Friday, November 23, 2012

New Restaurants, Old Memories

Monday, November 19, 2012      
First, I must report an error of a sort. Last week, I commended the Fuzhou won ton soup at So Go Cafe (no accent), 67A East Broadway, which I have visited several times since it opened in 2011. However, walking by today on the other side of East Broadway, I noticed that the sign above the restaurant now reads Shu Mei Café. So, add one to my list and change your list of destinations, that is if the name is more important than the address in finding the joint. The soup remains the same.

Panda Dumpling House, 67A Eldridge Street, open 5 months, sits on a corner, lacking a few feet in height to make a cube. The walls facing the street are glass, floor to ceiling. The back wall has the kitchen and serving counter. Another wall has a ledge and stools, which are also along one glass wall. Finally, one small round table sits by itself in the large available floor space. Modest fairly describes the operation. Except for wooden chop sticks, everything came on, in or with paper or plastic.

The menu, however, ran to 60 items, predominantly dumplings and buns. I had hot and sour soup ($1.50), a fried leek dumpling ($1.50) and a beef pancake ($2). The soup was ordinary, but genuinely hot and sour and helped against the chill. The leek dumpling was an ellipse, about 7" long and 4" at its widest point. It was filled with chopped leeks, onions and egg. It tasted good and the price was right. The beef pancake was actually a wedge-shaped sandwich, the bread split and (filled would overstate it) containing slices of cold beef, shredded carrots and lettuce, vaguely more Vietnamese than Chinese. One side of the bread was sesame seed-encrusted. The quality of the bread made the skinny contents less important, and it was satisfying in all.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012
My father died forty years ago today, only 69-years old. He had a heart condition that today would probably be conventionally treated and his life extended 10 years or so. If I was able to, I would not simply add those 10 years to his life, but rather, I would bring him back for days and weeks throughout these 40 years, a sort of greatest hits tour for a man who was thoroughly devoted to his family. This would allow him to experience the award of a doctorate to my brother, his granddaughter’s college graduation, my law school graduation, my second marriage, and an array of delightful great-grandchildren. As fantasies go, this is a pretty good one.

Egg rolls are a staple of any traditional Chinese meal (by New York standards). Nom Wah Tea Parlor, 13 Doyers Street, at what was the center of fierce Tong wars over 100 years ago, has a unique egg roll ($3.95 for 2). It really tastes of egg. Instead of the conventional hard fried shell, Nom Wah’s egg roll seems to be a thin, plain omelette rolled around the filling, then deep fried. This results in a multi-layered wrapper, with only the outside layer crispy. It needs a touch of hot mustard, as all egg rolls do, in my opinion, but it deserves space in our banquet.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012
The gift-giving season is upon us, even before Thanksgiving. This morning, my periodontist gave me a gift – the gift of knowledge – the knowledge that I have to have at least three teeth pulled and replaced by implants. He is a dear man; he has been treating me for about a decade. I’m happy to insure that his grandchildren will be able to attend the best private schools in the vicinity. Maybe my grandchildren will be invited to play dates with his grandchildren. Maybe someday my grandchildren will even understand why Grandpa Alan was never able to buy them a pony.

Cutting Board, 53 Bayard Street, is a brand new restaurant. Its name and much of its menu belie any connection to its location in the middle of Chinatown. Its web site describes the cuisine as "Chinese style Japanese-Italian food." But, everything listed on the menu, even fried crispy calamari, tri-color pasta salad, and seafood Fra Diavolo, is identified in English and (I think) Korean. Familiar Asian dishes (mostly Japanese) appear as well, earning Cutting Board a place at our table. The restaurant is in a long narrow space, completely new inside and out. The right side is occupied by the kitchen behind a glass wall, with four stools on a counter facing the kitchen. Opposite is a long wall of exposed brick. There is one small round table, one four-top table and four two-tops in the front room. I never looked into the backroom, but they certainly need more room for diners if it is to support itself.

