Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mr. Cherches Goes to Mars, Part I

Several years ago, my friend Jon Scieszka, a wildly successful children's book author, suggested I try my hand at children's stories. He even graciously offered to help me market the stuff. I bit, and Jon did his best to help out, but no publisher seemed to be interested in a food-obsessed space travel tale for kids. Rather than have this collecting metaphorical dust in the virtual drawer, I figured I'd publish it on this blog. This is as good a time as any, since I really have to lose some weight, and my restaurant review opportunities will be limited for a while. This will be a serial, in four parts, over the next couple of weeks. Enjoy this imaginary food quest while I try not to think too much about food.


“Congratulations! You are the winner of a one-week, all-expense-paid trip to Mars,” the letter read.

Mr. Cherches remembered that he had entered the “Trip to Mars Contest” several months earlier. There was an entry form on the back of a box of his favorite breakfast cereal, Planet Puffs ‘N’ Stuff. On the box it said: “Be the first person to visit Mars! Send us this original entry form or a reasonable facsimile.” Since Mr. Cherches wasn’t sure what a reasonable facsimile was, he sent the original.

And now he was the winner!

The rocket was scheduled to leave Earth in two days. Mr. Cherches had a lot to do to get ready. He had to do his laundry, he had to find somebody to water his plants while he was away, and he had to buy a travel toothbrush.

* * *

Two days later Mr. Cherches arrived in Cape Canaveral for his flight to Mars. As he entered the spaceship, he was greeted by the pilot. “Hello, My name is Captain Singh,” said the pilot. “Please watch your step as you board the rocket.”

This is so exciting! thought Mr. Cherches.

Mr. Cherches settled in and Captain Singh took off. There were just the two of them on the rocket.

After they had been in space for a while, Mr. Cherches experienced weightlessness for the first time. It felt pretty strange. It must be an acquired taste, he thought. Mr. Cherches was glad he hadn’t gone on a diet before the flight. Weightlessness felt weird enough. He didn’t want to know what weightlessness minus five pounds felt like.

“Have something to eat,” Captain Singh said as he handed Mr. Cherches a tube of space food. “It’s going to be a long flight.”

Mr. Cherches took a taste of the food. It tasted very familiar. That’s because it was a paste of mashed up Planet Puffs ‘N’ Stuff mixed with milk. Even though Mr. Cherches loved a nice bowl of Planet Puffs ‘N’ Stuff with cold milk every morning, it was no fun if you couldn’t see the planets. Besides, he found the thick, warm paste a little sickening. “Is there anything else to eat?” Mr. Cherches asked.

“I’m afraid not,” said Captain Singh. “Planet Puffs ‘N’ Stuff Paste is all we have for the entire trip.”

Mr. Cherches hoped the food on Mars would be better.

A few hours later, Mr. Cherches looked out the window and saw a big red ball floating in space. “Hey, is that Mars?” Mr. Cherches asked the pilot.

“No, that’s a red ball,” said Captain Singh. “We don’t reach Mars for another week.”

“Another week! But my whole trip is only a week,” said Mr. Cherches.

“Don’t worry, you have a full week to spend on Mars,” said Captain Singh. “Travel time is not included.”

A whole week before they reached Mars! That was a long time to be cooped up in a space ship.

Mr. Cherches was glad he had brought along a big fat book of “Mr. Cherches” stories to keep himself occupied.

* * *

A week later they landed at the Bradbury Interplanetary Spaceport, on Mars. “Have a good time on Mars, Mr. Cherches,” said Captain Singh. “I’ll be back in a week to pick you up.”

When Mr. Cherches got off the rocket he saw that thousands of Martians had come to greet him. Many of them were carrying signs, which said things like “Greetings Earthling!” and “Welcome to Mars, Mr. Cherches.”

A family of four Martians ran up to Mr. Cherches. “Greetings, Mr. Cherches,” the father Martian said. “We’ll be your hosts for your visit to our fair planet. It is a great honor to meet the first Earthling on Mars.” Mr. Cherches shook the Martian’s hand, which was green and slimy. “My name is XJ-R13, but you can call me Bud,” said the Martian. “My wife’s name is VB-B42-R13, but you can call her Maggie. And you can call the kids Max and Tiffany, even though their real names are YT-R13 and WZ-R13.”

“Hello, Mr. Churchill,” the children said, giggling.

