Monday, August 27, 2012
Yesterday, America’s Favorite Epidemiologist and I visited the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street. Two exhibits were of special interest to us, Destination Shanghai: The Jewish Community of Shanghai, 1936-1949, and New York Places/Jewish Spaces: Life in the City, 1700-2012. Both were a bit narrow, especially the latter which could have filled 4 of the 5 boroughs -- Staten Island has always been a little light on Yiddishkeit. The Shanghai exhibit had one film loop, whose sponsorship by the Chinese government was quite obvious when Chinese-Jewish relations were frequently extolled, and a collection of documents and photographs dealing with 10,000 or so Germans (Berliners mostly) and Austrians (Viennese mostly) who escaped Europe and luckily found sanctuary in Shanghai, even under Japanese rule. There is much more to the story than the exhibit conveyed, but it is a starting point if you know nothing of this odd chapter of our odd history.
The best part of the New York exhibit was one segment of the filmed interviews with 5 New York Jews, when 50 were probably needed to scratch the surface. This interview was with the current owners of Russ & Daughters, 179 East Houston Street, considered by many, including Calvin Trillin, to be the premier appetizing store in New York, a proxy for the world. Founded in 1914, it is now operated by a grandson of the original Mr. Russ, and his daughter. Since Jewish foods, excuse me, Homespun foods, are central to the identity of so many members of the tribe, their storytelling was important and delightful.
Grandpa Alan, why call it an appetizing store? Aren’t many of your favorite stores appetizing? The Russ & Daughters web site offers a good answer:
“‘Appetizing,’ as a noun, is a Jewish food tradition that is most typical among American Jews, and it is particularly local to New York and New Yorkers. . . . Used as a noun, ‘appetizing’ is most easily understood as ‘the foods one eats with bagels.’ Its primary components are a variety of smoked and cured salmon, homemade salads, and cream cheeses.”
After the museum, we walked to Curry Hill, aiming for DB Dhaba, 108 Lexington Avenue, our favorite Indian restaurant. Right next door, however, we noticed Singapura, 106 Lexington Avenue, a brand new restaurant, and the first Singaporean restaurant in New York that I know of. Singapore cuisine combines Chinese, Malay, Indian and Thai, a formidable combination. The attractive interior has six small booths down one side, more comfortable for 2 people than 4, and 10 two-top tables on the other side, facing an endless banquette. Abaci (abacuses) were affixed to the wall next to the booths and colorful Lotus-shaped fixtures lit the room.
We each ordered two appetizers (wait a minute, how did that change so quickly?), roti canai with vegetable curry ($5) and steamed vegetable dumplings ($5) for my young bride, and roti canai with chicken curry ($5) and Malay fried chicken ($5) for me. Everything was prepared very well and tasted very good. Roti canai is a Malaysian bread, very close in size and texture to a pancake. The curry was creamy and delicious. So, while this visit does not make it onto the Official Register, because it took place on a Sunday far north of Chinatown, we commend Singapura to your attention.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
I like Gwyneth Paltrow’s looks, and, if I ever met her, I would give her a present – a baby naming book. So I had to give a look at her reputed favorite restaurants in Food and Wine magazine.
I wasn’t surprised that I had never been to any of them, including the two in New York – Babbo, 110 Waverly Place and Elio’s, 1621 Second Avenue. Two more are in cities I’ve never visited – Nashville and Marrakech. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Paris, London (2) and Barcelona complete the list. Although her father is Homespun, none of her choices feature bagels, corned beef or gefilte fish.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave the opening address at the Republican National Convention last night. His theme was “hard truths.” He said: “Our problems are big and the solutions will not be painless. We all must share in the sacrifice.” What he failed to say is that, just as Republicans believe in trickle-down wealth, they believe in trickle-up sacrifice. 13% is too little for a very rich American to pay in income taxes. Romney preaches against the purported dangers of the US emulating Europe, while practicing tax avoidance schemes that a rich Greek or Italian would be proud of.
Since money is on my mind, I went to 69 Bayard Restaurant, 69 Bayard Street, for lunch, as I have many times before (see especially April 28, 2011). Virtually every vertical surface of this establishment is covered by dollar bills, US dollar bills, along with pesos, yuan, reals, krona, won, and other papers currencies from far away places, several layers deep at places. As seen below, there has been an unfortunate and illegal trend to scribble on the money, although it adds some color to the relentless green of US currency.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
There are several headlines I’ve been waiting to see – Rangers Win Stanley Cup – Mets Win World Series. Sadly, I’ve taken “Peace in the Middle East” off my list, because it is even more improbable than the other two. However, yesterday offered fabulous news – Severe Diet Doesn’t Prolong Life. A study which began in 1987 concluded that “the bottom line was that the [subjects] that ate less did not live any longer than those that ate normally.” I was delighted to read this as a proponent of very normal eating. There was one small detail that some might find intrusive to my reverie. The full headline was “Severe Diet Doesn’t Prolong Life, at Least in Monkeys.” And that’s the difference between most Democrats, who are heartened by this news about our evolutionary kin, and most Republicans, who know that if God wanted humans to be skinny He wouldn’t have invented potato chips.
This headline just popped up, “Yale President Says He Will Step Down.” Allow me to suggest a natural candidate for this job, fit, tanned, Yale ‘68, son of a Yale graduate, grandson of a Yale graduate, great-great grandson of a Yale graduate, born in New Haven, as a matter of fact, with diverse executive experience – the one and only George W. Bush. He was, as I recall, the last president from the Whig Party, the precursor of the newly-constituted Republican Party. It’s amazing how, in such little time, these Republicans were able to organize such a nice gathering in Florida and find two exceptional candidates – a man with a similar name to a former governor of Massachusetts, and a Midwesterner who has spent the last decade sitting on his back porch reading Ayn Rand.
I must record disappointment with one of my favorite joints, Dim Sum Go Go, 5 East Broadway, ordinarily the best choice for dim sum. Today, in addition to the 11-piece assortment ($11.95), I ordered a scallion pancake since I don’t recall ever having theirs. For some reason, I held up one finger, a polite one, to order one scallion pancake. Instead, two large, very spongy pancakes came at a cost of $9.95. First of all, the portion was out of line; I didn’t even finish one pancake. Second, the pancakes were thick, bready and bland, seeming to need maple syrup more than soy sauce. Finally, the price was outrageous. I thought at first that they charged me for two scallion pancakes, which is what they served, instead of the one I ordered and almost finished. The manager told me that I was served one scallion pancake order of two pancakes. A bad deal all the way around. It will take a few servings of their duck dumplings to restore them to my good graces.