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The French Szechuan Connection

13 Mar

lavie (2)

I was curious about the connection between Szechuan food and France that could have spurred the curiously named restaurant La Vie en Szechuan that Zio and I visited on a slushy March evening. It was supposed to be a get together of Hawkeye, Fonzie and The Coach (see Hawkeye, Fonzie and the Coach Eat at Margie’s) but Fonzie, also known as Gerry, surprised us all by sending a text earlier on the same day we were to meet stating that instead he was going ice fishing.

At first I thought this could only be another of Gerry’s sick jokes; after all, the idea of sitting outside in frigid temperatures in the middle of nowhere waiting for something to nibble your rod through a deep hole in black ice could not possibly be more enticing than choking on hot peppers with two of his fellow gluttons. After some prodding, however, we found out he was indeed serious. We were getting close to the end of this very long winter, but Gerry wanted more. And who were we to deny him his pleasure—not matter how perverse it might be?

Gerry's preference.

Gerry’s preference.

Upon entering La Vie en Szechuan, I looked around the dining room for some connection to France in décor.  There was none.  I peered at the clientele dining in the restaurant. No Edith Piaf lookalikes anywhere.  And then I scoured the thick book that passed as the restaurant’s menu. There were frogs, but not done with butter, garlic and parsley. There was duck—not confit though. And there was steak. Not with frites, but coated with Szechuan chilies, and your choice of rice, white or brown. Was there a French Connection lurking somewhere? If so, I couldn’t find it.

Duck tongue, not duck confit from La Vie en Szechuan's illustrated menu.

Duck tongues, not duck confit from La Vie en Szechuan’s illustrated menu.

Since Gerry had deserted us for arctic climes, Zio and I were somewhat limited on how much we could order. The possibilities were vast, but we were confined to just an appetizer and two entrees. Any more than that and our gluttony would have even raised the eyebrows of the table next to ours who, despite their large party, were holding their own in that department with enormous platter after enormous platter arriving in quick intervals to their table.

The diced rabbit with chili sauce, we agreed, would make a very good appetizer while I had my heart set on something that caught my eye in the “Signature Dish” section of the tome that was Le Vie en Szechuan’s menu. It was called “spicy chicken with fried dough twists,” and I had to have it just to find out what a fried dough twist might be. Zio’s eyes immediately gravitated to the seafood section and we settled on the braised fish in black bean chili paste.

I stuck with water, but Zio requested his traditional diet Coke with lime only to be very disappointed to be told that they had no limes at Le Vie en Szechuan.

I’m not sure if the addition of lime to his diet Coke would have done anything to alleviate the sinus clearing heat we were experiencing from the room temperature diced rabbit. I know my ice water was useless to combat it as my nose began to run and the table napkins soon were all soggy.

Diced rabbit with chili sauce.

Diced rabbit with chili sauce.

It took awhile, but we eventually got the hang of how best to handle the tiny bones of the diced rabbit. Chewing the tender meat and separating it from the bone with our teeth while keeping it in our mouth and then spitting out the bone.

“Maybe we should just eat the whole thing and not worry about the bones,” Zio suggested.

It wasn’t a bad idea and a few times I did just that, but the habit was just too unnatural for my westernized palate and instead, piled the bones neatly on my small plate.

The chicken with fried dough twists arrived next.

Spicy chicken with fried dough twists

Spicy chicken with fried dough twists

“What are those Chinese cheese doodles?” Zio wondered as he looked at the red pepper tinged fried dough.

They  did look like a cheese doodles, but tasted nothing like them. Instead they tasted just like what was advertised; a piece of very deep fried dough. The chicken pieces that surrounded the fried dough were also fried to crackling dryness; the dish in need of a slathering of something wet, but hot sauce was definitely not an option.

Braised fish with black bean chili paste.

Braised fish with black bean chili paste.

The huge bowl of fish came last; the tender fish surrounded by glaciers of dried chili peppers that were floating in the very wet, soup like sauce. The two entrees were a good contrast between wet and dry and much more than enough for the two of us. With each piece of fish snared, we also dragged out multiple pieces of hot peppers, never daring to actually eat them. We methodically worked through the bowl but eventually it did us in. All that remained on our plates were piles of uneaten peppers.

When our waiter came to clear, he congratulated us on a job well done. “But we couldn’t eat those,” I said, pointing to the peppers.

