Friday, February 24, 2012

Supreme Court Justice Woody Allen

Monday, February 20, 2012
Presidents Day or is it Presidents’ Day?

Last night we dined at the Goldfarbs to celebrate several famous Americans. The meal not only displayed Connie’s outstanding talent in the kitchen, it reflected her Syrian heritage. The menu, which David typically prints for guests, was Yebra, L’akhma Ajeen, Baba Ghanooj, Kiber fi Senieh, Mechshi and cherry pie to return us to the here and now. So, what exactly did we eat? Yebra = meat and rice-stuffed grape leaves; L’akhma Ajeen = flat disc (maybe a small pita) with a dollop of meat on top; Baba Ghanooj = mashed eggplant; Kiber fi Senieh = a pie filled with bulgur (grain) and ground meat; and Mechshi = a stuffed tomato. All that was missing was desert sand.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Today is Mardi Gras and I imagine that my extensive network of New Orleans relatives are frolicking in the streets, ingesting potent beverages and, possibly, taking liberties with strangers. On the whole, I think I’d rather be here.

Happy Express Café, 6 Allen Street, is a little joint in a part of Chinatown that still awaits development. It has 12 two-person tables in a floor space about 1/3 taken by a counter fronting a cooking area. The menu is very limited with few things of interest, but I had chicken with rice ($3.75) and was pleased that it turned out be a good large snack. About half the chairs were occupied by Chinese people limited to plastic forks as I was. I think most of them were lingering to wait for one of the numerous cheap busses that come and go from this part of Chinatown to cities throughout the Northeast at very low fares.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Yi Zhang Fish Ball Inc., 9 Eldridge Street, is new, neat and clean. Most of the rectangular floor space is empty because seating is only provided along two long counters running down opposite walls of the restaurant, with the ordering and preparation space at the rear. When I walked in, a young woman employee asked me quizzically, "Eat here?" "Of course," I replied heartily and explained that I had grown big and strong by eating almost anywhere. To simplify communication in this English-free zone, I pointed to the bowl a nearby customer was stooped over. I got what they called, I learned later, dumpling soup ($3), a tasty version of wonton soup. It contained 10 one-inch round dumplings with a thick wrapper around a dollop (twice in one week) of meat with a tinge of spice. When I asked for a menu on the way out, since none appeared or could be seen during my visit, the six-year old girl helping her mother at the cash register told me next time. By the way, Yi Zhang Fish Ball should not be confused with Young City Fish Balls just up the block at 21 Eldridge Street (January 25, 2011).

Thursday, February 23, 2012
I want to take this rare moment to acknowledge a misapprehension of mine. For several months last year, I groused about the delay in completing the renovation of Columbus Park, particularly the playground at its southern tip. I noted that after tearing up the existing surface in August, no activity was conducted for many weeks wasting summer playtime. Finally, the area, which featured three basketball half-courts, reopened in late October in time for wind, rain and cold. Well, how could I have predicted the rise of Jeremy Lin and the uncharacteristically warm weather this winter; it was 61 degrees at lunchtime today, high of 57 yesterday. The result is that the three basketball courts are humming with activity. Maybe better late than never.

Speaking of miscues, I returned to New York Foo Chow Restaurant, 68 East Broadway (May 24, 2010) without reading my previous comments. I ordered oxtail with mei fun ($6) from the Foo Chow side of the menu. However, I received ox tail soup with mei fun; the soup was silent on the menu. I would have enjoyed it more if it was really winter outside.

Friday, February 24, 2012
Chilly and damp enough to keep me from wandering, although I've spotted one or two new (to me) joints on Eldridge Street that I'll aim for next week.

