Friday, October 26, 2012

I Love Lucy

Monday, October 22, 2012
Not only did distinguished criminal defense attorney Paul Bergman remember Foo Joy, one of the dearly departed from Calvin Trillin’s list that we examined last week, but he sent along the following, from the New York Times on August 3, 1972, introducing Fukienese cuisine, discussing Foo Joy and giving a couple of its recipes.

The restaurant was at 13 Division Street, now occupied by Oriental Wedding Studio of NY Inc., where beautiful bridal gowns, Eastern and Western, are on display. The Fukienese are relative late comers to Chinatown, and much of the area east of the Bowery, where the growth of Chinatown at the expense of other former immigrant communities seems most noticeable, is populated by Fukienese enterprises. Unfortunately, 40 years after Foo Joy, most Fukienese restaurants still cater to homeys, with little effort to bridge the language gap.

Hing Tai, Inc. just moved down Mulberry Street to the corner of Mosco Street, opening a small, colorful niche in what used to be part of Sam’s Deli, 30 Mulberry Street. You can get a pretty good carved meat sandwich at Sam’s and a place to sit because most of its business is takeout by court personnel. But, the only food available at Hing Tai is paper, as are the cars, jet planes, computers, mansions, liquor bottles and clothing, all made of paper, neatly packaged in the new small retail space.  It's a bit eerie to have this business intrude upon what was eating space, because it serves as part of the Chinese funeral industry.
[Click to enlarge]

These paper items may represent the wealth of the deceased person, or the aspirations of the survivors (I’ve heard both), and are carried in the funeral procession and burned at the cemetery. As I wrote on July 28, 2010, after examining the merchandise at a competitor’s of Hing Tai up the block, I "imagined that the brightly-colored papers figures in the window were toys, a dollhouse, a model boat, a jet plane [18" long for $45]." The increase in the local Chinese population has inexorably led to an increase in local Chinese funerals, and the need for these artifacts. So, Hing Tai, for one, is a growing small business. Which political party deserves credit for its success – Republican, Democratic or Communist?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012
I broke another barrier today. Following my near-Steve Jobsean instinct to innovate, I crossed Delancey Street and went to Congee Bowery Restaurant & Bar, 207 Bowery, a sister to Congee Chinese Restaurant, 98 Bowery, and Congee Village, 100 Allen Street, with seemingly identical menus. I estimate that this was about the furthest I’ve gone for lunch as part of this (ad)venture. But, it’s hard to draw a line these days and proclaim You Are Now leaving Chinatown.

The interior of Congee Bowery strongly suggests a pagoda, with lots of wood paneling and lattice work, and large, solid wood tables with cane and bamboo chairs. I ordered Sauteed Beef w. Satay Sauce in Sizzling Hot Plate ($10.95). I believe that I was served and paid for Sha Cha Beef & Vermicelli in Casserole ($8.95) instead. If I hadn’t been charged the lower price, I would not have bothered looking at a menu afterwards seeking an explanation. The sizzling dish of tender sliced beef with onions, green peppers, red peppers, garlic and glass noodles that I was served could go either way. The drama of the bubbling dish in the very hot cast iron bowl was the focus of my attention. And, the spicy sauce might as well have been Satay as Sha Cha. I’ve noted before that no two satay sauces in Chinatown are alike, and rarely even come close. So, I enjoyed the food, not even knowing that I was getting a bargain.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Pell Street is narrow and runs only 2 short blocks, from the Bowery to Mott Street. Yet, it has a collection of better-than-average restaurants, such as Joe’s Shanghai, ABC and Shanghai Gourmet, and an unbelievable number of beauty parlors, barber shops and massage parlors, mostly focused on feet. At lunch time, however, it was nearly impossible to indulge in any fetish, because the street was blocked off for the filming of an episode of "Elementary," an updated version of Sherlock Holmes. Of particular interest is the casting of Lucy Liu, Stuyvesant ‘86, as Dr. Joan Watson, the famous detective’s gender bending, multicultural companion. The filmed action was taking place in front of Joe’s Ginger, and most of the nearby restaurants were unapproachable. I wonder how much it costs the producers to interfere with so many businesses at the height of the lunch hour. I was heading for ABC, but I never got there because I approached Pell Street from the Bowery and would have needed a four-block detour to get to ABC. So, I ate at West New Malaysia Restaurant, 46-48 Bowery Street, Chinatown Arcade # 28, which has become a favorite of mine.

Leaving work, I ran into "Elementary" again, this time filming in Franklin Place, a dark alley that connects Franklin Street to White Street, between Broadway and Church Street.  This patch is representative of the renascent downtown neighborhood.  Fancy new condos are interleaved with old, decrepit warehouses.  The ungentrified properties still have their loading docks along cobblestoned alleys while the new buildings have underground garages for their slicker-than-average vehicular occupants.  I couldn’t tell what was being filmed, but it took two blocks of tractor-trailers to supply the equipment and materials needed to capture the images.  And the number of people hovering around the set, any set that I've come across in the last few years, is remarkable.  I don't mean extras, but camera people and sound people and catering people and script people and lighting people and drivers and schleppers and friends of the producers and makeup people and the people who tell me not to walk there.  Maybe TV/movie making is the answer to our employment problems.  Start distributing clipboards and headsets and lanyards dangling IDs to the many eager folk loooking for work.  What I've observed about all these crew members is that they are not so good looking, which is probably why they are not in front of the camera.  On that basis, so many of us would qualify. 


  1. Surely you do not mean to say that Lucy Liu and I graduated high school in the same year. I assume you mean Stuyvesant '85 (not '58). I chanced upon Ms. Liu a year ago on LaGuardia Place. She was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, had no makeup on (did you know she has freckles?) and was absolutely stunning. I suspect she is much younger than I...