Saturday, November 29, 2008

Una Pizza Overrated

I finally got over to Una Pizza Napoletana, after reading four years' worth of hype. I suppose it's hard to live up to the hype when the hype is so hyper, but even after adjusting my expectations for the hype this place was a major disappointment.

The reviews of Una Pizza Napoletana have been almost universally superlative. This is not surprising. In general, the restaurant reviewing profession is extremely conservative. A rave review in a major outlet will almost ensure that a multitude of reviews will follow, and most if not all will be raves. Among restaurant reviewers, as with political journalists, there is a herd mentality and a lack of creativity. Just about the only major food writer with the cojones to differ on Una Pizza Napoletana is Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice.

A selection of bites from among the raves is displayed in a crawl on the pizzeria's website. A writer for Newsday went as far as calling it "one of the best pizzas in the world." To make such a claim requires either incredible hubris or incredible stupidity or a hell of a lot of passport stamps.

According to New York magazine, "Pizza aficionados say it’s as good as—if not better than—any you’d find in Naples, and that’s why it may seem expensive. For authenticity and purity of flavor, no other pizza in town comes close." I wonder, have the reviewers been to Naples? And what exactly do they mean by purity of flavor? At first that sounds like a compliment, but when you parse it, it's meaningless. Purity of flavor? What the hell does that mean?

Much is made of owner/piemaker Anthony Mangieri's devotion to recreating classic Neapolitan pizza. Much is also made of the fact that the pizzeria stays open (only four nights a week) until the dough runs out. Well, Totonno's has him beat on that count for decades. Perhaps the vaunted crust is similar to the "traditional" crust of Naples, but it's not really to my taste. I found it too thick, limp and bready. I prefer a thin, crispy crust, the kind you'll find in most pizzerias all over Italy.

There are only four pizzas on the menu. No variations, no additional toppings or condiments allowed. They're the marinara (no cheese), the Margherita, the bianca (no tomato), and the filetti (with slices of cherry tomato). Each 12" personal pizza costs $21. That's right, $21. I don't care how good the ingredients are; I don't care how much care Mangieri puts into his pies--only an idiot pays $21 more than once for twelve inches of dough (time and attention, I know) topped with some tomatoes (excellent tomatoes, granted), some cheese (mozzarella di bufala, sure), olive oil (extra virgin, all right), and Sicilian sea salt.

At those prices I guess Mangieri can afford to work four days a week and pay the rent at a prime Manhattan storefront. And the crowds keep coming. I think the Una Pizza Napoletana phenomenon is similar to the Momofuku phenomenon: the chef a darling of the press who can do no wrong and the clientele a flock of trendy sheep who delight in being fleeced.

Was the pizza good? Sure. Was it great? Not really. I tried the filetti and the Margherita; the filetti was somewhat the better of the two.

Will I go back? No way.

My first and only visit to Una Pizza Napolitana makes me appreciate Dom DeMarco and Di Fara all the more.

Regular folks, it seems, are less easily taken in than reviewers. Check out some of the user comments on Citysearch and Menupages.

Una Pizza Napoletana, 349 E. 12th St. (between First & Second Ave.)

Una Pizza Napoletana on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Working with Frank

I had been working for Perdue for several weeks, but Thanksgiving would be the first day I'd actually be working with Frank himself. I was told to report to the big refrigerator at 9 A.M. sharp. I had never been to the big refrigerator before. My regular job was proofreading recipe labels. This was a special assignment.

When I entered the refrigerator I saw a short, fat, bald man. I went up to him and said, "I was told to report to Mr. Perdue."

In a voice that was unmistakable he said, "I'm Frank Perdue."

He looked very different than he did on TV--shorter and decidedly fatter, but the voice was that same nasal whine that had become his trademark.

"So you're the fella who's gonna be workin' with me?" he asked.

I told him I was.

"What do you usually do?"

I told him.

"Well, you've been doin' a good job. I haven't caught one mistake yet."

I smiled. There are few things more rewarding than being complimented on your work by the big boss.

"Well, are you ready to get to work?" he asked.

