This past January, our group celebrated ten years of traveling New York City’s environs searching for mostly unheralded, inexpensive, usually ethnic eating establishments. We were looking for something maybe slightly more broadly appealing than a place where cow foot soup and goat belly were the signature dishes. And since this was supposed to be a special occasion, we also decided to invite spouses, partners, significant others; anyone our members wanted to bring along.
Gerry recommended an old time Italian place in Mount Vernon, just over the Bronx border, called the Lincoln Lounge. From his description; “good pizza—old school, family-style Italian in a run down neighborhood with a full bar,” the Lincoln Lounge sounded exactly what we were looking for.
It took numerous group emails to nail down a date when all could attend. And then things happened. A wife dropped out due to family obligations; a girlfriend couldn’t come because of a conflict until we got an email from Rick saying “Sounds like its turning stag. Should we just commit to no wimmin?”
We never did commit to it, but as it turned out, no “wimmin” were in attendance.
And on the appointed day, neither was Rick; a family emergency denying him our celebration.
To make up for the loss of Rick, we were graced with the presence of original member, Charlie, who left us in 2005 for the greener pastures of the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania.
It was a Friday night and the Lincoln Lounge was mobbed with large groups; the small bar two deep with “regulars,” including one uniformed policeman who ate at the bar with his bullet-proof vest on and gun holstered around his waist.
After we were seated; cramped in a corner, we quickly ordered a sausage pizza and here the Lincoln Lounge did not disappoint. With its thin crust, sauce bursting with flavor, nicely charred crust topped with fresh sausage; the pie, as it turned out was the highlight of the meal.
The antipasto salad, a bowl of greens topped with provolone, sopressata, and olives and doused in a vinegary dressing was passable while the steamed clams in white wine and garlic, standard and more than acceptable.
The calamari pasta, however, along with the shrimp scampi were disappointments. Apparently, when the dishes at the Lincoln Lounge are advertised as family style, they don’t mean our gluttonous family.
The shrimp, of which here they most definitely count, were barely enough for each of us to get a taste. As it turned out, a taste was more than enough.
The modest amount of spaghetti adorned with a light tomato broth and tiny pieces of calamari was devoid of flavor.
Zio shook his head as he gazed at the miniature calamari. “I like big fat calamari rings,” he said. “Not these little ones.”
“Was it really worth slaughtering baby squid for this?” I questioned indicating the “family-sized” platter.
“Yeah, it’s inhumane,” Gerry said as he speared one with his fork.
Thankfully, the pork chops with peppers and onions were good enough to almost redeem the travesty that was the squid and shrimp.
While we cleaned our plates, Eugene began to, once again, muse on a trip to a Caribbean all-inclusive he was soon to embark on. “You know what I like to do,” he swooned. “Eat a big breakfast, stay at the beach until two, take a nap, and then eat dinner. You never have to leave the hotel.”
Trying desperately to divert the conversation back to why we were at the Lincoln Lounge, I was curious about our group’s memories of the past ten years.
“Remember the bean dessert,” Eugene barked out. “At the Filipino place in Queens. The worst!”
“Yeah and the cheap Polish place in Greenpoint,” Zio added. “I went back once.”
“What about that one in Chinatown. The place with fish stomach and goose feet,” Mike from Yonkers reminisced.
“Sheesh, that was inedible,” Eugene spat. “Even Gerry had a hard time eating it.”
Brian Silverman chronicles cheap eats, congee, cachapas, cow foot, cow brains, bizarre foods, baccala, bad verse, fazool, fish stomach, happy hours, hot peppers, hot pots, pupusas, pastas, rum punch and rotis, among many other things on his site Fried Neck Bones...and Some Home Fries. Twitter: [email protected]_neckbones.
Center of attention: Lincoln’s Williams explodes onto national recruiting scene
Compared to other New York City football coaches, Shawn O’Connor knows plenty about high-level recruiting. In a decade at Lincoln, he has coached three prominent prospects – Nyan Boateng (California by way of Florida), Lansford Watson (Maryland) and Khalif Staten (Iowa). Boateng and Watson were All-Americans.
But O’Connor admits those three are nothing compared to the latest talent, junior Ishaq Williams.
“It’s crazy,” he joked. “I’ve got five or six coaches coming through every day. I got to slow this down.”
It may be out of his control.
The soft-spoken Williams, Lincoln’s dynamic defensive end/tight end, has become one of the more sought-after talents in the country and the seventh-ranked defensive end in the nation by Scout.com. He has received invites to both All-American games, run by Under Armour and the U.S. Army. He has 25 BCS-level scholarship offers from just about every power conference, prominent schools such as Alabama, Florida, Miami, Penn State, Rutgers, Syracuse, Notre Dame, USC, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Pittsburgh coming hard after him.
“It’s a great honor,” he said, a phrase Williams often repeated, referring to the interest, and the All-American invites. “But it doesn’t move me. I keep a level head and keep working harder.”
The 17-year-old from Clinton Hill speaks to several assistant coaches per day. Thursday afternoon, he had a Skype video conference with Alabama coach Nick Saban. He has taken unofficial visits with his father, Shaun, to Syracuse, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Miami and Maryland, meeting each school’s head coach.
Shaun said when his son first started playing football, at the age of 7, he was faster than all the other kids. He started working at the sport then and hasn’t stopped.
“It really is a blessing,” his father said. “I don’t want to make it sound like we’re cocky or we have a sense of entitlement, but at a certain point when you put in as much work as he’s putting it in, and as much work as our family has put in, you expect it.”
Williams, an All-City first team selection by The Post who had 43 tackles, 11 sacks, and three forced fumbles, has grown used to the attention he at once avoided.
“It’s fun actually and it’s necessary,” he said. “I don’t like attention in general, but I do like this attention. It’s a very important part of my life and I have to make a decision.”
He plans to take several unofficial visits over the summer, to see all 25 of the schools that have offered. Williams would like to cut the list down to five by the start of the season and have a decision by the turn of the new year. He has received advice from the former Lincoln stars, especially Boateng, who suggested picking the school that wants him the most.
“I’m going to visit most of them, evaluate them all, and pick which one best suits me,” he said. “I’m looking for a good environment, a good coach, place I feel comfortable with good academics, and where I have a chance to go to the next level.”
With an 82 average, Williams isn’t only on pace to qualify, but graduate early from Lincoln this January. He would like to be able to begin taking classes at the school of his choosing by then.
An assistant coach involved in Williams’ recruitment expects him to have close to 50 offers by the middle of summer. The coach called it the “Dominique Easley factor,” referring to the Curtis defensive tackle now at Florida. Plenty of coaches made the trek to New York City to see Easley and they want a crack at the latest standout. The coach made sure to say he doesn’t believe Williams is on Easley’s level yet, but that coaches like his possible upside as an edge pass rusher.
“He’s so quick and explosive,” the coach said. “He has a great first step.”
First Black Woman Promoted To Chief Officer With HoCo Fire Dept.
Speight has completed the Northern Virginia Fire and Rescue Leadership Development Institute and is currently in the Carl Holmes Executive Development Institute. (Photo Courtesy of Howard County Government)
HOWARD COUNTY, MD — Howard County's first Black female chief officer was pinned Friday during a special ceremony held by the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services. Battalion Chief/Paramedic Cerisa Speight has served in Howard County since 2009.
As a rising star within the department, she furthered her education and training to become a member of the special operations team, a Battalion Chief Aide, and an on-call public information officer before being promoted to lieutenant. She again rose up the ranks and was promoted to captain while working on her bachelor's degree in business administration and is currently working on her master's degree in business administration.
"It has been a privilege to watch Battalion Chief/Paramedic Speight grow within our department," Howard County Fire Chief William Anuszewski said. "Her commitment to both Howard County and the department exemplifies honor and service, a true model for others to follow. There are no glass ceilings that can contain her future."
Speight has completed the Northern Virginia Fire and Rescue Leadership Development Institute and is currently in the Carl Holmes Executive Development Institute. She has traveled to New Zealand as a presenter at the Women and Firefighting Australasia conference speaking about fire leadership and career development as well as the International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Service conference. Speight serves as president of the HCDFRS St. Florian's Brigade, an affinity group for women in the fire service and is a member of the HCDFRS Phoenix Sentinels, an affinity group for Black firefighters. Speight serves on multiple fire and EMS committees within the department and is a new member of the Maryland Incident Management Team.
"For more than a decade, Battalion Chief/Paramedic Speight has been a stand-out in our department of fire and rescue services," Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said during the ceremony. "Her recent rise to Battalion Chief is a testament to her incredible work and leadership in the department, and we're hopeful that her success will continue to inspire many more to follow in her footsteps."
A 1940s menu from Chin Lee Restaurant in New York.
It’s winter of 1939 and the big, bamboo-style letters on the sides of a building at Broadway and 49th Street blaze forth the name “CHIN LEE” late into the night. Around them, the words “DINING,” “DANCING” and “NO COVER CHARGE” are spelled out by blinking yellow bulbs. The entrance is on 49th Street, under a movie-theater-style awning that lures you up a brightly-lit flight of stairs to a coat check, a crowd of people milling about and the clatter of plates and the noise of a frantic jazz band.
Finally, the unsmiling Chinese maître d’ nods your way, pulls menus off a pile and leads you through a maze of tables crowded with shouting, smiling, eating diners. He finds you a table off in a far corner and disappears, leaving you to survey the surroundings. On the main floor, dozens of white-clothed tables surround a dance floor and an all-Chinese jazz orchestra wailing away at breakneck pace, while above there’s a second floor, with more tables and a balcony overlooking the dancers.
On the dance floor, it’s strictly catch-as-catch-can, with gum-chewing shopgirls from Gimbel’s dancing with shopgirls, while Wall Street clerks look on hungrily, and a gaggle of girlfriends from the Bronx tries to catch the eyes of a group of slumming Princeton boys. A black-bow-tied Chinese waiter hands you the menu for the 70 cents dinner, and you scan the choices. You can have a club sandwich or a ham omelet, if you must, but the top of the menu lists Chin Lee’s specialties, which are chow mein and chop suey--six kinds of “chop sooy” to be precise. You look around at the other tables and see big platters heaped with steaming mounds of brownish stew, either over rice, for chop suey, or noodles, for chow mein.
The kitchen churns out hundreds of gallons of the stuff daily, to be shoveled down by hundreds of thousands of happy customers every year. It’s the midpoint of the Chop Suey Era in American dining, and you want to share in the fun. You signal the waiter, point to the beef chop suey on the menu and say, “I’ll have some of that.”
Today Chin Lee is a near-forgotten part of the city’s culinary memory, its Theater District building now covered with giant billboards, and a Latin nightclub occupying the upstairs space. In fact, to view the only concrete evidence that the chop suey palace even existed, you have to go down to Chinatown. Among the exhibits in “Have You Eaten Yet?: the Chinese Restaurant in America” at the Museum of Chinese in the Americas are a souvenir fan and a couple of menus from “Broadway’s Most Popular Chinese-American Restaurant.” They’re part of the eccentric collection of a Chinese food fanatic named Harley Spiller, who has spent the last eight years collecting ephemera—from menus to matchbooks, cookbooks to song lyrics—all relating to the Chinese-American culinary experience.
You can also see century-old menus from Chinatowns in Boston and New York a hand-colored postcard of Mott Street in the 1940s, when nearly every restaurant had a neon sign blazing “CHOP SUEY” or “CHOW MEIN” above its door marvel at the inanity of Ideal Toy’s 1967-vintage “Chop Suey” game and listen to Louis Prima and Keely Smith singing, “Chop Suey, Chow Mein, Tufu [sic] and you, I’ve got the craziest yearning. ”
It’s never quite stated in the exhibition, but all of these artefacts have a common theme: From 1920 through the 1960s, Chinese-American restaurants were the most exciting culinary experience in town, when no other ethnic food could compete with the roster of chow mein, egg rolls, fried rice, shrimp toast, spare ribs, egg foo young and, above all, chop suey itself. Then without anybody noticing it, the Chinese-American restaurants began to disappear, the signs blinking out one by one. And this all leads to the question of, what was that culinary craze? Where did it come from and why did it go?
One of the last Chow Mein signs in Manhattan hung above Jade Mountain Restaurant, which had operated since 1931 on 2nd Avenue near East 12th Street. It closed in 2007 after a truck hit and killed its owner, 60-year-old Reginald Chan, while he was making a delivery on a bicycle. ''It just seems like it's been there forever and ever,'' magazine editor Emily Neins told the New York Times about the demise of the popular sign, ''and there's something comforting about that.'' Photo courtesy of warsze, Flickr.
