Friday, February 27, 2015

Trip to the Left Coast

Monday, February 23, 2015
Since I am on vacation, I am allowed to waive the by-law provisions limiting my restaurant reporting to weekdays in Chinatown New York at lunchtime.  Saturday, as we were strolling down one of Oakland's main shopping streets, we were lured into Fenton's Creamery, 4426 Piedmont Avenue, a location that it has inhabited since 1960, succeeding its original site that had been operating  as an ice cream parlor since 1922.  It was a warm afternoon, and a line waited to get scooped.  A large restaurant area was also full, although I'm informed that the sandwiches, burgers and salads, unlike the ice cream, are ordinary.  One very generous scoop is $4.25, so I had two, Dutch chocolate chip and cream caramel almond crunch, very similar to Baskin-Robbins' immortal pralines and cream.  Both flavors were excellent, true to their names.  This afternoon delight occurred around 3:30 PM, so the fine dinner, at Wood Tavern, 6317 College Avenue, Oakland, at 7:45 PM, featuring pan roasted maple leaf duck breast, was not impinged upon.

Sunday began with a wonderful home-cooked brunch prepared by the Oakland Heartthrob.  We then drove into San Francisco to visit Gump's, that fabulous department store entirely filled with merchandise that nobody needs, but too beautiful to be ignored.  Accordingly, we purchased a lovely mirror as a housewarming gift for our favorite young couple. 

After strolling through North Beach and Chinatown, we four headed to R & G Lounge, 631 Kearney Street, for an early dinner.  R & G is arrayed on three floors, so I can't tell how large it is, but it is decidedly popular, and, in the midst of the Chinese New Year celebrations, it was very busy with many Chinese families.  We ordered salmon avocado egg rolls ($6.50), vegetable egg rolls ($5.50), roasted squab ($20, not the $16 listed on the menu, for some reason that I could not entirely discern), mu shu vegetables ($15), R & G special beef ($18), honey spareribs ($15), and seafood fried rice ($8.50).  On the whole, it was a good meal, but far from making the top of the Chinese food list.  The spareribs were appropriately sweet, but they were really pork chops cut into small pieces leaving the bone in.  The special beef in "chef's special sauce" was also on the sweet side, when we were expecting spicy.  The vegetable egg rolls were crispy, but bland, while the salmon avocado egg rolls were delicious.  The squab seemed to have been cooked a few days too early, and the presence of its head was not an entirely welcome sight.  Before dismissing R & G, I would have to sample more of its menu, but, so far, my loyalty to Wo Hop and its Mott Street brethren is secure.  

Today, we moved up to Napa Valley for a few days of exurban pleasure. Our first dinner was at Tra Vigne, 1050 Charter Oak Avenue, St. Helena, a restaurant we have visited before.  It is housed in a big square room, with very high ceilings, containing about two dozen tables and booths, comfortably arrayed.  A pizza oven is on the far wall opposite the entrance, and a large bar sits along the right hand side of the restaurant, with five shelves running 18 feet behind it.  The shelves are packed with wines, liquors, liqueurs, cordials, apértifs, and almost any imaginable potable except Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic.  

TV's menu is fairly simple Italian, but with extra care seemingly given to each dish that we tried.  My young bride had to be restrained from licking the bowl after finishing most of her roasted butternut squash soup.  I had maltagliati verde ($16), a wonderful creation that was previously unknown to me.  It is a herb-infused pasta, best described as a green chow fun.  It was sauced with shredded braised lamb (or maybe braised shredded lamb).  The house red, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Markham Winery, was a great pairing with my pasta.  Did I say that we liked TV?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015
America's Loveliest Nephrologist and the Oakland Heartthrob drove up to join us for dinner at Archetype, 1429 Main Street, St. Helena, a large white space, that served very good food.  However, the conviviality left the strongest memories.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015
We visited the California branch of the Culinary Institute of America, housed in a 19th Century castle that was actually built as a winery.  The local operation is only a fraction of the mother ship in Poughkeepsie, New York, although it contains a collection of thousands of corkscrews unmatched anywhere in the world.  We took a tour of the facility, peeking in on classes and cooking sessions.  While we did not eat lunch at the CIA café, I bought a mudslide cookie that may serve as a model for all time.