"Sure," I said. "What are we doing?"


"Hauling?" I asked.

"Yes. We've gotta haul these birds from the inner cooler--not freezer--I never freeze my birds--and we've gotta leave them by the door for the truckers to pick 'em up." He then went on to explain why we had to haul the birds to the door. Apparently it's a union rule. The truckers have it in their contract that they never go into the inner cooler, which is somewhat cooler, actually just above freezing, than the rest of the refrigerator room.

So we went into the inner cooler and started hauling these big turkeys to the door. There were piles and piles of turkeys, and they must have all been about twenty pounds apiece. And we had to haul all of them. By themselves they're not too much trouble to lift, but after a while it's the cumulative effect that gets to you. And I must admit I was a bit out of shape. I found myself wishing I was back home, spending Thanksgiving with my family. But I realized that Thanksgiving was a big day in the poultry business.

I decided to try to make some small talk with Frank, to make the time pass more quickly.

"Mr Perdue," I said, and he cut me off.

"Oh, you can call me Frank."

"Frank," I said, "I never knew you handled turkeys."

"There's a lot you don't know, young man," he said. "For one thing, they're not turkeys."

"What are they?"

"These are my new big-breasted super-vixen oven stuffer roasters. Just perfect for those big family get-togethers, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Passover."

"I've never seen such big chickens," I said. "How do you do it?"

"It's done with a combination of genetic engineering and nuclear radiation," he said. "And the results are just scrumptious."

I was definitely taking a liking to Frank. He had a delightful way about him that you just couldn't resist. I felt so comfortable with him that I decided to be bolder, to ask him some more personal questions.

"Frank," I said, "how come you're doing this kind of work? After all, you're the President and founder of this company. You're the man on the TV commercials. Couldn't you get somebody else to do the hauling?"

"Young man," he said, "I'm a poultry man, and any poultry man who's worth his salt has got to get some chicken fat under his fingernails every now and again."

"Frank," I said, this time taking an even bigger risk, "how come you look so different on TV?"

"A simple video trick," he said. "They do it all with the vertical and horizontal adjustments." He was quiet for a few seconds; then he said, "Come with me."

I followed him to the room adjacent to the big refrigerator. It was a wine cellar. Well, not actually a cellar--we were on the fourteenth floor.

"Bet you didn't take me for a wine drinker," he said. "Bet you thought all I drank was Coca Cola."

I didn't say anything. He took a bottle of white wine from one of the racks and handed it to me.

"Here, take this garlic-flavored wine home to your family and have a nice Thanksgiving dinner."

"You mean after we're done?" I asked.

"No, you can go now," he said. "I'll finish up myself. It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken, but that toughness has to be tempered with mercy."

I thanked him and thought to myself, garlic-flavored wine. Sounds interesting. I can't wait to see how it tastes.

This was written ca. 1984 and was originally published in Between a Dream and a Cup of Coffee.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Click the Spoon

This weekend I decided to feed appropriate restaurant reviews from this blog to Urbanspoon. Urbanspoon is a site that aggregates restaurant reviews and provides restaurant-finding functionality to the iPhone. It has recently gotten some very high-profile exposure as Apple is promoting the Urbanspoon app on its iPhone commercials.

An Urbanspoon page for a restaurant features links to reviews from mainstream media and blogs as well as user input, plus a map. When you see the Urbanspoon graphic at the bottom of a post, you can click it to go to the page for the reviewed restaurant.

The strange Chinese restaurants of my dreams, however, have no Urbanspoon pages.

Word of Mouth New York restaurants

Saturday, November 22, 2008

What I Remember

I was in Mrs. Dubron's second-grade class, and Mrs. Kandel, from the class next door, came in to make the announcement. These many years later I still remember that when Mrs. Kandel told us what had happened almost all of the girls started crying, but none of the boys did. We all went home early that day.