You have to look hard to find chop suey, shrimp toast and the other Chinese-American specialties in Manhattan today. Only one, lonely “CHOW MEIN” sign remains, flickering above the entrance to Jade Mountain on 2nd Avenue and 11th Street. At age 74, this is the second oldest Chinese restaurant in the city (outranked only by Doyers Street’s Nom Wah Tea Parlor, est. 1925). Inside, its menu, decor, atmosphere and staff all appear to have been unchanged in decades, except for a certain dimming with age. You can take your choice of booths, upholstered in worn, caramel-colored vinyl, then peruse the well-thumbed menu. If you want to try and recreate the excitement of Chin Lee in its heyday, or its food at least, you can look down to the chop suey section and pick whichever you like.
The waiter will soon bring out a pedestaled dish under a battered metal dome and remove it to reveal what once defined Chinese food in American minds: A thick brown sauce, mainly watered-down chicken stock congealed in corn starch. A muddle of overcooked ingredients that probably included roast pork, bean sprouts, Chinese cabbage, snow peas, onion, canned mushrooms, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. And no flavor whatsoever, except for an undefined savoriness. Chop suey isn’t vile or unpleasant, but it doesn’t have any positive qualities either. It’s simply bland, generic fuel for filling one’s stomach. How did American fall in love with dishes like this? Was this really Chinese food, or something invented in America?
“Chop suey is Chinese food, made by Chinese,” Jade Mountain’s waiter will tell you. “Only they make it different here because the ingredients are different.”
Most tales about Chinese-American food, and chop suey in particular, are based on the “fakelore” all too common in culinary history. But Jade Mountain’s waiter is more right than not.
The story begins in China, in a group of poor and obscure coastal counties in Guangdong Province that, for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call the Toisan region. Many of its residents were peasants, eking out a living from overpopulated land and suffering under periodic economic crises and civil unrest. Vegetables were their principal crops, but they also raised pigs and a variety of fowl, of which they consumed every possible part from beak to hoof. While the elites up in the provincial capital of Guangzhou enjoyed the refined dishes and elaborate banquets of Cantonese cuisine, Toisan’s peasants lived mainly on mixed vegetable dishes and fried noodles. But it was the Toisanese who migrated by the thousands to the United States and dominated the early American Chinatowns, so it was they who defined “Chinese” food for most Americans.
Beginning in 1848, the first mass migrations of Chinese began to land in North America, mostly to work in the California Gold Rush. Whites at first tolerated the Chinese, even trying the “curries, hashes, and fricassees” of their cuisine, but soon turned against the pig-tailed foreigners, seeking to expel them, with violence if necessary, from all Western territories. Whites shunned the region’s Chinatowns and boycotted Chinese restaurants as depraved and injurious to “civilized” sensibilities. (They did, however, eat American food prepared by Chinese servants.) Consequently, while it’s probable that California’s Chinese ate chop suey, there exists no contemporary mention of the dish on the West Coast before 1900. For the first American use of the term, we have to follow the trail of Chinese escaping East and head to the great immigrant mixing bowl of New York City.
Chinese immigrants faced bigotry and humiliation from San Francisco to New York. In 1894 the St. Louis Republic published a cartoon of a Chinese man eating rat stew with one chop stick in each hand.
New Yorkers may have been as racially biased as Californians, viewing the Chinese as bland, sinister, inscrutable, pigtailed, opium-smoking, eaters of rats. (A street ditty even went: “Chink, chink, Chinaman/Eats dead rats,/Eats them up/Like gingersnaps.”) But they did not see the Chinese as an imminent threat and allowed them to settle along lower Mott and Pell Streets in the beginnings of Chinatown. New Yorkers drew the line, however, at eating in the city’s first Chinese restaurants--who knew what floated in their incomprehensible stews! In the summer of 1883, these fears came to a head when a local doctor charged a Mott Street grocer with cooking rats and also cats in the rear of his store. Like flies, reporters swarmed to Chinatown, but a sanitary inspector discounted the doctor’s testimony, absolving the grocer. Nevertheless, the charges infuriated the editor of the city’s first Chinese-language newspaper.
Wong Ching Foo, a renowned defender of Chinese rights, offered a $500 reward to anyone proving that the Chinese ate rats or cats. When no takers appeared, he wrote an article for the Brooklyn Eagle extolling the breadth and sophistication of Chinese gastronomy. Point by point, he compared it with American food, concluding that, “In the main Chinese cooking is better and cheaper than our own.” His proofs were better cooking methods, a broader range of ingredients and a list of favorite Chinese dishes, including something called “chop soly,” a ragout which he claimed was the national dish of China: “Each cook has his own recipe. The main features of it are pork, bacon, chickens, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, onion and pepper. These may be called characteristics accidental ingredients are duck, beef, perfumed turnip, salted black beans, sliced yam, peas and string beans.”
Wong Ching Foo’s article awakened the appetites of New York City’s Bohemians, a group of ne’er-do-well artists and intellectuals who were the foodies and chowhounds of their day. Rather than gather at haute cuisine palaces like Delmonico’s, they preferred to carouse down in the immigrant districts, “discovering” the city’s low-rent German, Italian, French, Hungarian and Jewish eateries. During the 1880s, they also began to visit Chinatown restaurants. One such trip was described by the journalist Allan Forman, who was invited by a lawyer of “decidedly Bohemian tendencies” to dine in Chinatown. Forman knew the lawyer’s “penchant for mousing into all sorts of out-of-the-way quarters of the city, where he fairly reveled in dirt and mystery and strange viands.” When he heard their destination was Mott Street, however, he wavered:
Bohemians and tourists began to flock to New York's Chinatown in the1880s for adventure and food. "An American who once falls under the spell of chop sui . finds that his feet are carrying him to Mott Street," claimed Leslie's Weekly at the time.
“Thanks awfully. But my palate is not educated up to rats and dogs yet. Let me take a course in some French restaurant where these things are disguised before I brave them in their native honesty.”
But the lawyer agreed to treat him to dinner at Delmonico’s if the Chinese restaurant wasn’t “as clean as that Italian place where you eat spaghetti.” So on a cold New York night the two traveled down to Mong Sing Wah’s restaurant, up some stairs off a courtyard behind 18 Mott Street. There Forman watched in amazement as his friend conversed in apparently fluent Chinese: “`Chow-chop-suey, chop-seow, laonraan, san-sui-goy, no-ma-das,’ glibly ordered my friend, and the white-robed attendant trotted off and began to chant down a dumbwaiter.” Forman had no idea what was on the menu, but when the food appeared he seems to have forgotten his fears about rats and dogs.
After a short lesson in chopsticks from a Chinese man at the next table, the two adventurers dug in:
“Chow-chop suey was the first dish we attacked. It is a toothsome stew, composed of bean sprouts, chicken’s gizzards and livers, calfe’s tripe, dragon fish, dried and imported from China, pork, chicken, and various other ingredients which I was unable to make out.”
By the end of the feast, which had been washed down with tea and little cups of sweet Chinese firewater, Forman was amazed to find that, “The meal was not only novel, but it was good, and to cap the climax the bill was only sixty-three cents!”
Over the next decade, the trickle of Bohemians and other tourists to Chinatown became a stream. They visited usually as part of “slumming” parties, looking for outlandish scenes, a whiff of danger and chop suey. According to Leslie’s Weekly, “It is the seductive dish that calls back again and again the American to Chinatown. An American who once falls under the spell of chop sui may forget all about things Chinese for weeks, and suddenly a strange craving that almost defies will power arises and, as though under a magnetic influence, he finds that his feet are carrying him to Mott Street.”
The chop suey that they consumed was far earthier than anything served at Jade Mountain. Although Wong Chin Foo emphasized chop suey’s variability, by the 1890s the dish had already had acquired a fixed roster of ingredients. It was a stew of chicken livers and gizzards and bits of tripe, cooked with mushrooms, bamboo shoots and bean sprouts, and maybe adding celery, onions and “dried dragon fish.” Chop suey’s main seasoning was “seow,” also known as soy sauce, then utterly exotic. There was nothing “American” about the dish it hadn’t yet been altered to please white tastes. In fact, from the organ meats and the assortment of vegetables, this chop suey still sounds very much like the kind of edible, peasant miscellany favored in Toisan.
Noriko Sanefuji (right), a curator in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, has been collecting early artifacts from Chinese restaurants including Tasty Chop Suey, which has fed diners in Honolulu's Chinatown for over 50 years. Mrs. Liu (left), the current owner, took over the business in 1985.
But how did chop suey jump from 1890s Chinatown to, say, Bill Hong’s on East 56th Street, where they serve what may be the most expensive chop suey on the planet? Bill Hong’s is the last of the big Theater District Chinese-American restaurants, like Chin Lee, House of Chan and the original Ruby Foo’s, that thrived from the 1920s through the 1950s. Photos of dozens of celebrities still stare down from the walls--most prominently Michael Jackson, who’s apparently a regular. But the elegant, spacious interior, all grey and white, is often nearly empty, except for the hovering waiters in white jackets and black bowties. Most of their clientele is elderly, according to the manager, and Sunday is the only time the restaurant is really crowded, when “it’s like a Jewish convention.”
It’s a dubious proposition that the more expensive the dish the better it must be, but you can order the shrimp chop suey at Bill Hong’s, costing a breathtaking 19 dollars a portion. When the dish arrives and the dome is popped off (with a lot more ceremony than at Jade Mountain), the shrimp are indeed large and succulent. But what lies beneath them is what you’d expect in American chop suey, i.e. nothing remarkable: a bed of flavorless vegetables bound together by a watery pale sauce. That, according the Chinese cookbook writer M. P. Lee, is precisely the point: “The reason for [chop suey’s] popularity is probably that it has no strong flavor or taste of any kind, and is therefore more easily acceptable to Western palates.” Even a spoonful of hot sauce can’t redeem the dish. Once a group of Mainland Chinese came to Bill Hong’s and ordered a meal. When the food arrived, they looked up at the waiter in outrage and asked: “What the hell is this? You expect us to eat this?”
So what happened between the 1890s and today? The answer begins with a tale that Bill Hong’s manager tells about the “invention” of chop suey.
“The story,” he says, “maybe not true, but I believe it, is that the Chinese foreign minister, Mr. Li, came to represent China in America. Guests come to see Mr. Li in his hotel, his chefs don’t have time to prepare a dish, so they make a mixed vegetable dish and call it ‘chop suey.’ The guests were so happy that they put the recipe on the menu.”
There really was a Mr. Li, actually the Chinese statesman Li Hung Chang, who in 1896 made a highly ballyhooed official visit to the United States. When he landed in New York, every local paper stuffed its pages with details about the city’s guest, from his exotic dress down to his opinion on whether women should ride bicycles. Reporters from William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal were particularly interested in what Li ate, peering over the shoulder of his personal chefs as they prepared meals in the Waldorf kitchen and recording every morsel that passed his lips at public functions. Aside from a few spoonfuls of consommé and some plain fish, Li disliked Western food and neglected even to dine in Chinatown (perhaps reflecting the fact that he represented the top of Chinese imperial society, while New York’s Chinese were from, well, Toisan). Instead, he relied almost totally on his chefs, and the one dish they never prepared was chop suey.
Nevertheless, the Journal’s reporters couldn’t help linking Li Hung Chang with the Toisanese peasant dish. Never mind about the vast cultural gulfs separating Peking from Toisan and China’s high officials from its peasants. Li Hung Chang was Chinese and chop suey was Chinese, so he must have eaten chop suey. A few days after Li’s departure, the Journal ran a full-page profile of his chef, billing him as “The Greatest Chicken Cook In The World.” Below, readers found 19 recipes, perhaps the earliest Chinese recipes printed in the United States, claiming to represent the “Queer Dishes Served At The Waldorf.” Among them was “Chow Chop Sui,” also known as “Fricasseed Giblets,” which the accompanying Chinese characters identify as “stir-fried mixed bits,” or chou tsap sui.
The writer tells us that it can be made with a multitude of ingredients, “to rival in heterogeneity the far-famed boarding-house hash,” but then makes a startling admission: “The most popular of the Chinese fricassees has already gained some celebrity in America.” In other words, there was nothing new about chop suey. In fact, there was nothing new about any of the “queer dishes” in the article. They’re all Cantonese classics like bird’s nest soup and egg foo young that were mainstays of the fancier Chinatown restaurants--one of which was the likely real source of these recipes.
