her husband if, in the Jewish tradition, they had no other Hebrew name to pass on. Which is what happened.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Last week, I teasingly mentioned the articles by Adam Gopnik and George Packer in the now-ancient September 12, 2011 issue of the New Yorker. I did not have time to do them justice, but both are compelling. Gopnik, looking at several recent books, including That Used To Be Us, by columnist Thomas Friedman and Johns Hopkins professor Michael Mandelbaum, all addressing America and Europe’s purported decline in infrastructure, education, influence and values. On the domestic scene, Gopnik observes that, "We don’t have a better infrastructure or decent elementary education exactly because many people are willing to sacrifice faster movement between our great cities, or better-informed children, in support of their belief that the government should always be given as little as possible." In other words, borrowed somewhat from Pogo, the enemy ain’t legislative gridlock, it’s us. Gopnik goes on, "people who don’t want high-speed rail [in opposition to Obama] are not just indifferent to fast trains. They are offended by fast trains, as the New York Post is offended by bike lanes and open-air plazas; these things give too much pleasure to those they hate."

Packer is bleaker. He writes about how the opportunity for an American economic renaissance based on the sense of a shared destiny evoked by the 9/11 tragedy was wasted, with so many resources devoted to the dubious venture into Iraq. "The malignant persistence since September 11th is the biggest surprise of all. In previous decades, sneak attacks, stock market crashes, and other great crises became hinges on which American history swung in dramatically new directions. But events on the same scale, or nearly so, no longer seem to have that power; moneyed interests may have become too entrenched, élites too self-seeking, institutions too feeble, and the public too polarized and passive for the country to be shocked into fundamental change."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

America’s Favorite Epidemiologist and I leave for New Orleans today, for a five-day holiday in conjunction with the 30th wedding anniversary of Cindy and David McMullen. I attended their wedding in Maiden, North Carolina, which has a current population of 3,269 according to I don’t know what the population was in 1981, but I think everyone in town attended the celebration of the marriage of Dale Wilkinson’s older daughter. I met Cindy one year earlier, when we both started working as management consultants at Peat Marwick (as it was then known). For the wedding, I rented a car and drove three female co-workers from New York to Maiden. The wedding drew so many people from near and far as it came in the wake of the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer, on July 29, 1981, which most of us were unable to attend.

As indicated above, this trip will also serve to connect me with my NOLA family.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Last night, we went to Frenchmen Street, just outside the French Quarter, where six or seven bars have live music, more authentic than the honky tonk atmosphere of Bourbon Street. I was particularly impressed by the Bottoms Up Blues Gang (of two) at the Blue Nile. The female singer seemed to be influenced by Leon Redbone, a healthy influence in my song book.

Lunch today was at Galatoire's Restaurant, one of NOLA's best and the official site of Cindy and David's engagement offer and acceptance. The food was excellent, but not Chinese, so I will not bore you with details. I must comment on the noise factor, however. Galatoire's, though luxurious, had in common with other NOLA places of much lower character a noise factor up there with suburban Bar Mitzvah parties. You could not hear each other. The big, bustling crowd was a factor, but the decor was the determinant. Because of the constant high humidity (and it was, I can assure you), there were no rugs, drapes or any soft surfaces that might buffer sound. Instead, floors, walls, ceilings were all hard surfaces. Be warned.

After lunch, we split up, and my bride and I visited Blue Grog Frog Chocolates, 5707 Magazine Street, an area of town very different from the French Quarter. Nearby are Tulane and Loyola Universities, Audobon Park and Zoo, and upscale stores in a solidly middle-class residential area. Blue Frog is owned and operated by Ann Streifer, a cousin through the Latter connection. We had a lovely visit, learning among other things that we now have a Rabbi in the family, just relocated to Toronto. In one critical sense, though, the visit went unrequited. In spite of Blue Frog's inventory of luscious handmade and packaged chocolates, I left empty handed. With temperatures near 90, I felt that anything worth having would not endure even the street car ride back to the hotel.

We ended the long day, all four together, at a midnight striptease show at the Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, a top music venue. While the performers were not tired or dessicated, they also weren't (3 out of 4) so much to look at. Or, rather, the same 3 out of 4 were a little too much to look at. Imagine me in a G-string.

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