Though this may seem callous in retrospect, I was, after all, a kid, and I remember being most upset that I couldn't watch "The Flintstones" because it was pre-empted. "Pre-empted" was a word I learned from the TV Guide--that and "approximate," as in "time approximate after baseball." I also remember that my mother, who always knew which famous people were Jewish, told me that Jack Ruby was Jewish.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Graft! Word of Mouth Accepts the Gift of Water

I often receive offers of products for review, and occasionally restaurant freebies. I have always turned them down. For one thing, I only rarely do product reviews, and in those cases it's because I've been inspired by an admiration I've long had for that product, like Almondina or Ak-Mak. As far as restaurant offers are concerned, I think it's unethical to accept a free meal in return for a review. Besides, my guess is that any restaurant that would resort to offering a free meal to a humble blogger is probably worth steering clear of.

Occasionally I'll alert companies or restaurants when I do write favorably about them. Recently, after I wrote my piece about non-alcoholic gin, I sent the link to Metromint, as their lemon mint water was part of my recipe. I received a response from Evan at Metromint, a gin drinker too, who offered to send me some samples to use while "refining the recipe." I accepted, as I was interested in tasting the flavors I had not yet tried. I didn't know whether I'd write a piece specifically about Metromint, but after tasting all the flavors I decided I'd give a rundown, as the sample pack turned out to be quite a mixed bag, ranging from excellent to undrinkable.

Peppermint. One of two pure mint flavors, this has a crisp, cool, strong but not overwhelming peppermint flavor. It's very refreshing, and I think it's a great summer drink. From sip to swallow, there's a consistency of flavor. I had actually tried this one before, but I was sure that the peppermint flavor was too bold to use for my faux gin experiments.

Spearmint. I was surprised how much I liked this, as in general I don't really like spearmint, at least when sweetened, as in Wrigley's spearmint gum. But they really got the right balance for this, resulting in a flavor that has a clean, sophisticated presence. It also turned out to be a good base for my non-alcoholic gin.

Lemonmint. The lemon and mint flavors go together very well, and there's a freshenss combined with oomph that I really like. I've been drinking this water since the summer. I was intrigued when I saw it on the shelf, expecially since it had no artificial sweeteners, as most fruit waters on the shelves seem to. In Europe I've had all sorts of wonderful unsweetened fruit-flavored waters (Vittel makes some), so I know it can be done.

Orangemint. This was a disappointment. Even though the orange flavoring is natural, this drink, like most orange-flavored seltzers and mineral waters, reminds me of the flavor of St. Joseph's Aspirin for Children.

Chocolatemint. I was both intrigued by and skeptical about this flavor. How could they pull off an unsweetened chocolate-mint water? Well, I'd say the result is an interesting failure. The water has a credible chocolate-mint nose, if a water can be said to have a "nose," but as it hits the palate and goes down the throat you're abruptly hit by an almost pure water flavor that's rather jarring. The chocolate and mint flavors come back a bit as an aftertaste, but this lack of smooth flavor transition makes it ultimately unsatisfying. I suspect that this is a product that many will pick up out of curiosity, but I doubt it will gain many adherents.

Cherymint. This is truly the most vile drink I've tasted since I don't know when. If the company were smart they'd either pull it from the market or drastically change the recipe. If this were the first Metromint flavor I had tried, I would never have tried another. As with all their fruit flavors, they list the fruit ingredient as "essence." I don't know what kind of cherries they get this essence from, and I don't know if the real crime is the combination of the cherry and mint flavors, but on first taste my first thought was poison! I could imagine this being the flavor of some kind of solvent, or maybe rat poison. Or maybe it was the almost bitter almond-like taste of the cherry essence that made me think of cyanide. After a few more sips, just to make sure it really was that bad, I poured the rest of the bottle down the drain. Metromint needs to convene a tasting panel or a focus group posthaste.

Monday, November 17, 2008

And Another Thing

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fiction or Thing?

A little piece of mine was just published on elimae, an online journal that's been around since 1996. The journal's title is not a tribute to the Beverly Hillbillies; it's an acronym of sorts for "electronic literary magazine." My piece, "Billing Notice," is listed as fiction, but I'd call it "thing" (but not thingy). I suppose, however, if the only choices are ficton or poetry then fiction wins. I think.

