Monday, October 17, 2011
Shanghai Asian Cuisine, 14A Elizabeth Street (April 7, 2010) served me a very good dish of Shanghai lo mein with mixed meat and shrimp ($7.50). It should have been a slightly larger portion, not so medium-sized. The lo mein itself was interesting. Usually, lo mein is close to, if not exactly, spaghetti; round in cross-section, about 1/8" diameter. Today’s lo mein was square in cross-section, about 3/16" per side.
I walked through Columbus Park when I returned to the courthouse, an almost daily occurrence. The beautiful weather attracted a large crowd of elderly Chinese men and women clustered around the stone tables, playing or kibitizing the Xiangqi and card games. I’ve noted the lively activity before, but I realize that I’ve kept a secret about the card playing. The Chinese (men and women both) deal the cards counter-clockwise, while we, you, me, Las Vegas, Atlantic City deal clockwise. It’s not like they are in Australia where the toilets flush backwards. It turns out that we are backwards. Wikipedia tells us that the Chinese invented playing cards, with examples found from the 9th century. It took another five hundred years for cards to get to Europe. So, we’ve got it wrong, which may explain some of my debacles at the card table.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
I took the day off to take some medical tests. The treadmill stress test is supposed to analyze your risk of a heart attack, but I think that it was designed by cardiologists to get more patients.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Sam Sifton was restaurant critic for the New York Times for two years. Last week, he published his final review, a four-star rating of Per Se, Thomas Keller’s East Coast outpost of serious cuisine. I’ve never eaten in Per Se, but we ate at the French Laundry, Keller’s mother ship, in the Napa Valley about a half-dozen years ago, when my bride wanted to celebrate my birthday. As a result, I probably will not bother with Per Se and not just because the French Laundry was the most expensive meal I never paid for. It was too disciplined, too serious, too careful. I was tempted to imitate Harpo Marx and have silverware fall out of my sleeve to see the reaction of staff and patrons. I appreciated the meal at the French Laundry, I admired it, I respected it, but I did not enjoy it. I did not emerge from the restaurant exclaiming "Hoo hah," "Whoopie," or some similar expression of glee. There was nothing happy about the dining at the the French Laundry, and for hundreds of dollars per person, I expect a grin, maybe even giggles.
Today, Sifton wrote a column summarizing some of the highs and lows of his tenure dining out. What I want to mention is his new job, national news editor of the Times, after two years as restaurant critic, almost the same amount of time that I have been navigating Chinatown. Unlike Sifton, I have no expense account and often have had to deal with language and cultural barriers. Under these circumstances, I think I should be ready for a big promotion as well, maybe Secretary of State once Hillary steps down. Consider my proven adeptness at dealing with foreigners, coping with diverse manners and mores, and avoiding food poisoning. A true diplomat.
Rain and wind removed any desire to search for a restaurant at lunch time. So, when the three young, Chinese-American lawyers randomly in the elevator with me agreed that they were going to Big Wong, 67 Mott Street, my mind was made up, although my previous visits were disappointing (March 17, 2010, August 24, 2010). This time, it was a success. I ordered lobster with pan fried noodles ($15.50). This was a whole lobster in pieces, over mei fun (vermicelli) fried to a crisp, then dumped into a brown sauce loaded with ginger, garlic and scallions. The sauce softened the noodles, but they retained an underlying crunchiness. Of course, handling the lobster pieces was messy, but a good time was had by all my fingers.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Bun Soho, 143 Grand Street, is a pretty slick Vietnamese restaurant. Actually, it is Bún Soho, so don’t mistake it for a dim sum place. After much deliberation, I have chosen to ignore diacritical marks in identifying restaurants with the exception of the e in café. This is particularly unfair to the Vietnamese whose typical menu rivals a Hebrew prayer book in the appearance of squiggles and wiggles and angles and dangles above and below the letters. In any case, this long narrow restaurant supposedly has an active social scene after sundown, but I wouldn’t know about that. One half the space is devoted to an attractively-lit bar and then a food preparation area. Opposite is a line of booths with good artwork on the wall above.
I had short beef ribs wrapped on lemon grass skewers, served with hoisin peanut sauce ($10) and duck confit ($12). The beef was dry and the only sauce on the plate was used to draw an outline of Cambodia. By contrast, the duck was wonderful, juicy in a red vinegar soy sauce. In fact, extra sauce was served with the duck unnecessarily, while the beef was parched. The only obstacle was how to eat the fried duck egg on top with chopsticks alone. Fear not, gentle readers, Grandpa Alan pulled it off without even a dribble on his chin, no less his tie.
My digestion was also improved by the $10 discount coupon that I bought for $1 from restaurant.com. This is a good site as long as you take the trouble to read the fine print. Typically, the coupon value must be applied to a check twice as large. Tips are excluded, drinks may or may not be. The cost of a coupon is itself usually discounted subject to a promotion found somewhere on the web site. Just don’t expect Le Bernardin.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Muammar el-Qaddafi (as the New York Times identifies him) was born on June 7, 1942, just a few months after me. During my New York City school days, the cutoff for the next grade was May 1. So, he would have been placed one grade behind, that is, when I was in third grade with Miss Delaney in PS 159, he would have been in second grade. In fact, because I skipped the eighth grade at JHS 64, he would have been two years behind when I got into high school, unless he also skipped a grade, keeping the one-year gap. In other words, our paths did not cross and I don’t even think that we had any mutual friends.
As I passed Columbus Park on my way to Joe’s Ginger, 25 Pell Street, for its very good scallion pancake, I realized why the carefully laid out basketball court and a half remain closed to the public even as the days grow shorter and colder. I can’t believe how dumb I am, not picking up on this sooner. The National Basketball Association has locked out its players since July 1, 2011 in an effort to force a more favorable collective bargaining agreement. Negotiations are continuing, but, as of now, the earliest that play may begin will be the beginning of December. So, if there’s going to be no basketball indoors, there ain’t going to be no basketball outdoors.