“Pleased to meet you all,” said Mr. Cherches.

“All right,” said Bud, “we’re off to the shelter unit! Zip zip!”

They all hopped into the extra-terramobile and drove off. When they reached the shelter unit, Bud parked the extra-terramobile in the two-extra-terramobile garage. Even though he’d never been to Mars before, Mr. Cherches thought the R13s had a very nice shelter unit.

“You must be pretty hungry,” Bud said to Mr. Cherches.

“Actually, yes,” said Mr. Cherches. “All I had on the spaceship was Planet Puffs ‘N’ Stuff Paste.”

“Nasty stuff,” said Bud. “We’ll be dining shortly, and then you can have a proper Martian meal.”

* * *

At XJR o’clock they all sat down to dinner. Mr. Cherches was worried. What if he didn’t like Martian food? He was afraid he might starve.

Well, Mr. Cherches had nothing to worry about. Maggie brought the food to the table and it smelled just great.

“I hope you like it,” said Bud. “It’s the planetary dish of Mars.”

“Oh?” said Mr. Cherches. “What’s it called?”

“Meat loaf,” Bud replied.

“Meat loaf! Meat loaf is my favorite food on Earth,” said Mr. Cherches.

“Well, meat loaf is our favorite food on Mars too,” said Bud. “Dig in.”

Mr Cherches took a taste of the Martian meat loaf. “Wow!” he exclaimed. “This is the best meat loaf I’ve ever tasted. I thought my mom made great meat loaf, but this meat loaf is out of this universe.”

“Glad you like it,” said Bud. “You will never taste meat loaf on Earth that compares with Martian meat loaf.”

“Why is that?” asked Mr. Cherches.

“Mr. Cherches,” replied Bud, “I am about to tell you something that no Earthling has ever heard before. For thousands of years Martians have been visiting Earth. We travel in pairs, in flying saucers. When we arrive, we always disguise ourselves as humans so we can mix with your people unnoticed. We wanted to share some of the benefits of our advanced civilization, and we have given many good things to the people of Earth. We brought the Earthlings mathematics, medicine, soap, and the democratic form of government. Best of all, we taught the Earthlings to make meat loaf. But we didn’t think the Earthlings were ready for the pure form of Martian meat loaf, so we left out several essential ingredients that make Martian meat loaf the best in this or any other solar system.”

“What ingredients are those?” asked Mr. Cherches.

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you,” said Bud. “Those secret ingredients can never be made known to a non-Martian. That is the most important law on the planet, punishable by life without meat loaf.”

Mr. Cherches decided that he had to find out what those secret ingredients were.

* * *

To be continued . . .

Saturday, September 22, 2007

My Sonoma Shrimp & Grits Disappointment

All right, it really wasn't much of a disappointment. After all, who goes to wine country for shrimp and grits anyway? Still, I was going up to Healdsburg, in Sonoma County, on Labor Day with my high school chum Harry and his wife Mary Ann, to have lunch with Steve Minkin, the only professional square dance caller I know (a New York Jew, no less). Researching Healdsburg restaurants that served lunch, I found Zin, a place specializing in California takes on regional American dishes. When I suggested it to Steve, his response was, "Zin? Beer-battered green beans!!"

According to the online menu, they served Charleston shrimp and grits at lunch. Once again, you might ask, who goes to wine country for shrimp and grits? Well, if you were declared an expert shrimp and grits pundit by no less an authority than Google's search engine*, you would. Imagine my disappointment when shrimp and grits wasn't on the menu. Try to imagine! I had to settle for the other healthy choice, crispy chicken hash with organic poached egg, over wilted spinach with bacon. It was very good, but it wasn't shrimp and grits.


And, of course, we all shared some of those addictive beer-battered green beans; the flecks of cilantro in the batter added an interesting dimension.


* This year Word of Mouth has had close to 2,000 hits resulting from searches for shrimp and grits.

Monday, September 17, 2007

California Moroccan and Sardinian Sardinian

I was in San Francisco for a few days around Labor Day. Before leaving New York, I gathered dining tips from Bay Area foodies, asking for restaurants that are moderately priced, comfortable, and unique. The two suggestions I settled on were Aziza and La Ciccia. Both were good, but only one won my heart.

