Wok’s up?: Most lifelong New Yorkers over 50 can probably attest that Chinese restaurants have always been part of the landscape. Up until not too long ago, two or three or more were on the same block. I always thought they’d never leave. Not true. High rents. Thai and Vietnamese places replacing them, at least in Manhattan. What hasn’t changed is that everyone still has a local favorite Chinese restaurant. There are destination spots like Shun Lee (Lincoln Center), the Peking Duck House on East 53rd, Mission Chinese on East Broadway, and for fun and funky there’s Chinatown and Flushing, but I’ve always thought of Chinese restaurants as catering to locals. So it was surprising to hear a Connecticut family telling the waiter in Wok 88 on 3rd Ave that they travel every other week to Manhattan for dinner at Wok 88. Overhearing the conversation, another table told of their weekly trip from upstate Goshen for the great asparagus sauteed with beef, and pineapple chicken. Not to be outdone, a third group told of their regular travel from downtown Philly for the “deelish” bok choy, noodle soups and roast meats. All politics may be local, Chinese restaurants maybe not.
Whole Foods (3d/88th) shout out: For making all Thanksgiving fixings and ingredients, including turkey and sides, available to staffers who worked Thanksgiving Day so they could make their own Thanksgiving dinner on store premises and have it together. The store closed at 4 p.m. and those who didn’t have other plans shared the day with other Whole Food staffers. Good stuff.
Bad business: Thanksgiving, Stargate (Diner 3d/88th-89th), around 6 p.m. Single woman walks into restaurant. Not very busy. Seated in a booth is another woman by herself. A gentleman is sitting alone at the table next to the woman’s table. He’s drinking wine. Couldn’t see if she was. Server points new customer to a table. Before looking at menu, customer orders wine and is told that they don’t serve wine. Customer points to gentleman drinking wine. Server walks over to him (he’s either the owner or his brother), comes back and says no, the woman at the booth table brought her own wine. In walks another customer. Owner/brother seats her and brings bottle of wine to her table and proceeds to pour. Hey. If he wanted to have wine with the customer who came BYOB, then join her at her table and don’t sit at a table in the middle of the restaurant drinking wine when it’s not available to be ordered by all customers. And then to bring a bottle of wine for another customer is good reason to walk out. What happened to hospitality? Business sense? Common sense? Not at Stargate. In these days of diners going out of business, it would be a shame to lose one, not because of high rents, but because the owner or his brother don’t know how to run a restaurant.
The new real estate? Would you believe that there’s a bus stop with its very own address at 90 Bowery St - on the border of the East Village and Soho? Not to be confused with “90 Bowery” in Chinatown/Little Italy which, on Street Easy, is described as “a collection of 11” 1 and 2 condominium apartments. Both Bowery addresses are prime real estate. I didn’t visit 90. What got my attention was that a bus stop had an address. It’s not a bus depot like the Tuskagee on East 100th St and Lexington. If you google that location, you get the depot’s address. If you google 90 Bowery St, you get an address for the bus stop. Across the street, at 87 Bowery St, there’s a travel tour company. So who owns the bus stop? The tour company or the MTA? The site could be lucrative and competitive with some high-end real estate. If sold, it would bring in megabucks, funds the MTA could put - if only it would - to good use. I haven’t been able to find out what MTA bus goes to 90 Bowery St. Or if it’s an MTA bus stop. I did get driving directions from the UES online - start at the entrance to the FDR Drive in the 90’s southbound to exit 3 which merges onto South St toward Manhattan Bridge, a right onto Pike Slip, continuing onto Pike St, turning left onto Division St and right onto the Bowery. Bus stop on left. If there’s still a bus stop. Once they figure it out, real estate goes quickly.
Disarmament: Friday early evening. Dinner with friend at Budapest, a Hungarian restaurant (formerly Andre’s), 2nd/84th-85th. Seating is benchlike banquettes. We ordered quickly because it was nearing dinner time. What to have? Goulash? stuffed cabbage? chicken paprikash? Ordered Hungarian salami and sausages with a side of korozotti in paprika - feta and cream cheese blended with onion, paprika and spices - and a glass of wine. As we were starting to eat, a woman alone was seated at the table alongside ours next to my friend. The two women became partners in the woman’s menu choices. They chose cauliflower tomato soup, veal paprikash, studel. The two women dined and discoursed. Not one for discourse with neighboring diners, I ate. The conversation turned to events of the day -- the Paris terrorism, crime in New York. The woman liked NY’s superior intelligence but had had it with NY. Having reached retirement age, she was “out of NY forever.” My interest piqued, I asked “Why?” “Look, I’ve lived here a long time. I’m not a New Yorker. I want to move to a Red State. I believe in the Second Amendment. I want to carry my gun.” With that I realized I had best stick to eating and leave discourse with neighboring tables to my friend.
Arlene Kayatt’s East Side Encounters will run bi-weekly in Our Town. Know of something she should include in the column? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org