Dinner at Redd, 6480 Washington Street, Yountville, also achieved legendary status.  Owned and operated by Richard Reddington, not my dear colleague Alfred Redd, the medium-sized dining room is sparsely decorated, evoking a vaguely Asian mood.  The food adheres to no particular cuisine, but was genuinely superb.  We both ordered two small plates rather than a main course.  My favorite dining companion had rutabaga soup ($13), no doubt for the first time, and yellow fish tuna tartare ($15), with Asian pear, avocado, chili oil, fried rice and cilantro (according to the menu), that she pronounced fabulous.  I had a carefully prepared crispy chicken thigh ($14) following a superb risotto with lobster ($16).  

One commendable characteristic of all three fine Napa restaurants was free seltzer throughout the meal.  That's civilization.

Thursday, February 26, 2015
We moved down to a hotel just outside the San Francisco airport to reduce the prospect of my fouling up our departure on Friday.  After dropping off our bags, we took BART into the city to see the Asian Art Museum, housing a splendid collection in a splendidly repurposed building.  The project was designed by Gae Aulenti, the Italian architect who also created the Musée d'Orsay, another successful repurposing of a classic structure.  We took a guided tour in order to get an introduction to the enormous collection of art and artifacts from a very large portion of the world. 

We ate lunch at the museum’s café, but of course.  I had their banh mi, the signature Vietnamese sandwich.  The contents were excellent, but the bread was wrong.  A banh mi is properly served on a warm baguette, the crispness of the crust adding interest to the meat, vegetables and dressing it surrounds.  The museum’s bread was closer to a ciabatta, somewhat spongy.  A more significant negative concerning the museum, to my mind, was the role of Avery Brundage, world-class anti-Semite, in collecting many of the pieces, thus putting his name on frequent display.

After returning by BART to pick up our rented car, we were faced with the mystery of figuring out how to pay for the several hours parking in the adjoining garage.  No tickets, no barriers, no collectors appeared to collect the $2 rumored to be the going rate.

Friday, February 27, 2015 
We landed at JFK with the temperature at 22˚, a little better than when we departed.  However, this served to highlight the odd behavior of many people in the Bay Area when they learned that we were visiting.  Day time temperatures in and around San Francisco were in the 60s; it reached the low 70s in the Napa Valley.  Yet, rental car people, hotel people, restaurant people all apologized for how cold it was as they pulled their sweaters closer to their frigid frames.  Were they nuts?

Finally, I got a reminder of the cold, dark reality of American life that has substantially swallowed the Republican party when I read about the suicide of the Missouri state auditor, who was expected to contest for the Republican nomination for governor.  It seems that he had a Jewish grandfather and he believed that his opponents were going to mount an anti-Semitic whisper campaign against him among the state’s many evangelical Christians, although he was a practicing Episcopalian.  Silly me, I thought those folks read the Bible.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Going South, Going East, Going West

Monday, February 16, 2015
Bill Armistead is the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, and just think that he even gets paid for doing such a fun thing. Addressing the controversy over same-sex marriage that resulted from the conflict between state and federal judges in Alabama last week, Bill wrote that the "State of Alabama and the United States of America will reap God’s wrath if we embrace and condone things that are abhorrent to God, such as redefining marriage as anything other than a union between one man and one woman."

Considering where Alabama rates by most socio-economic indicators, one might believe that it has already reaped God’s wrath, over and over again. The non-partisan United Health Foundation rates Alabama 43rd among US states in the health of its population (; the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative organization, places Alabama 44th on its "Report Card on American Education" (

Maybe Alabama has failed to embrace and condone things that God really likes, accounting for its woeful condition. Get it on, Alabama.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015
The Boyz Club met at Shanghai Gourmet, 23 Pell Street, after the snow stopped falling. We had scallion pancakes, soup buns, soup (hot and sour or egg drop), orange flavor chicken, beef with scallions, shrimp with egg sauce, and spicy string beans. Everyone seemed to have enough to eat for $11 each, the tip almost double the percentage that a smaller group might fairly leave.

I understand that Israel has begun a new campaign to lessen the scrutiny of its actions by Western European nations. It will henceforth respond to provocations by beheading Egyptian Christians which has drawn little attention or outrage when performed by the misunderstood lads of ISIS.

