Arts and Entertainment
by dan leone
And yet ...
ONE OF MY favorite things to do is to walk around with my eyes open. You see stuff. If your ears are open, you hear things. Nose, smell ... you get the idea. One of my favorite things to do, walking around like this (and maybe a little bit hungry to boot), is to happen upon some bustling, good-looking, good-smelling, nice-light-lit, cozy, new-to-me restaurant full of laughingly loving-it diners and smiling servers ... and eat at the mean, empty, fluorescent-lighted joint next door.
This sort of thing almost exactly occurred to me most recently on Clement Street, between 22nd and 23rd, just a couple days ago. Yet Wah was the popular place, and Grace Cafe the desolate dive just a few doors down. Chinese food, and Chinese food. I got mine at Grace Cafe. There was a TV going haywire on a shelf up near the ceiling, and then next to that there was one of those goofy kitty things, and then next to that the little Buddha shrine. All along the top of the walls of the place were mirror panels, the sole purpose of which seemed to be to magnify the fluorescence of the fluorescent lights. Cool. I don't know about all those happily mood-lit people at Yet Wah, but I like to see my food when I'm eating it.
About the only other atmospheric touch worth mentioning, Grace Cafe-wise, was a couple of huge tanks with a lobster or two and a gigantic crab crawling around in them. Oh, and each tank had a white shallow bowl at the bottom of it. Since neither lobsters nor crabs are known to eat off of china generally speaking, at least I can only assume that the bowls are there as crustaceoreligious shrines of sorts, to gently accustomize the poor critters to what's in store for them, hereafterwards.
I ordered roast-duck noodle soup ($3.95) and chicken with tender greens ($4.50) either one of which could have been a meal in itself. But how was I to know? There were no other diners, no other tables full of plates or bowls to judge by, and the bowls in the lobster and crab tanks, as I said, were shallow ones.
The waitressperson brought me a pot of tea, and when I asked very nicely for water, too, please, she got all huffy. "So you don't want the tea?" she said.
"No. Yes, I want the tea," I said. "I just also want water, when you get a chance."
She stormed away to get me some, and then that was the last I saw of her. The cook brought me my food.
My teacup had lipstick on one side of it.
Ha ha! So you see? say all you Yet Wah fans. And I did see, very clearly, in fact, under all those fluorescent lights. I'm sure there was lipstick or worse on some of your teacups and wine glasses, too; you just never noticed because it was so dark in there, speaking of ha ha ha.
But all malmaturity aside, I like to see what I'm drinking out of, when I'm drinking, and in this case I saw lipstick on one side of the cup, so I did what I always do under such circumstances: I drank out of the other side. I never used to worry about stuff like that, but I'm a married man now. I can't go coming home with lipstick all over my lips.
The soup was great. It came in a great big bowl, filled to the brim with steaming broth, a big mass of noodles, and floating rafts of baby bok choy. Beautiful, but there weren't no ducks in it. I was this close to freaking out when the cook came back with a dim sum-size plate full of roasted duck, skins, bones, and everything, all chopped up and ready to dip or dunk or dump, if you made enough room. So it was more than a bowl of soup. And it was delicious. Everything about it: the noodles were cooked just rightly, the bok choy had plenty of crispness to it, and the duck was juicy, even before it hit the soup.
By the time I finished the duck noodles, I was full, and out of water, and 15 minutes late for dinner at a friend's house a few blocks away, but the waitressperson was still ignoring me. She and the cook were sitting behind the fish tanks calling their cell phone number on the phone, seeing what kinds of rings they could get out of it.
I had to get up and go over there and get their attention to pay and
to ask to get my chicken and greens to go. Which I ate for lunch the
next day. It was all right, but not as good as the soup.