I ordered crispy rock shrimp ($6), which came with a vinegary cole slaw, potato salad and popcorn, yes popcorn. The shrimp were covered by a spicy mayonnaise, not entirely crispy but good. Now, I don’t know how to distinguish rock shrimp from large shrimp, jumbo shrimp, butterfly shrimp or tiger shrimp.  For that matter, they might as well have been prawns. With the admonitions of my periodontist fresh in mind, I ordered more food to give my teeth some last happy days. I had “classic beef curry” ($6) over rice with a fried egg on top, a nice touch. Together, there was more than enough food even for me. I suggest two people order three dishes of this type. Service was good; my tea cup was constantly being refilled, and they served a small dish of tangerine pudding free at the end.

Thursday, November 22, 2012
Thanksgiving Day and 49 years since the Kennedy assassination. I was walking into a classroom at Cornell to teach a freshman section of Government 101 (American government) at 2 in the afternoon that day, just as the news was breaking all over the world. What do you say to your young students under those circumstances?  I didn't quite babble, but I didn't make much sense either. I went home and stayed in bed almost the entire weekend except for attending services conducted by the Newman Club. I saw absolutely nothing of the weekend's events including the funeral, because John Stanley and I had no television in our apartment. In conjunction with the Vietnam War and Watergate, I believe that this country got knocked off the rails. Everything makes a difference, but that trifecta changed the spirit (for lack of a better word – suggestions welcome) of this country until who knows when. If Nate Silver is to be believed, maybe the young people are turning the page.

America's Best Thanksgiving Meal Preparer a/k/a America's Favorite Epidemiologist did her usual great job. The 14 relatives and friends thoroughly enjoyed themselves, even the two (you'll pardon the expression) vegetarians. When Boaz told me that he was not going to eat turkey because he was not used to it, I asked how old he was. He quickly told me 4 3/4.  I explained that in 4 3/4 years, I understood that he only had time to become familiar with a small number of things. But, in the future, new things will be popping up all over the place and he should be ready to give them a try. He agreed to eat some turkey. By the way, he loves scallion pancakes.   


Friday, November 16, 2012

As Time Goes By

Monday, November 12, 2012
The Hebrew calendar is built upon observations of the phases of the moon, with 12 lunar months. However, because this is not an exact match to the solar year, the sages added a leap month, occurring every second or third year (it’s not easy to be a Jew), in order to align to the seasons. While there is internal consistency, for instance the new year begins on the first day of Tishrei, the Jewish calendar is obviously not consistent with our calendar. Rosh haShana, new year’s day, was September 17 this year; next year September 5; last year September 29. Looking ahead to 2016, Rosh haShana is October 3rd.

The Islamic calendar is purely a lunar calendar with 12 months of either 29 or 30 days. The year is either 354 or 355 days long, the difference responsive to the inexactness of the Moon’s rotation around the Earth. The lunar consistency of the Islamic calendar, however, makes it entirely unconnected to the seasons, which are on a solar schedule. In other words, Islamic events occur on fixed lunar days, which each year differ from solar days by about 10 or 11 days. The most familiar example is Ramadan, the annual 29-30 period of spiritual reflection and increased devotion, characterized by daytime fasting. Each year, Ramadan starts 11 or 12 days earlier than the year before; August 1, 2011, July 20, 2012, July 9, 2013, and so forth.

