Friday, September 27, 2013

Cost Conscious

Monday, September 23, 2013
The most interesting thing at lunch today was not lunch, a tasteless, though cooked-to-order, plate of teriyaki beef over rice ($5.50) at the food counter at the side rear of Kam Man, 200 Canal Street, the Zabar’s of Chinatown.  After walking up Orchard Street almost to Houston Street in search of a new restaurant, I was merely interested in getting it over by then, not too concerned about the food.  However, I was rewarded when reading “House of Stew” on the cash register receipt, a name not used before on my prior visits.  This entitles me to count one more find in this (ad)venture, reinforced by yet another name on the menu, Kam Man Hibachi Café.

What made this occasion interesting was the young Frenchman, and his girlfriend, who tried to express in a language foreign to both me and the counterman what he was looking for.  It sounded to me like Essex, and, in the aftermath of the most serious days on the Jewish calendar, my mind did not immediately turn to thoughts of Sex.  Rather, I thought that he was looking for Essex Street, possibly to visit my mother’s birthplace at 13 Essex Street, still standing, but having recently awarded each apartment its own toilet.  Non, non, he said as he gestured to demonstrate his goal.  E-sex, e-sex, he repeated, as his hand creeped along the counter surface.  Aha!  Insects, the counterman and I called out together.  Yes, the Frenchman sought to dine out on insects.  With no regret, we told him that insects were not served in Chinatown, knowingly that is, and bid him adieu.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
What a contrast with the scene yesterday when Blue Bloods was filming an episode of its cops and robbers/lawyers show.  This morning, real people were occupying the courthouse steps, union construction workers protesting a new project that was trying to avoid paying the going wage for its labor force.  Hard hats covered hair that was unlikely to have been fashionably styled; wind-burned faces replaced cosmetically-bronzed ones; and, Levi Strauss seemed to be the fashion designer of choice rather than Giorgio Armani.  If there were any television cameras around, the film footage would not survive past this evening’s news broadcasts.  Solidarity forever!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Currently, there is a case awaiting a military court martial involving a one-star US Army general accused of adultery and sexually assaulting a female captain under his command.  It seems that the two conducted their affair for several years before breaking up.  What interested me most was the disclosure of some intimate communications between them.  Notably, she called him “pappa panda sexy pants.”  This distresses me a bit because the best sobriquet for me heard around the Palazzo di Gotthelf is Grandpa Alan, a title that I am proud to bear, but one unlikely to appear on the cover of a Harlequin romance.  

On Wednesday, the New York Times includes a food and dining section.  Today, the story begins: “There are some who think a platter of bagels, cream cheese and lox is an ideal self-contained meal.”  Well, that’s me and often, throughout the year, we provide just that to favored guests.  When there are enough favored guests, America’s Favorite Epidemiologist goes to the trouble to cook up a world-class lukshen kugel (noodle pudding) to round out the meal.  So, if you have been invited only for a turkey dinner, take heart.  We have been watching your table manners and weighing your expressions of gratitude in order to determine whether you qualify for bagels and lox at a future date.

Lesson In Chinese Economics
Eight of us met at Royal Seafood, 103 Mott Street, for some dim sum today.  When we finally stopped eating, we found that we had been served 22 plates, duplicates in several cases, amounting to about a dozen discrete food items.  We paid a total of $80, $10 each, which included a 48% tip resulting from having a lawyer do the math rather than a businessperson.  However, no one complained about the quality or quantity of the food in his $10 lunch.

Thursday, September 26, 2013
I paid a visit this afternoon to my removers of old teeth and installers of new teeth in anticipation of our trip abroad next week.  Conscious of my experience with Greek and Bulgarian dentistry, extra-heavy layers of glue were placed on some of my temporary teeth in case the Sicilian pasta proves more than al dente.

