Thursday, July 26, 2012

Recommended Dishes--Full List

Thanks to Evan Kleiman for having me on her Good Food show on KCRW and having me put together a Google spotting map with recommended dishes from various Chinese restaurants on the KCRW website. Unfortunately not all of my picks made it on to the website map, probably because the restaurants were all bunched up in a tiny corner of the LA-OC metro area map (i.e., the San Gabriel Valley). So as to not slight the other fine restaurants, here is the complete listing.

101 Noodle Express (Alhambra) - Shandong beef roll
85°C CafĂ© (Irvine) - Taro bun
888 Seafood (Rosemead) - Four layer vegetables
Beijing Pie House (Monterey Park) - Beef xian bing
Beijing Restaurant (San Gabriel)  - Fried ge da
Boiling Point (Hacienda Heights) - Taiwanese hotpot
Cafe Spot (Alhambra) - Hong Kong pancakes
Capital Seafood (Monterey Park) - Seafood egg white fried rice
Chef Hung (Irvine) - Beef noodle soup
Chung King (San Gabriel - Water boiled fish
Class 302 (Rowland Heights) - Taiwanese shave ice
Dean Sin World (Monterey Park) - Crab roe xiao long bao
Din Tai Fung (Arcadia) - Crab and pork xiao long bao
Duck House (Monterey Park) - Beijing duck
Earthen Restaurant (Hacienda Heights) - Onion pancake
Elite (Monterey Park)- Shark fin dumpling in broth
Embassy Kitchen (San Gabriel) - Egg white with imitation shark fin
Four Sea (Hacienda Heights) - Taiwanese breakfast
Golden Spoon (Rowland Heights)  - Cats ears noodles
Happy Harbor (Rowland Heights) - Sweet and sour fish
Hunan Chili King  (San Gabriel) - Steamed fish head
J T Y H Restaurant (Rosemead) - Knife shaved noodles
King Hua (Alhambra) -Egg tofu
Lunasia (Alhambra) - Foie gras dumpling
Ma's Islamic (Anaheim)  - Sesame bread ring
Mama's Lu Dumpling House (Monterey Park) - Stir fried pancake strips
Mei Long Village (San Gabriel) - Shanghai rice cakes
Mission 261 (San Gabriel) - Deep fried fish balls
N B C Seafood (Monterey Park) - Lemon chicken
New Capital Seafood (San Gabriel) - Taro noodles with mushrooms
Newport Seafood (San Gabriel - House special lobster
Noodle Boy (Rosemead) - Fish ball noodle soup
Old Country Cafe (Alhambra) - Taiwanese pork chop
Omar Xinjiang Halal (San Gabriel) - Foot and a half long hand made noodles
Qingdao Bread Food (Monterey Park) - Fish with parsley dumplings
Savoy (Alhambra) - Hainan chicken
Sea Harbour Seafood- (Rosemead)  French style baked bbq pork buns
Seafood Village (Monterey Park) - Chiu chow fish pot
Shaanxi Gourmet (Rosemead) - Lamb with Chinese pita bread
Sinbala (Rowland Heights) - Taiwanese sausage
Southern Mini Town (San Gabriel) - Bean starch sheets
Steam Queen Rice Noodle (San Gabriel) - Guilin rice noodle soup
Tasty Garden (Monterey Park) -  Dry scallop egg white fried rice
Tasty Station (Rowland Heights) - French style fish fillet/French style filet mignon
Xi Guan Noodle House (Rosemead) - Fish fillet in corn sauce
Yunkun Garden (Monterey Park) - Crossing The Bridge Noodles

It's Not Neck and Neck

If you follow the national media, they would have you believe that this fall's presidential race between President Obama and Mitt Romney is currently neck and neck. All of the stories talk about the polls being a tossup, with either Obama or Romney with a small lead such that when taking into account polling error, results in a statistical dead heat. The problem is that at this point the race is not neck and neck, nor has it been so for quite a few months. The reason is that the media only focuses on national polls of the general electorate, where in fact the presidency is decided by the electoral college and who wins what states.