Read "Billing Notice"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Liquid Pork

I'd been hearing raves about Ippudo since it opened on Fourth Avenue last summer. It's an outpost of a Hakata ramen chain, specializing in the tonkotsu ramen that is a Hakata specialty. The cornerstone of this style of noodle soup is a rich pork bone broth. While Ippudo does serve other dishes, including miso and shoyu ramen, it's the two tonkotsu ramens that are the big draw: the Shiromaru Classic and the Akamaru Modern (which has the addition of a "special secret sauce"). I went with the classic on my first visit. My philosophy is always go with the classic on your first visit.

The noodles at Ippudo are thinner than most ramens, almost angel hair, and while quite good, the broth's the thing. I've had tonkotsu ramen before, but never with such a rich, porky broth as this. It's as if the Platonic essence of pork had been captured in liquid form. I found myself rolling the broth around my mouth to savor the full pig bouquet. The pork used at Ippudo is kurobuta, or Berkshire pork, which might be considered the pork equivalent of Kobe beef. The soup included a couple of slices of pork, but next time I think I'll go for the version with extra pork.

After I left Ippudo I decided to stop in at Sundaes and Cones, around the corner, for some ice cream. This is another place I'd heard good things about but hadn't yet tried. It's an Asian-American ice cream parlor, and my assessment is that while it's pretty good, it's not in the same exalted category as the Chinatown Ice Cream factory. I tried two flavors: mocha chip, one of my benchmark western flavors, and corn, an "exotic" flavor I was delighted to find. Some people find the idea of corn ice cream strange, but I think it's a natural. I first had corn ice cream in Malaysia, then in Oaxaca (more a slushy ice milk), and in New York at Cones, the Argentine gelateria on Bleecker Street. I preferred the corn ice cream at Sundaes and Cones to that at just plain Cones, which I found too sweet. Sundaes and Cones' version was closer to what I remembered from Malaysia.

Pork bone broth and two scoops of ice cream: a down-payment on a heart attack.

65 4th Avenue (between 9th & 10th St.)

Sundaes and Cones
95 E. 10th St. (between 3rd & 4th Ave.)

Ippudo on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I'm So 2006 or Blogs are Bad Enough, But Twitter?

Blogs are bad enough, you ask? All right, as a blogger going on three years I'm being a bit facetious. Granted, I was skeptical of blogs at first, largely because so many of them, early on, were being used for immediate, barely processed thoughts and minutia, as if the blogger's every random brain fart should be of interest to someone. But the medium is incredibly malleable, really just an instant publishing tool that allows for a multitude of uses. So, sure we still have self-indulgent wanker blogs up the wazoo, but we also have the equivalent of top-shelf op-ed columns from compelling commentators we follow loyally, we have specialty bootstrap news organizations that bring in a wide variety of voices shunned by the mainstream media, we have literary magazines that have borrowed the blog platform, some of which I've published with, and we have hundreds if not thousands of blogs that are home base for eloquent essayists on a wide variety of topics (I aim for acceptance into this last category). The best bloggers, I think, see the blog post pretty much as no different than a page in a print publication, but with the advantage of hyperlinking, search capability, and quicker exposure. These bloggers actually take care with their writing. They revise, they refine, they hone--they care. They care about reasoned argumentation, they care about voice, they care about readability. They realize that the reader's time is precious, and they aim to be worthy of that time.

Where am I going with this? Where am I coming from?

These thoughts were inspired by the case of Jay Rosen, and his seeming abandonment of blogging for tweeting (what one does on Twitter). Jay is a brilliant media scholar and critic, a member of the NYU journalism faculty. He was also my Ph.D. dissertation advisor. I had been following his blog PressThink for some time, and had been surprised not to see any new posts after September 18. After all, this was the height of the Presidential election season, and surely the press was generating sufficient fodder for Jay's incisive analysis. But there was silence on PressThink. Was Jay away somewhere, perhaps Outer Mongolia, on a grant? Or worse, was he ill and unable to blog?