* * *

It's hard to decide whether to call Aziza a Moroccan restaurant. Many of the dishes are Moroccan or Moroccan-influenced, but some are more properly described as new American. The restaurant and its Marrakech-born chef Mourad Lahlou have received rave reviews, and they're no doubt generally well deserved, but there were a few things that annoyed me about the place, excellent food notwithstanding.

I'm glad that Aziza supports local, sustainable agriculture, but do I really need to know what farm every damn ingredient in every damn dish comes from? Too much information. All right, not every ingredient, and granted, it is nice to know that your meat comes from farms where the animals are treated humanely before they're killed for your dining pleasure.

And the waiter annoyed me. He had that certain trendy-restaurant waiter attitude: helpful yet pushy, friendly yet snotty. Actually, he gave me the creeps, though I did appreciate his resoluteness when asked for suggestions among dishes. Some of his answers, however, made me suspect that the kitchen isn't always so subtle in its execution. "Do you REALLY like green olives?" he replied when asked about one dish, and when asked about another said, "do you REALLY like eggplant?"

But the food is, for the most part, very good. An appetizer of grilled spicy lamb sausage (I have no idea why they don't call it merguez on the menu) worked quite well with its accompanying goat yogurt-fromage blanc. And the basteeya (usually spelled bastilla), a "phyllo pie with a filling of saffron braised chicken & almonds, powdered sugar and cinnamon," which we all shared, was fantastic.

My main course was excellent too, though there really wasn't anything North African about it (not that there's anything wrong with that). It was "seared Hokkaido sea scallops, warm Brentwood corn salad, beet reduction vinaigrette, Marash pepper." The menu neglected to mention that it was topped with arugula, a nice touch.


I tasted the dishes of a couple of fellow diners, and was happier with my choice. The couscous Aziza, which came with a combination of meats and shrimp, paled by comparison with a good traditional couscous royale. I think here they were trying too hard to avoid the traditional. The dish was served dry; they'd have been better off putting some innovation into an accompanying broth. The Prather Ranch lamb shank with Earl Grey-infused dried prunes and cranberry-cinnamon barley was, as I feared, too sweet.


My dessert, cornmeal orange crepes with lemon-basil ice cream and blackberry coulis was good, but it sounded better on paper. The crepes were surprisingly flavorless.


Overall, Aziza does a generally admirable spin on Moroccan cuisine, but at times the chef tries too hard with his innovations, and the room and service felt too artificial for comfort.

* * *

La Ciccia
, on the other hand, is thoroughly traditional Sardinian, the room is comfortable despite the tight quarters, and the service is delightfully unpretentious. As Michael Bauer wrote in his San Francisco Chronicle review, "San Franciscans are always willing to trade glamor for good food." Personally, I'm willing to trade glamor for decent food.

La Ciccia opened a little more than a year ago on a quiet street in Noe Valley. Throughout the evening, the charming chef-owner, Massimiliano Conti, makes the rounds of the tables to tell the diners what's in their food and about Sardinian cuisine in general. The menu is heavily oriented toward the seafood cuisine of coastal Sardinia (as opposed to New York's Assenzio, which specializes in the hearty game dishes of the interior).

The food at La Ciccia is a delight. An appetizer of baby calamari and clams was served in a delicious Vermentino wine broth that was great for a ritual bread bath. The traditional Sardinian flatbread baked with olive oil and sea salt had a wonderfully nutty flavor and a perfect crunch, though I felt that $6 was a little steep for an order.

For my main course I chose a special of the day, maccheroni di Bosa, a doughy knitting-needle-shaped pasta served with a thick fish ragu of orata (sea bream), trout, white fennel, herbs and tomato. The ragu tasted so fresh I was almost transported to the Sardinian seaside.


Also spectacular was my dessert, a pistachio-almond semifreddo (best described as something between a mousse and a gelato). The flavors were intense, the texture sensual, and the icing on the cake, as it were, was a little square of what I assume was pistachio-flavored white chocolate.


If I lived in San Francisco I'd be a La Ciccia regular.


Aziza on UrbanspoonLa Ciccia on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Movies Through the Years: Forgotten Treasures from Our Archives

I was recently going through some old papers and I came across this unpublished manuscript from 1987. It was written for a lunchtime performance at St. Peter's Church. Lee Feldman and I used to do monologues with live music that we called "Movies for the Ears." The people who were doing promo for the series botched the title and it was printed as "Movies Through the Years." I decided to turn the error to my advantage and wrote the following piece. I'm posting it now as a subtle reminder that Lee & I are performing together again this Saturday.