It’s too long in the past for me to remember whether there was a parents’ association at Stuyvesant High School when I attended. Today, apparently, there is an active association supporting the school’s endeavors and their children’s accomplishments. Reflecting the current demographics of the school, once the haven for little nerdy Jewish boys, the April 17th Parents’ Association Spring Feast will be held at Jing Fong, one of my favorite Chinatown dim sum emporia. The invitation does not mention the availability of a Kosher food option. Plus ça change, plus ça change.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015
New Asian Cuisine, 153 Centre Street, three weeks old, is a hole in the wall. The front space is 8' x 12', with a kitchen behind. There are two short ledges with 4 stools if you wish to dine in. It features hot and cold beverages, but also offers a surprising number of food items for an establishment of its type. No menu has yet been printed, but numbered pictures on the wall make choosing relatively simple. However, when I asked for a lamb burger, hoping to compare it to the excellent version at Xi'an Famous Foods, I was told that, while it remains on the wall, it has been dropped from the repertoire. I had, instead, a scallion pancake ($1.50), a bargain at the price, and a beef roll egg pie ($4). The latter is an interesting concoction; an eggy pancake rolled around beef, sauteed onions and cucumber dressed with soy sauce. Messy, but good, although one out of three slices of beef resisted chewing.

The joint was busy, since it is located next to a subway entrance, just a few feet off of Canal Street. Service was hectic; the kitchen apparently still getting accustomed to what it was preparing. Both women at the counter were very friendly, but only one had a command of English. Pointing to the menu board was effective, however.

Thursday, February 19, 2015
Gut yuntiff, it’s the Chinese New Year, Year of the Goat/Ram/Sheep according to which side of China you got up on this morning. Even on this cold day, dragons were dancing up and down the streets of Chinatown at lunchtime in celebration.

Whether it was the holiday or my pretty face, the portion of beef and chicken chow fun that I received at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, was enormous. Delicious, I expected, but it was even more than I could eat. Imagine that.

Friday, February 20, 2015
We are flying to San Francisco today, in order to spend time with America's Loveliest Nephrologist.  We are spending the first three days at the Claremont Hotel Club & Spa, a rather grand name for, in fact, a grand property in the hills above Berkeley.  It is a resort with all sorts of amenities, but, in order to avoid confusion with certain resorts on the East Coast, they don't play Simon Says at poolside.

However, I managed to get our trip to San Francisco off to a rotten start with the help of the inefficiencies and inattentiveness of Delta Airlines.  Not inclined to linger in airports, I arranged for us to get to JFK, with boarding passes in hand and only one bag to check in, at 10:49 AM for a 11:29 AM flight.  This proved undoable, and the 11:29 AM flight took off without us, leaving us to enjoy the comforts of Terminal 4 until the departure of the 3:15 PM flight.  Adding that little gridgit of annoyance to our experience, the 3:15 PM was delayed for several reasons and did not take off until well after 4.  I must acknowledge my contribution to this mess, and will display some contrition (until next time).

On the other hand, we gained almost 60 Fahrenheit degrees by shifting to the left coast.

Friday, February 13, 2015

T For Two

Monday, February 9, 2015
We awakened this morning in Massachusetts, near Boston, having celebrated Boaz’s birthday yesterday with him and his family. We then braved that area’s latest snowstorm in driving home, sometimes no faster than 20 MPH. Lunch was at the Blue Colony Diner, Newtown, Connecticut, exit 10 on I-84, as typical a diner as you might find outside the state of New Jersey. Its proximity to the highway in the bad weather was its major attraction, although I can recommend its very eggy challah in a simple sandwich or just with butter.