Yesterday, I was speaking with David Mindich, professor of journalism at St. Michael's College in Vermont, also a former student of Jay's. I mentioned that I was surprised that Jay hadn't blogged in close to two months.

"Do you know why he's not blogging?" David asked.


"He's been on Twitter." David went on to explain that Jay had been prodigiously tweeting these 140-character-maximum messages to a network of similarly press-obsessed tweeters, or twitterers, or whatever one calls them. Jay has over 2,000 followers of his tweets--that's the official term, "followers." The last thing I'd want is "followers." Readers, yes. Anyway, Jay apparently likes the fast pace and immediacy of Twitter, but what he's jettisoned is the essay, where thought is given form.

Call me old-fashioned, but I'll take essays over brain farts any day.

Twitter is, no doubt, a brilliant application, a tool for mass, public instant messaging. But I hope it doesn't seduce too many writers away from, dare I say, writing. While the minimalist in me does see possibilities in the tweet as a new literary form, I'll probably just stick with my usual 200 to 500-word behemoths.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Olde English Surnames

When I was a kid grown Jewish men had names like Irving and Morris and Seymour, names that have subsequently fallen into decades of disuse. My stepfather's name was Seymour, though he preferred to be called Sy.

When I was about seven I asked Sy where the name Seymour came from.

"It's an old English surname," he told me.

I thought he was pulling my leg. You see, I had never heard that fancy word for "last name" before. So, thinking of Lancelot and Galahad, and unable to imagine a Jew in shining armor, I said, "You're kidding! There was no Sir Seymour!"

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Time Warp and a Literary Bastard Child

I spent an hour in a time warp, in 1990 or '91. At least, I wanted to believe I did.

Here's what happened.

It was a Saturday evening, and I was to give a reading at La Mama La Galleria, the art gallery annex of La Mama theater. I was splitting a bill with my old friend Holly Anderson. We had agreed that I'd open the reading, then Holly would read, and finally we'd finish with a collaborative piece we'd written for the occasion. We agreed to meet at the gallery at 7:15 for a sound check. The reading was to begin at 8.

I had taken a nap that afternoon, and when I got up the clock by my bed said 6:00. I rushed to pull myself together and head over to the East Village from Brooklyn. As I waited for the train, I checked my watch several times. I seemed to be doing all right, as long as a train came soon. But it took a while for a train to come. I checked my watch several more times on the train. I was still doing fine. I got off the train at Broadway-Lafayette and headed toward the gallery, which was on East 2nd Street. Just before I got to the door I checked my watch. It was exactly 7:15.

I entered the gallery and what I saw shocked me. Holly was reading, and the audience was all seated, watching her read.

What was going on? Had I gotten the time wrong? Was the reading supposed to have started at 7?

The gallery's curator, the lovable Lawry Smith, greeted me. "What happened?" he asked. "We were so worried about you."

I was completely confused. I looked at my watch. It was 8:15.

The only explanation was that I had been lost in a one-hour time warp just before I entered the gallery. I found this both scary and exciting. I'm an atheist, but I'm not a total rationalist. The surrealist in me is fascinated by the mysterious.

After Holly finished reading there was an intermission. Everybody I knew at the reading told me how worried they were, since I'm always punctual.

When it came time for my portion of the program I apologized to the audience for my tardiness and explained that I had been stuck in a time warp. People laughed, as if I were joking.

I went out for drinks afterwards with some friends and told them how thrilled I was to have been caught in a time warp. They all said there had to be a rational explanation.

There was, unfortunately. When I got home I looked at the alarm clock by my bed. The time was one hour earlier than the time on my watch. So what happened? The best I could come up with was that during my nap the clock had stopped for exactly an hour. But how likely is that?

And what about my watch? I ultimately figured it this way: I had based my notion of the time on what the bedside clock said. Every time I looked at my watch I was really only paying attention to the minute hand, not realizing that it was really an hour later.

Whatever the explanation, it appeared that I hadn't been in a time warp after all. Still, I was glad for the excitement of that brief illusion.