The Imperceptible Twitch, 1903. Overshadowed in its day by Electrocuting an Elephant, which was released the same year, this long-forgotten Edison effort is a true minimalist masterpiece.

William Henry Harrison, 1916. D.W. Griffith’s pioneering real-time chronicle of Harrison’s brief and uneventful presidency will be shown in its original, uncut thirty-day version. Look closely at Vice-President Tyler–yes, it’s none other than Lillian Gish in drag.

The Schvartzer Sang Kol Nidre, 1928. Early talkie about a black blues singer who turns his back on fame and fortune to become a cantor in a synagogue. Stars Blind Lemon Jefferson, with Fannie Brice as the love interest.

A Close Shave, 1936. Tod Browning’s hilarious screwball comedy about two bearded ladies and an unsuspecting barber. Jean Harlow and Bela Lugosi are the ladies and Cary Grant plays the barber.

Song of the Ring, 1941. Disney’s animated feature version of Wagner’s masterpiece. Features Jiminy Cricket as Wotan, Mickey Mouse as Siegfried, and Dumbo as Brunhilde.

And the Army Gets the Beans, 1944. Ronald Reagan, Andy Devine and Gabby Hayes star in this wartime romp about three misfits who peddle counterfeit war bonds door to door and end up making license plates for Uncle Sam.

The Spaghetti Thief, Italy, 1949. A young boy who has lost his way wanders the back alleys of Rome one Wednesday night as his mother relentlessly calls out, “An-tony!” After 2 ½ hours, frustrated and hungry, he steals a box of spaghetti from the basket of a parked bicycle.

I Married a Bolshevik from Uranus, 1955. A woman wakes up one morning to discover that the slimy red creature in her bed is not the man she married. In 3-D, with Forrest Tucker and Beverly Garland.

Miracle in Westport, 1958. Cecil B. DeMille’s final film, this bedroom farce with biblical overtones stars Doris Day as an unwed mother who claims immaculate conception and Rock Hudson as the repentant ad man who joins a suburban monastery. Gig Young makes a cameo appearance for no apparent reason.

Fists of Angst, Sweden, 1971. Ingmar Bergman’s only martial arts film, with Bruce Lee and Max Von Sydow representing good and evil.

Le Mouchoir Eternel, France, 1975. Bittersweet French comedy/drama about a young girl doomed to experience the joys and sorrows of first love over and over and over.

Back to ’86, 1987. Martin Scorcese directed this tale of an unbalanced insurance salesman (Robert De Niro) who travels one year back in time and can’t tell the difference.

* * *

Hear Cherches & Feldman performing "Everything Reminds Me of You."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Turkey Words

This afternoon, as I was snacking on some smoked turkey breast, I started thinking about words for the bird in other languages. The only ones I knew offhand were French (dinde), Spanish (pavo), and Italian (tacchino). That set me to wondering. Three romance languages with totally unrelated names for the turkey: of course, this makes a certain amount of sense since it's a new-world bird. It would have been named in those languages as it was introduced into their cultures. I started fishing around on the web for information on the subject and came up with a goldmine. The turkey problem was addressed in 1996 on the LINGUIST listserv, and a digest was compiled that thrilled my verbophile heart.

The first interesting thing is how many languages have terms that are based on the misconception that the turkey originated in India (hence dinde). The Turks call turkey "hindi." Scandinavian names associate the bird with the town of Calicut on India's Malabar coast. Could this all be related to the original misconception that the new world was "the Indies"?

In Mandarin Chinese the word is "huo ji," or fire chicken. In Japanese it's "shichimencho," or seven-faced bird!

As for the word "turkey" itself, there's the following:

"Two English dictionaries which I have consulted give similar etymologies for 'turkey'. The story goes like this. The African bird now called the 'guinea fowl' used to be called (presumably because of a mistaken belief about its origin) the 'Turkey cock', it's having arrived in Europe via Turkish territory. The bird now called 'turkey' in English was originally thought to be identical with (or a sort of) the bird now called the 'guinea fowl' and that being then called the 'Turkey cock' the turkey was also called the 'Turkey cock'."

In Egypt they call the bird "dik-rumi" (Turkish fowl).