Last night, we watched Midnight in Paris on a DVD borrowed from the New York Public Library. It is written and directed by Woody Allen and, even though he does not appear on the screen, his mentality and voice permeates the movie, which I enjoyed. So, I thought of Antonin Scalia whose mentality and voice permeate his legal opinions on the United States Supreme Court, which I don't enjoy. It's not only Scalia's often acerbic arguments that distinguish his writing, but how they reflect his biography. He is a devout Roman Catholic who regularly attends a Tridentine Latin mass (thought to have been obsolesced by the Second Vatican Council), was brought into government by Richard Nixon, appointed to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan, and hangs with Dick Cheney. While not my cup of tea, all of that might be okay if Scalia's judicial opinions didn't mimic his personal and political predilections (although I'll note below one possible deviation from the script). A Scalia opinion is easily recognized not just by its vocabulary or even its resolution of the matter at hand. A Scalia opinion reflects a world view that seems free of doubt or caution in understanding human affairs. Only on capital punishment does the church-goer go away from most of his church's contemporary teaching -- Pope John Paul II, January 27, 1999 in St. Louis, MO, "I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary." In Thompson v. Oklahoma (1988), Scalia dissented from the Court’s ruling that the death penalty could not be applied to those aged 15 at the time of the offense, and the following year authored the Court’s opinion in Stanford v. Kentucky sustaining the death penalty for those who killed at age 16. Don’t worry, the Pope’s words in 1999 had no effect on Scalia in this regard. Cf. Atkins v. Virginia (2002). In German, verbissener means dogged, grim, stern. In Yiddish, we Jews use the variant farbissener meaning an angry, bitter, vocal person. Scalia anyone?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

It's a Big Number

Monday, February 13, 2012
The court system, along with other New York State agencies, still celebrates Lincoln’s Birthday apart from President's Day, so we had the day off. Thus, I got to spend the lunch hour in Dr. David B.’s office getting reassured that I didn't have pneumonia, Avian flu or Asian flu, that the cough and nasal congestion I brought back from Vietnam was merely a bronchial infection that apparently will not lay waste to half the population of New York City. We can breathe easily now, well soon at least after the prescribed medication has time to do its job.

Medication is not my excuse for a stupid oversight yesterday. I simply forgot that I had two tickets for the Rangers-Capitals game. Instead, I stayed home and watched it on television (Rangers 3-2). This was an expensive failure of my non-electronic diary-keeping.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012
I had lunch with an alternate Valentine, Marty the Super Clerk at 71 Thomas Street, because I had theater tickets to deliver to him. We went, as we usually do, to Pecan Fine Foods, 130 Franklin Street, an informal café that has excellent soups and interesting sandwiches. I began my quest for more and more Chinese food when I left 71 Thomas Street just over two years ago to move to 60 Centre Street, immediately adjacent to Chinatown. However, ignoring Little Italy as much of it should be, there is no even modestly-passable non-Asian food around here. So, it’s Tribeca for Pecan, Zucker’s Bagels & Smoked Fish, Landmarc, Tribeca Grill and Blaue Gans for a lunch without chopsticks.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012
I must admit that I have been partially seduced by the Jeremy Lin phenomenon, the emergence from nowhere of an Asian-American Harvard graduate into the leader of a resurgent New York Knicks basketball team. Last night was a test for me. The New York Rangers were skating against the Boston Bruins in Boston, the team immediately trailing them in the standings. Start time for the Ranger game and the Knicks game from Toronto was 7 PM. So, I found myself switching channels with the ebb and flow of the action in the respective games, instead of remaining glued to the Ranger game (3-0 victory).

Unfortunately, Lin’s success has already evoked the American disease* of racism. Lin, a member of a once-persecuted minority (Chinese were barred by Federal law from becoming US citizens from 1790 until 1943), is being viewed by some whites and some blacks as the adopted Great White Hope, a tonic for the “tattooed thugs” of the NBA. See
I’m not sure that I am free from this prejudice, although I believe that my visceral reaction is primarily towards what is on the skin, rather than its color. On the other hand, many folks of many colors believe that Lin was ignored in college recruiting, the professional draft and utilization in the pros because he met the wrong stereotype.