Why am I telling you all this, you may ask. Because these alternatives, along with the conventional Gregorian calendar used throughout most of the world, were not good enough for Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale’s. Yesterday, each ran full-page advertisements in the New York Times announcing that their holiday (neé Christmas) windows would be on display as of November 13, 2012. Once upon a time, the holiday season in New York City began with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, obviously on the fourth Thursday in November. Then, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree would be lit on the following Tuesday or Wednesday night and the holiday season would be in full swing. This year, November 22nd and November 28th are the corresponding dates. Since November 22nd is the earliest possible date for Thanksgiving, the mad whirl of Christmas shopping, office parties, doorman tipping and overeating would have its longest duration this year. That is, until Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale’s decided to adopt their own calendar, eliminating 9 days of relative normalcy and extending the celebration of too often conspicuous consumption proportionally. I can’t say that I wish them well, although I expect that this calendar change will only hasten the advent of merchandise markdowns, my own special form of celebration.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012
I’ve noted that a new television series about cops called Golden Boy has been filming around here for several months (including today), and that Lincoln Center is reviving Clifford Odets’s Depression-era drama Golden Boy (previews began last week). Now, to add confusion, Golden Child, a play by David Henry Hwang, originally presented Off-Broadway in 1996, opens tonight at the Signature Theater Company as part of its season-long focus on Hwang’s works. Topping this off is the New York premiere of Golden Age, a play by Terrence McNally, at the Manhattan Theatre Club, previewing on November 15. Now, we need to re-release The Golden Child, a 1986 movie starring Eddie Murphy. At least, I hope one of these works gets a Golden Globe and none earns a Goldfinger.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012
I would love to comment on the sex scandal involving the highest ranks of the US military, but I don’t really understand it yet.

Jon Silverberg telephoned me last night to put me on notice of the restaurant review to appear in today’s New York Times. It is a dilly, and, if you do not have access to it otherwise, I’m pleased to share it.

While I’ve announced that I cannot name one favorite Chinatown restaurant to the exclusion of all others because of the panoply of factors involved in making such a critical determination, I’ve considered following in the footsteps of Grand Master Calvin Trillin, and assembling a meal, nay a banquet, of favorite dishes from disparate sources. However, lunch today at Wo Hop downstairs, 17 Mott Street, reminded me how difficult even that would be. I ordered roast duck chow fun ($6.25) with a special request to spare the duck fat. The result was a dish that would have to appear on my special menu, a large quantity of a delicious combination of noodle and fowl. Wo Hop also serves the best crispy fried noodles to be nibbled with hot mustard and duck sauce, or plunge into hot soup. For a mere 80¢, it has to be the first thing you ingest at our notional banquet. But wait, what about Wo Hop’s great shrimp egg foo young ($7.95), the classic Chinese omelette? The portion of three omelettes on the plate is so generous that invariably I insist that a nearby diner (previously unknown to me) take one, having met my rapture quotient. Were I also to credit Wo Hop’s Singapore chow fun and beef chow fun (dry), as well as their honey crispy chicken, it might be game, set, match. So, I must impose a one dish per establishment limit in creating my heavenly banquet, akin to China’s one child per family policy. For now, we will start at Wo Hop with those crispy fried noodles. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 15, 2012
According to Reuters, today is Guinness World Records Day. Previously, I was excluded from consideration in spite of the unchallenged supremacy I’ve achieved in eating at Asian restaurants in the greater Chinatown vicinity. Guinness maintained that the record would have to be conducted on their watch to insure authenticity. Since I began this (ad)venture in selfless fashion, not seeking fame or fortune, I did not approach Guinness until late into its second year. Were I to wage a legal battle to claim my just desserts (in a manner of speaking), my evidentiary trail might be insufficient. I took a business card or takeout menu from every establishment that had one, and now have a drawer full. However, I almost always paid cash and never saved cash register receipts. "Members of the jury, plaintiff’s purported proof of eating at all these restaurants could easily be assembled in an afternoon or two by him or his accomplice scurrying around the neighborhood, grabbing takeout menus or business cards wherever they found an open door. On the other hand, he has no record of ever spending a nickel in any of the places. Ladies and gentlemen, money talks,walks."

Thursday, November 15, 2012
Soup should be our first course after, or while, nibbling on crispy fried noodles at our moveable feast. Fuzhou wonton soup ($2) at So Go Cafe (sans accent) 67A East Broadway is notable for the abundance of delicate won ton, in near-translucent wrappers, floating in the clear tasty broth. Be advised that So Go is crowded, and the low stools do not encourage lingering.

Friday, November 16, 2012
From today’s news wire:
"A Florida restaurateur who operates roughly 40 Denny’s locations and five Hurricane Grill & Wings franchises in Florida, Virginia and Georgia intends to add a 5 percent surcharge to customers’ bills to offset costs from ObamaCare beginning in January 2014 when the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented." In case you still needed another reason not to eat at Denny’s.

