Sunday, April 20, 2008

Waiter, There's An Apple In My Kimchi, and Feeding The Squirrels

One of my favorite places to visit in Manhattan after work is the Eldridge Street Dumpling House, which is located on Eldridge Street (duh?) in Chinatown. The Dumpling House used to be a little hole-in-the-wall place where you had to almost fight to get your order placed. There was no place to eat, except for a small counter with stools, so I would exit and enjoy my meals in a nearby park (and watch the squirrels beg, more on that later), or carry it home on the bus and watch the reactions from other commuters to the vapors emanating from the bags. Recently the Dumpling House has undergone an extensive renovation which more than doubled its size, added tables, and even a numbered ordering system. It still gets pretty hectic, but is much more pleasant a visit. The price of the dumplings went up slightly, but is still an incredible bargain at four-for-a-dollar! Other items of interest are the stuffed sesame pancakes, and the soups, specifically the hot-and-sour which is the best I have found.

This last visit, I ordered 4 dumplings, a roast pork sesame pancake, and an order of kimchi. I have developed a liking for kimchi ever since being introduced to it by a former employer at one of his favorite Korean restaurants. This kimchi was a bit watery, but had an interesting sweet-hot flavor. As I worked through the top layer I ran in to something white, and wedge-shaped. At first I was thinking cucumber, but as I bit into the mystery chunk, I couldn't mistake the texture. It was an apple slice. There were five or six total in the whole container, and it added a nice twist to a classic dish. The dumplings and the pancake were excellent as always.

Which leads me to the squirrels. Back in the fall, I grabbed some dumplings-to-go one night and looked on Google Maps on my Blackberry for a park somewhere nearby to sit and eat them. Seward Park looked good. It was at the corner of Essex and Canal, and next to the East Broadway "F" station. I walked down and found that the main portion of the park closes at dusk, but there were stone benches surrounding it. I sat down and started to eat.

I noticed some wildlife scurrying around at a distance, and didn't think much of it. There was a little bit of light from the streetlights. Just enough to see my food, and the scurrying squirrels. As I ate the squirrels got a little braver and came closer. I figured they were used to people throwing bits of bread from sandwiches and other things, so they expected me to drop something. As I continued to eat, and the squirrels got even closer, I noticed that they were a little smaller than the grey squirrels I was used to from upstate. They were more the size of a red squirrel. Then they started to come right up to me. I was about to see if they liked dumpling dough when I noticed that they all had hairless tails! I gathered what was left of my food and left quickly, a little creeped out, but mostly laughing at my "city squirrels".

Since that night, I stick to better lighted areas, and I have also gotten new glasses.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Fast, but WRONG Food

I went to a local convenience store chain recently that had a computer-driven self ordering kiosk. You punch the buttons on the touchscreen for the type of food (sandwich, burger, hot dog, angiogram etc..) and add toppings, and side orders, and pay. Then a clerk brings the order by number to the counter for you to pick up.

I think a few years ago I would have voiced concern for this trend, thinking that it would eliminate jobs in our fast food restaurants once the idea spreads to the big chains.

I saw an article recently that one of the larger Hardee's franchisees was installing these kiosks in their restaurants, and these days I think it might actually be a good idea. You see, my experiences lately in these places have been awful. I order and get the deer in the headlights look if I ask a question, or try to make a special order.

I had an experience at a Wendy's drive-thru, where I had ordered a baked potato and hadn't received a fork. I realized this after I had driven a mile down the road to a store I needed to go to, and attempted to eat my food in the parking lot before shopping. I stashed the food back in the bag, thinking that I would just swing back through the drive-thru to grab a Frosty. It was hot after all. I ordered my Frosty and this is how the conversation went:

Speaker: Welcome to Wendy's, may I take your order
Me: Yes, I would like a small frosty
Speaker: Would you like anything else?
Me: Yes, I ordered a baked potato before and didn't get a fork. May I have a fork?
Speaker: You want baked potato?
Me: No, I need a fork
Speaker: Frosty come with spoon
Me: I know that, but I ordered a potato before and didn't get a fork so I need a fork
Speaker: So you want potato?
Me: No, just the Frosty, with a spoon, and a fork!
Speaker: We don't give forks with Frostys
Me: Fine, I'll drive up!
(I drove up to the window where she was and held up the potato)
Me: Remember me? CAN I HAVE A FORK NOW?!?!
Speaker: Oh, OK.
Me: Can you call me an ambulance now, because this little exchange we have had seems to have caused me to have a stroke

On a side note, KFC feels that this whole exchange can be solved by merging the fork and spoon into one completely fucking useless object: THE SPORK! Why do people accept this useless invention without rebellion? Great, a fork with tines too-short to spear anything and hold on to it, and a spoon with damned holes in it!

I was at another fast food place recently for breakfast, and stood at the front counter for 5 minutes waiting for someone to help me. There were two people working in the kitchen, and they looked at me with some vague form of acknowledgment, but still nothing. Finally a manger-looking type came out and said, "I'm sorry, I was busy, and we're very short handed. No one showed up today". The man behind me said, "Then why are you OPEN?" Upon ordering my food, I watched as he tried then to explain to one of the kitchen-workers how to make my food. This exchange went back and forth between them, with him even yelling at her once in front of me. Finally, she asked him to look over the final product. He looked at it, and ROLLED HIS EYES! And then, wait for it.... GAVE IT TO ME ANYWAY!!! Needless to say, it wasn't what I wanted, but had taken so long that as long as it was edible I didn't care.

Maybe I'm being picky, expecting perfection from minimum wage earners? Or maybe I'm just being punished for even considering to eat this shit. I think if I ever attempted to make a movie like Supersize Me, I would end up being hauled away for stabbing someone to death with a fucking spork long before the food had an effect on my health. Oh, wait.. you can't do that with a spork either!