Friday, May 24, 2013

Hockey Sticks and Chopsticks

Monday, May 20, 2013
For several weeks, the grand staircase in front of the courthouse at 60 Centre Street, my daytime home, has been blocked by metal gates and yellow caution tape, allowing only a six-foot path up and down, in and out of the building. At first, I thought that we were being protected from demonstrators who might storm or occupy the steps in a fit of populist zeal. However, while there are frequent protests in and around City Hall, a couple of blocks away, none have migrated in our direction for quite some time. So I asked one of the senior court officers what’s up with that? It seems that our nemeses are not union organizers, left-wing protestors, right-wing protestors, or Law & Order freaks from near and far, but rather skateboarders. Their frolicking up and down the steps and balustrades have damaged the property, chipping away at the limestone/granite surfaces. Additionally, some skateboarders wax the surfaces to reduce the friction on their wheels, which does nothing for the surfaces or those who maintain them in the public interest. For Tavish’s benefit, I must admit that I have never owned, rented or borrowed a surfboard, snowboard or skateboard, so, absent the thrill of wafting over water, snow or concrete, I find myself as citizen-taxpayer-occupant cursing those buggers whose conduct has made a grand public space far less useful and far uglier.

The East is Red, as Chairman Mao used to say. In this case, red with Bing cherries, which are all over Chinatown. The going rate is pretty low, 2 lbs. for $3, but I saw 3 lbs. for $4 and 2 lbs. for $2.50 on the low end. Be careful though, the lowest prices matched the quality of bruised and overripe fruit and, remember, unless you have cultivated favor with the sidewalk fruit vendor, she will shovel the cherries into a bag without allowing any picking. I skipped the cherries and made an investment in apricots, 2 lbs. for $3.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013
I went to Shanghai Heping Restaurant, 104 Mott Street, just over one year ago, soon after it opened (April 25, 2012). Reading my notes after returning today, it seems that the pleasant decor has been revised since then, simplifying the decorative touches. For instance, the walls now have unfussy sconces where there were once photographs of old Shanghai, which I actually liked. The place was about half full, with a sprinkling of non-Chinese patrons. While the setting was comfortable, the many tables well-disbursed, the absence of a crossword puzzle abbreviated my stay somewhat.

I ordered from the lunch special list, about three dozen items priced from $4.95 to $6.95. I chose fish filet, Szechuan style over rice ($5.95), which actually delivered rice on the side of an almost-regular sized portion of fried fish surrounded by peppers of various colors, sizes and potencies. It was very good, even if I dodged the gastric bullets on the plate. I also ordered a scallion pancake ($2.50) because I could. It came after the fish was finished instead of its usual frontrunning position. Although the scallion pancake was more greasy than crispy, it was good.    

Wednesday, May 22, 2013
See if you can crack this set: May 16@7 PM, retreat debriefing; May 19@2 PM, visit by Katharine Geisz, author of "From the Danube to the Hudson;" May 21@7 PM, Mets game. I arranged for all of these events of my own free will, in advance of the scheduling of the second round of the hockey playoffs, thereby removing me from a television set at the height of the action. In all of these three instances, I was then spared from observing defeats for our noble Broadway Blues. The denouement, as they say in Quebec, is my interview about synagogue fundraising at 7:30 PM on Thursday, May 23rd, exactly corresponding to the fourth game in the current series. I won’t even raise the implications for our wedding anniversary on Saturday, May 25th, in case the series is extended to a fifth game.

According to Congressional testimony yesterday concerning Apple’s compliance with U.S. tax laws, we learned that "in 2011, 64 percent of Apple’s global pretax income was recorded in Ireland, where only 4 percent of its employees and 1 percent of its customers were located." This allowed Apple to avoid paying corporate taxes to the U.S. government, another name for you and me. Of course, Ireland ain’t here, it’s across the Atlantic Ocean, about 3,100 miles away from Times Square. So, Apple has no reason to let any of that pretend-to-be Irish money fall into your hands, right? Of course, according to today’s Times, "Apple’s $102 billion in offshore profits is actually managed by one of its wholly owned subsidiaries in Reno, Nev., according to the Senate report on the company’s tax avoidance. The money is tracked by Apple company bookkeepers in Austin, Tex. What’s more, the funds are held in bank accounts in New York." Are you comforted knowing that this money is really in American hands, just not Uncle Sam's?

