Friday, January 4, 2013

Three More Years

Monday, December 31, 2012
I sent the old year out with a duck – a herb tea smoked duck ($18.95) – at Famous Sichuan, 10 Pell Street, where the duck tempted me a couple of weeks ago. The restaurant was not very busy, although directly opposite, Joe’s Shanghai had lines out into the street waiting for their soup buns. The good news was that the other patrons at Famous Sichuan were all Chinese, except for one couple who ordered as I would if I were a couple. The duck was good, a large portion, meaty pieces, as close to fat-free as you could hope to find in Chinatown. The flavor was a little milder than I would like, more Lipton than Earl Grey.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013
In a burst of support for the motion picture industry, we went to see Lincoln on Saturday and Amour today. The movies are very similar, examining long-term marriages, except the Lincolns were younger and he was still working.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013
"Happy Anniversary." "Good job." "Who would’ve imagined?" "That’s really something." This is a small sampling of what I’ve been hearing as I begin the fourth year of this (ad)venture. I set about educating myself exactly three years ago, the first week of January 2010, when I moved over to the big courthouse at 60 Centre Street. For nearly eight years prior, I had been at the friendly, but isolated courthouse at 71 Thomas Street, an address that stumps many taxi drivers to this day. That’s a solid Tribeca location, near some of the finest restaurants courtesy of David Bouley and Drew Nieporent. However, it was difficult to find a collection of decent joints nearby for lunch. A decent joint requires digestible food, air conditioning in summer, ample seating, reasonable prices and a flat surface to work the crossword puzzle. Another factor that, for instance, disqualified the Odeon, immediately opposite the courthouse door, was charging for refills of iced tea. I was, and remain, deeply offended by being charged another 2 ½ or 3 bucks to add a few tablespoons of colored liquid to a glass full of ice. Obviously, places like the Odeon barely fit the definition of a decent joint to begin with, so losing my patronage after one visit made little difference to our respective fates.

Chinatown, immediately adjacent to the complex of courthouses around Foley Square, by contrast, offers decent joints galore. When I was reassigned here three years ago, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity, creating this gustatory catalog, larded (if you’ll pardon the expression) with occasional forays into other subject areas. With that recap of the past, let’s push ahead into 2013 on a possibly high note.

Mission Chinese Food, 154 Orchard Street, an address once at the center of shopping for underwear on Sunday when little Jewish men and women were allowed to stay open because they had closed their stores on Saturday, has gotten raves from the New York Times since it opened. A sister to a San Francisco restaurant that actually began as a food cart, it was acclaimed as the best new New York restaurant in the newspaper last week. I was fortunate enough to be accompanied by Art, Jerry, Jon and Michael to allow substantial penetration into Mission’s menu, something that one lone wayfarer cannot do ordinarily.

From the street and upon entering, Mission could not look like a bigger dump. Down a few stairs, along a narrow corridor crowded with boxes, a bicycle and people moving in the opposite direction as you moved into what was once a backyard, now covered by a wooden-plank roof. Tables of odd sizes could hold about 30 people, with a bar making room for half a dozen more. Extra chairs are stored on racks hung from the ceiling. At lunchtime, Mission opens at noon with people already waiting on the sidewalk. Before we left, all the modest space was occupied. I’ve heard that at night, the wait is near-endless.

The menu was very interesting, and much of we ate was very good. We chose: Chongqing chicken wings ($10), nestled under a blanket of hot peppers, which were unnecessary because the wings had been marinated in very hot pepper oil before cooking and could have melted an ice berg; salt cod fried rice ($11.50) with small discs of Chinese sausage, lacked any distinct flavor, at least surrounded by some of the pungent dishes on the table; Kung Pao pastrami ($12), with peanuts, celery and potatoes in a very hot chili sauce (pastrami in ½ inch cubes, so not easily recognizable by itself); thrice cooked bacon ($12) with Shanghainese rice cakes (not to be confused with those puffed rice cakes that women eat trying to suppress a murderous urge to eat potato chips), tofu skin, bitter melon, and hot chili oil; Taiwanese clams ($12) in a delicious caramel sauce; Beijing beef pancake ($10), more of a wrap with hoisin sauce (consensus favorite); and "egg egg noodles" ($12), with a soft-boiled egg, ginger, scallion and Chinese sausage. We had some extra bowls of white rice cooked with barley. No-name bottles of still and sparkling water were provided at no extra charge. Because Mission had been closed for the holiday, it did not have sizzling cumin lamb breast ($16) and broccoli beef brisket with smoked oyster sauce ($16) available, which I might have tried.

Portions were small to medium, not typical for Chinatown, although admittedly at Orchard & Rivington we were in a different micro-climate. Few, if any, of the dishes might be found anywhere else, which defines Mission’s uniqueness. On the whole, I would describe Mission as Interesting, worth a visit if you can find a time slot (no reservations accepted except for the few seats at the bar, strangely enough) that doesn’t keep you out on the sidewalk in a crowd of people no more than half your age.

Friday, January 4, 2013
"Famed French actress and animal rights campaigner Brigitte Bardot will request Russian nationality Friday if plans to euthanize two elephants at a zoo in the French city of Lyon go ahead . . . . On Wednesday, she appealed to French President Francois Hollande to intervene on behalf of the Indian elephants, named Baby and Nepal, who are believed to have tuberculosis." This news item follows on the heels of President Vladimir "Pussycat" Putin giving Russian citizenship to French actor Gerard Depardieu, who is unwilling to pay the price of French civilization. Imagine the headlines we may soon see:

Kardashians Found No Cheap Silicone in Silicon Valley

Trump Ditches US Passport and ‘Foreign’ President

Bye-Bye Barbarino, Travolta Tries Transylvania

Romney Moving Closer to His Money

NY Jets to New Zealand, Excuse to Miss Games


  1. The food at Mission Chinese was hot! How hot was it? We went through 5 bottles of water! I stopped at Jonah Schimmel's to bring something home for Shelley. The spinach and sweet potato knishes were excellent.

  2. Yonah and knishes; Jonah and whales.
    You guys were great company.