New Yorkers didn’t care. All they knew was that, in the wake of Li’s visit, everything Chinese was the rage. They crowded Chinatown to gawk at the locals, buy curios, sample tea and eat Chinese food. The Brooklyn Eagle predicted that “the pretty hostess, arrayed in a rich yellow silk Li Hung Chang jacket, whose loose sleeves will show to such good advantage her shapely arms, presiding over a Chinese dinner, may be one of the charming sights in fashionable society this winter.” Chinese food became so popular that Chinatown restaurateurs saw their chance to expand out of their tiny neighborhood, opening eateries on the Bowery and then up the other main avenues all the way to Harlem. The menus of these “chop sueys,” as Chinese restaurants were now known, didn’t offer the variety found in Chinatown, serving strictly what their white customers wanted, such as chop suey, chow mein, egg foo young and “yakoman,” a noodle soup topped with shredded meat and hardboiled eggs.
As Chinese food moved out of Chinatown, restaurant owners altered the dishes to confirm to the tastes of their new customers. The livers, gizzards and tripe in chop suey had been a little too easy to mistake for rat or cat meat, so the “fricasseed giblets” were replaced by easy-to-identify pork, chicken or beef. The wide variety of possible vegetables was reduced to a fixed roster of bean sprouts, celery, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and onions. Dried cuttlefish and dragon fish were now only available in Chinatown, to Chinese. And most importantly, the cooks Americanized their cooking methods. The Chinese liked their vegetables “underdone,” i.e. crisp, bright and flavorful, but that wasn’t to the taste of most New Yorkers. They expected anything green in its natural state be cooked until it was gray, mushy and insipid, and that included the vegetables in their chop suey. Overcooked and cut off from its earthy roots, this new, “improved” chop suey became the founding dish of Chinese-American cuisine.
How did American-style chop suey take the country by storm? It’s hard to believe, based what’s served at Jade Mountain and Bill Hong’s, that the dish had won over millions of palates simply by taste. However, we can never know exactly how those chefs of a century ago prepared the dish. Maybe it wasn’t always flavorless and uninspired. It’s time for another expedition, up to Riverdale in the Bronx, home to one of the last populations with a taste for chop suey and chow mein, i.e. Jewish senior citizens. Small but clean, brightly lit and busy, Golden Gate sits along a shopping strip largely made up of kosher delis, supermarkets and Chinese restaurants. Although the menu contains all the Chinese-American classics, Golden Gate manager Kenny Yao and most of his staff come from Toisan, where they remember the dishes in their native state.
“Chop suey means ‘mixed pieces,”‘ he will tell you. “It’s home-style food in Canton province, not restaurant food, a mixed vegetable dish with bok choy, baby corn, snow pea pod.”
For most restaurateurs, chow mein and chop suey are exactly the same, only one is over rice and the other over fried noodles, but Kenny says that in Toisan there are distinctions between the dishes. Bean sprouts are fine for chow mein, he says, but not chop suey, and in chop suey the vegetables should be “crisp, crisp,” while chow mein’s should be overcooked. If you order the chicken chop suey, the vegetables will probably be, well, not so crisp, but what you will really notice is the sauce: delicate, flavorful and rich with chicken.
“That’s a Cantonese white sauce,” says Kenny. “Now Chinese chefs cover everything with the same brown sauce, to hide old vegetables and old meat. The white sauce is healthier but harder to make.”
A great sauce, as the French know, can hide a multitude of sins. Even if the versions served at Jade Mountain and Bill Hong’s didn’t please your taste buds, there’s no guarantee, but you may actually enjoy eating this chop suey, overcooked vegetables and all. The hands of a skilled professional, like the man behind stove at Golden Gate, can make chop suey can taste good. Maybe, like too many dishes, it has been a victim of its own popularity, prepared by cooks who didn’t know or care enough to make it properly.
In the 1920s, Margaret Johnson recorded a New Orleans jazz favorite, "Who'll Chop Your Suey When I'm Gone?"
We’ll give turn-of-the-century chop suey chefs the benefit of the doubt. But that doesn’t completely tell us why New Yorkers fell so hard for the dish. (One half-joking theory had it that Chinese laced the dish with “dope,” i.e. opium, to make it irresistible.) One answer is that diners were bored with “the insipidity of cheap chophouses and the sameness of dairy restaurants.” In an era of change and expansion, they wanted to try something alien and exciting, and chop suey, made with weird ingredients like bean sprouts, water chestnuts and soy sauce, fit the bill perfectly. The dish was also cheap, costing as little as 15 cents a bowl, which made it attractive to the masses of laborers and immigrants living in the city’s sprawling slums. And chop suey satisfied its consumers, not just stuffing their stomachs but giving them a deeper feeling of fulfillment, and this links it to an important part of Western culinary tradition. Since at least Roman days, peasants and urban laborers subsisted on savory jumbles of ingredients boiled down to indecipherability: mushes, porridges, burgoos, hodgepodges, ragouts, olla podridas and the like. Perhaps in chop suey we taste a bit of the same primal stew that has fueled us for so many centuries.
Also crucial to the dish’s success was the setting in which they served chop suey--what restaurant management types like to call the “concept.” Chinese restaurants did their best to produce an alien and exotic scene that set them apart from all the other eateries. The new Uptown chop sueys ran from side street storefronts to fancy palaces like the one on Longacre Square that attracted the rich, post-theater crowd. Inside, customers were enveloped by an aura of Oriental mystery created by dim lights, silk lanterns, Chinese scrolls, pin-ups of “almond-eyed ladies” on the walls and elaborate teak and mother-of-pearl furniture. Most chop sueys opened in the early evening and didn’t close until two or three a.m., when roisterers crowded in seeking to fill their stomachs before stumbling home to bed. They didn’t go just for the food they also found an “entirely unconventional” environment in which the era’s expectations for decorum and “respectable” behavior had been erased.
“There is also a free and easy atmosphere about the Chinese eating house,” reported the New York Tribune, “which attracts many would-be ‘Bohemians’. Visitors loll about and talk and laugh loudly. When the waiter is wanted some one emits a shrill yell which brings an answering whoop from the kitchen, followed sooner or later by a little Chinese at a dog trot. Everybody does as he or she pleases within certain very elastic bounds.”
Reporters investigating the phenomenon were surprised to find that blacks had become among Chinese eateries’ most devoted customers, a “stout colored woman patron” telling a Tribune reporter that chop suey is the “most fillin’ thing a hungry body can eat.” In the poor district just west of the Tenderloin, blacks patronized at least a half dozen chop sueys, ranging from little storefronts to a “great barnlike place” on 32nd Street and Broadway that also attracted rough-looking whites. One journalist that the affinity between blacks and chop suey restaurants was due to the noise in the kitchen, which “reminds one of the similar condition of Southern kitchens under negro management.” That blacks were more likely to be served in Chinese-owned restaurants may also have had something to do with it.
Edward Hopper painted the enigmatic scene "Chop Suey" in 1929. Collection of Barney A. Ebsworth / Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
From 1900 on, Americans began to gobble down chop suey with an avidity unseen for any foreign food--even pizza and sushi don’t come close. The dish joined ham and eggs and coffee with donuts as a standard part of the urban diet, while Chinese-American restaurants began to pop up in every city and most towns across the country. Chop suey was cheap, popular and easy to make in bulk, also appearing on menus in white-owned restaurants and coffee shops and on the serving lines in cafeterias. Women’s magazines and the new Chinese cookbooks taught making chop suey at home, and if you didn’t have a Chinatown nearby for ingredients, you could always buy them in the can from La Choy or Chun King. The word “chop suey” slipped over to soda fountains, where it became a chopped dried fruit topping on sundaes to home cooks, who made “American chop suey” as a ground beef, macaroni and tomato stew and to music, with tunes like Louis Armstrong’s “Cornet Chop Suey” and the novelty “Who’ll Chop Your Suey When I’m Gone?”
For some, mainly educated Chinese perturbed by the description of chop suey as “the national food of China,” this fad demanded an explanation, preferably one placing the dish’s “invention” as far away from China as possible. First they revived our old friend Li Hung Chang, crediting, or blaming, his chefs for producing chop suey on the spur of the moment to feed hungry guests in New York, Washington or even Chicago and San Francisco (two cities he never even visited). Other tales give the honor to Chinese railway workers in California or an anonymous Irishman trying to make Irish stew. And then there’s the story of Gold Rush-era San Francisco, where a group of drunk miners barged into a Chinese restaurant, demanding food. To get rid of them, the cook pulled some leftovers from the garbage, cooked it up and served it to the drunks. When the miners, who loved the dish, asked its name, the cook replied: “chop suey.” Here was the dish as a kind of colossal joke: Chop suey is garbage, and we’re too stupid to realize it.
After World War II, Americans began to flock to Chinese restaurants such as Chu's Chop Suey Cocktail Lounge in Omaha. Preservationists were not able to save the establishment in 2014. Photo courtesy of 2020 Omaha Preservation Network.
None of this mattered to the great American masses. After World War II, “going for Chinese” became a weekly ritual of suburbia, where parents greeted the waiter by his first name, and even children could master ordering “One from Column A and One from Column B.” And the dish achieved its apotheosis when it was revealed that the favorite meal of President Eisenhower, that paragon of Middle American tastes, was delivery from Washington’s Sun Chop Suey Restaurant: chicken chop suey, fried rice and egg foo young, with almond cookies for dessert. There only instructions were that the chop suey be good and hot. It seemed that nothing could dislodge chop suey from the country’s culinary pantheon.
The American palate, however, is notoriously fickle, with not even steak and potatoes secure of its place. In the mid-1960s, new laws allowed thousands of Chinese to immigrate to the United States, mainly from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Guangdong. They brought with them recipes for hundreds of exotic dishes and a completely different understanding of what meant Chinese food. Some opened restaurants whose offerings opened the eyes of food writers like Craig Claiborne to the array of regional cuisines existing in China. And after Nixon resumed relations with the People’s Republic, Americans could finally sample real Chinese cooking (or what remained of it) in China itself. Back home, people were again in the mood for adventure, and by this time there was nothing so safe and innocuous as chop suey. In New York, tastes changed to new, more strongly-flavored dishes, like General Tso’s chicken and chicken with broccoli (which turn out to have their own authenticity problems). And without anybody much noticing, chop suey began to disappear from city menus.
Today, the end seems all but certain for chop suey, to join the roster of dishes like lobster Newburg, green turtle soup, chicken a la king, mutton chops and so on, as relics of New York’s culinary past. The dish doesn’t even have much nostalgia cachet: Ruby Foo’s has been revived in the style of the big, 1930s Chinese restaurant-nightclubs, but its menu favors sushi, not Chinese-American. Chop suey hangs on in the handful of old-timers like Jade Mountain and Bill Hong’s, and in the Cuban-Chinese eateries, on the Chinese side of the menu (which nobody ever orders from out in the booming new Chinatowns of Queens and Brooklyn, they don’t have to cater to white tastes anymore, while on chop suey’s home turf of Manhattan’s Chinatown, the number of restaurants serving Chinese-American has shrunk to just two: Mott Street’s Hop Kee and the 69 Restaurant on Bayard. Instead, pedestrians are tantalized by a dizzying array of culinary possibilities, from Taiwanese to Chiu Chow, Chinese-Malaysian to Chinese-Vietnamese, bubble tea to congee, and even a kind of post-modernist Cantonese fusion. The only question is, what to eat?
The crowded, cheerful Big Wong restaurant on Mott Street is a typical Hong Kong-style noodle restaurant, specializing in noodle soups, unctuous roast meats and plates of brilliant green choy sum, a favorite Cantonese vegetable. It’s the antithesis of Chin Lee, place where you go for the food, not the spectacle. Yet there it is, down near the bottom of the menu’s “Hot Dishes Served On Rice” section: chop suey with rice. At four dollars it won’t break the bank, so you order it, and out comes a plate of sliced pork, squid, fish cake, crab leg, chicken, shrimp, octopus and broccoli, all in a light brown sauce over rice. The dish is toothsome, if a little miscellaneous, but it’s not the chop suey of yore, the brown stew that seduced millions of American palates.
“This is Chinese-style chop suey, not American,” says Big Wong’s manager. “When they order it, the Americans complain.”
In fact, you’ll find similar dishes in noodle restaurants all over Chinatown. They call the dish “Chop Suey on Rice (Hong Kong style),” “Combination with Broccoli,” or “Mixed Meat over Rice,” but the Chinese characters always identify it as shap hwui, meaning “assorted things simmered in gravy.” The dish can include almost anything, except perhaps bean sprouts and water chestnuts, and this is one of the culinary concepts brought over by the recent waves of immigrants. As it’s understood in China, chop suey means “odds and ends,” a dish made from throwing whatever leftovers you have in the wok and cooking it up. It’s Chinese hash, and we’ll probably all be eating it that way soon enough.