As previously mentioned, there are futures trading markets dealing in political, sporting and economic events which give a much truer picture of the probability of future events. And in this regard the Intrade futures markets shows that President Obama is at this point a heavy favorite for re-election. At this writing, futures trading for Obama's re-election are at 57 percent, while trading for Romney is at 40 percent. Note that these do not add up to 100 percent, as there are traders in any kind of market who will take a flyer on a remote probability event, be it a bankrupt corporation coming out of bankruptcy having positive equity for the old shareholders, that a third party candidate will win the election, or that somebody other than Obama or Romney will be the Democratic or Republican nominee. Note that President Obama was trading around 50 percent for most of last year, giving strong hope to the Republicans that they could take the presidency. However when the economic picture began to brighten this year, Obama's percentage rose to 60 percent, dropping to around 54 percent upon signs of the recovery slowing down, but more recently turning up again with Romney having to go on the defensive on his days with Bain.

Confirming this viewpoint of the presidential race are comments I heard on the radio from a Republican political strategist. Rather than being enthusiastic about the national polls reflecting a close race, he instead lamented the inability of the media to focus on the fact that how the candidates will do in the battleground states is the only thing that is important. Without coming out and saying it, he was telling us at this point things don't look that great for Romney in the battleground states.

One might speculate why the media only focuses on the national polls without addressing the reality that at this point in time President Obama is in fact a heavy favorite to be re-elected. My guess is that the national polls are safe to report on because they are verifiable, whereas documenting the actualities of the electoral picture would be more difficult. As noted before, the press seems to take the same tact in its unwillingness to make a call on upcoming Congressional votes, even where futures trading indicate that it's relatively clear what the ultimate outcome is going to be.

Of course it's a long time between now and November and anything might happen. But at this point, most Americans are misinformed as to the current state of the presidential race, thanks entirely to the inability or unwillingness of the media to go beyond the national polls.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

NCAA Slaps Penalties on....Caltech?

There's probably no organization this side of the Syrian government that is more reviled than the NCAA. Supposedly entrusted with safeguarding the purity of amatuerism in college sports, the NCAA has established a reputation for punishing jaywalkers while letting axe murderers go free. Here in Los Angeles the greatest venom against the NCAA comes from USC fans, incensed over the harsh penalties levied against their football program in connection with the Reggie Bush scandal. While not particularly sympathetic to USC's plight since there was a clear issue of institutional control, I do see an injustice when looking at the NCAA's treatment of Auburn in the Cam Newton affair and the $200,000 payoff to Newton's dad, though I hope that the NCAA will eventually levy sanctions there. Of course, USC may have gotten away with something with the Joe McKnight situation and who knows what else might be out there at USC, or for that matter, any other school.

What clearly is ludicrous is the fact that the NCAA has penalized Caltech for using "ineligible" athletes on its sports teams. Now Caltech is the epitome of amateurism in college athletics. Not only are there no scholarship athletes at Caltech, but many of its sports teams have participants who did not compete in sports at the high school level. Or putting it another way, Caltech's teams are inferior to many high school teams, or even intramural teams at large universities like UCLA and USC. When Caltech's basketball team broke a 26 year conference losing streak, it made national news. This is truly an amateur college sports program.

So what is the specific violation of NCAA rules by Caltech that led the NCAA to put Caltech on three year probation? Well the NCAA requires that to participate in intercollegiate sports, team members must be enrolled in a minimum number of units and be on track to make minimum progress towards their degree. This requirement is fair enough, as it prevents schools from "hiring" paid athletes who really aren't students to participate on their teams. So what is Caltech's transgression? Well, Caltech has a policy of permitting its students to audit a class for up to three weeks at the start of the school term before actually registering for the class. Clearly, this is not part of a plot to beef up its sport teams with ringers, but to give its students flexibility in deciding what classes to take. Well this results in some student athletes in failing to meet the NCAA minimum credit requirement, so Caltech goes to NCAA jail for three years. The fact that enrolling in 8 units at Caltech is probably multiple times more demanding than taking 15 units at Auburn is totally irrelevant to the NCAA.

