Tag Archives: Chinatown

The Great Chinatown Conflict 2017: Resolved with Rye and Lo Mein

24 Oct

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Gerry was concerned. We had scheduled our monthly food group well in advance. But now there was a sudden conflict. The Yankee fans among us, Zio, Gerry, and me were in a quandary. The fifth game of the knotted American League Championship Series was to be played at 5. We were to meet in Chinatown at a place chosen by me called Noodle Village at 7:30.

“Time to reschedule,” Gerry wrote in an urgent email once the Yankee schedule was confirmed. “We got an important game tomorrow.” He pleaded to reschedule either the next day when there was no game or the following week, but with each suggestion, someone had to drop out.

“Why don’t we meet at a bar in Chinatown, watch the game, see where we are by 7:30 and if the game is still in doubt, stay at the bar and go eat after the game,” I suggested.

Gerry, Mike from Yonkers and Zio liked the idea. Eugene, however, possibly still stewing from the early exit his Red Sox made was not happy. “I will not be going,” he wrote the next day. “I do not want to deal with the nyc traffic and Yankee traffic…”

All of us tried to convince him he could make it to the restaurant in plenty of time or meet us at the bar whether he drove or took the train, but once Eugene makes up his mind about something, there’s not much even the prospect of  a village of Chinese noodles can do to change it.

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The bar, Whiskey Tavern, was a few blocks from Noodle Village, which, on Mott Street, was a few doors from the Chinatown legend of our collective youths: Wo Hop (Obsession Confession).  While Gerry and Mike from Yonkers sipped Redemption Rye, I settled on cold beer as my viewing beverage of choice. The Yankees’ play made it a happy time at the happiest of hours and by 7:30 we were confident enough with the Yankee’s comfortably leading to exit the bar and head to Noodle Village.

Judge

Happiness is fleeting

Passing a line of hungry people waiting up the steps of Wo Hop, we arrived at the equally crowded, Noodle Village. There were no free tables for our group of four and for the first time in our 16 years, we had to wait to eat. But the wait was a short one and it gave us time to follow the remainder of the Yankee game on our cell phones. By the time Mike from Yonkers was served his chicken congee, the Yankees had won, 5-0.

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Chicken congee

I cannot lie that the flavor of the steamed crab meat soup dumplings and fried pork and chive dumplings were possibly enhanced by our baseball joy; they were as good as I have ever eaten. But it wasn’t just me, Gerry was raving over  the squid and pig skin with curry sauce lo mein.

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Squid and pig skin lo mein with curry sauce

Zio had to repeat his order of pork liver and kidney lo mein to the waitress who had a difficult time comprehending that someone of his chalky hue would actually order such a dish. After a few bites from his chopsticks, a strange sound came from his mouth. “Hmmm it has an earthy flavor,” he said. Whether he was referring to the kidney or the pork liver, we did not know.

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Kidney and pork liver lo mein

I kept it simple with a bowl of shrimp wonton soup and a communal plate of Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce and, like everything else at Noodle Village, enjoyed every slurping spoonful.

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Chinese broccoli

Outside, on Mott Street among the familiar black garbage cans that litter the crowded curbside, Zio gave Noodle Village the ultimate compliment. “I’m coming back here,” he said. “And I think I’ll bring the Colonel.” If Zio contemplates bringing his wife, also known as the Colonel, to one of our eclectic destinations, it can’t get much better than that.

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Crab meat soup dumplings

Noodle Village

13 Mott Street

Chinatown

Uni and Ovaltine

17 Mar

Cutting Board

I was in the rest room of the Cutting Board, on Bayard Street in Chinatown staring at the cheery murals in front of me when I heard Zio’s voice.  I got to the restaurant before Zio and he must have come in just behind me because now I could hear him speaking loudly from our table.

“I waved to him a few times: no response!” he said incredulously.

Was he referring to me?

I cleaned up and headed back to our table. He looked at me.

“What?” I wondered.

“You just ignore me on the street?” Zio asked.

“What are you talking about? I didn’t see you.”

“I waved to you a few times. Looked right at you. It was like I wasn’t even there.”

“Did you call out my name? Did you say hello?” I asked.

“No…but how could you not see me?”

It was another frigid night. Chinatown’s sidewalks were even narrower and difficult to navigate on this evening; dark overstuffed plastic garbage bags piled on top of, and next to gray mountains of ice that had not yet melted from the winter’s multiple storms crowded the sidewalks. I had my head down and was walking with a purpose. I was hungry. I just wanted to get out of the cold and to our destination.  Even if my head were up, I would not have noticed Zio. His rotund physique, stuffed into a dark down coat, rendered him camouflage amongst the garbage bags on the street.

But I didn’t tell him that. “Why would I be looking?” I said instead.

He just shook his head and stared down at the menu. Something we all decided to do.

Some of the happiness inside the Cutting Board rest room.