“Oh, that’s the best part,” he replied, taking a pepper from my plate in his fingers and taking a big bite, seeds flying out of his mouth and all over me. “Mmmm, very good,” he mumbled, still chewing the pepper while clearing our plates.

"The best part."

“The best part.”

There was enough of the fish to take home and I offered it to Zio. “Bring it to the Colonel,” I said.

“Are you kidding,” He scoffed. “One look at those peppers and she might go into convulsions.”

We left the remains on the table and walked back out into the slush that was March. As I was walking to the subway, I heard the ping of a text from my cell phone. I took a look. “Fried fresh perch with hot sauce. Not Szechuan, but pretty good” it read. Gerry was sending me a text from the hinterlands.  “And there are beaver dams, fox dens and beautiful bird life,” he added, thinking that rustic image might justify the ice fishing lunacy.

I thought for a moment as I slogged through the dirty gray slush. Just before heading down into the equally dirty, damp subway I texted him back. “Beaver dams are overrated,” I wrote, clicked send and then made my way to the train with that song (see below) playing in my head.

La Vie en Szechuan
14 E. 33rd Street


And the Answer is…

7 Jan

On Friday I presented you with multiple photos of a restaurant and challenged you to Name That Place.  To revisit the photos, you can click here: Name That Place, or you can scroll down these pages.

I’m relieved to report that one well traveled eater was able to correctly Name That Place as:

Cafe Edison


That’s right, the Cafe Edison, also known as the “Polish Tea Room;” its nickname derived when a patron, of which there were many from the nearby theaters; playwrights, directors,actors,  producers, and stage hands, deemed the decor and food superior to the much more expensive and haughty Russian Tea Room.

Cafe Edison

228 W. 47th Street

See if the you can get goulash and noodles, cup of soup and a beverage for $16.95 at the Russian Tea  Room.

See if the you can get goulash and noodles, cup of soup and a beverage for $16.95 at the Russian Tea Room.

If the matzoh ball soup I had at the Cafe Edison wasn’t the “greatest soup in the history of soup”, as proclaimed by the New York Times, then it was certainly in the top 50.

Cafe Edison

But at the Cafe Edison, those who know don’t flock to it just for the outstanding soup. These sandwiches are pretty good too.

Cafe Edison

I had one on my recent visit but it wasn’t roast beef, corned beef, brisket, salami, or pastrami.  For bonus points, I wondered if any of the food obsessed out there could identify what type of sandwich I ordered. Here’s a look again:

Cafe Edison

Now that you know I was dining at the Cafe Edison, perhaps you will realize that what I was about to enjoy a generously stuffed vegetarian chopped liver sandwich on rye.

That concludes this edition of Name That Place. Be on the lookout for another serious challenge in the near future.




And the Answer is…

1 Oct

On Friday I presented these two images and challenged you to name the place where you would find them.

The first image was correctly identified as a pig’s snout. But beyond that, no one could identify the place where the pig snout and the delicious dish above could be found.

As I said in Friday’s post, there are sometimes hints in my words. They were in there, but really, not much help at all. The hint was in this sentence. “In what eating establishment(s) might you find the bizarre image above?” Now how would you know that the pig’s snout image was in, technically, two eating establishments?

This establishment where the pork cutlet above was prepared:

Which is part of this larger, grander establishment:

The food court (emporium) known as Food Gallery 32.

Where  international means, predominately Korean, with some Japanese and Chinese thrown in including the Red Mango frozen yogurt chain, Jin Jja Roo, for Korean noodle and rice dishes, O-de-Ppang for Japanese rice bowls, and,



Food Gallery 32
11 West 32nd Street.

The Happiest of All Hours: Jimmy’s Corner

25 Sep

Jimmy’s Corner
140 W. 44th St

There was a time, during my first decade in New York City, when I would wander the Times Square area. Maybe I would take in a two dollar double feature on 42nd Street. It could be a horror bill like Mark of the Devil: Part Two (“banned in 10 countries”) paired with The Last House on the Left (the original), soft core porn Emmanuelle 2 with The Cheerleaders (“They don’t bring it on, they take it off”), or kung fu epics like Five Deadly Venoms and Drunken Master.

Always plenty of entertainment options on 42nd Street.

There were a few bars in the area including one with an outstanding juke box that played the music of Fela Kuti, not far from where that funky Nigerian band leader was celebrated in a Broadway musical, and had bawdy female bartenders who had tattoos a generation before multiple tattoos became a requirement for a coed to even consider pledging at a Sarah Lawrence sorority.