Next week will feature our favorite egg rolls and scallion pancakes as we build our banquet. After Thanksgiving, when I address main courses, would be the perfect opportunity for someone(s) to join me for lunch, since attacking a steamed or fried whole flounder ($28.95) at Ping’s Sea Food, or a Peking duck ($45) at Peking Duck House is not a one-person (one paycheck) operation.

Stop the presses! Some last minute sleuthing by Cindy Wilkinson McMullen and I uncovered that we knew the owner of these Denny's restaurants over 30 years ago, when he only sought to continue his life as a Cornell fraternity boy several years after graduation.  Apparently, he still hasn't grown up.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Mitt Liberty and Justice For All

Monday, November 5, 2012
I’m sorry. I just don't know how I could have gotten it wrong. Really, I’m embarrassed by my announcement that Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan ran the 2012 New York City Marathon in 3 hours 2 minutes and 17 seconds. We all know that this was impossible, because I finished right behind him in 4 hours 27 minutes and 9 seconds. What was I thinking?

I returned to work today with most subway lines running again and electricity restored downtown. That did not mean things were entirely normal at the courthouse, however. As the temperature dropped into the low 40s, there was no heat until the afternoon, and only the barest amount then. That was more than we got out of the telephone system, which was dead all day.

Chinatown, on the other hand, seemed to be fully operational. I did not see any damage or obvious sign of business disruption, although I covered only a few streets. I aimed for Chen’s Watch Repair & Change Any Part, a business conducted under a beach umbrella set up on the sidewalk closest to 46 Mott Street, to get my watch battery replaced quickly and economically. I then went into Wonton Noodle Garden, 56 Mott Street (September 12, 2011) for a hot bowl of Shanghai Big Wontons w. Noodles ($5.50), a proper antidote for the cold air. The Shanghai Big Wontons had thin wrappers and contained shrimp as well as ground meat, noticeably differing from the typical Cantonese won tons with their thick skin. The noodles were thick, hefty lo mein, and the soup, which was almost crowded out by the won tons and noodles, was good and warmed me for the first time since I left the house this morning.

When I walked back after the lunch, I saw that a double-decker tour bus had hit a bicyclist at the corner of Centre Street and Worth Street, doing far more damage to the smaller of the two. A fire truck, an EMT ambulance and a police car were all at the scene, and the bicyclist, with his head bandaged, was strapped onto a board for removal. No one on the street admitted to seeing the accident, when a cop asked around. Given the location surrounded by courthouses, I was surprised that the victim was not covered by business cards tossed by passing attorneys.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Most public employees have Election Day off. Still, I could not manage to sleep late, so I saw America’s Favorite Epidemiologist off to work. She, too, could have treated today as a holiday, but she is quite dedicated to her job. Even last week, when her office in Brooklyn was unreachable from Palazzo di Gotthelf, she spent much of her waking hours reading, writing, editing and consulting with her staff by telephone about reports and proposals. The only difference in work style for her last week over the normal was her less formal wardrobe and makeup. Otherwise, science marched on.

Today started strong. On only one cup of coffee, I finished the Saturday crossword puzzle, which sat more than a quarter undone since the weekend. Then, I went to the gym in the basement, the second time this week, and the third time this year. After cleaning up, I ventured forth to further the democratic process and insert another brick in the wall of freedom. Well, I wasn’t the only bricklayer in the neighborhood; there were more people waiting in line than I’ve ever seen at this polling place. This is particularly interesting considering the lack of competitive balance in this area. We have one of the most predictably left-wing constituencies outside of North Korea.