* * *

The piece that Holly and I wrote for that occasion has finally been published these many years later. About a year ago, as I was going through old documents on my computer, I rediscovered "Behold These Arms" Holly and I both had only the vaguest memory of it, and I remembered it as pretty much a failure: second-rate (or worse) Beckett. But reading it again I thought, this ain't so bad after all, and Holly felt the same way. We decided that we might even try to get it published, but we couldn't figure out where to send it. Then, a couple of months ago I discovered an online journal called AdmitTwo, which only publishes collaborative literature. Eureka! I thought, I've found the place to send our little freak.

Here's how the piece came about. I used to do readings and performances on a pretty regular basis at La Mama La Galleria, and I had invited Holly to share a bill with me. We had known each other for at least eight years and admired each other's work, so I proposed that we do a piece together for the event. I thought it should be something the two of us could read together, but not a dialogue. I think I came up with the basic concept: a monologue in the voice of a hermaphrodite (or person of indeterminate gender); the two of us would trade off lines, and read some in unison.

I think we wrote it at Holly's apartment in Queens. If I remember correctly, I took the reins of the computer and wrote as we brainstormed. Though who did what is somewhat blurry, in general Holly supplied more of the details and contours of the narrative and I was more responsible for the actual phrasing and transitions. I know for sure that the earrings and the Wheatmeal Digestives were her idea (I had never heard of Wheatmeal Digestives before or, I think, since). We ended up with a strange character that was decidedly Beckettian.

You'll have to be the judge of how it all comes off.

Read it here, in Issue 26 of AdmitTwo. The journal is in PDF format, so you can either read it with Adobe Acrobat or print it out. We're on pages 37-38.

Friday, November 07, 2008

At the Optician's: A Dream

I often have vivid recollections of my dreams. Still, many details get lost, and as I retell them to myself upon awakening they are formed into a much more coherent narrative than the dream itself. This is likely due to a mix of inherent memory and linguistic limitations as well as my own inclinations as a storyteller. With that said, here's last night's dream, or at least a version thereof, streamlined here and padded there as the writer overtakes the dreamer:

The left arm of my eyeglass frames had come off due to a loose screw. So I walked into an optician's shop to have it fixed. The guy behind the counter, a young guy in his twenties, fixed it. Then he started writing something. It turned out to be a bill, on an official invoice form, for $3.95. I was surprised, because this is usually a free courtesy service, even if it's not your own optician. Nonetheless, I opened my wallet and pulled out a $5 bill. I was about to hand it to the guy but I changed my mind, thinking: no way, this is a ripoff. "I'm not going to pay this," I said. So the guy snatched the glasses out of my hand. He took the screw out and handed my wounded frames back to me.

"This is an outrage," I screamed.

A man and a woman, somewhat older than the guy behind the counter, came out of an office to see what was going on. I explained what had happened. "Come with us," the man said, "and we'll try to get this thing straightened out."

I followed them back into the office. I sat down and the man opened a compartmentalized box that looked like a large box of chocolates. Most of the compartments had very expensive looking pens in them. The man pointed at each one and started giving very complex and confusing explanations of what they were, none of which seemed to have anything to do with pens. I was becoming anxious and upset. "You're not giving me any context," I complained.

"Just bear with me," the man said. "Everything will become clear."

Then he got to another compartment in the box and I noticed that it contained a miniature white pistol. "Now you can become a junior secret policeman," he said, and handed me the box. "I trust none of this will go beyond these doors." So, it's a bribe, I thought.

"Don't worry," I said, "I'm not vindictive." After a pause I said, "Actually, I am, but that's another story."

I brought my glasses back to the counter. The original guy was gone, and another guy replaced the screw. "Thank you," I said, and left the shop.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Chinatown in the East Sixties

Roast Pork & Roast Chicken Wonton Soup at Kar Won

3-Meat Lunch Combo at China Fun

One of my great surprises since I started working in Upper Midtown East (just south of Lower Upper East Side) was that I could find great Chinese roast meats near my office. In fact, the quality of the meats at these two regular haunts of mine is at least as good as that at most Chinatown rice shops.