Of course in this case, NCAA sanctions against Caltech might be a badge of honor for a school whose previous top athletic highlight was probably messing up the card stunts and scoreboard at the January 1 Rose Bowl game. Also the NCAA recruiting sanctions don't affect Caltech, which doesn't recruit athletes, and it has no wins to forfeit. But still, Caltech self-reported these "violations", an act which often is sufficient for the NCAA not to impose sanctions. So the NCAA seems to have gone out of its way to levy three years worth of irrelevant sanctions against the Beavers, for reasons known only to that Byzantine body.

And while we're on the subject of the NCAA, it will be interesting to see what comes of the NCAA investigation of the football program at Penn State in light of the Sandusky scandal. On the one hand a good case can be made for severe sanctions against Penn State given the concealment by the top levels of Penn State's school and athletic administration. On the other hand, with the NCAA's reputation for at times being a big bully, do college sport fans really want to see the NCAA expand the list of things they might get you for?

Friday, July 13, 2012

California vs. New York Chinese Food Gap—The Gap Widens as 3 Of New York’s Leading Chinese Restaurants Close

It appears that the comment in my 10 Best Chinese Restaurants article (which actually wasn't written for publication, but was a prefatory aside accompanying the article submission) that New York Chinese food is mired in the 1990s has rankled a lot of observers on the East Coast. But as I have subsequently explained, anybody familiar with the San Gabriel Valley will understand the breadth and depth of Chinese food here, and in contrast anyone who hasn't been to the San Gabriel Valley cannot imagine what it's like. But it's not like 1990s Chinese food in the U.S. was bad. It was quite good, just not as good as what you can get in California these days. So my comment was not meant to say that New York Chinese food isn't any good.

Actually I have been waiting, indeed expecting for quite a few years, for something like Koi Palace or Sea Harbour or Elite, or heck even Happy Harbor or Mission 261 to open up in New York. And perhaps it did. A few years ago a heralded restaurant called World Tong opened up in Brooklyn, and reports indicate that it was of the same ilk as the top Chinese restaurants in California and perhaps worthy of a Top 10 berth. However, by the time I made it to World Tong, chef Joe Ng was gone to Chinatown Brasserie in SoHo, and it certainly could not maintain Joe Ng's magic. And now World Tong is gone altogether. Chinatown Brasserie did turn out to be the best Chinese restaurant I had eaten at in New York City, but its split clientele seems to have prevented it from achieving true greatness.

But while Chinatown Brasserie at least gave New York a contender for a destination Chinese restaurant, I learn that it has closed down as of a couple of weeks ago, replaced at its Lafayette St. location by a non-Chinese eatery. It is supposed to re-open in the near future at another location, but such a proclamation, like the statement that a Chinese restaurant "is closed for remodeling" often turns out to mask a fatal condition. And Chinatown Brasserie's closing isn't the only blow to the standing of New York Chinese food. Earlier this year, Manhattan Chinatown's South China Garden, fka Cantoon Garden, fka New Pearl River, closed down because it lost its lease. South China Garden was truly a San Gabriel Valley quality restaurant, one which Mrs. Chandavkl looked forward to eating at multiple times every time we visited New York. (And even in the San Gabriel Valley, Mrs. Chandavkl finds relatively few restaurants to her liking.) And oh yeah, my next favorite Chinese restaurant in New York, Yogee on Chrystie St., also closed down recently due to a rent hike. So with my personal top three rated Chinese restaurants in New York all having closed this year, the gap between California and New York has grown, even though one would otherwise expect the gap to narrow.

At this point, if you asked me to recommend one or two Chinese restaurants in New York, I'm not sure if I could single any out. Perhaps Szechwan Gourmet in Midtown, as it does surpass any Sichuan style food in California. Maybe Hunan Manor, but I am highly skeptical of the combination of “Hunan” and “New York” for a couple of reasons. First of all, New York unleashed the faux “Hunan” style food in the 1970s, which is something that continues to plague Americanized Chinese food throughout the United States to this day. Secondly, authentic Hunan style food is such a new concept in New York, having been present for just a couple of years, compared the 20 years’ experience for that cuisine in Los Angeles where it is currently served in 10 or more locations, such that I’m not sure it has had time to season. (Pun intended.) And possibly Red Farm, with the Joe Ng tradition, though the only time I made it to their location they were closed.