The good collectivists of the upper West Side did not limit their public spirit to voting alone. I carried a shopping bag of men’s jerseys (cotton, long sleeve, XL and XXL) that I no longer wear or risk being voted off the runway if I wore. I gathered this bundle as I assembled a presidential election outfit this morning. I wasn’t necessarily being charitable; I was looking to make space in the closet. When I walked into the JCC, on Amsterdam Avenue at 75th Street, they were turning away donations – clothing, household goods, food. They had been trucking these items to areas hard hit by Hurricane Sandy, and had, at least for now, filled perceived needs. I was directed to the Goodwill store on 79th Street, which was directly on my path to Zabar’s. In the words of George W. Bush, Mission Accomplished and I don’t mind having my desire for closet space mistaken for philanthropy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Grandpa Alan awoke this morning happy. Happy, but very tired. While the results of most major election races were known by 11:30 last night, I decided to stay up to hear the resulting speeches for historical purposes. For some reason, Mitt Romney waited until 1 AM to appear before his supporters in Boston and make his concession speech. There was a rumor that the delay was caused by his attempt to outsource the speechwriting to China, hedged by a futures contract on the Renminbi secured by a credit default swap on the collateralization of future royalties on his yet unwritten autobiography "Don't Judge A Man By His Underwear." In any case, I sat playing Sudoko on my smartyphone until Romney appeared. After his brief and gracious remarks, I was extremely fatigued and, when the President failed to pop right up, I went to sleep about 1:30 AM and got up at 6:30 AM.

Winners and losers alike around here later experienced miserable weather as a Nor’easter arrived with rain, sleet and snow. Now, I don’t know anyone who uses the word Nor’easter in conversation. Personally, it only presents me with 180 degree opposite alternatives, because I don’t know whether nor’east is the origin of the storm or its destination. So, use of this strange label only eliminates a path to or from the southwest.

Thursday, November 8, 2012
I went for my annual physical examination today, so I traveled no further south than East 38th Street. Normally, my doctor is situated at the NYU Medical Center on First Avenue at 32nd Street, but that facility was completely knocked out of commission by Hurricane Sandy, or, more exactly, the effects of extraordinary wind and water on an old building retrofitted periodically to meet the demands of modern medical practice. Dr. Michael Perskin did his usual fine job in excusing all my excesses and pronouncing me fit to cross streets unaccompanied.

Friday, November 9, 2012
As I began with a correction, I end with a clarification. When I went to Shanghai Gourmet, 23 Pell Street, a couple of weeks ago, I raved about their scallion pancake, just the best ever at a mere $2.25.  I noted though that the total experience was compromised by having a delicious bowl of hot and sour soup first, which numbed some of my taste buds. Therefore, I could not taste the sweet and salty ginger/soy/rice wine vinegar dipping sauce that typically accompanies a scallion pancake. However, today I took precautions and ordered the scallion pancake first so that no other flavors interfered. But, I discovered that the sauce itself was not up to the task. It was weak and would have been overcome by almost any other spice, aroma or flavor. Each table holds bottles and jars of condiments which could properly pick up the slack, if you can find the right combination.  But, I had so eagerly dug into the scallion pancake, that I could not pause to goose up the sauce. It was still a great scallion pancake.     

Friday, November 2, 2012

Stormy Weather

Wednesday, October 31, 2012
We have been quite lucky in the midst of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy.  We live roughly halfway between the northern and southern boundaries of Manhattan Island, but much closer to the Hudson River than the East River.  However, in our vicinity of the upper West Side, the land climbs quickly up from the Hudson River to the adjacent residential areas, so there was no water damage from overflow anywhere above the tip of downtown Manhattan.  Also, electricity never failed in this neighborhood, unlike the entire area south of 23rd Street, river to river.  Of course, the suburbs generally suffered the worst damage.  Friends and relatives on Long Island still have no power this morning along with 90% of the other residents.  We have not been able to reach anyone in Nassau County or Suffolk County since Sunday.  Some of our New Jersey friends and relatives have bounced back more quickly, at least in the power department. Aunt Judi and Uncle Stu took the prudent measure of reserving a hotel room because of the inevitable loss of power they experience during any sizable storm.  They don’t live anywhere near a coastline, but their backyard seems to be a natural resting place for falling trees.  So, they carefully identified a nearby establishment featuring backup power.  However, a cozy night’s rest was denied them when the hotel’s generator failed.  Fortunately, friends in another town were able to accommodate them for a couple of nights. Today, however, they relocated to Palazzo di Gotthelf while trying to sort out their options.  My brother, on the other hand, remained home, but only lost power Sunday night and awoke Monday morning to find it restored.