Friday, September 25, 2013
After enjoying that very expensive sushi last week at Sushi of Gari, I wanted more sushi, but at a lower price.  So, I returned to Tokyo Mart, Inc., 91 Mulberry Street, a big Japanese supermarket full of imported goods and a tiny sushi bar just inside the entrance.  Almost all the sushi business is meant to go with a constant procession of buyers.  But, there is one low stool in front of the chef and a counter with three stools on the other side of the entrance.  The menu has attractive color pictures of 37 combinations and 5 large party platters with familiar ingredients.  The prices too are not surprising, not the lowest you’ve seen and far from the highest.  What commends Tokyo Mart is the quality and freshness, partly a result of its turnover.  I had nearly a #1, two pieces of yellowtail sushi replacing the two pieces of salmon pictured, along with two more pieces of salmon sushi and a tuna/avocado roll cut into seven pieces ($8.50), and a #4, seven pieces of eel sushi ($8).  This was a lot to eat, but no grain of rice was left behind.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Feast On This

Monday, September 16, 2013
If your search for ethnic kitsch is not entirely satisfied in Chinatown, try the Feast of San Gennaro, now in its annual run on Mulberry Street, north of Canal Street.  These days, the Feast is about as authentically Italian as I am.  Most of the T-shirts, pastries, games of chance and trinkets offered might as easily be encountered in Little Rock as in Little Italy.  However, if you want to get out of the house, eat in Chinatown, and cross Canal Street for dessert.

Maid Cafe ❤ NY, 150 Centre Street, has taken the place of the first joint that I visited in this (ad)venture, in January 2010.  In between a couple of beverage places operated, and Maid Cafe focuses on beverages and desserts, including a do-it-yourself frozen yogurt station.  However, it also offers a few food items, so I was able to sit down at one of the two little round tables (in addition to the two small rectangular tables and the long rectangular table, seating 12) for lunch.  I had Japanese curry with rice ($6), topped by a chicken cutlet (add $1.95), coated with panko, Japanese bread crumbs, and deep-fried, yet nearly greaseless.  I also had watermelon-flavored Japanese shaved ice ($2.95) as dessert.  Everything was very good, the thick, brown curry sauce having a subtle kick to it.  The shaved ice was a bit coarser than the Taiwanese shaved ice that I’ve had in the past, but the watermelon syrup was not icky-sweet.   

While the premises have been entirely renovated since it was Wah Kee Chinese restaurant, most notable about Maid Cafe are the four waitresses, who also prepare the food.  The young women are dressed in frilly pink and white maid (serving girl) costumes, that evoke the opening scenes of a porno flick.  While the outfits don’t show much skin, as at Hooters, a slight aura of Victorian depravity permeates the enterprise.    

Tuesday, September 17, 2013
When I worked one block from Sushi of Gari, 130 West Broadway, the space was strictly a take-out business offering excellent baked goods and some prepared foods by David Bouley, one of New York’s preeminent chef-restauranteurs.  Now, it is a very understated, high end sushiteria, if you will, actually, one of four locations in Manhattan.  The room is small, decorated simply with a lot of natural, light-toned wood.  There were 15 two-tops arranged for 2 or 4 occupants on very dark brown leather chairs.  There is a second floor, which I did not see, but likely similar in size and layout.  

The menu also is also relatively simple, leaving the gravitas to the pricing.  The simplest sushi lunch is $29.  I went for the omakase (chef’s choice) sushi lunch ($50).  This consisted of one piece each of Japanese red snapper with wasabi oil, salmon with tomato, kanpachi (yellow tail) with jalapeño, king fish with mushroom, medium fatty tuna with ponzu (a tangy citrus-based sauce, research tells me), tuna with (whipped) tofu, bonito with ginger/garlic, (deliciously roasted) black cod with miso/garlic.  Plus, one salmon cucumber roll, cut into six pieces.  Green tea was no extra charge.  The quality was superb and I almost can’t complain about the cost even though I didn’t leave full.  If they only had a Clean-Plate-Club, offering seconds for good boys and girls.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Grandpa Alan’s Who Said It? game

“It was such a bad idea, but so awesome at the same time.”
A - Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria, about using poison gas on his own people.
B - Dale Neuringer, an intern at Bustle, a web site aimed at young women, about having 15 piercings done at once.