Kar Won, at 116 E. 60th St., just west of Lexington, is a bustling fast food type of place with some made-to-order options. They do a big take-out business, but there's also a reasonably comfortable seating area up a few steps and away from the bustle. Lots of Chinese Americans eat there and for the area prices are quite low. I usually get either noodle or wonton soup with two roast meats when I go. I haven't had much luck with the duck, as I've usually gotten bony pieces without much meat, but the roast chicken is a winner in the poultry department, and the soy sauce chicken is pretty good too. But the real star at Kar Won is the roast pork. This moist, succulent pork may be the best I've had at any Chinese restaurant in quite some time.

China Fun, at 1221 Second Avenue (at 64th Street), is a different kind of place. It's a sit-down restaurant with waitperson service specializing, for the most part, in standard Americanized Chinese fare (there's also a branch on the Upper West Side). But, once again, the roast meats are the surprise find. The roast pork is good, the soy sauce chicken is good, and the roast duck is quite possibly the best of its type I've had in New York. The duck pieces are plump, meaty and incredibly flavorful, with a hint of star-anise. For a lunch special you can choose one, two, or all three meats, served with rice and pickled cabbage salad.

I've always found that ordering roast meats and/or noodle soups is the best approach at a Chinese restaurant where one would expect general mediocrity, and every once in a while these dishes turn out to be oases within a particular restaurant's otherwise culinary desert. If I end up at an Ollie's branch, say for a quick meal before a show at Lincoln Center, I know I'll be safe with a roast meat noodle soup. Same goes for Sammy's.

There are also several hole-in-the-wall places in the garment center that serve "Chinatown-style" roast meats and noodle soups, but they're always ridiculously crowded, so I've never tried any of them.

China Fun on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Day of Unabated Breath

Just about everybody in America, regardless of political predilection, was awaiting the presidential election with bated breath. Now most of us, I think, can breathe a little easier. Today is a day to savor the election result if you were an Obama supporter, or to mull it over if you weren't. I'll be back with some more food to savor tomorrow.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share this entry on "bated breath" from one of my favorite websites, World Wide Words.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Say Hello to Mr. Deadman

Over the past several years I've been tinkering away at several literary projects, all of them series of related short pieces, the M.O. that works best for me as a writer. One of these series is called "Mr. Deadman," and follows the adventures of the eponymous hero. It's still a work in progress, but several months ago I decided that I'd composed enough sections to start publishing excerpts. The first group has just been published on the website The Cafe Irreal.

The Cafe Irreal was one of the first places I thought of for these pieces. In web time it's a venerable journal, having been online since 1998. It features non-realistic writing in the tradition(s) of Kafka, Borges, and Calvino, to name a few of the most important literary forbears. Irrealism is one of a number of overlapping terms that have been applied over the years to non-realistic, "non-traditional" literature. When I was getting started as a writer in the 'seventies, the term was very much in vogue. Other terms that were used to describe the type of writing that I was attempting and being influenced by included "experimental," "innovative," and that old favorite, "avant garde."

For me, all of these terms are limited and limiting. I find "experimental" and "innovative" too descriptive of process or intent, too slippery and vague when it comes to actually describing the work, and needlessly scary to many readers who would probably enjoy much of this work. To a great degree, there was a certain self-congratulatory trap that experimental/innovative writers fell into back in the 'seventies, some implicitly and others explicitly claiming an esthetic (and sometimes moral) superiority for these approaches while John Gardner, Cynthia Ozick, and Tom Wolfe, among others, were even more hysterically arguing that these writers were a threat to literature, morality, and western civilization.

To call something "avant garde" in the 21st century would be both silly and presumptuous. "Irreal" is, I think, too much of a shibboleth to be wholly adequate. Nonetheless, I'm really pleased to have the first excerpts of "Mr. Deadman" published on The Cafe Irreal.

Anyway, as I was thinking about terminology recently I came up with a term that works for me: "alternate mindset literature." It's writer-centered and it's open-ended, but it limns a territory apart from realistic literature without carrying a value judgement about that which it is not.

So, take a look at some of my recent alternate mindset literature,

Excerpts from "Mr. Deadman"