Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Most Stunning Ironic Political Development In My Lifetime

Scott Brown's election has to be the most stunning and ironic political development that I've ever seen. Jesse Ventura becoming governor of Minnesota was stunning. Sonny Bono becoming a serious politician was stunning. Sarah Palin for VP was stunning. But none carry the irony of this election. Congress is consumed in passing a health care bill, the dream of the late senator Ted Kennedy. All the talk since passage of the Senate bill on Christmas Eve was whether the Democratic controlled Congress could reach an agreement (somehow it probably would because failure was not an option given the Obama administration's prioritization). Nowhere on the radar was the possibility that the Senate Democrats might lose their fillbuster proof 60 member majority. Ten days ago I never heard of Scott Brown. Now he has taken the former Ted Kennedy Massachusetts seat in the U.S. Senate. This leaves three alternatives for health care reform. The House can approve the Senate bill intact (with its Cadillac health care excise tax intended to hit at wealthy individuals but which more greatly affects union members) exactly as is, avoiding further Senate votes. They can try to pass a new bill in two weeks or less before Brown is certified. Or they can start all over again. The first two alternatives sound too much like dirty pool and I'd be surprised if they went down that road. So is that the end of health care reform for now?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Manhattan Chinese Food

Since I'm spending most of the week in New York City I thought I'd write on the state of Chinese food in Manhattan and how it compares to the stuff back home in L. A. I've eaten at over 200 restaurants in New York Chinatown (which I estimate covers perhaps two-thirds of all the restaurants there), choosing the best ones first. I've also eaten at all the Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles Chinatown and 95 percent of the Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley.

I can categorically say that by comparison, New York Chinese food is grossly inferior to that of Los Angeles, or for that matter, San Francisco. I don't make this statement as a matter of regional pride, but rather because it is the logical conclusion based on demographics. Historically NYC Chinatown had been Cantonese in origin, but the last two decades have seen a wave of immigration from Fujian province. These recent immigrants are the poorest of the poor. NYC Chinatown serves the Fujian community, the historic Cantonese community, and the tourist community. As such the Chinese food there is mired in the 20th Century, certainly not being bad, but not reflecting the latest evolutions in Chinese in cuisine, both as to other regional cuisines as well as improvements in Cantonese/Hong Kong style cuisine, and not particularly geared towards an affluent customer base. Indeed, the best Chinese restaurant in Manhattan is Chinatown Brasserie, which is not even in Chinatown, and most of whose clientele is not Chinese (because it is so ridiculously expensive).

Meanwhile, Los Angeles has likewise seen an influx of immigration from Asia, much more broadly based than that seen in New York, both in terms of geographic origins as well as socioeconomic background. Nobody loves their food more than the Chinese, and well heeled immigrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China expect the most appetizing food that money can buy. As a result, the Los Angeles area is a gold mine for lovers of Chinese food, with more diverse (in terms of regional cuisines and breadth of selection) better (and, interestingly, cheaper) Chinese food than anywhere else in the United States, though the Bay Area is a close runner up. It is particularly the much smaller community of Hong Kong Chinese in New York that probably explains the lack of evolution of Chinese food in Manhattan compared to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver and Toronto.

There is California quality Chinese food in Flushing, and indeed there are regional varieties in Flushing, such as Xian, Wenzhou, Henan and Guizhou that you won't find in California. However, Flushing does not measure up to the San Gabriel Valley.