Thursday, September 19, 2013
There’s a new leading duck in town.  New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe, 50 Mott Street, presented me with the best Peking duck that I’ve yet had in Chinatown ($22 for a half duck).  It came with four 8" pancakes, a smoky hoisin sauce and more than enough slivers of cucumber and scallion.  The meat was nearly fat-free and the crispy skin separated and scraped of its fat.  There was enough duck to fill the four pancakes, with a leg and the tip of a wing on the side, but no sign of the carcass.  

The restaurant was busy; its strategic position at the corner of Mott Street and Bayard Street attracts tourists and locals as well.  Service was efficient, but no effort was made to serve me, so I had to roll my own.  Maybe my look of studied competence was sufficient to have me left alone.     

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Fowl Play

Monday, September 9, 2013
The start of a new year mandated finding a new restaurant. Fuzhou Anping Fish Ball Inc, 20 Henry Street, is a small joint, catering strictly to the home town crowd. There are only two tables, a round one with six chairs and a rectangular one with four chairs. While only two young men came in after I was seated, the chef was kept hopping with takeout orders. The kitchen is open and occupies the back third of the space, with a large refrigerated cabinet holding raw materials opposite the tables. Most of the dishes were based on noodles or rice. While cow feet, rabbit, crab and duck intestine are on the menu, I missed any mention of fish balls, which I would have ordered and probably enjoyed more than the sauteed clams with noodle ($6.50) that I had. (Reexamining the menu later, I’ve spotted fish ball [$4] under the appetizers.) The portion of noodles (lo mein) was medium-sized with some Chinese greens stirred in, accompanied by seven baby clams in the shell. It was very bland, but soy sauce brought it to life. I was first given a bowl of tepid broth containing threads of egg white and a few pieces of diced tomato. Not a good deal.

There were items on the menu, such as, wonton soup Fuzhou style ($2) and flat noodle with peanut butter sauce ($2), that I’ve enjoyed at similar joints. On the other hand, I fell far short of overeating.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013
This morning, with my cereal, I was reading "Edible Empire State: The 13 Best Things to Eat in New York," in the latest issue of Car & Travel, a publication of the American Automobile Association. By sheer coincidence, it was written by Lyn Dobrin, a friend for over 45 years, with whom we dined on Saturday night at Taste Good Malaysian Cuisine, 82-18 45th Avenue, Elmhurst, Queens. On the whole, it was not an extraordinary list, but I found one head scratcher. Lyn writes of "Cornell chicken, a beloved upstate New York staple," originated by a Cornell University faculty member. It is "prepared by marinating the pieces in a mayonnaise-like batter with vinegar and seasonings and grilled until crisp."

As is infamously known, I spent several years on and about the Cornell University campus. While the graduate faculty reached a consensus that I was expending woefully-little time and energy in scholarship, no one questioned my devotion to the town and gown’s eating establishments. And, one thing I am certain of these many decades later, I never met a Cornell chicken. I remember that, as a byproduct of the dairy operated by the School of Agriculture, Cornell produced a high-quality line of ice cream. I’m not sure if that treat still exists. Maybe if it did, Lyn would have given it proper notice instead of pursuing possibly imaginary birds, although the dish she describes sounds quite delectable.

By even greater coincidence, I am being visited at lunchtime by David and Kathleen Mervin, now of Arnside, England, who met and married at Cornell, while both were earning their doctorates there. I was privileged to know them then (it is not true that I was the ring bearer at their wedding) and now. Immediately after inquiring after their current health and welfare, I will confront them with the Cornell chicken, and report their recollections, if any, to you. Let the giblets fall where they may.

Just before lunch, Lyn wrote the following to me:

"I wouldn’t have called the piece 13 Best Things to Eat in New York -- too much room for debate. The article I wrote was 13 Regional Specialties of New York State. But editors love to say Best and Worst.
Here are links to Cornell chicken with recipes."
I’m back from a wonderful lunch at Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth Street, where David and Kathleen had dim sum for the very first time. We were joined by their son John, now a Brooklyn resident, and his father-in-law, a retired intellectual property lawyer from Great Neck. Now get this, the five of us had plate after plate of dumplings and buns and some mei fun thrown in for a grand total of $31.30 with tax, before tip. Amazing. Even more amazing was that the quality seemed inversely proportional to the cost.

