Friday, September 23, 2016

Foreign Affairs

Monday, September 19, 2016
In the 1950s and 1960s, the label Made In Japan was typically associated with cheap and shoddy merchandise, before the emergence of the Japanese automobile and electronics industries. Whether it was true or not, I remember hearing back then that there was a town in Japan named Usa, allowing goods to be labelled Made in USA.

I'm reminded of this by the appearance of the red, white and blue cans of America beer, a product once known as Budweiser beer.
When it was Budweiser it was owned by Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc., founded and based in St. Louis, Missouri. Now, ownership of the beer company is in the hands of Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, a Belgian-Brazilian multinational beverage and brewing company with global headquarters in Leuven, Belgium. So, do we make America great again by removing its name from a foreign beer, or do we continue to honor our great national traditions of fake IDs, binge drinking, and DUIs by keeping the name on prominent display wherever self control is under attack?
What's the difference between San Francisco and Pittsburgh? $129,557. That's how much more you have to earn annually in San Francisco to buy a median priced home there. They are at opposite ends of a list of 27 metropolitan areas.

New York runs a measly fifth, only 53% as expensive as San Francisco by this measure, although I don't think that is such bad news.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Today is the official publication date of Ten Restaurants That Changed America, by Paul Freedman. It's too soon to have read it, but the New Yorker had a very informative review of it last week and the New York Times had an equally informative article today.

Freedman is a Yale historian, who examines the role of race and class, immigration and assimilation in American dining. His list contains Delmonico's, considered to be the first major French restaurant in the US; Le Pavillon, originally installed in the 1939 World's Fair; Mandarin, San Francisco; Mamma Leone's, once the largest restaurant in New York City, which both elevated and desecrated Italian food; Antoine's in New Orleans; Sylvia's, Harlem's soul food mainstay; Schrafft's and Howard Johnson's, chains that have now disappeared; the Four Seasons, my personal favorite; and Chez Panisse in Berkeley, which started the locavore trend. Unlike some of the "best of" lists that I've seen lately, I didn't draw a blank with this group.

Freedman, clearly democratic in his approach, claims that there are now more Chinese restaurants in this country than the combined number of McDonald's, Burger Kings and KFCs. There may yet be hope yet for our way of life.

In that vein, Stony Brook Steve and I followed the recommendation of the Hymans and went to Canteen 82, 467 Columbus Avenue, a nicer than average neighborhood Chinese restaurant. It has a full bar and a sushi bar to broaden its appeal.

Steve ordered from the lunch menu, giving him a small portion of cold sesame noodles and a regular portion of pad thai with chicken for $12, while I ordered Peking duck bao (3 for $9.50) and chicken chow fun ($11). My sample of the sesame noodles was very good. The bao (big buns) were mostly dough, filling but not at all worth the money. The chow fun was good, especially after a shot of very hot mustard and soy sauce. The restaurant reaches far back, with a large section behind the sushi bar. It is nicely decorated, with simple Asian touches. As much as the Upper West Side is densely populated with restaurants, Chinese food is poorly represented. Under these circumstances, the generally good food at Canteen makes it a local standout.

Note that Canteen's takeout menu by the cash register and the 2 on-line menus that I looked at do not have current prices and organize the lunch specials differently.

Wednesday, September 21, 2106
On Sunday, America's Favorite Epidemiologist left on a trip to Moscow and Odessa, with a women's philanthropic group. Tonight, I am going to London and Paris on a solo hedonistic mission. As a fitting sendoff for my 8 o'clock flight to England and France, I went back to the Bolivian Llama Party, 1000 Eighth Avenue, a fictitious address meant to indicate the southern end of the Columbus Circle subway station (August 24, 2016). I thought this was a fitting symbolic farewell to the New World and a chance to have another delicious beef brisket chola (sandwich) ($12), dressed with pickled carrots and onions marinated in beer. Yummy.

Thursday, September 22, 2016
My flight on Virgin Atlantic was pleasant and uneventful.  Border Control a/k/a immigration took an hour and I was further delayed by the closure of the nearest underground station to the Brodies, my gracious hosts.  However, I enjoyed their company for about 90 minutes before I tucked in for a restorative nap.

Awake and refreshened, with David alongside, dinner was at  Sichuan-Folk Chinese Restaurant, 32 Hanbury Street, in the Spitalfields neighborhood, away from the traditional Soho Chinatown, highly rated by Trip Advisor and noted for its spicy food. We started with cold sesame noodles, one of my universal common denominators (£5.20). While the dish was familiar, the sauce had a spicy kick, unexpected, but effective. This prepared us for the "boneless chicken in numbing and spicy sauce" (£7.20), almost as fearsome as its name. The "fish in Szechuan style" (£13.20) was the mildest of the lot, slices of breaded white fish cooked with red and green peppers. The "special" fried rice (£4.80) wasn't. Our waiter was very friendly and listened attentively to my report on the condition of Chinese food in New York City.