Always plenty of leg room at the grindhouses.

That bar is long gone—disappeared even before the grindhouses where I watched the abovementioned movies were sanitized. But there is a remnant in Times Square that does remain from that era. Another bar. This one also had a memorable juke box though the music tended more toward soul, jazz, blues and R&B. And after a recent visit, I’m happy to report that the tunes on the jukebox in Jimmy’s Corner are still magnificent.

Some of the tracks from Jimmy’s juke box.

“Cheaper to Keep Her,” by Johnny Taylor was playing when I walked in. Knowing that Jimmy’s can get crowded, I stopped in before the after work rush and had my pick of seats at the bar. Jimmy’s doesn’t have any advertised happy hour and needn’t. The prices for his drinks will always make one happy. What made me happy was the $4 pint of Sam Adams poured for me.

I hadn’t been to Jimmy’s in years and I noticed that, since my last visit, there was probably not an inch of space on the walls and behind the bars that now hadn’t been covered with photos of boxers, fight posters, framed newspaper articles, and anything else to do with the “sweet science,” sports or Jimmy Glenn himself, the owner of Jimmy’s and a former boxing trainer.

Wise words.

That I could actually see the walls was also something that had changed since my last visit. Back in the day, before the smoking ban in bars, the place was so thick with it, only night vision goggles would penetrate the haze and, unlike now, the non-smoker needed to go outside into the cold for a puff of pure Times Square oxygen.

Does DeNiro count as an ex-boxer?

The phone rang over the music while I sipped my beer. “Oh hi Jimmy,” I overheard the bartender say into the phone. Knowing the Jimmy was most likely Jimmy Glenn.

“We’re running out of the Belvedere,” the bartender said. “Only two bottles left.”

Jimmy Glenn is not a bar owner in abstentia. He is a constant presence at the bar. I remember once when a softball team I was playing with had its end of season party at Jimmy’s. We had the narrow back room to ourselves and had food brought in. Jimmy would come back frequently to make sure we had everything we needed; that we were being well taken care of. As I recall, we were.

Jimmy and a playful friend.

“No, it’s quiet,” the bartender said into the phone. “No rush, Jimmy. Take your time. I’ll see you later.” And then he hung up.

I got up and headed to the men’s room. Just outside the door was a framed fading article by Daily News’ columnist Mike Lupica written in 1978. I read the headline and wondered how Spinks (Leon or Michael) could bring hope to Times Square. I didnt’ read the article to find out.


I was almost done with my beer. Tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons was playing “Blue Ammons” on the juke box.  I drained the pint, gathered my stuff, and thanked the bartender on my way out.

Jimmy’s Corner: 2012

Once outside I walked, maneuvering between neon-ogling tourists, to Broadway.  As I made my way to the subway at 42nd Street, I passed both Mickey and Minnie Mouse and before I entered the station, Cookie Monster was there to wave goodbye.

The Noodle Cure

30 May

Terakawa Ramen

885 9th Avenue

It was disgustingly hot. The shirt I was wearing was sticking to my grimy, sweaty flesh.  I wanted relief. I could walk into a department store and subject myself to a mixture of refrigerated air and the toxins released from hundreds of sample perfumes, both male and female. A plunge in a pool was a better idea, but where was that going to happen? Maybe I just needed a cold shower, which would mean getting off the hot pavement and down into the sweltering subway station for the ride home. No, I wanted more immediate relief and I knew there were other options. I knew there was the noodle cure.

A wait for ramen noodles.

I walked to my first choice; a much celebrated ramen place that I knew had been awarded many stars from the usual subjects: Yelp, Urbanspoon, New York Magazine, etc. But many stars can often mean long waits and I’ve already deliberated on my feelings about waiting on line for food The Noodles on Prince Street. It was early; there was a chance I could get lucky. As I got closer, I saw the people; sweaty, grimy too—there were obviously others who knew of the noodle cure. Or maybe they just wanted to wait in line to see if all those stars were deserved.

I turned around and headed back uptown. I knew of another noodle place. From a distance, I could see that no one was lingering outside. My pace quickened as I crossed the street. I pushed the door open. The small semi-circular counter was barren; I had the noodle place to myself.

An empty ramen house.