Besides the food in front of us, I called attention to the Cornell chicken, which David, who spent 4 years in Ithaca, joined me in ignorance of. Kathleen McConnell Mervin, on the other hand, set us straight. She grew up in Ithaca, where her father was eventually dean of the College of Industrial and Labor Relations, which served as the inexpensive back door to the Ivy League for urban Jewish kids, just as the College of Agriculture did for real American (rural gentile) kids. Kathleen said that Cornell chicken was a McConnell family favorite and that she was (pre-Facebook) friends with the son of one of its creators. However, we learned why David and I could correctly plead innocence of the Cornell chicken even while the woman whom he loves and whom I admire holds fond memories of it after more than half a century. The Cornell chicken has to be cooked on an outdoor grill. It was not the sort of dish that could be prepared in a cramped Collegetown apartment kitchen, or served on a campus cafeteria line. So, I’m right, David’s right, Lyn’s right and Kathleen’s right. May I conclude with the observation that, akin to the tree falling in the deserted forest, a Cornell chicken eaten in my absence is no chicken at all.

Thursday, September 12, 2013
Lunch today was in the company of the CCNY old-timers in the presence of the ever-youthful Stanley Feingold. This group may fairly be identified as educated, if not intelligent. We discussed the New York City elections and Syria. Once upon a time, the baroque workings of New York City politics would twist observers into intellectual, moral and logical knots. For the time being, however, the mess in Syria seems to defy the application of reason, principle or sanity. Our discussion was accordingly obtuse.

Regarding the municipal elections, I heard a rumor that the Wall Street moguls, fearful of the populist, left-wing rhetoric of Bill deBlasio in his primary victory, are attempting to draw comfort from group viewings of Les Miserables run backwards.

Friday, September 13, 2013
Today, beginning at sundown last evening, is the anniversary of my mother’s death, by the Hebrew calendar. Tonight, starts Yom Kippur, the day marking the end of a contemplative period producing, one hopes, some steps toward self-improvement. Because of a commitment to help prepare for our synagogue’s services, I’m leaving work at midday, skipping lunch down here in what I have come to believe is a reasonable substitute for the Holy Land.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Out With the Old

Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Another day, another duck.  When I saw that H.K. Wonton Garden, 79 Mulberry Street, was featuring half a Peking duck for $16.95, I sat right down.  Instead of the ritual table-side carving that usually attends the serving of a Peking duck, my plate came to me fully prepared with five puffy wrappers (in place of flat pancakes), each with a thick piece of duck, a generous coating of hoisin sauce and only a slight amount of fat.  Also, there was one leg and one wing on the plate, but no sign of the rest of the carcass.  In all, a successful duck.  When I got the check, I questioned the $2.15 that appeared after the entry for sales tax. It was the tip, I was told, probably a buck less than I would have coughed up.

The approach of a New Year contains some ominous portents for the legal profession.  In a classical example of Good News/Bad News, today’s New York Law Journal has a front page article entitled “Dip in Bankruptcies Forces Firms to Trim Ranks.”  So, we want all of you folks out there to go out on extravagant spending sprees, committing to expensive purchases that drain your funds and exceed your ability to meet your financial obligations.  Then, my legal colleagues may continue to enjoy their lavish lifestyle while sniggling at your foolishness.

Even greater than my affection for my fellow attorneys, I feel particularly close to the academic side of the legal profession, law school faculty. However, no less than Barack Obama, formerly an adjunct faculty member at the University of Chicago Law School, recently suggested that a law school education be reduced to two years from the standard three years. This would make a serious dent in faculty positions, especially since, as far as I know, two courses a semester is the typical law school faculty teaching load. Cutting courses would require cutting jobs, not just reducing teaching loads.