Jing Star Restaurant, 27-29 Division Street, is a large restaurant on a busy street, yet I’ve missed it until now. It features dim sum at lunch, but was no more than 1/3 full in contrast to typically busy competitors, such as Golden Unicorn, 18 East Broadway, Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth Street, and 88 Palace, 88 East Broadway. Only two women pushed carts around the floor, so I might have seen only 8-10 different items. I chose shu mei (4), shrimp dumplings (4), baked pork buns (3) and soft, round, sweet dough with a chopped meat stuffing (3). With a pot of jasmine tea, the bill was $8.50. The low energy atmosphere would keep me away in the future, although the food was good. For very good dim sum in a quiet setting, usually a contradiction in terms, I would suggest Dim Sum Go Go (primus inter pares), 5 East Broadway, or New Mandarin Court, 61 Mott Street. Although relatively quiet, neither feels tired.

* Upon reflection, I think racism has universal appeal, although the victims may vary. Generally, the darker suffer at the hands of the lighter, but I’m sure that we can find exceptions to that. In Cambodia, our lovely guide, a 33-year old married woman with two children, was wearing a long-sleeved turtleneck knit under a long-sleeved shirt when the temperature was around 90 and the humidity near 70, a beastly combination. She acknowledged that she was trying to ward off color, not cancer. I discussed this generally on July 26, 2010 (The Umbrellas of Chinatown). In sum, Lin's rapid rise has demonstrated white/black racism, black/white racism, black/yellow racism, and white/yellow racism. Remember what Tom Lehrer said?

Thursday, February 16, 2012
So the bakery where I ordered and paid for a birthday cake for Saturday on Tuesday closed its doors on Wednesday. Fortunately, I learned this early enough on Thursday to place another order, for more than twice as much, at another bakery. This cake is especially important because it celebrates three members of the delightful Siegel family along with you-know-who.

Friday, February 17, 2012
Michael Jordan is another Super Star born in Brooklyn on this date.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Super Blue

Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Four years ago, when the New York Giants last won the Super Bowl, I was working at 26 Broadway, precisely on the congratulatory parade route that will be used again today. In fact, my office overlooked lower Broadway and I could view the busses arriving with players and their families to climb onto the floats to carry them to City Hall. That office was the best (most comfortable, spacious, furnished, view) I’ve ever had in my working life, although the job itself left a lot to be desired. This morning, as I walked from the subway, I saw hundreds of fans heading to good vantage points for the festivities. Although the courthouse is four short blocks from City Hall, I won’t attend the celebration which would entail crowding through paths narrower than the aisles of Fairway before the recent renovations. The game itself Sunday night was a celebration even though Boaz had to go to sleep around 8 PM and was not around for the finish. The Giants victory was especially important to him because all the other kids in his pre-school (outside Boston) wore Patriots gear to school at the urging of the teachers on Friday, his birthday and the anniversary of the previous Giants Super Bowl win over the Patriots. Fortunately, his wise father dressed him in a bright blue Giants T-shirt for the day and he held his own.

Surprise, surprise! When I went out to lunch around noon, I found Foley Square, the area in front of the courthouse, packed with people, because the parade route was altered to accommodate more spectators. Instead of turning off Broadway at City Hall, the parade continued several more blocks to Worth Street, went over one block and then south to merge with Centre Street back to City Hall. With this unexpected sense of participation, I walked over to Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street downstairs, just ahead of thousands of people who waited for the end of the parade a few minutes after I left. Although I had to share a table with a lawyer reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, I was seated almost immediately. However, when I left, not lingering over an old crossword I had brought for company, the line to get in was up the stairs and up the block for a couple of storefronts. Apparently, many other restaurants were deservedly doing as well.

