Friday, April 5, 2013

L'Dor V'Dor

Monday, April 1, 2013
Truth in Advertising is usually no more than a punch line, but I was provoked by a full-page public service advertisement in the Sunday New York Times magazine. Since the cause promoted is a good one, I will not identify it. More likely the ad copy came from Madison Avenue than a medical laboratory. It said, in relevant part, "Odds of becoming a top ranked NASCAR driver: 1 in 125 billion." This got me thinking. How many people on Earth? My guess as I walked from the subway was 6 billion. Looking on-line, I found that the U.S. Census Bureau said 7,017,543,964 on July 1, 2012. Then, although not a follower of motor sports, I quickly named Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., a guy named Stewart (I think Tony Stewart) and Danica Patrick as top ranked NASCAR drivers. That makes 5 in 7 billion, or 1 in 1.4 billion, by my crude reckoning. No doubt any white Protestant male reading this commentary can do better than that. So, leave it at 1 in 1,400,000,000, that’s awesome enough.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013
May I propose the 50-Mile Marriage Rule? If you want the Upper West Side’s Power Couple to attend your wedding, please hold it within 50 miles of the Palazzo di Gotthelf. I assure you that this will evoke a very generous gift considering the expense that you spared us. I’m not even speaking of one of those absurd destination weddings where you have to consort in forced joviality mostly with folks you have never met before and will never meet again at a place with too much noise and not enough shade. Case in point is the upcoming wedding of a very pleasant young relative who is marrying an equally pleasant person who grew up in the continental United States, but not near here. So far, the hotel reservation for the weekend is $670 without resort to the mini-bar, and the airfare is $770 if you don’t check any luggage. Add in at least $100 in cab fares at both ends and we’ve spent $1,540. All else is equal, the gift, a new dress for America’s Favorite Epidemiologist. I’m not promising to give you $1,500 if you get married in the East Midwood Jewish Center, but I’ll be much happier and try to make you happier too.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Spring is here, although someone forgot to switch off the winter weather here in New York. Yet, Spring is the time of renewal and several signs of budding enterprise have come up in my Lunch Zone. Today, I went to CM Malaysian Restaurant, 21 Division Street, which opened since I made my sweep of Malaysian restaurants during the week of November 26, 2012. It is a medium-sized restaurant, with a long counter along the left wall containing the cash register, coffee urns and a soda machine. There were two round tables and about 20 two-tops arranged in different patterns. They were about 1/3 occupied.

I started with roti canai ($3.50), the Indian pancake with curry dipping sauce, a favorite of mine. I also ordered one of their $5.95 lunch specials, Combination Triple Over Rice, consisting of curry chicken, beef and achat (pickled vegetables), with a free fountain soda. The food was OK, not quite as good as West New Malaysia Restaurant in the Bowery arcade, which only rises to B level itself. However, I lingered long after my food was gone, admittedly never a long stretch after it is served, because of the entertainment. There were two flat-screen video monitors on the restaurant’s back wall, one about six feet closer to me than the other because a bathroom takes a notch out of the floor space in the back right corner. Different musical variety shows were on each screen, but I concentrated on the closer screen. It starred a Chinese/Korean/Japanese/Vietnamese/Malaysian (East Asian, in brief) female singer attempting to channel the sultry intensity of Diana Ross before a large, adoring audience. There was the expected quotient of glitter and pyrotechnics, but the design and execution of the back-up choreography fell far short of Motown standards. At least some of the songs were in English, requiring subtitles in two Asian languages.  The whole show was wonderfully mediocre. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013
Virtue may not be its only reward. Last night, during prime television viewing hours, I attended an important synagogue committee meeting (aren’t they all?). I came home to find that the Rangers, Mets, and Knicks were all winning big even without me shouting back at the television set.

There’s East and then there’s East. My tally of restaurants is limited to Far Eastern food in the metropolitan Chinatown vicinity. That means Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Malaysian, so far. I’ve not found any Cambodian or Singaporean restaurants downtown yet, although a few exist in Manhattan. In any case, a brand new Middle Eastern restaurant opened on Monday, a part of the Spring initiative, The Hummus & Pita Co., 79 Chambers Street, which I will describe without incrementing my count.

It’s in a very long, narrow space. The front third is occupied by 4 high tables and three ledges with tall stools, which held members of Gen X and Gen Y, as observed by this member of Gen F. The rest of the space is taken by the ordering/prep area on your left and the long line of customers moving down on your right. One of the six or so men behind the counter ask for your order, which, at least on an initial visit, is not so easy to provide because of the restaurant's sort of build-it-yourself approach. The menu has sections labelled Start It, Make It, Fill It, Top It, Sauce It. I kept it more or less simple, falafel on pita (choice of white or whole wheat) topped with Israeli salad (chopped cucumbers and tomatoes) and tahina ($4.95), but I made it a combo, bad French fries and a large fountain soda for $3 more. The falafel itself was very good. They also offer gyros (that mysterious hunk of meat roasting on a vertical spit), chicken and steak shawarma on pita, in a wrap, in a bowl or on a platter, each step up allowing room for more salad, rice, vegetables to be heaped on for another buck or two.

The Hummus & Pita Co.’s initial success made eating in uncomfortable, not just in finding a stool, but working your way back from deep in the store, squeezing by all the people on line while balancing a tray. Not surprisingly, most customers were carrying out their orders in neat little shopping bags.

Friday, April 5, 2013
Tujague’s Restaurant, 823 Decatur Street, is New Orleans second oldest restaurant. While it is well outside the ordinary geographical limits of this (ad)venture, I have to take note of it because of the unexpected death of Steven Latter, its owner-operator. Steven’s grandfather Zamwel (Samuel) Latter was an older brother of my grandmother Ita (Yetta) Latter Gotthelf. When America’s Favorite Epidemiologist and I went to New Orleans in September 2011 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Cindy& David McMullen, we all went to Tujague’s for dinner and met Steven for the first and last time. Now, because Steven’s son has inherited the restaurant, but not the land underneath, its future is uncertain.

I can’t say that I ever dreamed of owning a restaurant, but I have imagined it at times over the decades. But my personal recollection of the problems associated with owning and operating several regular businesses combined with the prospect of keeping fussy restaurant patrons happy has kept me strictly in the role of customer. Steven, as I learned, went into Tujague’s cold, without any background in the restaurant business, taking over a local institution and kept it thriving. Maybe it’s extended family pride, but I hope his son is successful going forward.

Closer to home, but still in the family, I was delighted to learn that Lainie Goldenberg Roth, my cousin Michael’s oldest daughter, has just named her second daughter Adina Rochel Roth. Adina means delicate or refined in Hebrew and, in Lainie’s words, "Rochel - Adina’s middle name was chosen with her great, great Aunt Ruthie (Chaya Rochel Goldenberg [Gotthelf]) in mind. Aunt Ruthie lived a long, full life and passed away this year at the age of 102. She was a strong, beautiful Jewish woman and we hope that Adina will inherit some of her admirable traits."

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