Friday, September 23, 2016
The Anglo-American expedition went to Soho for lunch and chose Haozhan, 8 Gerard Street, in the very center of Chinatown. What attracted us was the long dim sum menu. There are no carts rolling around; selections are made from a printed checklist. We had scallops siu mai (£3.80), roast duck dumpling (£3.50), steamed barbecue pork bun (£3), prawn garlic roll (£3.50), House Special Cheung Fun (rolled rice noodles, similar to blintzes) (£4.20), chives and prawn dumpling (£3.20) and, just in case this sounded too ordinary, duck tongue in black bean sauce (£3.20). Only the latter was served without a wrapper. The sauce was excellent, spicy, but I think the ducks sacrificed in vain. The 2" long tapered cylinders seemed to be all bones and gristle. Otherwise, very high quality dim sum. The restaurant got too busy for me to educate our waiter.

Tonight, the three of us went to the Duke of York's Theatre for a performance of How the Other Half Loves, by the prolific Alan Ayckbourn. I am uncertain whether I saw it decades ago in New York or London, it debuted in 1969, but I will remember tonight as one of the funniest shows that I have ever seen.  Hurry, it closes October 1.

Before the show, we ate at Mon Plaisir, 19-21 Monmouth Street, a charming French bistro that I first visited in 1985.  It currently offers a 3 course dinner of traditional items (salmon, tagliatelle, or steak frites as a main course), coffee included, at £17.95.  Its continuing success is justified by the food, the ambience, the service and the location.  

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Walk On The Wild Side

Monday, September 12, 2016
Serious Eats has been a reliable web site for fressers like me.  In looking over recent articles, I found that fell within my realm of experience, a review of chocolate babkas.  

I agree with their conclusions, including the surprising inclusion of Trader Joe's babka among the recommended treats.  Is it possible that Trader Joe was once Trader Yussel? 

Usually, I offer suggestions on how to spend your time (and not too much money).  Today, I want to save you some time.  Soon after reading the New York Times review that called it "an irresistible and indispensable 360-degree guide to the new technology establishment," I got a copy of Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley, by Antonio García Martínez.  The author, who left Wall Street to join a software startup company, start another, went to Facebook about one year before its IPO.  

He has lots of good stories to tell, in a tone that is consistently snarky and derisive regarding almost everyone he worked with and for, and that is one reason the book gets tiresome long before its end.  Another reason to stop about halfway through the 500 pages is his manic dissection of the intra-Facebook battle between Custom Audiences (CA) and Facebook Exchange (FBX), which takes up almost the entire second half of the book.  While the author tries to use clear language and offer parallels from common experience, the inevitable reliance on jargon left even this old techie confused.  If the conflict between CA and FBX involved a choice of opposing modalities in the fight against cancer, it might be worth slogging through the book.  But, instead, we are asked to agonize over how best to target advertisements to Facebook users.  Spare yourself.  
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Monsieur David Goldfarb invited me to his home for lunch.  While David is retired from teaching history, he has not retired from the world of food and wine, where he continues to excel. He served heirloom tomato soup, baked branzino, fingerling potatoes, string beans, endive salad, all prepared by himself.  Additionally, David makes it a point to print the menu whenever he has guests.  Of course, he selected a special wine to accompany the meal, Philippe Foreau Domaine du Clos Naudin Vouvray, 2010.  Even though we did not conclude with chocolate cake or ice cream, the meal was first rate, as was the company.

Last week, an economic survey showed that the middle class experienced little if any growth in earnings over a 15-year period.  Today, focusing only on the last year, we see better results. 

The best news was, "The share of Americans living in poverty also posted the sharpest decline in decades."  Should we credit Barack Obama's policies, or the Republican's refusal to implement Obama's policies for this happy turn of events?

Black Votes Matter.  While the richer, older and more educated you are, the more likely you are to vote (and typically vote Republican, as we used to inform our classes in Government 101), voting turnout among black Americans consistently leads other racial groups, in a trend that began before the emergence of Obama.  

What do Indiana, New York, Hawaii and West Virginia have in common, according to this article?  Generally, they have the lowest turnout in presidential elections since 1980, and try to make sense of that.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Even as my chances to be accepted into the coterie that produces the results in Opinionated About Dining fade, I am confronted with another restaurant reviewing site that is unlikely to welcome me. 