The Director's Director
Late one night in March of last year, in a crumbling area on the island of Macao off Hong Kong, a film crew milled around in the street, awaiting the arrival of Wong Kar-wai. In life as in art, Wong tends to make you acutely aware of time. His films are filled with clocks and calendars. He is also notorious for keeping people waiting: waiting for his films to go into production, waiting for the shooting day to begin and waiting for a recognizable story and structure to emerge from his long, uncertain process. This particular night, the crew was setting up to shoot scenes from Wong's eighth film, "2046," an ambitious, star-studded, futuristic drama. (Its title refers to the 49th year after the 1997 British handover of Hong Kong.) There was nothing futuristic about the location: a dilapidated block bathed in a latticework of shadows and artificial golden light, it resembled the 1960's Hong Kong the director conjured for his previous film, the acclaimed "In the Mood for Love."
Shortly after midnight, a minivan pulled up, and Wong stepped out, clutching a sheaf of pages on which he had written out in longhand the next scenes to be shot. Copies were quickly distributed by an assistant director. If it appeared that Wong had arrived straight from a session of coffee-shop scribbling with a quick stop at Kinko's, the truth was not far off. Although shooting in Macao had required giving his company a few days' notice, Wong's standard M.O. is to tell actors a starting time and location as close to the last minute as possible. Nor does he tend to give them any dialogue or the specifics of a scene until it's time to shoot instead, he rolls the camera, thrusting them into situations with which they have only just been presented.
A boarded-up shop off the street served as a dressing room. Wong's production designer and costumer, William Chang Suk-ping, adjusted the hair and clothing of the film's leading man, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, as Leung skimmed the pages. "I'm the only one that can read Kar-wai's handwriting," Leung told me. "So I always have to explain the dialogue to everyone else." His character hadn't been given a name yet, so his lines were simply slugged "Wai," a diminutive of his Chinese name. In "Mood for Love," Leung had played Chow Mo-wan, a lovesick writer. In "2046" he was also playing a writer, but this time, Wong had instructed him to behave like a "Bukowski character," a heartless, careless, down-at-the heels gambler and Lothario. He read aloud the description of a scene coming up -- "Interior, motel, making love" -- then happily exclaimed, "So many sex scenes in this movie!" Chang chuckled.
When the camera and lighting were set, Wong walked Leung through the shot with his costar Zhang Ziyi, the actress best known for her portrayal of an alluringly feisty young swordswoman in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," and who portrays a fashionable dance-hall hostess in "2046." Then the camera rolled, Leung and Zhang walked slowly along the deserted sidewalk, talking and laughing. An assistant director translated the dialogue for me: Leung was telling Zhang that he has enjoyed the time he's spent with her, but that it was time for him to go. A heaviness suddenly settled upon Zhang, and when they embraced she broke into sobs.
"Where is he going?" I asked the assistant director.
"No one knows where he's going or why?"
She shrugged: "That's the ambiguity of the script." The kind of person who might once have proclaimed "Jules and Jim" or "Wings of Desire" his or her favorite movie now rates Wong Kar-wai at the top of the list. Flirting with the conventions of genre (melodrama in "Days of Being Wild" Chinese swordsman adventures in "Ashes of Time" Hong Kong action movies in "Chungking Express" and "Fallen Angels"), his meditative, pop-savvy films home in on emotional tipping points in the lives of young city-dwellers -- the moments that forever mark them and from which they cannot escape. Their witty invention, color-drenched visuals and romantic longing offer the kind of bittersweet satisfaction found in the fiction of Haruki Murakami or the photographs of William Gedney, about whose subjects John Cage once said, "They seem to be doing happy things sadly, or maybe they're doing sad things happily."
Among living directors, Martin Scorsese is the filmmaker Wong Kar-wai most admires. And just as the artistic innovations of Scorsese, and before him Godard and Fellini, were systematically plundered by other makers of films, TV commercials and music videos, Wong's signature moves have rapidly been assimilated over the past decade. Even if you have never seen a Wong Kar-wai film, you would recognize his style. For attentive fans, going to the movies has become a game of "spot the Wong Kar-wai tribute" (or rip-off), with a diverse list of directors explicitly recreating shots, scenes or musical cues from his work, including Spike Jonze in "Adaptation," Cameron Crowe in "Vanilla Sky" and Jean-Pierre Jeunet in "Amélie." Scorsese himself modeled the battle scenes in "Gangs of New York" after those in Wong's hallucinatory "Ashes of Time," and even Sam Raimi in "Spider-Man 2" sends Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst for a quick stroll through a Chinatown that manages to look more like Wong Kar-wai's Hong Kong than New York.
The melancholy of loss and separation that pervades Wong's work would seem to come naturally. Born in Shanghai in 1958, he emigrated to Hong Kong with his parents at the age of 5, leaving behind an older brother and sister. The circumstances of the Cultural Revolution kept Wong from seeing them again for more than a decade. A lonely child, he didn't speak the local Cantonese dialect until the age of 13. He spent afternoons accompanying his mother to the movies, and he sometimes followed his father, a nightclub manager, on his nocturnal rounds, developing an ongoing fascination for scruffy urban lowlife, jukeboxes and polyglot pop culture.
Wong enrolled in art school but dropped out to join a screenwriters' training program in 1980. Supported in part by his wife, Wong then struggled in the lower echelons of Hong Kong's film industry for nearly a decade before directing his own work. A chain-smoking design junkie and bookworm, Wong cultivates a certain elusiveness in public: the mysterious dreamer, always in sunglasses, given to laconic or cryptic pronouncements. One on one, however, he is personable and direct, with a ready streak of goofball humor and disarming personal charm. That quality is especially important when he needs to persuade people to finance films without scripts, or modest Chinese actresses to overcome their inhibitions before a sex scene.
The international success of "In the Mood for Love" has given Wong the chance to put his imprimatur on some high-profile commercial pursuits. He supervised a worldwide advertising campaign for Lacoste and directed a short film for the BMW series "The Hire." But making his own films remains a continuing struggle -- in part because of his quixotic insistence on working the way he does. Originally, Wong wanted to try to put his stamp on the science-fiction genre, so "2046" was conceived as a futuristic thriller. Filming began in 1999 in Bangkok during a break in the lengthy production of "In the Mood for Love," but "2046" was then put aside. In the intervening years its imminent completion was announced and postponed so many times that it became a running joke in the Asian press that the film wouldn't be finished until the year of its title. Wong completed the film in time for this year's Cannes Film Festival but then continued to work on it, declining an invitation to show "2046" next week at the New York Film Festival, where he has long been a favorite. After presenting the American premiere of each of his films for the past decade, this year's festival will be marked as much by the absence of "2046" as it would have been by its presence.
Closer to Wong's home, however, on Sept. 28, just before China's National Day holiday, "2046" will finally have its premiere across mainland China and in Hong Kong Japanese and European releases will follow throughout the fall, and when the companies currently vying for North American rights finish duking it out, audiences in the United States should get to see it sometime next year.
When they do, it will no longer be a futuristic thriller, but something more complicated and personal -- a story set only partly in the future and primarily in 1960's Hong Kong, the milieu of Wong's childhood. The title "2046" originated as shorthand for the Chinese government's assurances to the people of Hong Kong that the territory would remain autonomous and unchanged for 50 years. Wong hoped that the film would be a fresh way for him to approach his favorite subjects: the passing of time, the possibility of change and, as he put it, "broken promises."
When he returned to the project after completing "Mood," Wong felt the idea of projecting Hong Kong 50 years into the future seemed too literal and one-note. He spent 2000 and 2001 reconceiving the film, signing new cast members and announcing restart dates in locations as disparate as Bangkok, Shanghai and Pusan, South Korea. But each time he had to postpone as financing fell out, actors became unavailable and shooting permits became entangled in red tape. "I already forget how many versions of the film have existed," Wong said recently. "Each time if we are able to shoot the film, we would ɿinish' the film -- but it would be a different film."
At the same time, "In the Mood for Love" proved to be Wong's breakout movie. He had always seen "Mood" and "2046" as companion pieces, past and future. Now he began to think that "2046" might be a continuation of the first film. Rather than playing a futuristic postman as originally planned, Leung would once again play a writer in 60's Hong Kong -- but this time his subject would be science fiction rather than martial arts. The film would therefore intercut scenes from the many affairs of Leung's womanizing character with episodes from his stories (using material from the 1999 shoot and other scenes that would be shot on massive sets built in Shanghai) the same actors would be used to portray characters in both the 60's and 2046. Even then, Wong wasn't sure whether to have Leung reprise the role of Chow Mo-wan. To preserve the possibility, he began shooting the film without having anyone refer to the character by name. This sort of extreme indeterminacy is always in play.
Other directors have employed similar strategies: D.W. Griffith directed the three-hour historical spectacle "Intolerance" without a script in evidence since then, John Cassavetes, Robert Altman and Mike Leigh have used various improvisational methods. Wong Kar-wai, however, approaches filmmaking the way a writer composes a novel, trying out new things on a daily basis, which he feels free to scrap or redo later he shoots contradictory scenes that require his actors not to hold to any particularly fixed idea of character or plot he experiments with different visual approaches. In short, he keeps his options open, almost insanely so, in order to discover the movie as it progresses.
When I joined him, nearly a month into the new production last year, the film was taking place in 1967 Tony Leung, who might or might not be Chow Mo-wan, was living in Room 2047 of a dingy hot-sheets motel and serially getting it on with a handful of women passing through Room 2046 next door. Concentrating first on Leung's character's relationship with Zhang Ziyi, Wong wanted to see where it would take him.
Wong and company had taken an abandoned warren of rooms and transformed them into the decrepit Oriental Hotel, its interiors decorated in fading layers of deep green, brown and black, with walls that looked pockmarked and scuffed like a Jackson Pollock painting. One night, I squeezed into Tony Leung's crowded quarters. The camera, mounted on a set of ceiling tracks, pointed down at Leung's cluttered, cigarette-strewn writing desk. The shot would be from overhead, one of Wong's classically atmospheric moments, with Leung, bathed in a small pool of light, scribbling in a late-night frenzy, then pausing, staring at the ceiling and exhaling a cloud of smoke.
Wong sat at the video monitor, his own ashtray overflowing, considering the composition: should the desk be balanced in the frame or off-axis? Should he start close and pull back, or zoom in? It was a single shot that would comprise less than a minute of screen time, but it was precisely what Wong's films are known for, the perfect distillation of an ineffable emotional moment.
Leung came in and the camera rolled: Wong's cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, a wiry 50-year-old with bright blue eyes and a shock of mad-scientist hair, simultaneously zoomed out and moved the camera for a kind of reverse corkscrew effect, from closer in to a stopping-point near the ceiling. Leung exhaled and Wong called "Cut," critiquing the shot in a stream of Mandarin that concluded with a pronouncement in English: "Not. Creative. Enough."
"I know. . . . " Doyle shot back. "It's my first day on the job." Doyle and Wong often trade barbs like a couple. Frequently, after Doyle has set up and lighted something stunning or laid out a complicated but efficient move, Wong's deadpan comment will be, "Is that the best you can do, Chris?"
The mercurial Doyle, hot to Wong's cool, is one of the world's foremost cameramen, in large part owing to his complicated and fruitful relationship with Wong that dates back to 1989, when they were shooting "Days of Being Wild." Australian by birth, Doyle has lived in China for nearly 25 years, devoting most of his career to photographing Asian films. He is constantly in motion, spouting a running, Heineken-fueled stream-of-consciousness monologue. The visual hallmarks of Wong Kar-wai's films owe much to the extraordinary sensitivity of his eye. An exceptional writer, Doyle has also published books about his collaborations with Wong and others. "The way the film looks is its reality," he writes. "➺sed on a true story' is such a lie. ➺sed on a true color' or ➺sed on a strange dream' is what films cry out to be."
Equally crucial to the development and evolution of Wong's work is Chang, the soft-spoken, 49-year-old production designer and costumer on all of his films. The mesmerizing wallpaper, spectacular dresses and artful ambient erosion are all his doing. Wong Kar-wai will say no more than "Zhang Ziyi is a dance-hall hostess" and leave the rest to Chang, whose approach is as intuitive and improvisational as the director's and carries just as much weight. After shooting for several days in one of the Oriental Hotel's hallways, Chang decided it should have a red curtain hanging from the ceiling, effectively forcing everything that had been shot there to be redone. The result of Chang's exactitude, especially for actresses, is the attainment of a near iconic level of numinous beauty.
Chang is also the editor of Wong's films, providing much of the construction and tempo of the final product. On most films, editing begins in earnest once shooting has stopped with Wong Kar-wai's films, shooting, cutting and writing all continue at once -- sometimes overlapping, other times in stop-start alternation. One afternoon last year, I sat with Chang as he reviewed selected takes from a high-spirited bed scene between Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi. Chang leaned forward on the sofa, elbows on knees, holding his chin, staring at the screen as an assistant ran the assemblage. He usually begins working with the footage as soon as it's shot, looking for a scene that resonates. After identifying it, he builds out, letting other material follow its lead.