Today’s lunch at Shanghai Asian Cuisine, 14A Elizabeth Street, was similar to yesterday’s. It was a return visit (April 7, 2010, October 17, 2011), although I did not notice any change in decor from the past. I ordered scallion pancake again ($2.50) and shrimp with lobster sauce over rice ($6). The scallion pancake was wonderful, very crispy although greasy. It was also at least 8" in diameter, larger than usual. The shrimp dish was also relatively generous for a lunch portion, partially covering a large mound of rice. It tasted good, better with a shot of soy sauce which improves the taste of almost anything except chocolate ice cream.

Thursday, May 23, 2013
I am public opinion. The other night I paused my DVR to take a telephone call from Quinnipiac University which aggressively promotes the survey results from its Polling Institute. For the next 25 minutes or more I gave my opinion of many local politicians and policies. My evaluation of the upcoming mayoral race was soon trumpeted on various news outlets: "May 22, 2013 - Quinn At 25% In New York City Dem Primary, Quinnipiac University Poll Finds; Little Support For Kelly For Mayor"

Of course, I relished being asked, but some questions annoyed me and I notice that a few of them did not make it into print, maybe because of my responses. When asked "Do you approve or disapprove of the way Mayor Bloomberg is handling the war on terror?" I replied that’s a stupid question, akin to asking "Do you approve or disapprove of the way President Obama is running the subways?"

Takahachi, 145 Duane Street, on my first visit today, served the best sushi that I can ever recall eating. The restaurant is long and relatively narrow. Beyond the entrance desk, the sushi bar with stools is on the left, opposite eight generously-proportioned two tops. Further back are about a dozen more tables under a skylight, all in a tasteful setting.

I had the mixed sushi ($16.50) which came with one smallish piece each of tuna, yellowtail and salmon, and a California roll cut into six pieces. The fish was fresh and delicious. The only problem was that I could have eaten three times the quantity of food that they served (which actually occurs in many venues). First came a choice of white or red miso soup and a small green salad. I chose the red, a cloudy, mild-flavored beef broth. They served two "sides" with the sushi plate, not cole slaw and fries as you might hope for, but a cucumber seaweed salad and a piece of tofu in what appeared to be a fiery sauce which turned out to be sweet and soy. Both sides tasted very good and were very small. In all, this was an excellent meal for a small person.

Going to Takahachi when you are ravenously hungry might be a mistake, but you can make a much bigger mistake if you walk into Rosanjin, another Japanese restaurants two doors away at 141 Duane Street, thinking that all kimonos look alike in the dark. Rosanjin features kaiseki cuisine, described by the restaurant as "a sensibly choreographed [multi-]course meal consisting of small dishes served at carefully timed intervals. A typical kaiseki menu consists of eight courses. It invariably includes an ornately composed appetizer, a clear soup, sashimi, sushi, a grilled dish, a simmered dish, a steamed course and a dish with rice. The courses are brought in one at a time, in beautiful porcelain bowls and lacquer dishes." This choreography is available in $80, $120, $150 and $200 versions. The risk of facing major embarrassment by turning into the wrong doorway on Duane Street is mitigated, however, by several factors. Rosanjin is only open for dinner, outside the bounds of Grandpa Alan’s lunch hour forays. And, only the $80 and $120 meals are available for walk-in customers should you not look where you are going. The upper end takes more time to prepare, for chef and guest alike. The $120 meal requires one-day advanced reservations, except for Saturday when two days are needed; the $150 meal requires three-days advanced reservations. To reserve for either of these, a credit card number must be supplied, which will be charged if you decide to open a can of sardines at home instead. The two-star review in the New York Times said: "Meals at Rosanjin in TriBeCa can verge on excessive subtlety and daintiness, leaving you hungry two hours later despite all the money you’ve spent." Somehow, I don’t think that this is my kind of restaurant, even though another reviewer reported that "[d]inner at an elite kaiseki restaurant in Kyoto can cost upwards of $500 per person." If you find this kind of bargain appealing, you still shouldn’t plan to hold Dudley’s bar mitzvah there, because Rosanjin only holds 22 people.

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