Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A February Visit To Manhattan

Almost every year since 2003 we've visited New York either the last week of January or the first week of February.  For native Californians it has been a learning experience, being introduced to sweater hats, scarves, gloves, wool overcoats and the occasional sweater mask.  But in a way, Manhattan in winter is the best time of year because there aren't the insane crowds you find the rest of the year.

Arriving in Manhattan Wednesday around 7 pm, we headed to Katz Delicatessen to compare their pastrami to that at Langer’s by MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, so we could join the national debate as to which is better.  After being so impressed by Langer’s pastrami a few months ago, that made me start to wonder about Katz.    Upon entering Katz you are given a ticket (one per person, not per group) which you have to give back when you leave.  Some kind of security measure, but I don’t exactly understand it.  My conclusion is that Langer’s is better because of the bread–the Katz bread was surprisingly bad.  The Katz meat may have been better, though.  The sides (steak fries, macaroni salad) were meh.  Also seeing the “Harry Met Sally” table there was quite interesting.

Since my seminar didn't start until 9 am Thursday morning, I was able to make a quick dash on the B train from the Bryant Park subway to the Grand St. station.  Quickly I made my way to Feng Cheng Yuan on Bowery for a tasty bbq pork bun, and arriving at both stations at the same time as the train, I made it back to my program in time.  (I tweeted my visit and by the time I got back to the PLI building somebody had responded and asked how it was.)  At lunchtime I went back to Chinatown for fried fish balls at Funny BBQ (restaurant #6900 on my cumulative list) on Bowery.   I also stopped for an onion pancake at Savory Kitchen on Grand St.  The latter restaurant was so incredibly busy between in person take out orders and telephone orders, I really felt sorry for the lady in charge.  Meanwhile, Funny BBQ made an amazing makeover of its premises, taking over for the well known, but notoriously dirty The Congee Restaurant.

We got tickets to An American in Paris which started at 7 pm, so we decided to skip dinner before the show.  I hadn’t realized that An American in Paris was a combination ballet and Broadway musical,  so there was a little too much dancing for my tastes.  But since I like Gershwin music, the show as a whole was OK.  Since the show ended relatively early around 9:30pm, we then caught the subway to Koreatown for dinner.  Having no idea which restaurants were good and which were not, we decided to play it safe and go to the BCD Tofu House (which had a 4 star Yelp rating).  We ordered the bulgogi, jap chae and beef dumplings, which were generally so so, and clearly not as good as the BCD in Los Angeles.

Snow prevented me from doing a Chinatown breakfast run on Friday, and I was stuck eating two breakfast bars and an apple from the seminar.  The snow wasn’t that heavy, but was a messy combination of rain and snow.  At lunchtime I headed straight to Chinatown to get something to eat.   I only got one dish, the noodles in peanut sauce from Min Jian Mini Cafe on Eldridge and Hester since I didn't know what Mrs. Chandavkl's plans might be.  I was happy to find that you could still get a good sized order of noodles, which I always considered the hallmark of economical dining in Little Fuzhou, for just $2.   Going back to my hotel room, I also helped polish off  a beef and chicken rice combo that Mrs. Chandavkl had picked up from the Halal Guys cart near the hotel.. Dinner was at Café Hong Kong on Bayard St. in Chinatown.   One of the waiters immediately recognized us as the crazy tourists from Los Angeles who dined there three consecutive days the previous winter.  We had a nice dinner, ordering garlic chicken, Chinese broccoli, sauteed beef with pineapples, and chicken salted fish hotpot, which were all pretty good.

Saturday was a very long day.  I had received an email a couple of weeks previously touting a Chinese New Year celebration on Madison Ave. on the Lower East Side, consisting of a parade on Madison Ave. from north to south and street fair at the south end.  Madison Ave. was a most unlikely locale for such an event, and the list of participating sponsors including Coach, Michael Kors, Bally, Fendi, Mulberry and other designers.  However, when we got to Madison Ave. there was no sign of anything, traffic as usual and no street closure.  We walked all the way up Madison Ave. and only at the north end did we hear lion dance music and saw a dragon on top of a bus.  The lion then started going up the street, presumably stopping at various participating merchants.  And that was the parade  Obviously an experiment in celebrating Chinese New Year on the UES (somehow the city of Shanghai was involved) and I wonder if they'll do it again.

Actually it wasn’t a wasted trip because it left us close to the Metropolitan Museum of Art which was one of our potential venues for the day.  As soon as we walked into the lobby, we heard–lion dance music.  Yes, the Museum was also celebrating Chinese New Year.    We stopped for lunch at the Halal trucks outside he museum–my chicken sandwich was one of the best I’ve eaten. At dinnertime it was back to Café Hong Kong.  Arriving at 5:50 pm we thought we were early, only to find it full up with the prospect of a long wait since most of the diners had recently been seated.  With nothing else any good in the immediate area, we waited out the 30 minutes until we got a table.  We decided to have all new dishes so we had lobster (2 for $30), snow pea leaves, fish and bean curd stick hotpot, and Singapore mei fun.  Everything was good except the mei fun, and this is a reminder that we should never order mei fun or chow fun at Café Hong Kong. After returning Saturday night to the Sheraton New York we heard the longest succession of loud booms from our room.  Meanwhile Mrs. Chandavkl happened to be in the lobby and the security guard thought it might be some kind of attack.  Since there weren’t any sirens I wasn’t particularly worried, just curious.  Later on the news we saw that it was a massive Chinese New Year’s fireworks show on the Hudson River.

Sunday morning was our usual departure day pattern, with noodles at our favorite noodle soup place on Lafayette St. in Chinatown, which once again changed names, this time from Hing Huang to Pang Huang  We also bought bakery goods for the flight home from our standby location,(which also just changed names from Dragon Land to Sweets Bakery).

An interesting sidelight to the trip was the fact that while in New York I was contacted with regards to two possible interviews.  One message was received from Eater New York, which is doing a series of videos on immigrant cuisines in New York.  However the series was being shot in March.  Also the morning we left I received a message from one of the Fung Bros. who wanted to talk about ethnic identity.  Just another reminder that you never know who is reading your tweets.