Some of the happiness inside the Cutting Board rest room

.The Cutting Board was my choice and picked because it was, according to my research, an odd amalgam of cuisines with a heavy Asian accent. Here you had your choice of Western starters like chicken wings, chicken tenders, and fried calamari, or the Asian standards; bbq spare ribs, edamame, and shrimp toast. And then there were the blending of cuisines like the Cajun fries with seaweed, the Caesar salad with pork katsu, or even the pasta with uni.

“What’s uni,” Eugene inquired.

For a man who had been dining with our group for 12 years, eating just about every type of ethnic food offered in the Tri State region, Eugene’s lack of food knowledge was disconcerting.

“Sea urchin,” Gerry told him.

“What’s sea urchin?”

“That spiny mollusk you don’t want to step on in the ocean,” I said.

“You eat that?”

“You scoop out the creamy stuff inside…” I tried to explain but wasn’t doing a good job of it.

“What’s it taste like?”

Eugene’s food curiosity was as impressive as his food ignorance. One canceled out the other in my opinion.

No one at our table could really define the taste of uni. It was more about its consistency.

Undaunted, Eugene put his menu down. “I’ll have the spaghetti with the sea urchin,” he told the waiter.

Spaghetti with sea urchin

Spaghetti with sea urchin

On the menu was something I had not seen before in a Chinese restaurant much less any other restaurant called “creamy rice.” Could it be a bastardization of Italian risotto? The idea was enough to convince me to give it a shot and I chose mine with “fatty beef.” Also intrigued by the concept, Mike from Yonkers tried the creamy rice with grilled chicken, which the waiter mentioned was one of the more popular items on the menu.

Gerry veered toward the “rice” section of the menu and zeroed in on the “classic beef in curry sauce.”

And then the waiter was hovering over Zio.

“Oh, um, I’ll have a fish sandwich,” Zio said and then added: “With Ovaltine.”

The waiter left and I stared at Zio. This time it was my turn to be incredulous. “You could have had the pork katsu spaghetti” I said. “You could have had the juicy bobo burger. You could have had the kimchee beef udon. But you chose a fish sandwich? Why?”

He just shook his head. “I…don’t know…” he muttered.

“All right, listen, if you’re good I’ll let you try my fatty beef,” I said. “And you don’t even have to give me a bite of your  fish sandwich. But I definitely want a sip of that Ovaltine.”

Cajun fries and clams

Cajun fries and clams

We started with a bowl of clams steamed in light red tomato, wine sauce that was good enough to soak up with a loaf of crusty bread.  Unfortunately all we were given was one thin slice of garlic bread. Along with the clams were the thinly sliced, tender barbecue ox tongues and a side of Cajun fries salted with dried seaweed.

Barbecued Ox Tongue

Barbecued Ox Tongue

Also arriving was Zio’s Ovaltine. The promised sip was offered to me. It had that same, bland taste with just a teasing hint of chocolate I remembered the last time I sipped an Ovaltine; probably 40 or more years ago. I chased the Ovaltine with a gulp of Sapporo beer and returned the paper cup to Zio.

Zio's beverage of choice

Zio’s beverage of choice

Our main dishes came soon after we devoured the starters with Eugene’s spaghetti with sea urchin the first to arrive. In the menu the sauce was described as a “pink creamy.” What appeared in front of Eugene had more of a yellowish hue to it. He shared with all. The spaghetti was,  as if I expected otherwise, overdone, the saltiness of the sauce the only indication that there was uni in it. Maybe it melded with a light tomato sauce to form the creamy, yellow consistency? Either way, Eugene was pleased and that was really all that mattered.

The creamy rice with the fatty beef that I was hoping would resemble Italian risotto was closer to Campbell’s tomato rice soup with thinly sliced chipped beef as a topping. But I didn’t hold that against it. The dish was hearty and comforting and Zio, who I shared some with, agreed.

Creamy rice with fatty beef

Creamy rice with fatty beef

The comfort level increased when Gerry’s classic beef curry arrived. More a diner/comfort food concoction than anything purely Asian, the beef was ground and the curry sauce strong flavored like the kind you might have found in a curry dish prepared in the UK decades ago. Topping the dish was an egg over easy and a side of potato salad.  And all of that for only six dollars. You really couldn’t get much more comforting.

Beef curry-Cutting Board style

Beef curry-Cutting Board style

Finally Zio’s fried fish sandwich arrived and was no different than any other fried fish sandwich you might find in a thousand restaurants and delis throughout the city. Zio made sure to apply tartar sauce.

Tartar sauce fish sandwich

Tartar sauce fish sandwich

Eugene had cleaned his plate of spaghetti and uni and nothing remained of either my creamy rice with fatty beef or Gerry’s classic beef curry. We all looked toward Mike from Yonkers.

“Some things never change,” Eugene said as he watched and  waited while Mike from Yonkers deliberately and methodically ate his creamy rice with chicken.

“I like to savor my food,” Mike from Yonkers said in response to he always being the last to finish.

“We do too,” I said. “We just savor it with much more urgency.”

With that, Mike from Yonkers shoveled down  the last kernels of creamy rice and the five of us left the warmth of the Cutting Board for the icy streets of Chinatown.

Cutting Board
53 Bayard Street
Chinatown

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