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.

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