Monday, April 24, 2017
Last week, in response to my discussion of crosswords and other puzzles as a safe harbor from the randomness and confusion of the modern world, friend Cindy (a/k/a Ciel) recommended "Thank You for Being Late" by Thomas Friedman "as a continuation of your search for answers." Actually, as a Jewish existentialist my search centers mainly on my next good meal. I don’t believe that there are any transcendent answers, even if at times I might wish that there were. Solving puzzles is comforting, but not life defining.
Saturday night, we saw "Oslo," a creative non-fictional account of the events leading to the 1993 agreement between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, culminating in the historic handshake on the White House lawn between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat. In a message to a friend later that night, I described the play as "thrilling," the same word appearing in the headline of the New York Times review a few days earlier, which I skipped in order to preserve my own initial impression. https://nyti.ms/2pcIrkYWell, we were both right. Only warmongers should skip this production, although they prevail in the long run.
I came across an old, interesting study of the supposed influence of titles on book sales, produced by a vanity press (self-publishing service) as a guide to its authors. http://www.lulu.com/static/pr
While the sponsor has an interest in publishing as many books as possible, the study seems to have been conducted with some rigor. It examined the title of every hardcover fiction bestseller (per New York Times) from 1955 to 2004, compared to less successful works by the same authors. It concluded that "Sleeping Murder," the last novel published by Agatha Christie, had the perfect title and that John le Carré had the "best" collection of titles.
However, I'm skeptical about the predictive value of the findings, identifying three differentiators among 11 variables. I think that book choices are substantially based on familiarity with or reputation of the author and reviews. Movies may not necessarily benefit from "good" or snappy titles, but I believe that "bad" titles may deter attendance, putting aside the Disney oeuvre and anything "Star Wars." Without any other information, would you spend money on current releases, such as, "Slack Bay," "The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki," "Rupture" or "Ghost in the Shell"?
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
The Boyz Club met today at XO Restaurant, 148 Hester Street, in honor of Mark Nazimova's birthday. In fact, we pretended to let him order for all of us. We wound up with scallion pancake with curry sauce, pan fried dumplings, steamed dumplings, Hong Kong-style spring rolls, chicken fried rice, lo mien with braised black mushrooms and oyster sauce, and beef chow fun with black bean sauce for $11 each, with every dish good or better than good.
As Tom Adcock, Michael Ratner and I walked to the subway together, we came across Penquin Ice Cream, 143B Hester Street, and we were moved to explore. Penquin is one of a new crop of Asian ice cream shops that make their product in front of you on super-cold metal discs, looking like leftover pizza pans. They smoosh and chop and scrape and fold and shovel the contents around, starting with six basic flavors and over two dozen mix-ins (bananas, kiwi, lychee, Oreos, Cheerios, sprinkles, marshmallows, M&Ms, graham crackers among others), finishing with a choice of toppings and sauces once the mess has hardened. This results in a medium-sized cupful of pretty good ice cream for $7. As a business, though, it's not going to be a winner, unless it's a money laundering scheme for nefarious Asian enterprises, since it took several minutes to create each serving. While there were two pizza pans available for use, only one of the two Penquins on the premises seemed to be smoosh-chop-scrape-fold-shovel qualified. Go by yourself and be patient.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
I came across Korean Express, 807 Lexington Avenue, by chance. It's a long, narrow room, bereft of character. Almost half the floor space is taken by the cooking and prep area. 18 small tables take the rest of the room. Service is efficient from a friendly staff, but the food is the main attraction, good and cheap, at least for the lunch special. For $9.95 you pick two main dishes; I had spicy chicken and bulgogi, thin sliced steak in a predominantly soy sauce sauce. You also get a side dish; jab-chae (glass) noodles for me. A lot of good food, at a reasonable price.
Thursday, April 27, 2017
Urbanspace is a food court at the northeast corner of Vanderbilt Avenue and East 45th Street, near Grand Central Terminal. Ignore the nominal street address of 230 Park Avenue, if you want to get there. I recently visited Mr. Bing there (April 4, 2017), late morning and had the place to myself. Today, however, hundreds of people 1/3 my age were packed in, eating tacos, lobster rolls, hamburgers, sushi, hummus, pizza and almost anything else that could be pushed across a counter quickly.
I decided on a sandwich at Mayhem & Stout, its name a mystery, although there might be a link to some of the 8 brews on tap. M&S describes itself as an "artisan sandwich company" and that's the heart of its menu. I had "the Old Timer," appropriately enough, brisket, creamy horseradish and sauteed onions on a soft, 6" roll ($10.10), the flavors clear and present. It wasn't even too sloppy to eat and I found a seat at the end of one of the dozen or so picnic benches in the center of the room, so I wouldn't have to eat standing up and risk dropping food on my shoes.
Friday, April 28, 2017
Looking back on this week, I thought that I would be absorbed with learning to say, "Yes, we have a reckless maniac, too" in Korean. Instead, I kept finding new places to eat, a less consequential, but more satisfying, pursuit. Today, Stony Brook Steve and I headed north, not quite to Canada, but to La Salle Dumpling Room, 3141 Broadway, proximate to Columbia University, Barnard College, Manhattan School of Music, Union Theological Seminary and Jewish Theological Seminary, although, as Steve pointed out, the latter is least likely to provide patronage to this little Chinese restaurant.
La Salle (the intersecting street) has a simple menu, some appetizers; soup dumplings (xiao long bao); steamed dumplings; pan fried dumplings; noodles, in or out of soup; and, a dozen familiar main courses. We assembled an excellent combination of cold sesame noodles ($7.95), chicken dumplings in a spicy vinaigrette ($8.50) and beef and scallions wrapped in a scallion pancake (burrito-style) ($8.95), elevated by a schmear of hoisin sauce. La Salle's prices are high according to the CSPI, the Chinatown Standard Price Index, but, if you are either matriculating or heading to Montreal, it's worth a visit.