Renzell (I couldn't find the reason for the name) collects opinions from 2,000 "regular, non-industry patrons of high-end restaurants," eschewing professional reviewers and ordinary lunks who might express themselves on Zagat's, Yelp, and the like.  I looked at the membership application, which anticipates that you dine frequently on an expense account or a trust fund.  Once upon a time, when I worked for a major professional services firm, I was doing okay, almost, but never entirely blending in with the movers and shakers.  I was able to manage my way into some of the fancier joints of the time and was able to eat without too much regard for the bottom line.  However, it's been quite a while since I've dined in the high rent district.  On the other hand, do you want to hear about Chinatown?

I don't really cook any of our meals at home, but I do prepare many of them.  By that I mean that I shop for, organize, heat up when needed, and present the food to be eaten.  Under these circumstances, recipes are of little use to me.  However, I was interested in what the New York Times called the most requested recipe in its history.  It was first published in 1983.  Let's take a moment and think what it might be.  

I wouldn't have guessed a plum torte, but that takes the cake, as it were.  

Time has not apparently diminished its popularity.  "A recent Google search of 'New York Times plum torte' yielded nearly 80,000 search results."  I have a vague recollection of being served something similar, claimed to be an Eastern European family favorite.  In any case, I am willing to sample your version.  

Thursday, September 15, 2016
I am intrigued by The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel, which "explore[s] the hypothesis that bestsellers have a distinct set of subtle signals, a latent bestseller code."  The authors, an English literature professor and a former book editor, have developed an algorithm for success based on a computer analysis of 20,000 contemporary novels.  They boil it down to a "bestseller-ometer," for predictive purposes.  If the authors are right, might the next step be the automated writing of bestselling novels based on the formula?  Then, of course, we can let computers read the books written by computers.

Why New York?  Let me give you one example -- Amsterdam Avenue between 80th Street and 81st Street has seven restaurants on the east side of the street and nine on the west side.  In addition to those in operation on the west side, one other is closed for renovation and a laundromat sits among them.  I went into Luke's Lobster, 426 Amsterdam Avenue (west side), maybe nine feet wide, decorated like a sea shanty, complete with a fishing rod and reel in the bathroom.  

I sat on a stool at one of the 4 1/2 high tables inside, a few more conventional tables and chairs outside.  I had the lobster roll ($17), the reason for Luke's existence and justifiably so.  The lobster meat was sweet, tender and fresh.  Was it too expensive?  An Internet search for lobster rolls in Maine came up with some in the $15-18 range.  If you happen to be in the vicinity of the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., at lunchtime, the Kingbird restaurant has a lobster roll for $26, served on a brioche bun with yuzu mayo, scallions and a side of housemade potato chips.  

Of course, if you are in Washington, D.C., you would not be one block away from Zabar's, 2245 Broadway, where I headed after lunch.  There, I was delighted to find the artisanal efforts of Danny Macaroons (not macarons, mind you).  I bought a package of coconut macaroons, hand-dipped in chocolate.   Small and spherical, they did not look like your ordinary macaroons; more significantly, they did not taste like your ordinary macaroons.  New York, I told you.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Pray Ball

Monday, September 5, 2016
Neither Rick nor Ilsa actually spoke the exact phrase, "Play it again, Sam" in Casablanca. Similarly, I don't know if my mother Ruth Gotthelf actually said, "Open a mouth," a phrase I associate with her memory.  However, the idea is a powerful one and I try to keep it in mind.  I thought of it yesterday when I heard a discussion on public radio about safe spaces and trigger warnings on college campuses.  But first, I must apologize for listening to a discussion on public radio about safe spaces and trigger warnings on college campuses, instead of the good jazz on WBGO-Newark or sports talk on ESPN-Radio or WFAN.  I was moving our car to a street parking space to make room for a guest.  Since America's Favorite Epidemiologist had last used the car, she naturally turned to more serious fare than I was likely to choose.

So, I hear this college professor explaining that trigger warnings and safe spaces increase freedom for students, because they buffer the students from oppression by the choice of language, images, and ideas imposed by faculty members, wielding the authority of the institution.  Hoo, boy.  When I attended CCNY in the 1950s and 1960s, faculty members, if anyone, may have needed trigger warnings and safe spaces, because of the intense political debates that were commonplace in any of our social science classes.  Challenging ideas, whatever their source, was central to our education.  As kids from working class and lower white collar families, we came to campus without a sense of deference and we left the same way.  We were not gratuitously insulting, but the trappings of position or office rarely, if ever, deterred us.  