Chang admitted that he had yet to find his way in. "It's strange because they're so many actors, actresses," he said, referring to the various relationships in which Leung's character becomes entangled. "Usually after two weeks I have a feeling of mastering the story. But right now I don't have that feeling." Confident that an answer would eventually emerge, Wong didn't pressure him.
Like Miles Davis, whose best groups gathered distinctive soloists who were also composers in their own right, Wong extends his collaborators a tremendous amount of freedom and then selects what suits him. Spontaneity is prized: Doyle would rather have an unmediated response to the space in which he's filming than know too much about the story Chang waits until the last possible minute before presenting color schemes or costumes to Wong. The payoff of their interplay is a palpable immediacy -- a sense that you're seeing things onscreen as they unfold.
Wong also knows the value of withholding. He refrains from giving his opinion or approval as a way of getting actors and collaborators to offer more in an attempt to please him. When he finally responds, it has the effect of redoubling their efforts. On set, he often assumes a kind of experimental detachment, looking to try every kind of tonal or technical variation. This can be time-consuming and maddening it can also be fun. Frequently, he'll give no explicit direction to an actor beyond playing him a piece of music and asking him to enact its mood. Wong simply believes the right thing isn't something that can be imagined beforehand, but only discovered.
Actors, however, can lose confidence in the process. Five years ago, Takuya Kimura , a Japanese superstar musician and actor, was tapped by Wong to play a leading role as a hit man in the original Bangkok production of "2046." He was a fan of Wong's films but had only experienced the regimented Japanese system of film production. Kimura was flummoxed during his weeks on the set. He had expected to act opposite the Chinese pop diva Faye Wong, but Wong instead asked him to improvise scenes with a cow, a pig and an elephant. On his radio show in Japan, Kimura mocked the chaotic production and said he wasn't sure if he was interested in coming back.
Even stalwarts like Maggie Cheung, whose reputation as a serious actress was established in Wong's early films, find their patience tested. After being told on three separate occasions that her part in "Mood" had wrapped, she was summoned back from her home in Paris for additional reshoots and vowed never to work with Wong again. She recanted when she saw the film.
"Mood" also caused a serious rift between Wong and Doyle when the cinematographer's commitment to a Hollywood film forced him to leave after more than a year in production. After devoting months to experimentation before settling on a visual approach, both men were unhappy when Doyle's work had to be completed by Mark Li Ping-bin. Because Wong had taken so long to find what he wanted, the majority of the finished film was shot in a frenzied six-week run-up to its premiere. Although its look owes nearly everything to Doyle, more than half of it was photographed by Li. (The two share credit.) Doyle and Wong barely spoke for a year.
To critics and detractors, Wong is undisciplined, wasteful and disingenuous. Asked about the tension his habitual brinksmanship creates, he answers philosophically: "I can understand why that happens. But . . . everyone knows: this is how I work." It's his version of the old Popeye creed: I yam what I yam. But from an artistic standpoint, the question Wong poses is whether his results can be achieved in any other way. Last year, when Nicole Kidman sought Wong out to discuss working together, he warned her about how much time and uncertainty would be involved, and she came away even more eager to act for him.
In mid-March of last year, the SARS epidemic, which shut down Hong Kong for several months, interrupted "2046" yet another time. After some days of additional shooting in early summer, Wong could not begin again until last fall, when the company moved to Shanghai for the scenes set in the future. Returning to Hong Kong at Christmas, they wound up shooting through April of this year.
As a result, "2046" was the first film in Cannes history to arrive so late that the schedule of competition films had to be rearranged. The print, fresh from a lab in Paris, was escorted from the Nice airport by police motorcade, arriving less than three hours before its delayed premiere.
The version screened at Cannes was lush and strange, contrasting the scuffed-up, dark colors of the 60's with the baroque, pulsating, green and orange interiors of Tony Leung's imaginary future: Room 2046 of the ramshackle Oriental Hotel functions as the portal to a speeding bullet train called 2046 and a gleaming metropolis of the same name. Not long after shooting the scenes Iɽ witnessed, Wong decided that Tony Leung's character would be Chow Mo-wan, making his ill-fated affair with Maggie Cheung of "In the Mood for Love" part of his transformation into a cad.
Besides Zhang Ziyi, Leung takes up with a string of other women: Faye Wong, who plays both the daughter of the Oriental Hotel's proprietor and a robot in his science-fiction stories a doomed lounge singer played by Carina Lau and Gong Li, as a mysterious gambler dressed in black. Unable to form lasting connections in the mid-60's episodes, he writes obsessively transposing scenes from his unhappy life into his stories, Tony Leung's character tries to inscribe himself into a future where things might be different, making a plaintive declaration: "I need to change."
Last fall, Kimura, the Japanese superstar, now four years older, returned to the film. Assuaged by Wong, he now appears as Tony Leung's avatar. At the Cannes premiere, Kimura remained puzzled about how it would all work, but he emerged a typical convert. "The film is beautiful," he marveled. "There's a beautiful sadness."
A different kind of sadness comes with the news that once again Wong and Doyle have parted ways. Neither man will discuss the split, but Doyle left the production in January, and the film credits two additional cinematographers: Doyle's former assistant Lai Yiu-fai and Kwan Pun-leung. While it's by no means impossible that the two might reconcile, this may very well mark the end of their partnership.
After Cannes, Wong declined further festival invitations, completing special-effects shots, shooting additional scenes and revising the film's beginning and end. In mid-August, he emerged to announce its final completion. The new version has not been screened yet, but where the Cannes version ended with Leung's character surveying his past and once again declaring, "I need to change," Wong hints that he has since found a way to bring his protagonist's impasse to some resolution.
It may be a lazy deconstructivist's cliché to read every text as an allegory of its own making, but on some level, "2046" invites it: one passage from Leung's novel "2046" reads: "2046 is a hard train to get off. How long have I been on this train?" Wong himself allows that the film, like Fellini's "8 1/2," has turned into a midcareer retrospective. Depicting Leung as a man unable to let go of his past, Wong has filled "2046" with deliberate allusions to his previous films. Setting out to make a science-fiction film, looking into the future, Wong discovered that he needed to face backward as well.
Why does Wong Kar-wai keep circling back to Hong Kong in the 1960's, first in "In the Mood for Love" (which began filming as a contemporary story), and now in his latest film? If there is a "Rosebud" at the heart of his career, it is his second film, "Days of Being Wild," a melodramatic memory play featuring a large ensemble, set in Hong Kong in 1960. Ambitiously conceived in two parts, its high cost and resounding commercial failure kept the second half, which was to take place in 1966, from ever being made. In an ingenious stroke, "2046" winds up completing the story begun in "Days of Being Wild." Like the inhabitants of García Márquez's Macondo or Balzac's Paris, Wong's characters turn out to inhabit a dense overlapping universe in a fantastic chain of desire, rejection and loss. "In the process of making this film," Wong e-mailed me not long ago from the editing room, "I never thought I wouldn't complete it. Sometimes I was tempted to look for an easy way out." Now, the burden of the past -- not just Chow Mo-wan's, but Wong Kar-wai's as well -- has been lifted, and Wong himself can perhaps move on.
What form that will take remains uncertain. However, in a bold departure, Wong recently agreed to develop and produce three English-language films for Fox Searchlight. He's not sure that he'll direct any of them, but selecting and working with other screenwriters and directors will be a new experiment. He is not likely to abandon his improvisational method, but he says he would like to find ways to be more productive. Perhaps working from a script, (one of the Searchlight projects) or making a film based on real events (he has been developing a project for Leung about the Hong Kong man who trained Bruce Lee) might provide a stronger tether to keep the director from losing himself amid the infinite possibilities. As ever, Wong Kar-wai is willing to explore his options.
Evanston, Illinois – a city just north of Chicago – is the first city in the country that has created a way to fund reparations to compensate Black Americans.
The city council says reparations are an effort to right a wrong and to help make up for the loss of generational wealth due to inequality and an oppressed system.
City leaders plan to distribute at least $10 million in tax dollars over the next decade – with $25,000 payments eligible to residents as soon as this spring, ABC News reports.
The program is being funded by a 3% tax on newly legal recreational marijuana sales.
“It’s the most appropriate use for that sales tax,” 5th Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons told ABC. “In our city, 70% of the marijuana arrests were in the Black community. And we are 16% of the community. All studies show that Blacks and white [people] consume cannabis at the same rate.”
And beyond the criminal justice system, inequality can be witnessed in housing.
Records and documents show that Black residents were pushed into an area that became the 5th Ward, deliberately segregating them from white families and sought-after property.
Historians told ABC that the 5 th ward was known to have smaller homes, and at times, had no electricity, water, or a sewer system.
“The only option to buy in Evanston was basically in the 5th Ward,” said local historian Dino Robinson, who is the founder of the Shorefront Legacy Center. “Banks in Evanston would not loan to Black families for housing [and] the real estate agencies would not show you anything other than the 5th Ward.”
U.S. Census data show White people living in Evanston today are making double the income, and their homes are double the value of their Black counterparts.
Simmons said the $25,000 reparations benefit for housing is meant to combat “a lack of affordability, lack of access to living-wage careers here in the city, and a lack of sense of place.”
The Go-To Takeout of the ྌs
"When [Shun Lee's] Uncle Lou wasn't cooking, he was often drunk," Schoenfeld recollects. "If you came in at 5 or 6 p.m., his food was magical. If you came at 7 p.m. he'd be too fucked up, lying on the floor."
Uncle Lou's generation of chefs were aging after decades of brutal work. And unlike in China, they never formalized a way to train young chefs in the refined techniques they brought with them. So "we had some really great chefs," Schoenfeld explains, "but the younger generation were more entrepreneurial than they were really wanting to be fantastic students."
Meanwhile, as border regulations eased in the '70s, Chinese immigration to the U.S. was booming again. Manhattan's Chinatown was already an enclave of Cantonese who had settled decades before new immigrants from northern and western China began settling in Flushing, Queens and Sunset Park, Brooklyn. They opened up small restaurants or "coffee shops" for their fellow countrymen, specializing in food that was quick and affordable for blue collar workers.
Cooks from the fine-dining world joined forces with their families and friends to open their own neighborhood restaurants: "First it was a revolution," Schoenfeld says, "and then everyone and their brother wanted to have their own restaurant. If all they had was maybe $75,000, they couldn't do the sophistication needed to lure customers to a bigger place. Instead it was the 'mom-and-popification' of New York, with the food a function of how good the main cook in the family was. All it took was one good cook."
And these restaurants weren't picky about regional allegiances. They offered Cantonese chow mein alongside fiery Sichuan and Hunan moo shoo pork dishes that were distinctly Chinese but nonetheless varied and accessible to non-Chinese eaters.
"As that marketplace spread and people started looking at Chinese food as a daily, habitual thing, it morphed into more of a home meal replacement food. It adapted a lot, and there continued to be high-end places, but the growth was in different areas." Chinese food became American food.
Washington Dining: JFK Knew Good Food
Speaking with the authority that came from his years here as a US senator, President John F. Kennedy described Washington as "a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm."
The city in 1961 also had a reputation as a culinary backwater. In Eating in America, Waverly Root and Richard de Rochemont gave dining in the District of the 1950s and ླྀs short shrift: "Aside from one or two seafood restaurants and such political sideshows as the Occidental, where politicians' pictures plaster the walls, there is little to report about Washington."
Kennedy knew something about good food. His father, Joseph P. Kennedy–a former ambassador to England and an investor in the legendary Le Pavillon in Manhattan–had introduced young Jack to French cuisine and wines. When JFK set out to win the presidency, there were no bologna sandwiches on the campaign plane. The in-flight meals for Kennedy and his staff were provided by chef Fred Decre, an alumnus of the kitchen at Le Pavillon who had opened Manhattan's acclaimed La Caravelle. A typical Decre menu would start with vichyssoise, move on to a main course of chicken breasts with a Champagne-and-cream sauce, and end with a chocolate mousse or a caramel custard.
It is hard to believe that JFK's opponents did not use his refined tastes against him. His rival, Vice President Richard Nixon, had more populist tastes: One of his favorite snacks was cottage cheese sprinkled with Lawry's Seasoned Salt. In some politicians, an affection for French cuisine might have been considered effete. But Kennedy was a war hero who enjoyed sailing and touch football–he was a guy's guy with Hollywood connections, so when he professed his fondness for French food, Washingtonians headed to the nearest bistro to learn all about it.
Although presidents before and after Kennedy had an interest in dining, none promoted food the way Kennedy did. He transformed the old kitchen in the White House living quarters into a professional facility with commercial ranges and a restaurant-grade refrigerator, and he told the press corps that he was giving as much thought to the selection of a new White House chef as to his Cabinet appointments.