Even before I ordered the “Tan Tan Noodles;” a big bowl of ramen noodles in a spicy sesame sauce with minced pork, bean sprouts and scallion, I could feel my body cool. I was ready for what was to come.

A loop of Michael Jackson hits played as I tore apart the pan fried pork dumplings I ordered as a side dish. Rich with minced pork and buckwheat, the dumplings were just an amusement before the main attraction.

Pork dumplings

And then the tan tan noodles arrived. The steam was rising thickly from the bowl. I let it wash over the pores of my face before stirring the soup. Using my chopsticks, I pulled out some of the noodles. More steam was released. I blew on them just a bit and then slurped them into my mouth.  I was assaulted by heat on two levels; first from the temperature of the broth and next from the spice within it; the combination bringing a quick sheen to my forehead.

I’m about to take the “noodle cure.”

Alternating between chopsticks and spoon, I slurped relentlessly, the sound almost in rhythm with Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” My only breaks were to use the much too thin paper napkin to blow my nose and dab at the sweat on my face.

Finally I was done. The bowl empty. I paid, “cash only,” and cleared my nose once more before walking back out to the hot street. My shirt no longer stuck to my not as grimy or sweaty flesh.  The ramen was hot but now I was cool. And that’s the funny thing about the Noodle Cure.

How does one join the “Ramen of the Month” club?

Friends With Frog Benefits

24 Apr

Hunan Manor
339 Lexington Avenue

That a man was outside trying to get passers by to take the menus he was handing out was not a good sign. Still, it was what was on those menus that enticed me to try Hunan Manor. And when I relayed to Gerry some of those menu items: “steamed pork elbow,” “frog in spicy soup,” “cumin flavored beef on toothpics,” fragrant pig ears,” and “numbing—and—hot chicken,” it was very easy to entice him to join me as well.

Without taking a menu from the man outside the restaurant, we went into the generic, harshly lit, restaurant where there were plenty of tables available. In the back a large party shared a big round table. There were bottles on the table; wine, alcohol, soft drinks and they were loudly toasting each other.

Along with the big table in the back, all the patrons were Asian, Chinese I assumed, maybe even Hunanese, but assuming is something I try not to do.

Hunan cuisine explained.

Gerry and I wanted to sample authentic Hunan, as opposed to authentic Szechuan, and after looking at the long menu, the restaurant would have been a natural for our Chow City group. The only problem were the prices; not outrageous by any means, but a bit too high for our miserly standards.

Gerry is a prodigious eater and I certainly can hold my own, but even by extending our gluttony to unheard of limits, the two of us alone couldn’t do the menu justice.

Before we ordered, our waiter asked the obligatory “You like spicy?” question. Once we got that out of the way and affirmed our penchant for unadulterated Hunan, we proceeded to order.

Our first course was a soup to share; the Chinese yam with pork ribs. While we waited, a tiny, Asian woman took the table next to us. She was familiar with the management and spoke fluently to them, not even bothering to look at the menu.

Our soup arrived. We used the provided spoons to sip the clear, yet fragrant broth delicately and then fished out the chunks of pork ribs and tore meat from bone with our teeth.

Pork and yam soup

While we made quick work of the soup, two enormous platters arrived in front of the woman sitting next to us practically obscuring her. One was some sort of meat sautéed with peppers and chilies while the other was pale; tofu, maybe…or something else we knew not what.

We looked at each other and then back at the platters on the table next to ours. Gerry raised his eyebrows at me slyly and then nudged his empty plate a little closer to the platters in front of the woman.

I admit to being a Hunan novice; I had no clue what it was that she was about to dig into. And I also admit to abhorring those who stare longingly at others’ dinners and then obtrude by pointing at it and asking, like I found myself doing: “May I inquire what that is?”

The woman next to us did not share my aversions.   “Frog,” she replied pleasantly, not put off at all by my sorry table manners.

We looked at the other platter in front of her.

“Potatoes,” she said, indicating the pale mound of starch topped with strips of peppers.

Potatoes at a Chinese restaurant? We were now very intrigued and kept staring—longingly at the platters. Gerry pushed his empty plate a little closer to her, hoping that she would pick up on his no longer subtle movements.

Trying to help Gerry out, I forced an idiotic smile and said,. “They certainly give you a lot of food.”

She finally understood and smiled in return. “Yes, I can’t eat it all,” she said. “I’ll bring the rest home to share with my friends.”