Since my visits to Chinese restaurants are almost entirely confined to lunch time in greater Chinatown (walking distance from the New York Supreme Court at 60 Centre Street), I recognize that there are other sources of information on the subject, of varying reliability. Zagat’s, of course, is well known, and just published a list of "must-try" dumpling joints. The only one that has come within the scope of my endeavor, Mission Chinese, 171 East Broadway, is not open for lunch, as I discovered a couple of weeks ago (January 20, 2015). All the others are beyond my boundaries, so I can’t affirm Zagat’s choices.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Once upon a time, conservatives were regarded as attentive students of history. After all, a central tenet of conservative thought was the protection of established institutions from the vagaries of transitory impulses. Many of today’s conservatives, however, have adopted a particularly ahistoric view of our most intransigent domestic issue, black/white relations. Segregation is a tiny speck in their rear view mirror, while they now see racial preferences as a threat to our society.  Getting one white guy into medical school so that he might go to work for a drug company is more important than allowing one black kid to be trained to serve his community.  Rudy Giuliani rushes to Fox News to opine on black-on-black crime at a moment’s notice. He ignores the American history of interracial violence, that is the behavior of good old white folks, usually unpunished, often incited or abetted by the forces of law and order.
Perhaps, Rudy chooses to ignore the past, because it also reveals some white-on-white crime pretty close to home.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015
A man’s home is his castle, says the old adage. That should apply to his palazzo as well, where I now face a bit of a dilemma. Palazzo di Gotthelf is known to the postal authorities as apartment or unit 17P, a mere formality. However, as I came home from dispensing justice today, I looked at the name plate on the newly-occupied apartment 17M. It read, "E&H Gothelf." Oh, my, what a potential for confusion. I knocked on the door, but no one responded. Obviously, I’ll find out more in days to come. By coincidence, inspired by the brilliant genealogical research of Ittai Hershman, Jerry Latter and Steve Schneider, I have lately been probing the Gotthelf line, that is my father’s father. I have learned very little so far, but there seems to be reason to believe that the family name in downtown Poland may have been Gotelf, not Gotthelf, the result of an invasion of Cockneys, notorious for dropping Hs.

Thursday, February 12, 2015
Speaking of history, New York State public employees stick to the classic celebration of Abraham Lincoln's birthday today, because of our devotion to this great American hero and our refusal to give up a day off.

The has compiled a collection of Jon Stewart's memorable moments, now that he has declared his impending retirement from "The Daily Show."  There's some real good stuff here.

Friday, February 13, 2015
My return to 21 Shanghai House, 21 Division Street, on this very cold day, was far more enjoyable than my initial visit shortly after it opened (September 29, 2014).  I ordered a scallion pancake ($2.75) to start and then kung pao shrimp ($5.75) as a lunch special, including a small bowl of egg drop soup and white rice.  The small, not baby, shrimp were cooked with peanuts, hot peppers and celery in a spicy sauce.  Everything was very good, and I found the décor pleasing, not often the case in Chinatown.  I was especially taken with the ceramic teapot with a bamboo handle affixed with copper wire. 

We all know that the post office's creed is "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."  But, modern times has introduced a new obstacle, as I learned today:

Friday, February 6, 2015

Tea and Empathy

Monday, February 2, 2015
I can't think of anything manmade that is flawless, although the New York Times crossword puzzle comes close. Often, when I shake my head vigorously in disbelief at the juncture of clue and answer, I eventually wind up acknowledging the rightness of the combination and lamenting my obtuseness. However, I think the puzzle on Saturday laid a big egg. 17 Across, Alternative to a babka, 7 letters, second letter U. "Rugelah" (not my preferred spelling, see January 12, 2015) jumped out at me. My instinct was buoyed by 2 Down, "arugula," intersecting the answer at 17 Across, a cute interplay of words. As I proceeded, though, I found problems at every letter across, except the U in the second square. The "right" answer was "nutcake." Now, while babka is not exclusively Jewish, it reeks of Central/Eastern Europe. Nutcake, by contrast, lacks any ethno/geographic identity, and, often, taste, as well. The only rationale for the puzzle's logic might be the use of "a babka," implying a whole thing, while just saying babka connotes a baked dessert offering. One piece of rugelach is not a substitute for a whole babka, likely to serve 8 Gentiles or three Jews. One piece of rugelach, on the other hand, could substitute for a slice of babka, although raising suspicions that your hosts, by serving you only one piece of rugelach, have fallen on hard times.

Having been raised in modest financial circumstances, I have been long accustomed to shopping for bargains. Therefore, the heading over a paragraph in the Sunday New York Times travel section that read "How to get cheap flights" caught my attention. While the Upper West Side’s Power Couple plans to visit San Francisco later this month, we are looking for other destinations beyond then. However, the article's 227 words supposedly intended to guide the frugal flyer had the effect of reducing my foreign travel plans to a vicarious trip to Manchester, England by watching an episode of "Scott and Bailey." The one paragraph identified 12 web sites to assist you in purchasing airline tickets. Consider that you have survived choosing a destination, a relationship-challenging process involving another human being; now, you have to navigate 12 different computer programs, any one of which is probably able to defeat a chess grandmaster, to reach your favorite spot for rest and relaxation. Hand me the TV remote.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015
"Shut up and eat," I thought I heard someone say. Fortunately, changes on Mott Street give me the opportunity to do just that. Canton Lounge recently opened at 70 Mott Street, a space previously occupied by Hon Café (June 12, 2010), predominantly a bakery that charged far too much for fried rice, and more successfully by Mottzar Kitchen, which came to be my favorite for Peking duck, at the bargain price of $25.95 for a whole duck. 