The word in Portuguese is "peru," likely attributing its origin to that country. In India they also call turkey "peru," probably from the Portuguese. In Malaysia the turkey term ("ayam belanda") translates as "Dutch chicken." In Macedonia the bird is named for the Turkish word for Egypt!

But wait! There's more...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sushi of the Caribbean

"Siggy" Nakanhishi, owner and sushi chef at Aki on West 4th, spent several years as chef to the Japanese ambassador to the West Indies, in Kingston, Jamaica, where he started blending Japanese and Jamaican cuisine. Aki has a reputation for great sushi, but I was more interested in Nakanhishi's special creations.

I've stated my reservations about fusion cuisines before. I have no interest in the hotshot young American chef who wakes up one morning and decides he'll take the culinary world by storm with the first Croatian-Cambodian restaurant. Still, there are the occasional fusions that do work for me; they're usually the result of a chef mixing his native cuisine with something else he's picked up along life's gustatory path. One of my current favorite restaurants, for instance, is Itzocan Cafe, a tiny Mexican-French bouchon in the East Village. In that instance, two brothers from Puebla picked up French cuisine working in the kitchens of French restaurants in New York, and now brilliantly marry Mexican ingredients to French technique.

I'm not sure Japanese-Jamaican will be the next big thing. Aki is quite good, but I think it's where Nakanhishi's inventiveness doesn't try to push the Caribbean angle that he shines. The one real dud was the Jamaica Chicken, which is described as "organic jerk chicken rolled with a robust shrimp paste, vegetables, and a tangy mango teriyaki with banana tempura." I didn't taste anything that was mildly reminiscent of Jamaican jerk, and the whole fruity affair reminded me of something one might have found at Trader Vic's. The special roll combo, while not a washout, was a disappointment. It featured three of the restaurant's signature sushi rolls. The best of the bunch was the dinosaur roll, which had fried shrimp, avocado and tobiko (flying fish roe). The Caribbean roll, with yellowtail, mango and avocado, was OK, but I'm not sure the mango really belonged there. The banana boat roll, with fried banana and spicy tuna is not an idea whose time will ever come, as far as I'm concerned.

A day's special of uni (sea urchin) with yuzu jelly (yuzu is a Japanese sour citrus fruit) was a successful mix of tastes and textures. I think my favorite item was the eel Napoleon, which consisted of layers of eel, fried tofu, and creamy mashed pumpkin, garnished with yam chips.


Surely the most visually arresting item (and also excellent in the taste department) was the tuna mille feuille, which had alternating layers of tuna, avocado and fuji apple, with a white balsamic and apple vinegar dressing, bookended by apricots, and garnished with various sea vegetables. It was topped with a mild, golden fish roe (described as tobiko on the menu, but the tobiko I know is red).


Aki, at 181 West 4th, is very small, so reservations are essential.

Aki on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 07, 2007

Flight Attendant Bloopers

Once, when my international flight had landed, one of the flight attendants made the following announcement:

"Please be careful when opening the overhead bins as the continents may have shifted during our flight."

I knew it was a long flight, but I didn't think it was that long.

I once misheard an announcement, probably due to the flight attendant's accent. My fellow passengers must have thought I was nuts when I started laughing out loud, but I could have sworn she said, "Your seat cushion may be used as a flirtation device."

Please share any in-flight bloopers you may have heard.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Cherches Sings Again, September 15

If you're in the New York area I hope you'll come out to catch my next performance.

Peter Cherches & Lee Feldman

AN EVENING WITH CHERCHES & FELDMAN

Musical Performance & Reading

Saturday, September 15, 6-8 PM
$6
The Bowery Poetry Club
308 Bowery, New York, NY 10012
212.614.0505

foot of First Street, between Houston & Bleecker
across the street from CBGB
(F train to Second Ave, or 6 train to Bleecker
)
Full bar & cafe!


Reunited and it feels so good (ugh!).

In the 1980s the team of Peter Cherches and Lee Feldman were favorites on the downtown performance scene, for their songs as well as their stories with soundtracks called "Movies for the Ears." Now, thanks to the miracle of nostalgia, Cherches and Feldman will be reunited for a performance at Bowery Poetry Club for the first time since downtown's golden age.

The event will be a veritable variety show. It will include readings by Cherches and musical performances by Cherches and Feldman.