I never left home all day Monday.  Our friends Susan and Steve, who live in the adjacent building, came over for tea in the afternoon, and we enjoyed good conversation for a couple of hours.  Tuesday, I took a walk and did some simple shopping.  Broadway was busy with pedestrian traffic, although most stores were closed including Starbucks, Maoz (falafels), Subway sandwich shop, Trader Joe’s, Chase bank, the liquor store and McDonalds (which was already closed for renovations).  Only the pizza joint near 71st Street, some cafés (too elegant a description but no good alternate name comes to mind), and Fairway were open.  All the eating establishments were quite busy, occupied by folks from other neighborhoods and those locals who still haven't learned to navigate their kitchens.  There were a few trees and branches down on my path to and fro Fairway, but the streets looked remarkably normal.

Today, Wednesday, foot traffic was even greater than yesterday when I went out between 9 and 10 AM.  Most of the stores had reopened, except for Trader Joe’s which had a sign announcing a 10 AM opening when I passed it walking north, and then 11 AM when I came back.  Fairway, which had essentially no perishables available yesterday, was almost fully restored today including fresh bagels.  Strangely enough, there were no eggs.  Were the chickens still hiding from Hurricane Sandy or were they too frightened to relax their orifices and lay?  I knew that we still had some eggs in the refrigerator, so I bought some lox pieces to mix in for lunch.  While the fresh bagels were tempting, our freezer is loaded with bagels and bialys needing only 20 or 30 minutes at room temperature to be ready for action.

I expect to walk about again during the afternoon.  I can’t go to work because the courts in Manhattan remain closed, while the other boroughs are open for business.  A power station at East 13th Street was swamped by the storm-swollen East River, knocking out electricity for all of lower Manhattan, including the complex of courthouses around Foley Square.  I admit that I’m beginning to miss reading legal pleadings and turning to LEXIS and Westlaw to try to arrive at a defensible determination to disputes.  I need that apartment seller refusing to return the deposit to the buyer when the deal blew up, that guy who stalked a woman for over a year and then sued her when her boss complained to the cops because of the effect it had on her, that landlord who waited two years to tell his insurance company that a tenant fell down the front steps, that woman in the $11 million apartment who forgot that she left the water running in her bathtub while she chatted on the telephone, that adolescent parochial school student who fell down the stairs but could not explain why or where in the building that it happened, that real estate firm that wanted the commission on a commercial deal that was revived by another firm months after the deal initially fell flat, that prostitute who sued her John because the fancy hotel threw her out when she refused to pay for the spa treatments she took after he checked out.  Even with the added company of Aunt Judi and Uncle Stu, nothing around here offers that level of entertainment.  Maybe we should have all worn costumes tonight for Halloween.

Thursday, November 1, 2012
I shopped for some interesting items at Zabar’s this afternoon, including their salmon chowder and whitefish croquettes.  We didn’t have them for dinner, however, because Uncle Stu ordered takeout from Estihana, [Kosher] Oriental Restaurant & Sushi, 221 West 79th Street.  Adding to the buoyant atmosphere was the appearance of Uncle Myron, oldest of the Poloner kids, with his latest companion.  Even though these siblings are in frequent contact, with little going unreported in their respective households, putting them together of an evening produces almost endless anecdotes covering past and present generations of friends, relatives and neighbors.  The Kosher Asian food wasn’t bad.  The Shredded Crispy Beef ($12.50) and Beef Teriyaki ($19.50) (tell them to hold the baked potato) would hold their own on any menu.  

Friday, November 02, 2012
Our boarders left this morning and the courthouse remains closed.  Of course, even if I ignored my temporary unemployment and chose to pursue my gustatory passion, Chinatown suffers from the same loss of electricity as does all of Manhattan south of 23rd Street.  Now, that’s a tragedy.  

Bulletin: Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan completed the 2012 New York City Marathon in 3 hours, 2 minutes and 17 seconds.  What a great performance and a harbinger of things to come.