In contrast to the freewheeling discussions in the classroom at the time, the administration and local politicians maintained a speaker ban for years, notably to keep Communists off campus.  We finally defeated it and I nominally hosted the appearance of Benjamin Davis, an officer of the Communist Party USA, who had been jailed for several years for conspiring to overthrow the federal government under the Smith Act.  

Now, more than a half century later, some students claim to be in a (semi)permanent state of PTSD and cower at the ugly words uttered by the tweedy academic at the front of the classroom or in the pages of a reading assignment.  This is, after all, the generation(s) that grew up with slasher movies, rap music and violent video games.  Bah, humbug.  

Thanks to Linda Rich, pursuant to last week's observations, for an update on the state of Zionist iconography.

In a feature on fashions at the US Open (tennis), currently being played in Flushing Meadows, two of the six people interviewed by the New York Times gave their occupation as "social media influencer."  Didn't they get a trigger warning about Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders?

A quick word about The Smith, 1900 Broadway, an enormous restaurant just opposite Lincoln Center.  It has basically a pub food menu and I was quite satisfied with my "Brick pressed chicken" ($25), served on a healthy pile of garlic mashed potatoes.  But, I want to call your particular attention to the unlimited amount of sparkling water served, without asking, at no extra cost.  That's hospitality.

A front page story today describes a new local crime wave, stealing containers of Ben & Jerry’s, Talenti, and Häagen-Dazs ice cream from big stores and reselling them to small stores.  (Talenti makes a high quality gelato in spite of its origins in Minneapolis, Minnesota.)
Fortunately, the story, both in print and on-line, includes photographs of the perps, none of whom I can be said to resemble.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016
The New York Times presents a fascinating graphic feature on income inequality.  It shows that the rich got richer, as did some of the poor, in the last 15 years.  Generally, the middle class (that so-hard-to-pin-down group) saw its income lag or even retreat, but that is not perceived as a problem as long as the rich got richer.

If you're interested in where the elite meet to eat, Opinionated About Dining has released its survey for the coming year.

My application for membership in OAD is pending, although that doesn't stop me from being opinionated.  As I have admitted before, I am consistently absent from the customer rolls of the kind of establishments they feature.  However, in the section of the survey headed Cheap Eats, OAD includes Ample Hills Creamery's Brooklyn flagship (more like a row boat).  I visited and commended Ample Hills's   West Side location recently and would vote for them, when and if I'm allowed.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016
The Jewish Holy Days are late this year, one of the only two choices that we get.  Therefore, the Boyz Club decided to fill September's spirituality gap by gathering to worship at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street.  As usual, services were well attended by dissenters from a variety of denominations.  

Ordering for a crowd is one of my favorite activities and I took full advantage, having the kitchen provide fried wonton, duck chow fun, beef chow fun, shrimp fried rice, chicken fried rice, beef with scallions, eggplant with garlic sauce and gong bo (kung pao) chicken (spicy with peanuts).  All for $11 each, tipping almost 30% because we are good human beings and we sat around for a long time taking space.

Friday, September 9, 2016
Unlike my dear friend Jon S., I have stuck with the New York Mets through thick and thin, mostly the latter.  Now, my devotion is being tested.  Tim Tebow, a short lived sensation in college football, has been signed to a minor league contract with the Mets.  While skillful, he was best known for his very public piety on and off the field.  Note that when athletes, such as Colin Kaepernick, quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers, try to bring political consciousness into the sports world, eyes bulge, veins burst and indignation rings throughout the land. However, overtly sectarian prayer and other religious mumbo jumbo are welcomed and celebrated in much of our amateur and professional sports.  The solemn kneeling seen on the football field and in the locker room does not seem to divert the players, God love 'em, from their mission of violence.  

So, I don't want Tebow on my team, but I will abide with it. But, Mets beware!   Should DT aim for an ownership position when his attempt to put his brand on the White House fails, I'm outta here.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Say What?

Monday, August 29, 2016
I think an inevitable attribute of being a Jew is suspicion.  It may be genetically transferred to us, or merely acquired by keeping our eyes and ears open to the world around us.  In either case, hypersensitivity, exaggerated responses to stimuli, a tendency towards melodrama and, at root, a highly ethnocentric view of human affairs seem to be our burden.  

While this subject is never far from my mind, a little comment in a published interview this weekend hit me right in my J spot.  A successful, young Gentile author, praising a fellow author, said "I was just in Palestine with [him]."  You don't have to be travel agent to know that you can't get off the plane in Palestine today.  Interestingly enough, for decades before 1948, Jews generally referred to Palestine as their elusive homeland.  I just found mention of a Zionist cookbook from 1936, "How to Cook in Palestine," published in Hebrew, English and German.

