Friday, April 12, 2013

New, Nu?

Monday, April 8, 2013
Judge Judy has been renewed through 2017, it was announced this morning. This giant of jurisprudence has been on the air since 1996, and now averages more than 9 million daily viewers, more than any other daytime show. She is reportedly paid $45 million annually. The system works.

When I entered Fei Tenc Restaurant, 68 East Broadway, I knew that I had been on the premises before, when it was New York Foo Chow Restaurant (May 24, 2010). I recollected that I had been disappointed, but I hoped that the new regime in this period of Spring renewal would produce different results. After I sat down at one of the 12 round tables, 6 others occupied by one or two people, I had a troubling vision. The takeout menus stuck under the glass tops covering the pink linen read New York Foo Chow Restaurant. However, and I was searching for reassurance, the heavy, bound menu said A1 Zhen Foo Chow Restaurant, so I sat back in my chair and ordered orange flavor beef ($9.95) exactly as I had almost three years ago without realizing it. Reading back my notes, I did not enjoy it any more this time, since the microwave had not made the dish uniformly hot. Rice was 75¢ extra.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Renewal is still the theme. I went to J & B Seafood Restaurant, 39-41 East Broadway, on May 12, 2010, and found it a respectable dim sum joint. Today, the establishment is called the Golden Sands Restaurant, but very little else has changed. The chairs were still draped in tangerine-colored brocade cloth. It was very crowded with 3 or 4 generations of Chinese people, who were being served by an almost endless stream of dim sum cart-wielders. The variety was very good and I tried some unfamiliar things including something very close to a matzoh ball and a ground fish patty on top of a 1/4 inch slice of lotus root, an aquatic plant with more holes than Swiss cheese. Food quality was high and service very good. I had no trouble communicating since my index finger was able to point in the right direction.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013
While the changes to Fei Tenc and Golden Sands seemed superficial, I could see that what had been Sushein, Kaiten Sushi Bar & Restaurant, 325 Broadway, the Kosher sushi restaurant, had really changed. Now called Siring Asian Grill, the conveyor belt carrying plates of sushi up and down the high ledge running down the center of the restaurant’s front room, was gone. The ledge remained, only separating the counter and stools on the left from the five booths on the right. The backroom, where the dishes were delivered on foot, stayed the same physically, but was closed off. The light gray walls of the main room were empty except for two flat-screen video monitors, one showing food items and the other turned to ESPN. It made for a discordant combination, especially in the otherwise austere setting.

Siring is no longer Kosher, and the menu is pan-Asian, including Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese elements. Not unlike The Hummus & Pita Co., which I visited last week, Siring relies on create-it-yourself cuisine, which is awkward when you encounter the menu for the first time. The first step is to choose between a bowl of rice, noodles or salad or a wrap, then "proteins," including tofu, followed by vegetables and sauces on top. This was too much work, so I chose Saigon turkey sliders from among a handful of set combinations ($8.27). I got three 1" round turkey meatballs, chopped lettuce, shaved carrots, onions, chopped peanuts, toasted shallots and vermicelli with a near-tasteless Vietnamese lime juice dressing. Not worth the money.

While only two women were ordering when I walked in, giving Siring a funereal air at the height of the lunch hour, another eight or so people came in eventually to liven the place up. As I was finishing, a young man in an attractive house T-shirt came over to me and asked how I enjoyed my lunch. Drawing upon my almost 40 months prowling the streets of Chinatown, I had to tell him the truth. I criticized the appearance of the joint, a contrast between cheap paper signs in the window and the minimalist lines and color scheme of the premises; the unnecessary video monitors. I told him how flavorless my dish was, how confusing the menu was, and how unfocussed the whole operation seemed.

This did not lead to a chopstick up my nose, but rather an honest discussion of his plans. He introduced himself as Smith, used as a first name replacing his Thai name (which must translate as "very ordinary Thai name"). He and his partner are MIT grads, who (probably sitting on multi-million dollar bio-genetic patents) set out to try something different. He admitted that the current operation is a bust, but he is working with experienced restaurant people to reposition his business. He plans to redo the interior which centered on the now-removed sushi conveyor belt, and rethink the menu. The physical site presents a problem, just above a stretch of fast-food joints, including a McDonald’s, and consisting of two long, narrow rectangles joined at a right angle. The conversation was friendly, I was honest but not cruel. Smith asked me to return when he implements the next iteration of his enterprise, and I will, in the hope that he can find the right formula in a very tough business.

Thursday, April 11, 2013
I put aside the new and renewed for a day and headed right to Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, for duck chow fun ($6.50), a dish rarely found anywhere else and executed particularly well by this basement-dwelling crew.

I’m going to find a new agent. All week, large crews from The Ordained, Blue Bloods and Law & Order: SVU have been working throughout the area, often lined up next to each other on Duane Street or Baxter Street. Do you think I’ve been approached? Has anyone asked me for a headshot? Invited me for a reading? Isn’t there room in this hip-hop, Gen-Y, Bieberesque culture for a tall, white-haired gentleman of sober mien? I remain undiscovered and unhappy, and will remain unhappy throughout this evening because some diabolical force has scheduled both the Mets and the Rangers to sit idle this evening.  And, sitting idle is one thing I don't do well.

Friday, April 12, 2013
I was all set to end this week of the new and renewed by going to InDessert, 1 East Broadway, which appeared to be the most radical departure among the new restaurants I’ve recently visited. I passed it earlier in the week and took a menu, conveniently printed on a 3" x 6" card. However, when I got there, it was closed which might be a harbinger of things to come since that location has housed at least 4 different eating establishments in the 3+ years that I have been exploring metropolitan Chinatown. I’ll find out more next week when I try to get in again. Maybe I’ll eat in advance, just to make sure I don’t go hungry.

The death of Jonathan Winters at 87 was just announced.  I urge those of you under the age of 50 to seek out his work.  There must be videos of him floating out there in the cloud and he produced some great comic recordings in the 1960s.  It's fair to compare him to Robin Williams as a brilliant improviser, maybe more mentally manic, but less a physical presence. Winters never had a starring movie role like Good Morning, Vietnam or The Birdcage where he could make three meals out of the screen.  However, he and we were fortunate that he never found himself afloat in sentimental goop disguised as philosophical insights and lessons to live by. 

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