The Jewish New Year occupies the next two days.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
The most interesting news of the past several days was found in a casual reference in the real estate section of the New York Times about the sale of a Greenwich Village townhouse. A certain Mr. Sels was identified as a middle man in the deal, in which Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg may be an unnamed participant. The article says that Mr. Sels "has been involved with real estate transactions with Mr. Zuckerberg and his sister and helped Mr. Zuckerberg refinance the mortgage on his Palo Alto home." Note that Zuckerberg has an estimated worth of over $36 billion.
Can you hear Zuckerberg’s mother? "So, Mr. Smarty Pants, you need to borrow money to buy a house?"
The report of the death of the founder of Subway sandwich shops informed me that it is the world’s largest fast food chain, with more than 20% more outlets than McDonald’s. While I don’t consider McDonald’s the exemplar of casual dining, my own exposure to Subway did not lead me to believe that it might be as dominant as it is. I ate Subway tuna sandwiches about twice a month for a couple of years during the mid-aughts, while I was working at the little forgotten courthouse at the corner of Thomas Street and West Broadway in Tribeca.
As I explained when I began my lunchtime exploration of Chinese restaurants in 2010, the Tribeca neighborhood had several fine restaurants, such as Bouley and Nobu. However, these were not your everyday, sit-down-with-your-crossword-puzzles-at-lunch restaurants. That sort were much harder to find in the vicinity. A decent pizzeria and Le Zinc, a friendly café, both on Duane Street, between West Broadway and Church Street, closed during my tenure. Zucker’s Bagels and Smoked Fish, 146 Chambers Street, a very good example of its genre, only opened shortly before I moved across town; Pakistan Tea House, 176 Church Street, the best of several nearby Pakistani/Indian/Bengali restaurants, was very small and usually very crowded, which made it hard to linger. So, every couple of weeks, I went to the Subway sandwich shop on Chambers Street, just west of West Broadway. I never considered eating anything there except tuna fish. I still marvel at the advertising photographs of fat sandwiches, bursting with meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, bacon, guacamole, pickles and various dressings, bearing absolutely no resemblance to the 95% bread concoctions actually served.
In my defense, the climate control in the store always operated successfully, and the clusters of students from Manhattan Community College and Stuyvesant High School, both two blocks away, always made room for me and my newspaper. For better or worse, the Subway management team never consulted me on their growth strategy or their menu. While there are at least two Subway sandwich shops in Chinatown, I have never entered either since I moved across town to 60 Centre Street. Placing me here every weekday was an opportunity to discover Heaven on Earth.
I moved from Malaysia to Thailand on my weekly visit to Wok Wok Southeast Asian Kitchen, 11 Mott Street, when I ordered Thai mango salad with grilled shrimp ($6.25 plus $3 for the shrimp). I enjoyed the dish, composed of threads of mango, purple onions, chives and fresh chili, in a strong lime sauce. The four smallish shrimp were over-priced, but took an edge off the highly-spiced dish. I think that this item would be best enjoyed with a glass of beer, waiting for your main course. I received a cast iron pot of tea without any fuss, and business was good, a few more non-Chinese/Malays.
Thursday, September 17, 2015
By coincidence, Tomas Gonzalez, my grandnephew, has just left Buenos Aires, Argentina to begin college at University of California, Santa Cruz, and a web site has placed that location at the top of the list of best college towns.
It’s an interesting list, consisting entirely of places that I have never been expelled from.
Last night’s Republican candidates’ debate was more interesting as theater than politics, as these events tend to be, regardless of party affiliation. Sincere-sounding promises of "strength," "leadership," "firmness," "courage" and "boldness" abounded, without any suggestion of real policies. One question did, however, focus on specifics; in fact, it required the candidates to name names. Who would you put on the new $10 bill? Here was a platinum-plated invitation to pander, and I’m not surprised that Mom, Wife and Daughter were offered as responses. However, I was surprised by the mention of Rosa Parks by several speakers who have usually been indifferent to African-American civil rights.
But, the most surprising and weirdest answer came from Jeb! (the man who traded his last name for a punctuation mark): Margaret Thatcher. First of all, few Americans under 60 can identify Margaret Thatcher, and even many of us over 60 need the help of Meryl Streep’s portrayal in "The Iron Lady" to place her in time and space. Second, most Americans in the fly-over states are beset by the presence of foreigners, in fact or in myth, on the sacred ground of the U S of A. Even a white, Christian, English-speaking foreigner may be too – how do you say? – foreign a figure to put on our currency.
Michael Ratner joined me at Sam’s Spring Roll, 23 Essex Street, five doors from the birthplace of Mother Ruth Gotthelf in 1909. The joint was reviewed in the New York Times on Wednesday and we appeared one day later. Waiting for Michael, I met Samantha Chu, the young owner, who grew up in Chinatown. Her sister married a Vietnamese man and that exposed her to another cuisine after her grandmother had taught her Chinese cooking.
The place is tiny, no more than 8 feet wide and 20 feet long. Seating is available on stools at two high two-tops, a narrow four-foot counter, a narrow five-foot counter and a bar where orders are placed and bills paid. One wall is exposed brick, probably already old when my mother lived down the block. Opposite is a wall painted battleship gray, with a few nondescript things attached.
The menu is very limited. There are four spring rolls, each about 4 inches long and one inch in diameter: cumin chicken, bulgogi (Korean beef), samosa (vegetarian), and pork leek. One roll is $2, three for $5. The look and feel of the contents distinguished them more than the flavors. Four sauces are offered, although there are no natural combinations with the rolls: creamy verde, creamy chimichurri, crack (spicy Thai), and ginger & scallion. They were all green, all tasty, two more spicy (chimichurri and crack), and combined well with any of the rolls. We each had each roll plus one more chicken and beef. Additionally, Sam serves a rice bowl ($8) – a spring roll, egg, pickles, sauce and rice – and a salad bowl ($9) – spring roll, mixed greens, egg and miso sesame dressing. Finally, for the millennials, waffle fries, which were outsourced, and thus skippable.
Friday, September 18, 2015
I am trying to close Sesame Street and pave it over. My last stop, I hope, was at Shanghai HePing Restaurant, 104 Mott Street, a bright, airy place (May 21, 2013, April 15 2012). It served Cold Noodles with Peanut Sauce ($4.95), and did it well.
The medium-sized portion was covered with slivers of cucumber, chive ringlets and sesame seeds. There was plenty of sauce, thick enough not to drip. It rated an A+, but barely missed perfection in that the sauce lacked that subtle salty edge found in peanut butter.
I am ending this important week at CitiField, for the first game of the Mets-Yankees weekend series. I am going with Jerry S., fellow congregant and rabid Yankees fan, in the ecumenical spirit of the High Holy Days. While I am prepared to concede that his Hebrew is better than mine, I am convinced that my baseball is better than his.