Saturday, May 20, 2017

Hi, people!

This blog has not attracted readers. I thank those of you who have bothered to stop by. I will now shut the blog down.



Monday, April 17, 2017

It’s Chinatown, Jake

The traditional dividing line between the neighborhoods of Little Italy and Chinatown was always Canal Street. That is no longer the case. 

The late 19th and early 20th century Italian immigrants, who kept the spirit of Little Italy alive for over 100 years, have now drifted off to other parts of the city and other parts of America. Today's Little Italy is just a name and a tourist destination for red-sauce restaurants. Most of my short conversations in Italian now have me directing Italian tourists to the right Subway station. 

Originally, Mulberry Street was all Neapolitans, Mott Street was Sicilian, and Elizabeth Street was a collection of various southern Italians from the lower end of the boot. 

Chinatown is also transitioning. There’s a Chinatown in Brooklyn and one in Queens now that are both more authentically Asian than the original Manhattan neighborhood. Of course they don't have the history. 

When I first took up residence on Mulberry Street, two short blocks above Chinatown, there was an Asian gang war going on: the Ghost Shadows, the Flying Dragons, and the BTK (Born to Kill) were competing for territory and power. I remember BTK members as undersized, hard-eyed young men, who always had the round window table at Pho Pasteur on Baxter Street. 

As the story goes, one night during a gang shootout, a tourist was killed. There are things you might be able to get away with in this city, but you can’t shoot a tourist.

“We RICOed them out,” an Asian cop at the Elizabeth Street Station told me, referring to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. That gang war provided the plot for the Michael Cimino film, The Year of the Dragon

I have no crystal ball, but I see signs of dramatic change coming in Chinatown. All of Lower Manhattan is rapidly moving towards . . . something new. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Pushing Back at Amazon

The other day I was trying to open the front door to exit my building, and I had to step over or move several large boxes in the vestibule (Vestibule? Does anyone use that term anymore?). 

In the large apartment on the top floor there seems to be a cluster of dedicated shoppers, young people with jobs and credit cards. Most of the stuff sitting in the hall is heading for their apartment. Personally, I’m not that into online shopping. I like to see and touch items before I part with my money. 

Sure, I do shop online sometimes, when I can get over what I think of as “delivery paranoia.” Is that gizmo going to be damaged en route? Is it the right size and shape? Is someone going to steal the box from the hallway? Most of the time these things do not happen. But they could, right? I have a deep and enduring belief in bad luck. 

Putting my fears aside, I recently joined Amazon Prime, the big daddy of online marketing. Is there anything this guy Bezos isn’t into now? I got Prime mostly for the videos. Then I noticed that part of the deal is getting FREE 2-day delivery on shopping items. Wow! 

This means I can get those annoyingly hard-to-find, cheap little items, like a front pocket wallet or a kitchen timer and not pay $6 to $10 for delivery. I’m only human, you know. I went for it.

The new Yankee cap I bought fits well and is the right shade of navy. The kitchen timer is junk and doesn’t work at all. But for $6.50 I will not be packing it up and returning it. And I rediscovered that there is a perfectly good timer on my old iPhone. I think the front pocket wallet is a keeper. 

Having entered this Dark Way of buying stuff, I wondered: what will become of retail stores? Will they simply disappear, not able to compete? Maybe not. Not all of them, anyway. 

Above is the new 6-story Nike superstore at the corner of Broadway and Spring in Soho. Yes, they sell shoes, what the British call trainers. And they sell other items of clothing. They do something else too. They provide an attractive spectacle of entertainment. Even an old, jaded dude like myself had fun going up and down the escalators and seeing what was on offer. 

Shopping in person is once again becoming an enjoyable experience.

This week’s pasta is rigatoni with mushrooms.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Less Is More

TriBeCa is a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan. The name is shorthand for the triangle below Canal. It’s the area on the West Side of Lower Manhattan between the Financial District and SoHo (south of Houston). Yes, these newish nicknames can be confusing. 

I was in TriBeCa last week trying to capture images of a newly completed skyscraper. After an hour or so of wandering, looking for some good viewpoints, I got hungry and headed over to Brookfield Place on the North Cove Yacht Harbor. The second floor above the Winter Garden Atrium’s marble steps holds a complex of restaurants called Hudson Eats. Two things are worth mentioning about Hudson Eats: it’s designed on the principle of the airport or mall court, with a variety of small takeout operations and a general seating area with both tables and counter space. The second thing, the thing that separates Hudson Eats from most airports or malls, is the high quality of the food. 

All over New York City, and in many other parts of America and other countries that I know about, restaurants are now featuring great ethnic cuisine, organic produce, and better cooking with faster service. This approach works so much better than having one restaurant with a huge menu that we can’t lift and takes much too long to page through. 

There are now 21 different operations at Hudson Eats. The two I tried before are Mighty Quinn’s BBQ and the Cambodian sandwich place, Num Pang. This time I headed for Dos Toros, where I found a terrific vegetarian quesadilla, a generous portion for a frugal price. And I was able to get a Mexican beer. The quesadillas pictured below was snapped at my favorite Mexican place, Lupe’s in SoHo. I don’t usually have that shot of tequila, honest.  

Restaurant dining has been moving it this direction for some time now. Eataly above 23rd Street was a trailblazer, although the newer parts are pricy. And there’s a rumor that Anthony Bourdain is planning to open his own version of an international market. I’m ready, Tony.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Pasta? Are You Kidding?

For those of you who were readers of my old blog, Mulberry Street, I thank you for your interest and support then, and I hope to see you here in the future. I will be posting every other week. 

If you take a second and read the entire title, Pasta . . . and Other Totally Unrelated Matters, you’ll see that I’ve left myself great flexibility in choosing subjects. The same thing was true of Mulberry Street. That had a subtitle that read “A view of life in New York and afar — half thoughts, half truths and almost never totally silly.” So as you see I left myself some room to go in different directions with that blog too. 

I do admit to having an exaggerated interest in food, especially Italian food . . . and so I will be visiting and revisiting the subject of pasta. Is there anyone out there who has zero interest in pasta? If so, please go away.

I grew up in Brooklyn, in what was then an Italian, Irish and Puerto Rican neighborhood. It is now chic and known as Cobble Hill. I also lived in Rome, Italy for a number of years. Pasta was a big subject in both places. My small group of friends in Brooklyn were Irish and Italian and a single Puerto Rican. Manny was gay, but we didn’t know about gay back then; we just thought he was a good dancer and loved to cook. He introduced us to the magic of rice and beans and spicy ground meat and sweet plantains. (Thanks, Manny.) 

Pasta in Italy is very different from pasta in America. In Italy pasta is (or at least was) one of three to five courses that make up a meal: antipasto, pasta, meat or fish, a vegetable, salad, and dessert or cheese. Yikes, that six courses! Consequently this means the pasta course is small, and it need not contain all nutritional food groups.

In America pasta can be an entire meal, so the portions are larger and there’s lots of extra stuff added. The USA today is a land of fast-cooked, one-course meals. The quality of ingredients is higher now, and cooking is a valued skill, even an obsession. But we have drifted away from classic Italian recipes.

The dish above is something I improvised the other day: ravioli with tomatoes, mushrooms, shallots, potatoes, basil, and sausage. You can find those ingredients together in true Italian cooking, except not with ravioli -- that's pasta overkill. If I served that to anyone in Florence, they might have me arrested for cultural abuse. Romans would whisper, Americani, and in Naples they would, as always, shrug their shoulders.