My law school days are not that far behind me, so I still recall the sloth and indolence that characterized many of my fellow 3Ls as either they bided their time until graduation with a job waiting for them, or they frantically sought a position that would help them chisel away at the substantial debt that they accrued.  Class work suffered, to say the least. Unfortunately (the scold in me felt), the faculty seemed awfully forgiving of the miserable efforts exerted by many of the 3Ls, even though the classes themselves usually dealt with advanced subjects in the faculty member’s specialty.  While eliminating the third year would cut tuition expense by 1/3 and limit the students to the courses essential to prepare for the bar examination, it would reduce the opportunity for academics to think out loud about ideas that concern them and for (maybe a rare few) students a chance to explore topics in some depth.  Of course, old-fashioned guy that I am, I would reintroduce some discipline to law school student performance, if not the lash, at least an F.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013
This is a very short work week for me, with Labor Day on Monday and the Jewish holidays beginning tonight at sundown.  In spite of cruising part of East Broadway, Division Street, Doyers Street, and Pell Street in search of a new restaurant, I wound up at the tried-and-true Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, for my last lunch of 5773.  I have shamelessly acknowledged that I live to eat, in contrast to those anhedonics who eat to live. And a big plate of Singapore chow fun ($8.50) proved to be appropriately life-affirming, especially after the recent period of loss.  The big, wide noodles carried a pungent curry flavor as they were adorned by eggs, shrimp, scallions, chicken, onions and several meats that fell on both sides of the biblical divide.  It was as good as it gets.

Maybe better than it gets was dinner tonight at Aunt Judi's and Uncle Stu's to kick off the new year in fine culinary style.  While the 14 people present were only about half the number that typically gather around their table for Passover seders, the number, variety and excellence of the dishes offered were commensurate to those annual feasts that begin our symbolic trek across the Sinai Desert.  I must take particular note of a new dish in the Poloner repertoire that I'll long remember -- a gefilte fish terrine, that is, a tri-color loaf of spinach, gefilte fish and carrots, served at room temperature accompanied by traditional horseradish sauce, slightly sweetened rather than harshly bitter.  This was a treat not a treatment, and a great way to start 5774 with a smile.  By accident, an extra serving of this gift from the sea found its way home with me.

Saturday, September 7, 2013
I went to my cousin Allan Gotthelf's memorial service this morning, which was held at the St. Regis Hotel, just off Fifth Avenue.  The room was decorated with elaborate moldings on and around the ceiling, crystal chandeliers and sconces, mirrored walls and colorful floral carpeting.  About 50 guests occupied some of the 200 chairs set up.  Everyone in attendance, except me, seemed to know each other.  None of the faces were familiar to me, not even that on the bust, which was newly-sculpted in honor of Allan, that sat on a pedestal at the front of the room .

I sat silently throughout, although there were a couple of things that annoyed me (not that I could spend 90 minutes anywhere without finding a couple of things to annoy me).  They all dealt with Allan's origins (which were also mine to some degree).  In the back of the room was a table with a dozen or more photographs, all dating from his college days or beyond.  Nothing of his family on display.  Had I been asked, I certainly could have provided a picture of him at his Bar Mitzvah.  This disconnect also applied to an early comment that everyone of importance to him was in the room, although his devoted sister avoided this service because she already had been slighted in its preparation.  Finally, one speaker, a friend since graduate school days, now a respected academic, marveled how Allan emerged as an intellectual even though he was the son of a postal worker from East New York, Brooklyn.  I resisted temptation and desisted from asking about the elevated state of the speaker's gene pool which obviously qualified him for academic distinction more readily than a blue-collar kid from Brooklyn. 

I left as the last speaker sat down, and hurried to West End Synagogue to catch the tail-end of a service celebrating the 80th birthday of Sandy Warshaw.  I never planned to go to the cemetery in Westchester County, where Allan was being buried in the immediate vicinity of Ayn Rand.  Of course, the fact that lox, whitefish, smoked sable and sushi were on the synagogue's luncheon menu had some influence on where I spent the next few hours.