Today the First Lady usually hires and fires White House chefs in 1961 the President selected René Verdon, a prominent Manhattan French chef, and announced his hiring at a press conference. The appointment made headlines and sparked a renaissance of French restaurants in Washington. First among them was Rive Gauche, at Wisconsin Avenue and M Street, whose kitchen was headed by Jean-Pierre Goyenvalle and whose service was directed by Jean-Michel Farret, both of whom would become important players in Washington's restaurant revolution.
Among the other restaurants that catered to Washington's new interest in French dining was Sans Souci–a bi-level dining room where the Washington Post's resident humorist, Art Buchwald, presided at his own table and where the cuisine was so ordinary that diners knew the safest choice for lunch was a salad and a small steak. In the same tier was La Salle du Bois, located on Washington's restaurant row of the 1960s, which spanned M Street between 18th and 19th.
For less-expensive French dining–main courses priced between $1.75 and $3.75–the leading choice was Chez François. It specialized in the hearty dishes from chef/owner François Haeringer's native Alsace: platters of sauerkraut braised in wine and stock and covered with a garnish of sausages, salt pork, and smoked pork loin.
Chez François was praised for providing excellent food at very fair prices but criticized for its all-female floor staff, which was thought to provide a lesser level of service than male servers. More than 50 years after the original Chez François opened near the White House, L'Auberge Chez François in Great Falls continues to be one of the toughest reservations to book, in part because of the tradition of wonderful service.
Two other notable French restaurants were Le Bistro and Chez Camille–both offered good cooking at fair prices. Le Bistro became a hot spot shortly after it opened when First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy paid a lunchtime visit to its townhouse premises at 1827 M Street. For Francophiles, its choice dish was a splendid rabbit stew, but there were enough steaks and chops and chicken on the menu to satisfy less-adventurous eaters.
Chez Camille was a raffish bistro near 14th and L streets, just around the corner from a striptease joint called the Merry-Land Club. Proprietor and host Camille Richaudeau was a caricature of the overbearing bistro proprietor. A squat, paunchy presence, Monsieur Camille was a tyrant in his dining room. Because no one not born and raised in France could know anything about French food or wine, he told customers what to eat and drink. The food was quite good–particularly the daily specials inspired by classic dishes from regional cuisines–but many of the wines, particularly reds served at blood temperature, were so damaged as to be undrinkable. Rejecting a wine would spark Monsieur Camille's ire. As many diners loved Camille for his eccentricities as loathed him, and they kept his dining room full.
The dividing line between the French restaurants and the steak-and-whiskey places was drawn by establishments that offered "Continental cuisine," a term that suggests a dressy dining room with tuxedoed waiters and a kitchen offering the sort of food that hotels were serving when some of the best cuisine in cities was to be found in the dining rooms of the best hotels.
In 1965, the best hotel dining in Washington was at the Madison Hotel's Montpelier Restaurant, which had a wine list that would make a contemporary connoisseur wish for a time machine. With either a filet with bearnaise sauce or the capon breast that was the house specialty, one had the choice of some of the greatest Bordeaux vintages of the 20th century: Chateâu Haut-Brion 1937 at $18 and the legendary Chateâu Mouton Rothschild 1928 for $24.
Two Continental restaurants, the Jockey Club and Paul Young's, became fixtures of the Washington social scene after being booked for private dinners celebrating Kennedy's inauguration. Located in the Fairfax Hotel–the boyhood home of Al Gore–at 2100 Massachusetts Avenue, the Jockey Club gave itself airs of being the local version of Manhattan's 21 Club. Paul Young's, across from the Mayflower Hotel, was Duke Zeibert's with good manners and a wine list.
The sudden popularity of French restaurants in the capital gave rise to the saying that French cuisine was the regional cooking of Washington, and its best restaurant was the French ambassador's residence. But red meat and strong drink did not lose their popularity during the French invasion.
In 1965 the Palm was seven years away from broiling its first steak in DC, and Duke Zeibert's, which had opened in 1950 at the corner of 17th and L, was the heart of Washington, a social scrum of politicians, lobbyists, businessmen, sports figures, and journalists. If you merited a table in the front dining room at lunch, it was a tacit acknowledgement that you were among the best in your respective field.
There was a lot of good-natured joking about the food at Duke's, but it was actually good if you stuck to the basics, which meant the gigantic crab cakes, Friday's special of beef stew, and the best prime rib and New York strip steaks in town.
Above all there was Duke, as genuine a fan of the celebrities he hosted as any of the people who stand outside Sardi's on Broadway, autograph books at the ready. At any Redskins home game, you could look up at team president Edward Bennett Williams's box and see Duke. At Monday lunch, he would be on the floor of his front room, welcoming a senator, congratulating a businessman on a major deal, and sharing the gossip du jour with a columnist.
In 1965, as today, Washington had no shortage of steakhouses. Blackie's House of Beef, at 22nd and M streets, had opened in the 1940s featuring wagon wheels in its front windows and a logo of a cowboy roping a steer. It hosted a radio show in the evenings that attracted visiting show-biz personalities who left autographed publicity photographs. Blackie's collection of framed celebrity photos almost rivaled the Occidental's.
Roast beef was the house specialty at Costin's Sirloin Room in the National Press Building, as it was at Tom Sarris' Orleans House in Rosslyn, which opened in 1957 and still flourishes.
Then, as now, the best choice for a steak on Capitol Hill was the Monocle. For steaks and chops cooked on a hickory-fired grill, you'd make a reservation at the Embers, on 19th Street just about where Sam & Harry's is today. Today our top steakhouses are all imports: the Palm and Bobby Van's from New York, the Prime Rib from Baltimore, and Morton's from Chicago. In 1965 the only imported meat-and-potatoes palace was a branch of Kansas City's Golden Ox. Encouraged by Washington's reputation as a beefeater's town, it opened on L Street in 1962.
The restaurants Washingtonians favored for seafood in the 1960s were among the oldest in the area. The elder statesman was Harvey's, which had opened in a converted blacksmith's shop at 11th and C streets as an oyster-and-beer shop in 1858. In 1965, Harvey's occupied a three-story building at the corner of Connecticut and L. From its earliest days, Harvey's was an American original: Unlike its early-20th-century competitors–the Willard Hotel, Bartholdi's Cafe, and Cafe Lafayette–all of which offered French menus inspired by Delmonico's Steak House in Manhattan, Harvey's served American fare. Patrons came to relish regional recipes using local products such as terrapin soup, crabmeat Norfolk, scalloped oysters, broiled rockfish, and in the spring, filet of shad baked on a wooden plank.
Although not quite as venerable as Harvey's, Hammel's, which opened for business in the first decade of the 20th century, also featured fish cooked on wooden planks, although its specialty was not shad but planked rockfish. On Capitol Hill, the fish house of choice was Wearley's, which had opened at 516 North Capitol Street in the late 1800s and whose specialties were oyster preparations and Maryland crab dishes.
Forty years later, the only significant survivor among the seafood restaurants is Crisfield, a Silver Spring institution that opened in 1945. In the shadow of a railroad overpass that spans Georgia Avenue, its cinder-block-and-tile setting and its blond-wood-topped dining counter have remained unchanged for 60 years. More important, Crisfield's simple Eastern Shore seafood dishes have remained true to their original recipes. Of all the restaurants that were in business in 1965, none serves as accurate a taste of the past as Crisfield.
Another notable aspect of Washington dining, the upscale saloon, traces its origins back to the Kennedy years. Until May 1962, when President Kennedy signed a bill that legalized serving liquor at stand-up bars, public drinking in Washington was governed by strict rules meant to inhibit rowdy behavior: Bars could serve beer or wines only to patrons seated on stools to be served liquor, one had to be seated at a table in the restaurant's dining room or cocktail lounge. If a patron wanted to socialize with friends at another table, his drink had to be carried there by a waiter.
With the stroke of a pen, the President launched the age of the upscale saloon in Washington. Inspired by P.J. Clarke's in Manhattan, Stuart Davidson opened Clyde's on M Street in Georgetown in 1963. Agreeing with Davidson's belief that it is "more fun to eat in a saloon than it is to drink in a restaurant," Washingtonians beat a path to Clyde's door. And while Clyde's was the city's liveliest singles bar, it didn't attract only the young: A table in the skylighted atrium room at the rear was one of the choicest dinner reservations in town, and each night congressmen, senators, and the beautiful people of the time would jostle past the packed front bar to reach the tables in back. Forty years ago, Clyde's was a magnet for local cafe society, the Cafe Milano of its time.
Washington diners of the mid-1960s doted on the solid pleasures of German restaurants, as they had since the first years of the 20th century, when the Occidental and Loerber's, both on Pennsylvania Avenue, featured platters of wursts and sauerkraut, sauerbraten with potato dumplings, and crisp-crusted schnitzels, all accompanied by steins of German draught beer.
In those days, Washingtonians did not think of herring drowned in sour cream, a main course of smoked pork loin, a pair of feathery potato dumplings, and apple strudel slathered with whipped cream as guilty pleasures. German food had kept the Occidental and Loerber's in business for 60 years and still had enough appeal to support such upstarts as Old Europe, Restaurant 823 on 15th Street, and the Bavarian, a small place where government workers lightened their day with a quick plate of wursts and a half liter of German beer. That Old Europe, on Wisconsin Avenue, is the last survivor of this genial crew reflects the fact that German restaurants are an endangered species on the American dining scene.
Not a single example of the upscale, authentic Italian restaurants that rule contemporary Washington existed here in 1965. You didn't go to an Italian restaurant for a first course of house-made fettuccine tossed with fresh porcini mushrooms, garlic, and parsley, followed with a main course of rabbit legs braised in Barolo and served over creamy polenta you went to your favorite checkered-tablecloth Italian-American restaurant and enjoyed an antipasto salad of iceberg lettuce covered with slices of cold cuts and cheeses before tucking into a plate of precooked spaghetti awash in tomato sauce. A savvy diner might choose a main course of manicotti, eggplant parmigiana, or veal scallopine Marsala. The check for you and your date, including a palatable wine and tip, would be under $20.
There was a standing joke among the regulars at Duke Zeibert's bar during the 1960s and 1970s about Tony's, a small Italian-American restaurant nearby on L Street: The Duke's regular would get a table at Tony's and, after looking at the menu, ask the proprietor, "Hey Tony, is the clam sauce fresh today?" To which the reply was, "Of course it is–I opened the can myself this morning."
In a rare foray outside of their favored French restaurants, President Kennedy and his brother Robert visited Mama's Original Italian Kitchen at 14th and P streets in 1963. Owned by Margarita "Mama" DeSantis Castro, the restaurant got itself into trouble for serving alcoholic beverages after hours. It was just the sort of place that Jack and Bobby–and their friend Frank Sinatra–would love: In one bust in 1970, Mama Castro's husband, Ernest, and 21 patrons were arrested when ABC undercover agents were served Scotch in coffee cups with their pizza at 3 AM, violating the 2 AM curfew on serving liquor in the District.
In 1965 the Roma was the patriarch of Washington's Italian-American circuit, opening in 1920 at 3419 Connecticut Avenue. Forty-five years later, it was still providing competition for newer arrivals, such as Luigi's downtown on 19th Street, A.V. Ristorante Italiano, near the corner of New York Avenue and Sixth Street, Marrocco's at 1911 Pennsylvania Avenue, Anna Maria's Italian Restaurant, which still operates at 1737 Connecticut Avenue, and the Trieste, near George Washington University, which had a picture of the patron saint of Italian restaurants, Frank Sinatra, on the wall.
With the exception of A.V. Ristorante, which could produce a reasonably authentic Italian meal if a diner entrusted the selection of dishes to the restaurant's owner, Augusto Vasaio, the quality of Italian cooking in mid-1960s Washington was grim: More often than not, an appetizer of roasted peppers came out of a can, as did the cannellini beans. Whether your choice of pasta was spaghetti, linguine, penne, or rigatoni, it had been cooked by the kitchen staff who worked the lunch service and warmed when you ordered it at dinner. And those pounded-too-thin veal scallopine were sometimes precooked and set to languish in a pan until ordered, then drowned in tomato sauce or white wine.
In 1965 "Szechuan" and "Hunan" were not part of the local restaurant vocabulary. There were three kinds of Chinese restaurants here: Chinese-American, Cantonese, and northern Chinese, sometimes called Mandarin or Peking-style cuisine. Some Chinese-American restaurants took that designation literally, offering menus that devoted the left-hand page to chop suey, chow mein, egg foo young, and sweet-and-sour pork and the right-hand page to steak, pork chops, fried chicken, and roast turkey. The most popular of these, the Lotus and the Casino Royal, both on 14th Street, offered floor shows as an added draw.