The Balfour Declaration of 1917, British policy for their newly-acquired mandate, named Palestine as the site of a prospective "national home for the Jewish people."  After 1948, the land was named Israel and after 1967, I would guess, Arabs resident in the occupied territories became distinctively identified as Palestinians.  The literature until then spoke of Arabs.  

So, what's going on here?  The author is certainly allowed to name her destination without strict regard for cartographic and geopolitical realities.  Offense intended?  This comes on the heel of the much more serious libel included in the platform of the Movement for Black Lives asserting that Israel is practicing "genocide" against the Palestinians.  I'm not sure which is worse, the distortion of language, or the unique demonizing of Israel while ignoring all other notorious human rights abusers.  Offense taken.   

When you go to a baseball game today, you can often expect to receive a premium, a gift for your attendance.  Whether to distract from the high ticket prices, the poor play on the field or the ugly, loud music heard at every interval, T-shirts, little bobbleheaded figures, key chains and the like are handed out on the way in.  This has become more than a minor diversion. A quick look on ebay shows 28,653 listings for "bobbleheads," connoting a serious market. Well, you can't expect shrewd Jewish merchants to ignore this opportunity.

Temple Emanu-El, the massive reform synagogue on Fifth Avenue, maintains the Skirball Center, a large auditorium devoted to educational and cultural activities. On December 11, 2016, it's presenting two performances of Golda's Balcony, a play tracing the life of the Israeli prime minister, starring Tovah Feldshuh. Tickets are $45, "Includes a Golda Meir mini action figure." Imagine the possibilities -- a David Ben Gurion T-shirt, a Moshe Dayan sun visor, an Abba Eban rubber wristband.

Tuesday, August 30, 2106
It's becoming rarer that my US postal mailbox contains any real mail, apart from catalogues, advertising circulars, and appeals for money. So, I was delighted yesterday for several reasons to get a summons for jury duty, a follow up to the questionnaire a few weeks ago that established that I was alive and well, at least well enough to answer a questionnaire. It summoned me to New York Supreme Court, my recent employer, late in September. This will give me the opportunity to see some former colleagues and lunch in Chinatown, a reason to hope for a really long, drawn out trial. However, there will be delayed gratification, because the date for my appearance conflicts with a firm travel commitment. I was given a 60-day deferment without hesitation, which is totally satisfactory since hot and sour soup goes down better in colder weather.

Wednesday, August 31. 2016
I met Nate Persily, professor of constitutional law and political science at Stanford University, this morning for breakfast. I've known him since his birth and I recollected that I joined his parents when they took him to a Chinese restaurant for the first time, age 7 days. By the way, that record was eclipsed in 2010, when grandson Noam went to a Chinese restaurant at 4 days old.

Nate was on his way to give a talk on the US presidential election to officials at the Chinese consulate here. While I admit that I would like to have such an audience, the best part of the gig is the promise to bring in one of their finest chefs for lunch. Unfortunately, Nate never expressed the need for a food taster.

Thursday, September 1, 2106
I never doubted that birds of a feather flocked together, but I never realized how old the expression is. According to Wikipedia, "Bentvueghels (Dutch for 'Birds of a Feather') were a society of mostly Dutch and Flemish artists active in Rome from about 1620 to 1720." What has been common sense for centuries has now been confirmed by science regarding featherless bipeds.
According to the referenced survey of over 2,000 American voters, our friends tend to share our background, education and politics.  In fact, I thought the affinities would be more pronounced.  Just how many couples like James Carville and Mary Matalin do you know?  Or, would you want to know?

I had lunch with the polylingual Ittai Hershman today at Takahachi, 145 Duane Street (May 23, 2103).  It seems to have remained the same from my earlier visit, simple decor, friendly service, very fresh sushi, with only a slight rise in the prices.  I had the Sushi Mix ($19), four pieces of sushi, including salmon and tuna, and a yellowtail roll.  Also served were miso soup, two 1" fish balls and and maybe kelp in two different colors.  We were also given black sesame ice cream gratis because we had moved when asked to make room for a larger party.  In all, the food was very good, but there was not enough to make you want to skip dinner. 

Friday, August 2, 2016
Speaking of baseball game giveaways, I went to the Mets game tonight with Max the former Wonder Boy, who started to accompany me to Mets games when he was in junior high school, quite a while ago.  Not only did we receive a Mets T-shirt at the gate, I got another Mets T-shirt outside at a radio station's booth. 
Of course, after the poor performance on the field, I may be wearing these shirts inside out.