In my e-inbox this morning:
“Thank you for sending us the details of your recent record attempt for ‘Most lunches in New York’s Chinatown.’ We are afraid to say that we are unable to accept this as a Guinness World Record. Guinness World Records has absolute discretion as to which record applications are accepted and our decision is final. Guinness World Records may at its discretion and for whatever reason identify some records as either no longer monitored by Guinness World Records or no longer viable. As your record application has not been accepted, Guinness World Records is in no way associated with the activity relating to your record proposal and we in no way endorse this activity. If you choose to proceed with this activity then this is will be of your own volition and at your own risk.”

Risk-taker that I am, I will proceed, not for the glory, but for the sake of my fellow Americans who may need to be reminded, as they contemplate a choice among Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, that there will always be a tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Big Wong Restaurant, 67 Mott Street, is the favored destination of many seeking classic Chinatown Chinese food. I’ve had mixed results on prior visits (March 17, 2010, August 24, 2010, October 19, 2011), more minus than plus. I tried again today and the results did not advance Big Wong’s standing. I ordered shrimp omelet ($6.75), partly to see if this was a simple way to identify shrimp egg foo young, a dish that I have a weakness for. Well, shrimp omelet was precisely that, 7-8" round, probably 2 eggs beaten, five or so medium-sized shrimp, a few pieces of green onion, with a mound of white rice on the side. Nothing like anyone’s shrimp egg foo young, or even the shrimp and scrambled eggs at Mee Noodle Shop and Grill, 922 Second Avenue, which I haunted when I lived on the East Side for over 20 years. However, I applied soy sauce liberally and made all gone, since I was hungry. Seemingly not content to leave me mildly contented with a full belly, the waiter hustled me from my table in order to seat two people who just walked in. So, Big Wong’s getting littler each time.

Thursday, February 9, 2012
Ann’s Chinese Restaurant, 1 East Broadway, is the fourth restaurant at that famous address, although only a new sign in front and the health department inspection sticker in the window, dated January 3, 2102, identify it as such. In fact, signs outside and printed material inside still refer to the prior existence of both Accord Asian Cuisine and Yi Hao Chinese Restaurant. Fortunately, the Funhouse remains only as a dim memory (January 27, 2010).

Even with its new name, the restaurant is leaning more Japanese in decor and on the menu than Chinese these days, although the sushi chef was idle for the entire lunchtime. In fact, the staff outnumbered the patrons. I had a lunch special, all $6.45 including choice of rice or egg roll, soup or soda. I ordered sesame chicken, hot and sour soup and fried rice, none of which were worse than served at a neighborhood joint. The best part was the unadvertised 25% discount which brought the bill down to $5.41 including sales tax.

Friday, February 10, 2012
Tiny's & the Bar Upstairs, 135 West Broadway, is not an Asian restaurant, so it does not increase my count. However, it it interesting for several reasons and I will report my lunch there. One of its owner is Sean Avery, recently of the New York Rangers, consistently voted by his peers as the most hated man in hockey. Avery is the sort of player adored by fans when on their team, otherwise reviled for unusual conduct on and off the ice. Most recently, he made a public service announcement supporting gay marriage in New York just before the legislature voted on the subject. Another part owner is Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers goalie and key to their league-leading season so far. Avery and Lundqvist were not on the premises when I entered the very appropriately named Tiny's. I should have phoned ahead. The restaurant occupies a space that I recall as a grubby novelty store, candy, newspapers, cigarettes, lottery tickets. While open less than a year, Tiny's appears to have been around forever with exposed brick walls, battered tin ceiling, a brick fireplace and funky stools that evoke places you are anxious to leave. However, the hostess gave me a warm greeting and told me that the only available space was upstairs where a party of 15 women were celebrating a birthday. Ever the risk taker I went upstairs and even managed to make progress on the crossword puzzle amid the soprano chirpings. I had the Cobb salad ($18), which had all fresh ingredients. The party girls and I co-existed quite well; they even offered me a glass of wine which I had to refuse because I still had an errand requiring some time on the New Jersey Turnpike. In all I was treated quite well for a guy not holding a stick in his hand.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Back to Work