His hopes dashed, Gerry inched his plate back in front of him and, thankfully, the smoked preserved pork shoulder with dried tofu we ordered arrived along with a plate of sautéed water spinach and sliced fish, Hunan-style.

Smoked pork with dried tofu

The pork, a combination bacon/belly-like texture with a distinctive smoky flavor meshed well with the tofu while the fish, tender and moist, dusted with dry chilies, had a low key, yet distinctive kick to it, though not as fiery as the type I’ve experienced at various Szechuan restaurants.

Slice fish, Hunan style: note the dried chili pepper sprinkled on top. The dry heat a characteristic of Hunan cooking.

Finally the dark green water spinach; the roots crunchy and bitter and sautéed with garlic rounded out the perfect blend of flavors our three dishes had.

Our waiter brought our check and asked again if we liked hot, Hunan food.

We told him we liked it very much.

He shook his head. “Some don’t like spicy,” he said. “Some run away.”

“They don’t know what they’re missing,” Gerry said, blowing his nose loudly into a napkin as the heat from the food had worked its magic on his sinuses.

As we left the restaurant, I glanced back through the window. I could see the woman who was sitting next to us. She was texting someone on her phone; the mound of food in front of her had barely been touched.

“I wish my friends would share their frogs with me,” I muttered.

“You just don’t have the right friends,” Gerry said. And then we both took menus from the man outside the restaurant and shoved them into our pockets before heading off.

I’ll take one of those.

Name That Place

23 Mar

It’s just an old fashioned, bland, Formica covered restaurant counter. Old, in this case is the operative word and the only clue you’ll get. Those in the New York know will have absolutely no difficulty nailing this place. Others might be sidetracked, confused, led astray by the very basic, almost nondescript diner-like image. Any other images of the place besides the one above would immediately blow its cover and I don’t want to insult anyone’s New York City restaurant intelligence by doing that.

Good luck and leave your answers in the comments section below or email them to me at

The place will be revealed on Monday.

Today’s Special: Corned Beef and College Hoops

16 Mar

The problem with the Blarney Stone is that there are too many specials.

At first glance, a double stack burger is a temptation, but then I go inside and I find myself staring wide-eyed at the treasures of the sacred steam table.

These days, the Blarney Stone has incorporated an international flair.

Jerk chicken at the Blarney Stone? Who knew?

The choices are dizzying, yet I always return to what I know is reliable.

Corned beef on rye.

And I have no regrets.

Let the madness begin.

The Happiest of all Hours: Subway Inn Edition

17 Feb

Now, interspersed within the Adventures of Chow City chronicles and other nonsensical restaurant paeans and food-related ravings that make up Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, comes the debut of a new semi-regular installment called The Happiest of all Hours.   Focusing on the saloon equivalent of Neckbones-like eating establisments, The Happiest of all Hours will attempt to capture what it is that makes that hour (or hours) so very happy.

To lead off the series comes the Subway Inn Edition.

No stranger to the Subway Inn, it seems whenever I go, it’s the happiest of all hours. But it had been a long time between visits. Upon entering, however, not much had changed with the exception of an abundance of flat panel, high definition televisions scattered throughout. And the presence of Modelo Especial in bottles.

“Bartender, a delicious Modelo Especial, por favor.”

Averting my eyes from one of the many aforementioned high definition television screens, I glanced upon the mantle above the bar.

Ah, yes, Godzilla wearing a tie. But I just can’t find the right words to describe the mate next to him. Could it be a signal that the happiest of all hours should come to a close?

Before leaving the Subway Inn to travel on the subway home, a visit to the facilities is almost always necessary.

I have a very painful memory about a happy hour past at Subway Inn when nature urgently called and the facilities were off limits;  blocked by a posse of plain-clothes detectives as they used said facilities to conduct a drug shakedown of some of the bar’s more devoted patrons.

I swear, the seat was already up.

On this happiest of hours, I am happy to report, there was no such dilemma.

I don’t get around as much as I used to, so if any of you have suggestions or recommendations of establishments that might make good additions to The Happiest of all Hours, please don’t hesitate to contact me at

Name That Place

20 Jan

I hear they serve  decent food at the place shown above. But I don’t go to this place to eat. As you can see in the picture, there is something else here that I’m more interested in than food.  That, however, won’t help you name the place.

Here then is another photo of the place.  Look closely, the answer is right there in front of you.

As usual, send your answers in the comment section of my post. The place shown above will be revealed on Monday.

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