While it may be too early to tell, I’m unsure whether the change from Mottzar to Canton was a fortunate one. The space was nicely decorated, although Mottzar was not unattractive. The long, narrow front room is partly devoted to a prep area, which saw almost no activity while I was seated. Beige grasscloth covered the wall opposite the prep area. About a dozen two tops were arranged there. The back opened into a bigger square room, with steel gray wall paper, containing about a dozen medium-sized round tables. Aside from me, only 5 or 6 young Chinese people were seated at a couple of tables throughout.

Canton has a large menu including some less-than-familiar dishes, such as, fish paste with lettuces soup, crispy frog legs and braised pig’s feet casserole. It offers 52 items as a lunch special, all at $6.50, including a meat broth and white rice. I chose Special Virgin Chicken, no more than one-eighth of a chicken, mildly poached, with bone and skin, served with a small dish of a sweet-salty ginger sauce that made even the white rice taste special. Peking duck is on the menu, but at $33.95 for a whole duck. I’ll have to gather up an accomplice and give it a try another day.

While I found Canton mildly pleasant, on the whole, it was at a disadvantage because my lunchtime reading was a compelling article in last week’s New Yorker about the inadequate, toothless system to deal with food contamination in the good old USA, "A Bug in the System," by Wil S. Hylton. Did you know that, only two weeks ago, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service proposed limiting salmonella contamination to 15.4% of packages of cut-up chicken parts? That’s the good news, because right now there is no limit. So, I can’t help but wonder how virginal my chicken was. I guess I’ll find out in 12 to 72 hours, the incubation period for misery according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Ten Ren’s Tea Time, 73 Mott Street, is directly across the street from Canton Lounge and also counts as a new joint, but for a different reason. TRTT moved from 79 Mott Street a few weeks ago, and I don't think the change was for the better. The room is bright, open, with one long white wall opposite a long wall covered with lime green subway tile. There are only about a dozen chairs and stools scattered about, with the business focused on beverages to take out. The new store is also directly next door to its parent Ten Ren’s Tea and Ginseng Co., a major retail purveyor of tea and ginseng, if you suspected otherwise.

I ordered 2 of the 5 or 6 food items listed on the menu, crispy chicken (having apparently ducked salmonella yesterday) ($4.75), sesame sauce noodles ($4.75) and green apple slush ($4.50). The chicken was okay, but the portion was small. I enjoyed it more at the previous location (April 11, 2011). The plate of noodles was not only small, but served hot when I was told they would be cold. The noodles were also topped by unannounced slivers of meat (probably pork), which would surprise many diners and distress some especially. The overpriced slush also included unasked for tapioca pearls, gummy blobs that have never appealed to me. In all, a disappointing lunch. Unfortunately, Teariffic Café, 51 Mott Street, which did a much better job than TRTT, was recently closed due to some financial shenanigans. I’ll keep an eye on that space.

Thursday, February 5, 2015
For several hours, I had the company of Bezuayehu Mengistu, Bezu to her friends. Bezu was born in Ethiopia and raised in Israel. After her service in the Israeli army, she has been in New York for a couple of years as an au pair in order to earn some money and improve her English. She hopes to become a human rights lawyer some day. She sat in on conferences that I held with attorneys reviewing the progress of their cases, and joined me for lunch at Shanghai Gourmet, 23 Pell Street, where she was introduced to no worse than the second best scallion pancake in Chinatown. 

I outlined legal training in the US, and introduced her to the complexity of the New York court system, which has layers upon layers of sometimes overlapping and sometimes exclusive jurisdiction over legal disputes, exemplified by the crowd of courthouses around Foley Square. I found her reaction to one case that we heard particularly interesting. A youngish man, about 10 years older than Bezu, representing himself, was being sued for failing to pay a credit bill amounting to over $20,000. Bezu, who has already faced challenges beyond the realm of typical American millennials, wanted to know why the defendant didn’t just pay the money, take responsibility for his behavior. She suggested that he needed to serve some time in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). For better or worse, that is not a remedy available to New York Supreme Court.