And it's possible that things will get worse. The food blog Lauhound has recently identified Danny Ng's Restaurant in the 50 Bowery building as a possible successor to South China Garden as a go to destination in New York Chinatown. However it turns out that Danny Ng's sits on the same parcel of land as was occupied by South China Garden on Elizabeth Street. And that site is where a 27 story hotel and condominium complex is being readied for development starting next year. Not only would that also take Danny Ng's with it, but possibly some other fairly decent Chinese eateries along Bowery and Elizabeth. Also, with what strikes me as a Fujianese dominance of a good portion of the Chinese restaurant industry in New York, perhaps that breakthrough in Chinese cuisine might not be forthcoming after all.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

California Goes From Smoke, Mirrors and Wishful Thinking to Fantasyland

By this time the state of California's budget deficit is legendary, ballooning at times to a third more than total state receipts. The deficit was borne of the dot com boom, which preceded the dot com bust, at a time when state coffers swelled with the recognition of capital gains by dot com millionaires. Eager not to be caught with a budget surplus, California responded (in a bi-partisan manner, I may add) by committing itself to permanently spending these surplus amounts, largely by pumping up government worker pensions. As soon as the dot com boom busted, California was in deep trouble with what is euphemistically referred to as a structural imbalance of spending and income.

California reacted to its budget woes by kicking the can down the road, and not very far at that. Budgets became balanced through a combination of accounting tricks and unrealistic economic assumptions regarding tax revenue forecasts. A simple example of the accounting tricks used was to not pay government bills at the end of the year, but delay payment into the first week of the following year. Presto, the deficit had been reduced by the amount of the delayed payment. Of course nobody said anything about increasing the next year's deficit by a like amount, so the problem was only solved for a year. And once you pulled an accounting trick, you had to do the same thing every year thereafter just to keep from losing ground.

But alas, smoke and mirrors can only hide the truth for so long, so not having made much progress at attacking the structural budget deficit, particularly the cost of public employee pensions, other methods must be used to balance the budget. Unfortunately, Governor Brown has chosen to resort to the truly preposterous to balance the upcoming budget. I can see counting the $8 billion of revenues which would be raised from this November's tax increase ballot initiative, as the possibility of passage of such an initiative is "iffy" and not out of the question. But what takes us to Fantasyland is a projected receipt of $2.3 billion of revenue from the federal government in anticipation of a change to the federal estate tax which would share estate tax revenues with the states. Given that there are (1) no credible proposals in Congress for any such revenue sharing and (2) the federal government needs every drop of tax revenue it could theoretically generate from increased estate taxes under existing Congressional "pay for" rules, the chances of California reaping this $2.3 billion are as good as my becoming the next Justin Bieber. By 5 pm today. I guess this is just a reminder that Governor Moonbeam was and continues to be an appropriate nickname for the leader of our state.

It is also ironic that California has turned to possible changes in the federal estate tax to balance its books, if only on paper, as the estate tax has its own history of recent incredulity. In 2001, in a climate where it was conceded by all that the estate tax needed to be updated, and contended by some that it should be repealed altogether, Congress reached a bizarre compromise. They enacted a series of reforms that would phase in gradually until the year 2009, which by itself made tremendous sense. However, they then provided that the tax would be repealed in 2010, but then revert in 2011 to its pre-2001 antiquated state. While on the surface such legislation was beyond comprehension, there actually was a logical explanation. It was presumed by all that sometime between 2001 and 2010 the law would be changed to either make the reforms permanent, or perhaps make the eventual repeal permanent. Now if you ask why they didn't do this in the first place, it has to do with arcane legislative rules regarding the measurement of lost or increased revenues from tax law changes, as well as a "kick the can down the road" attitude. What nobody counted on was for Congress to be so gridlocked that unless action needs to be taken immediately, no action is taken before then. So the bizarre 2001 tax changes stayed on the law books.

A temporary fix was made in 2010 where the 2001 act changes were extended and enhanced for two additional years, but once again the deadline is looming. And faster than you can say gridlock, even though Congress must act on the estate tax by December 31, 2012, it has been conceded that no action will be taken until after this November's elections. But whatever action Congress takes, you can bet your Justin Bieber that they're not going to send $2.3 billion California's way.