Because most of the Chinese in Washington came here from southern China, the restaurants in Chinatown were Cantonese. Their kitchens cooked many dishes two ways, depending on who ordered them: When a Chinese customer ordered chow mein–which means fried noodles in Chinese–he got a plate of thin, pan-fried noodles topped with meat or seafood lightly coated with sauce when an Occidental ordered chow mein, the result was a plate of short, deep-fried noodles inundated with a cornstarch-thickened sauce in which swam the meat or seafood selected.
The top Chinatown restaurants were China Inn, the oldest in the neighborhood, and Tai Tung, a much newer addition to H Street's stir-fry corridor. China Inn was popular with both Chinese and Occidental diners, but if you were non-Chinese and wanted authentic dishes, you had to ask for the Chinese menu, which had English translations of its set specialties seasonal specials were written only in Chinese, which owners Bill and Irene Yee were happy to translate. Tai Tung had a large Chinese clientele and a floor staff that was not particularly helpful to Occidentals who wanted authentic Cantonese dishes.
"Cantonese" became synonymous with "Chinese-American," which boosted the popularity of the fairly new northern-Chinese restaurants that offered long menus of then-unfamiliar dishes as well as the opportunity to enjoy Peking duck.
Yenching Palace, which opened in 1955 in Chinatown, was the first local Chinese restaurant to offer Peking duck without advance notice, and for years it was considered one of Washington's top Chinese kitchens. Its reputation–and its connections–were such that in 1971 it served as the unofficial dining room for the Chinese diplomats who came to Washington to negotiate normalizing relations between the People's Republic and the United States. All that remains as a reminder of Yenching Palace's storied years is the glistening black façade across which the restaurant's name is scripted in neon. Behind the façade, a very ordinary neighborhood Chinese restaurant awaits.
Long gone but verdant in memory are the two Peking restaurants, the downtown location and the branch on Connecticut Avenue just south of Chevy Chase Circle. In a 1966 article on Washington restaurants, New York Times restaurant critic Craig Claiborne, an acknowledged scholar of Chinese cuisine, cited the two Pekings as among the very best in the District.
Compared with the rich tapestry of ethnic cuisines available today, the choice of exotic dining in 1965 Washington was very limited. The cuisines we now take for granted–Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Burmese, Korean, and Turkish–were nowhere to be found. It would be seven years before we could sample a menu of Thai cuisine–at the Thai Room, which opened in 1972 at Connecticut and Nebraska avenues. At Genghis Khan, a pan-Asian restaurant at 1805 Connecticut Avenue, one could sample several Thai dishes, as well as a few Indian curries, along with a selection of familiar dishes from China and Japan.
There was no sushi bar at Tokyo Sukiyaki, a tiny restaurant at 1736 Connecticut Avenue, but diners could go there and sit on the floor and look nervously over an assortment of raw seafood. The tempura was better prepared than any fried shrimp platter in town, and the sukiyaki was prepared at tableside by a kimonoed waitress–that defined exotic dining at the time. &bull
On M Street between 18th and 19th, the Astor was a diamond in the rough. It was Greek, it was garish in its blue-and-white color scheme, it featured belly dancers in the upstairs dining room, and it served the most delicious food at starving-student prices that you could find outside an Eastern Orthodox church bazaar.
More than 30 years before tapas made Jaleo a Washington hot spot, El Bodegon, at 1637 R Street, offered an assortment of Spain's traditional drinking snacks in its small tapas bar, where hams hung from the rafters. The tapas were the best part of El Bodegon: The bar had a Spanish feel to it the classics–potato omelet, fried squid, shrimp with garlic, and croquettes–were all good. But seats at the tapas bar were always available. Chairs in El Bodegon's upstairs and downstairs dining rooms never went begging. In the 1960s, this was an evening of adventurous dining: mounds of precooked paella, held on a steam table and scooped into steel paella pans when ordered, and "Continental" versions of such Madrid tourist-trap fare as chicken sautéed with garlic, veal scallops with sherry sauce, and a mixed seafood stew called zarzuela de mariscos, all accompanied by a mini-flamenco troupe that made up in decibels what it lacked in talent.
Indian dining in Washington was so rudimentary that not a single restaurant that offered tandoori chicken on its menu had a tandoor–an urn-shaped, charcoal-fired clay oven–in its kitchen. Until Jagdish "Jack" Katyal opened Tandoor in Georgetown in the late 1970s, Indian restaurants here cooked their "tandoori chicken" in conventional ovens. Such was the case at Taj Mahal, the only Indian restaurant of that period open today. Its second-story premises at 1327 Connecticut Avenue are a bit threadbare, but at least today's waiters will entertain requests for spicy or extra-spicy curries. Forty years ago, similar requests fell on deaf ears.
When The Washingtonian published its first issue in October 1965, local restaurants mostly served the steak-and-whiskey crowd that had been here since Prohibition and the courtiers of Camelot, who still paid allegiance to the French and Continental tastes of their late president. The French chefs who would gain recognition with their own restaurants–Jean-Pierre Goyenvalle at Jean-Pierre, Robert Greault at Le Bagatelle, and Jacques Blanc at Le Provencal–were working here but were relatively unknown.
Lyndon Johnson was a giant of a political leader but as president had no influence on dining. He and the First Lady replaced the Kennedys' chef, René Verdon, with Henry Haller, a nicely neutral Swiss. Johnson had stopped by Harvey's for a meal so the "restaurant of presidents" could claim an unbroken string of presidential visits since Abraham Lincoln.
Otherwise Johnson kept to the White House, where he entertained guests at Texas-size cookouts on the White House lawn. He served up steaks from Texas that were great in size and taste as well as his beloved Pedernales River Chili. Some credit LBJ with giving California wines international recognition by directing that only American wines be served at our embassies.
In October 1965 Johnson had been president for two years, but not a single steakhouse from Texas had opened a branch in Washington. When he left office in 1969, expatriates from the Lone Star state were still waiting for a Texas steakhouse to call their own. They still are.
Is it possible to go to a restaurant that has been open for 40 years and get a taste of the food Washingtonians ate in the 1960s?
About a dozen restaurants that were open in 1965, when The Washingtonian first published, are open today. The menus of several remain much as they were 40 years ago, and so does the decor.
Some restaurants remain in name only. The original Clyde's in Georgetown, which opened in 1963, barely resembles the raffish singles saloon it once was. And except for the oversize saloon burger and its oversweetened chili, its menu is more that of a Modern American restaurant than of a Washington saloon.
I could not find a Chinese or Indian restaurant from the 1960s worthy of review. The cooking at Taj Mahal, the area's oldest Indian restaurant, is better than it was 40 years ago, but it suffers by comparison with what is being served today at Heritage India, Bombay Palace, Passage to India, and other top Indian kitchens.
With one exception, the products available to today's restaurateur are superior to those of 40 years ago. The exception is beef, whose grading standards were changed by the Department of Agriculture in 1976 to reduce the amount of marbling–interior fat–required for a USDA Prime grade. Less fat means a less-rich flavor.
Given changing tastes, it is an achievement that the six restaurants reviewed here continue to flourish. And they do so customer by customer: None of them has been reviewed in years, and only one, the Monocle, appears in the latest edition of the local Zagat survey.
These restaurants initially succeeded because of the families of their owners and of their patrons: Sons and daughters took over the restaurants from their parents, and dining at a favorite restaurant became a generational tradition. The mixture of young, old, and middle-age diners that you see at these restaurants is a good indication that they will be around a lot longer.
Prices cited represent a three-course meal for two with a moderate bottle of wine or suitable beverage plus tax and tip.
Enjoying the Real Thing: Regional Fare Done Right
Crisfield Seafood Restaurant (8012 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring 301-589-1306. Dinner for two, $79). Even in the 1970s and 1980s, when Crisfield was acknowledged to serve the best seafood dishes in the area, people complained about the cinder-block decor that had remained unchanged since 1945.
The looks of the place also gave rise to complaints about Crisfield's prices, deemed high for such plain surroundings. But there seldom were complaints about Crisfield's excellent Eastern Shore fare, which was so good because the Landis family was willing to pay top dollar for the best local seafood. Considering the cost of its ingredients, Crisfield's prices were–and still are–very reasonable.
Between May and August, do not expect to start a meal with oysters on the half-shell–the restaurant serves only local oysters, and only during the months that have an "r." Other good ways to begin are with spiced shrimp or with a cup of Eastern Shore clam chowder. The menu says the spiced shrimp cocktail has seven shrimp, but the countermen regularly include two or three extra.
Crisfield's clam chowder tastes of the essence of clams because it is made with the meat and liquor of just-shucked clams. The result is a remarkable flavor you can't achieve using canned minced clams and bottled clam juice. Once you've tasted it, it's hard to resist beginning every meal at Crisfield with its marvelous chowder. Do not be tempted by the seafood bisque, one of the kitchen's rare failures. At a Sunday lunch, it was underflavored and so overthickened that it could have held a spoon erect.
Crisfield's best-selling main course is its baked shrimp stuffed with crab. To newcomers, the portion of three butterflied jumbo shrimp, each mounded with a small portion of crumb-topped crab, may look like an appetizer. But the dish's natural richness makes it a very satisfying meal.
Shrimp stuffed with crab may be the bestseller, but Crisfield's version of crab imperial–Maryland's greatest seafood delicacy–is its finest achievement. It was created by Lillian Landis, matriarch of the family that has owned the restaurant since its inception. The original crab imperial, created in the late 19th century at a Baltimore restaurant called Thompson's Sea Girt House, was a gratin of backfin lumps with a diced mixture of onions, green bell pepper, and pimiento, all bound in a thick cream sauce. Landis once told The Washingtonian that she found the original version too heavy, that the other ingredients interfered with the gently sweet flavor of the crab.
Her recipe has backfin lumps lightly bound with Hellmann's mayonnaise and flecked with finely minced green bell pepper and an almost invisible dice of onion. It's no longer served in a cleaned crab shell but in a disposable aluminum-foil facsimile of one. It tastes every bit as good as it did in the real one.
Diners spoiled by the jumbo-lump crab cakes served in Washington's best restaurants will be disappointed by Crisfield's crab cakes. The recipe dates back to the 1940s, when it was traditional to mix a lesser grade of crab with fillers to make cakes, reserving the backfin lumps for imperials, gratins, Norfolks, and cocktails. The cakes are expertly fried, but their meek flavor and croquette-like texture are disappointing.
The impeccably fried perch filets are excellent, as is another regional specialty, flounder stuffed with crab. And if you can visit Crisfield without ordering seafood, the kitchen offers authentic Maryland fried chicken, cooked to order in a cast-iron pan. Preparation takes 25 minutes, but have some spiced shrimp and a cup of clam chowder and the wait won't seem long for the best fried chicken you are likely to find in any local restaurant.
The wonderful countermen who were here in 1965–Ned, Georgie, and Captain Huck, pros who treated diners to a speed-shucking contest whenever clams were needed for a batch of chowder–are gone, as is the late Mrs. Landis, the formidable matron to whom you paid your check at the front counter. Outside of that, the only noticeable change at Crisfield is that it now accepts credit cards.
In Rosslyn, the House That Roast Beef Built
Tom Sarris' Orleans House (1213 Wilson Blvd., Rosslyn 703-524-2929. Dinner for two, $83). There is no better time machine than Tom Sarris' Orleans House. The operating principle is that if you offer a roast-beef dinner whose reasonable price includes an all-you-can-eat salad bar, they will come.
They have been coming to Tom Sarris' since 1957, and there's no end in sight.
The multilevel dining areas resemble wrought-iron balconies in New Orleans's French Quarter, and there is a salad bar shaped like a riverboat. But nothing can overshadow the prime-rib carving station. Thanks to its heat lamps–augmented by some theatrical lighting–it glows. Glistening under the heat lamps are several whole prime ribs, which the carvers slice quickly. The performance cries out, "Forget the menu–this is what you're here for!"
The roast beef is served in three sizes, for $15.95, $18.95, and $22.95 each includes as many trips to the salad bar as one wishes plus what the menu describes as "roasted potatoes." On recent visits, the potatoes seemed more boiled than roasted, so it is worth the extra $1.25 to get a good baked Idaho potato.
At these prices, you can't expect the top-prime, dry-aged roast beef served at the Prime Rib, the Palm, and Smith & Wollensky. But in flavor and tenderness, the roast beef at Tom Sarris' is a good cut above the best you can buy at the supermarket.
In lieu of a wine list, it offers a card of six red wines the most agreeable is a Turning Leaf Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the labels produced by Ernest and Julio Gallo. At $24 a bottle, it's just fine. Besides, if Tom Sarris' Orleans House created a wine selection to appeal to contemporary tastes, it would not be the time warp it is now.