Peter Cherches will read short fiction and present a staged reading of a series of minimalist plays in progress, "Trio Bagatelles" (assisted by Patti Bradshaw and Tom Ross). Lee Feldman will perform a group of his own songs, and the show will close with Cherches and Feldman performing their song collaborations as well as Cherches's lyrics for the music of Thelonious Monk.

* * *

Evoking platitudes from reviewers such as, "Harry Nilsson meets Fats Waller," and "Randy Newman by way of Lou Reed and Paul Simon," Lee Feldman is a singer, pianist and songwriter. His third album, "I've Forgotten Everything" is, according to Stereophile Magazine, "unlike anything else in contemporary pop." Lee is also the creator of STARBOY, an animated musical about a 2-dimensional superhero who lives with his uncle, a mathematician. He has performed at numerous NYC venues, including Joe's Pub, Fez, P.S. 1, The Knitting Factory and The Bottom Line, as well as on radio stations WNYC, WBAI, WFMU and WFUV (Vin Scelsa's Idiot's Delight). Visit Lee at http://www.leefeldman.com
[where: 10012]

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sunset Park Asian Picks

Sunset Park's Chinatown doesn't have anything near the culinary diversity of Flushing. There are no Sichuan, Shanghai or Taiwanese places, for instance. The neighborhood is dominated by both Cantonese and Fujianese restaurants, and I'm completly ignorant about the latter cuisine. Still, there is a bit of variety, and a few interesting specialty snack shops. Below are my Sunset Park favorites, arranged geographically, north to south on 8th Avenue. The main restaurant drag runs from 42nd to 61st Street, with the greatest concentration between 54th and 60th (though I only recommend one place below 55th). Street numbers ascend as you go south. By subway the neighborhood can be reached by the N train to 8th Avenue (at 62nd Street) or the D train to 9th Avenue (at 39th Street) .

Ba Xuyen - 4222 8th Avenue (near 43rd Street). This is quite possibly the best banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) place in New York. I'm especially fond of the grilled pork, which has a wonderful lemongrass accent, and the pork meatballs.

Eighth Avenue Seafood Restaurant
- 4418 8th Avenue. An excellent bet for dim sum, without a long wait, and pretty good Cantonese seafood dishes for dinner.

Gia Lam Villa - 4810 8th Avenue. There really aren't any great Vietnamese restaurants in Brooklyn. In fact, I don't know of any Vietnamese restaurant in New York that I'd call great. Perhaps it's because we don't have a particularly large ethnic Viet immigrant population. There are a handful of Vietnamese restaurants in Sunset Park, and Gia Lam Villa is pretty reliable if you're looking for Vietnamese food. I actually go there pretty often. Best bets are the grilled beef dishes and cha gio (spring rolls). Gia Lam has another branch further south on 8th Avenue.

Yun Nan Flavour Snack - 775A 49th Street (just off 8th Avenue). This hole-in-the-wall with a narrow counter and short stools is of interest partly because foods from Yunnan province are hard to come by in the U.S. The specialty here is very spicy noodle soups with homemade rice noodles, but I'm particularly fond of the dumplings in hot and sour soup. The half-moon-shaped dumplings are served in a broth that has the tartness of a Thai tom yum, which makes sense since Yunnan is right near Southeast Asia.

Sun's BBQ - Corner of 8th Avenue & 50th Street. A small, friendly Cantonese place specializing in roast meats and noodle soups.

Nyonya - 5323 8th Avenue. This Malaysian restaurant, with a sister branch in Manhattan's Chinatown, is my favorite place to eat in Sunset Park. Malaysian cuisine, which brings together dishes from the country's Chinese, Malay, and Indian populations, is one of the most rewarding for sheer variety, and Nyonya does good to excellent renditions of most of these dishes.

Pacificana - 813 55th Street. This big, glitzy Hong Kong seafood palace serves excellent dim sum, but be prepared for long waits on the weekend. I think Eight Avenue Seafood Restaurant is as good, and much more relaxed. I haven't tried dinner at Pacificana yet.

Lan Zhou Hand-Pulled Noodles - 60th Street off 8th Avenue. Another bare-bones, tiny place, like Yunnan Flavour Snacks. This one specializes in wonderfully chewy hand-pulled wheat noodles in a delightfully flavorful spicy soup with your choice of meat (beef is traditional). You watch the guys making the noodles as you order and eat. The noodles originated in Lanzhou, in Inner Mongolia, but I believe most of New York's Lanzhou noodle makers are actually Fujianese.