Tuesday, January 31, 2012
I was back at work at the usual time this morning, although uncertain of how long I could sit upright. The first thing to work on was a matter that I had almost completed before taking off, so I was spared the need for original thinking or analysis. The only mental exercise I had this morning was deciding whether to eat Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian or American for my first lunch back. In honor of a successful trip, I chose Pho 88, 51 Bayard Street (April 18, 2011), a Vietnamese restaurant still in its first year. I had a big bowl of their house special Pho, beef noodle soup ($6.50), and fried shrimp dumplings ($4.75), not found on the menu. Both were excellent and served with tea at no extra cost, a practice unknown in Vietnam it seems.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Kam Man, 200 Canal Street, the Zabar’s of Chinatown, opened a food counter recently in the rear of its ground floor (December 22, 2011). I returned for sushi, possibly to balance China, Vietnam and Japan among Asia’s culinary superpowers. I had three rolls, spicy tuna, salmon skin and eel ($9). Everything was fresh, made to order and amply-sized, 8 pieces about one inch wide to a roll. Right now, Kam Man is offering some incentives, such as dumplings or a drink for a little extra. With the understanding that seating is only on stools at a busy narrow counter, Kam Man is a good choice for sushi.

Thursday, February 2, 2012
Sam’s Deli, 30 Mulberry Street, opened about one year ago with a few tables, but mostly serving people running in to take a sandwich back to their desk. It is the closest eatery to several courthouses according to whether you emerge from a front or back door. I’ve stopped in a dozen or so times for a decent hand-carved brisket sandwich. Today, as I was on the way to Mott Street, I noticed a menu pasted in Sam’s window. It listed Chinese dishes, mostly noodles, in addition to its sandwiches, so I went in and ordered Singapore chow fun, not technically on the menu, but doable as they offered Singapore mei fun and beef chow fun. The portion was very large ($6.50), the noodles too mushy, the curry taste almost indistinguishable, but I liked it. Maybe because the portion was very large.

Last night was the first time I shopped in Fairway since returning home. In the past 2 ½ weeks they made a noticeable change to the area around their bakery, they opened up space. This follows small gestures in other parts of the store to introduce some room in their fabled narrow aisles. I’m not sure that I approve. Offering comfort to claustrophobes and others who feared rubbing elbows, tuchases and other body parts with complete strangers was never a goal of mine.

Friday, February 3, 2012
Boaz, the Super Bowl Baby’s birthday. Appropriately enough, his party will be on Sunday when we hope Big Blue does it again. We are going to Massachusetts for the party and the game, equipped with Giants gear, otherwise unavailable within 100 miles of Boston, to outfit our boys.

I was apprehensive when I saw the sign in the window of 69 Bayard Restaurant on Tuesday that it was closed until February 3rd. As a New Yorker, I seen such signs announcing vacations or renovations as the mark of the Grim Reaper. Alternatively, I considered that 69 Bayard might take the occasion of the coming of the Year of the Dragon to redecorate, easily funded by the currency pasted to its walls. That would allow them to start fresh with bare walls awaiting the affixing of pictures of George, Abe and others. That thought made me regret using all my Dong before leaving Vietnam, thus unable to include Ho among other national leaders. Well, none of the above. The restaurant closed simply to give its staff well-deserved time off for the holiday.

While one waiter was a little slow refilling my tea cup, the chef seemed to benefit from the respite and produced shrimp egg foo young ($7.95) of a high grade.

Go Blue!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Grandpa Alan and the Communists

Roni Joukhador, a delightful young Australian woman, took the photographs above of my fashion discussion with a guard on the grounds of the Ho Chi Minh complex in Hanoi and my encounter with Tran Van Ha, Vietcong emeritus, at his coconut processing business on the Mekong River.

Roni also took this picture which so profoundly captures the loneliness of command, choosing a course which will change history forever.