Italian-American–Spicy, Eccentric, and Good
A.V. Ristorante Italiano (607 New York Ave., NW 202-737-0550. Dinner for two, $88). This is the house that Augusto Vasaio built. A native of Pescara, a coastal village in the Italian region of Abruzzo, he opened A.V. Ristorante Italiano in 1949 and introduced Washingtonians to the pleasures of pizza bianca–a thin disk of pizza dough baked with a topping of finely minced garlic, dried oregano, and dried hot-pepper flakes. It was a savory flatbread meant to be eaten with appetizers and main courses. As a first course, a shared pizza bianca could be further topped with fontina cheese and anchovies.
At A.V.'s in 1965, patrons were presented with a long menu. Part of the restaurant's eccentric charm was that on any given night a third of the items were unavailable.
Back then there were two kinds of A.V. regulars. First were the parties that sat 6 to 12 at a table and feasted on antipasto salad and stuffed artichokes and pizza bianca, then tackled platters of tomato-sauced spaghetti or linguine garnished with assorted meats or a combination of seafoods.
Then there were those who knew that the way to enjoy the kitchen at its best was to ask Augusto Vasaio what he would suggest. If there were newcomers at the table, Don Augusto would be gentle, suggesting stewed squid followed by a bone-in rib-roast of veal that his brother Franco had just cooked. For longtime regulars, he might present a meal of four courses of squid prepared in different ways or make baked lamb's heads the centerpiece of a feast for 12.
Vasaio was a very good cook, though his amiable brother Franco did the heavy lifting. In 1976 The Washingtonian organized a pasta competition featuring the chefs of the leading Italian restaurants and, for the sake of nostalgia, Augusto Vasaio. The contest was held at Tiberio Ristorante on K Street, then one of the city's most expensive restaurants.
In their starched white jackets, Washington's top Italian chefs awaited the arrival of the last contestant, Vasaio. In a gray suit and a plaid flannel shirt open at the collar, A.V. arrived carrying a few utensils and the ingredients for his dish, linguine with a mixed-seafood sauce from Pescara. While his linguine was cooking, he sautéed his seafood in olive oil with garlic, dried flakes of hot-pepper, and tomato. When instinct told him that the pasta and sauce were simultaneously ready, he plated the dish in one of A.V.'s family-size platters and had it delivered to the judges. Then he packed his utensils and headed back to host dinner at A.V. When the judges' votes were tallied, Vasaio was the winner.
Vasaio's son, Augusto, and stepson, Johnny DiBari, have been running A.V. for more than 20 years since its founder's demise. Augusto, who headed the kitchen during some of the years his father was imposing his will on the dining room, is now the person one consults for advice about the best dishes of the day–and the one who will honor a request that the pasta be cooked al dente rather than precooked and reheated as it would be otherwise.
Because of its proximity to Capitol Hill, A.V. has long counted senators and congressmen among its regulars. At a lunch in August, Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia emerged with members of his staff from the back of the restaurant, where the group had enjoyed an assortment of pizzas. Scalia also drops by to lunch with fellow justice Clarence Thomas.
A meal at A.V. inspired by memories of Augusto Vasaio might begin with cannellini beans stewed with onion and escarole sautéed with garlic, both enjoyed with bites of pizza bianca. It would be nice to include a plate of roasted peppers with anchovies, but at the height of the local pepper season, A.V.'s peppers had the slightly bitter flavor of roasted peppers out of a can.
Instead of having the meat and pasta together in the Italian-American style, Augusto would suggest that you have a half order of pasta after the antipasto, followed by meat or seafood as a main course.
The best pasta courses sampled recently at A.V. were linguine with shrimp Fra Diavolo, impressive for its large shrimp and fearlessly spicy tomato sauce, and linguine with wonderfully tender baby calamari in a spicy sauce. Choice main courses included a whole broiled rockfish recommended by Augusto Vasaio. A cautionary note: If you order a whole fish at A.V., be prepared to bone the fish yourself.
A.V.'s signature veal roast is no longer the bone-in cut of a veal rib roast served in 1965 but a flavorsome boned shoulder whose generous slices are moistened with a pan sauce flavored with Marsala. As the weather turns cooler, look for one of the treasures on A.V.'s list of daily specials, the rabbit cacciatore. Stewed in white wine and garnished with garlic cloves and served in a portion large enough to satisfy two, it is a wonderfully rustic dish that Johnny DiBari says Justice Scalia orders when he can resist the temptation of A.V.'s pizza.
A Reliable Old Friend Survives on Capitol Hill
The Monocle (107 D St., NE 202-546-4488. Dinner for two, $144). Before the opening of the Monocle in 1960, there were no white-tablecloth restaurants on Capitol Hill. Senators and congressmen who wanted a change from their in-house dining rooms and cafeterias would repair to Wearley's on North Capitol Street, known for its cooked oyster specialties and Maryland crab dishes. The Monocle was such a hit that owner Connie Valanos nearly doubled its seating capacity in 1967.
The Monocle is a handsome restaurant whose exposed brick walls are accented with signed photographs of members of Congress.
Most of the food is simple and reliably good. The kitchen falters only when it indulges in pretensions of Modern American cooking, such as presenting its crab cakes on a plate glazed with a red-bell-pepper coulis that interferes with the sweet flavor of the crab. And vegetable garnishes are used to add color to the dish rather than to complement the flavor of its main ingredient.
One of two salads provides a good beginning to a meal here. The Greek salad is offered as a main course on the lunch menu, but a first-course portion is yours for the asking. It substitutes baby lettuce leaves for romaine but otherwise is the familiar composition of sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, feta cheese, and anchovies, elevated by a wonderfully fruity olive oil. A less rustic combination–reminiscent of a salad popular among French restaurants here in the 1960s–is a toss of watercress, endive, diced tomato, and chunks of Roquefort, lightly dressed with a classic vinaigrette. It tastes as good as it looks.
A skewer of lightly seared yet perfectly moist shrimp was profitably served on a dollop of leek sauce, but its trio of small shrimp was skimpy. An outright disappointment was a seafood bisque that was light and creamy but had no focus–except an excess of salt–among its flavors.
Among the main courses, three meat dishes were all excellent. Perfectly sautéed to the "pink" requested, the calf's liver was moist, tender, and naturally sweet. Liver this good deserved a smooth potato purée rather than the lumpy mashed potatoes served with it.
Thoroughly cooked without a trace of pink at its bone, a thick pork rib-chop was properly moist and had the rich flavor of old-fashioned, fat-marbled pork rather than the blandness of today's lean pork.
The most pleasant surprise was a strapping portion of Certified Angus Beef rib-eye steak served on the bone. It had a depth of flavor and a tenderness not previously encountered in a Certified Angus steak. The handsome slab of beef is not the equivalent of the bone-in rib steaks served at such steakhouses as Bobby Van's, the Prime Rib, or Smith & Wollensky, but it is far superior to anything you are likely to encounter at other local restaurants.
Simply grilled or roasted meats offer a good background against which to display red wines. The Monocle offers an extensive, well-selected wine list that is a pleasure to explore. Its bottles, great and small, are offered at some of the fairest prices you are likely to find in local restaurants.
The Original Pizza Place–Still Packing Them In
Luigi's (1132 19th St., NW 202-331-7574. Dinner for two, $95). The first Italian restaurant in the District was the Roma, which opened in 1920 at 3419 Connecticut Avenue in Cleveland Park. In 1922, with the opening of Ciro's Famous Village Restaurant at 1304 G Street, downtown DC got its first tastes of meat-stuffed ravioli with tomato sauce and veal cutlet alla Parmigiana.
With both those restaurants distant memories, Luigi's, which opened in 1943, is the city's oldest Italian restaurant. It was one of the first local restaurants to serve pizza, which was little known outside of New York and did not begin to become popular until the end of World War II. When GIs returned from Naples with a taste for pizza, Luigi's was waiting to serve them.
Venerable Italian-American restaurants like Luigi's owe their longevity in part to family tradition–that of the owners and that of their patrons. Critics may deride precooked spaghetti with an excess of tomato sauce (with more garlic than is good for it) and breaded veal cutlets armored with melted cheese and swamped in tomato sauce, but if it is the kind of Italian-American cooking you first encountered, it is likely to retain its appeal.
Which helps explain why Luigi's, located within blocks of such acclaimed Italian restaurants as i Ricchi, Teatro Goldoni, and Galileo, is the likeliest to be packed at both lunch and dinner.
When it comes to pizza, the first-impressions rule also influences lifetime tastes. So it is that Luigi's pizza, whose undercooked crust has a crackerlike flavor and is overloaded with cheese, is one of the most popular items on the menu.
The antipasti sampled on recent visits to Luigi's were uninspired–marinated red peppers whose olive oil, capers, and garlic could not mask their tinny taste, and an old-fashioned Italian-American antipasto undone by its institutional coldcuts and cheese. It is probably better to start a meal at Luigi's with a half order of pasta. &bull
One thing to remember about ordering pasta, whether spaghetti, linguine, penne, or rigatoni, at Luigi's or any other Italian-American restaurant: Ask that it be cooked al dente. Otherwise, you will be served precooked pasta. Sometimes it takes two tries to get your pasta cooked al dente. After you refuse the first dish of precooked pasta, the waitress will return from the kitchen to tell you that your pasta will take "nine to ten minutes" to cook. Quite right.
Luigi's serves classic Italian-American ravioli with a well-seasoned meat stuffing and nicely sauced with crushed tomatoes. It also makes an attractive Linguine alla Luciana with fresh-flavored squid in a spicy tomato sauce that has been briefly cooked to preserve the natural sweetness of the tomatoes. Linguine with white clam sauce, a Neapolitan classic often butchered at Italian-American restaurants, is very good at Luigi's, lightly sauced and garnished with tiny clams in their shells. The only outright failure encountered was a half order of spaghetti with the house meat sauce, which was acrid from its excess of dried herbs and overcooked to a rust-red color.
Among main courses, a monkfish alla pizzaiola was overwhelmed by an overly salty tomato sauce garnished with capers and kalamata olives. An order of scallopine alla Marsala, an Italian-American standard, was ruined by an excess of minced garlic.
The most successful main course was another Italian-American standard, veal scallopine alla Parmigiana. The thick veal cutlet's flavor was surprisingly rich, striking a meaty note between its topping of melted mozzarella and its fresh-tasting tomato sauce.
In a city where authentic Italian restaurants dominate the fine-dining scene and its best pizzas are baked in wood-fired ovens, that the 62-year-old Luigi still draws full houses suggests that there is a legion of Washington diners with an enduring fondness for the Italian-American cooking they fell in love with when they were young.
Schnitzel, Wursts, and Old-Fashioned Comfort
Old Europe (2434 Wisconsin Ave., NW 202-333-7600. Dinner for two, $123). Old Europe is a reminder of a time when calories didn't count. Operating in the same location since 1948, it is the oldest remaining link to the German influence on the capital's dining tastes.
Old Europe exists in a state of suspended animation, basking in the patina of its 57 years while maintaining a neatness that sets an example for restaurants in their infancy. The only noticeable change in the wood-paneled dining room whose walls are covered with canvases depicting Alpine scenes is that its 100-year-old cuckoo clock is usually silent.
The standards are consistently well prepared at Old Europe, which makes it a destination restaurant when one has a craving for a schnitzel sauerbraten with potato dumplings and red cabbage or a trio of outstanding wursts made by a master sausage-maker in Baltimore and garnished with a fragrant mound of sauerkraut. For the hardiest of appetites, there is the roasted fresh pork hock.
But what keeps Old Europe sprightly beyond its years is its round of annual festivals. Right now it is Oktoberfest. If you need a reason to return to Old Europe, the Butcher's Platter is reason enough: Although it is no longer served on a wooden cutting board, this plate of sausages, a slice of smoked pork loin, and an exquisite liver dumpling, garnished with a helping of sauerkraut, remains the best Oktoberfest platter in the area.
After the kegs of Oktoberfest beer are tapped dry, the kitchen will turn its attention to the Game Festival, then the Asparagus Festival and the May-Wine Festival, when the previous year's vintage is celebrated with glasses of young white wine flavored with waidmeister, a sylvan herb known in English as woodruff.
Old Europe owes its longevity to Karl Herold, who arrived from Germany in 1958 as a young chef recruited by the Lichtenstein family, the founding owners. After Herold bought Old Europe, he kept his position as executive chef but also served as the restaurant's host.
Ever the amiable innkeeper, Karl Herold would approach the table with a gentle smile and a twinkle in his eye that said, "I want to share with you the good things in my kitchen and the fine German vintages in my cellar." Ah, that cellar. While Old Europe had a variety of fine German beers on tap, Herr Herold championed the cause of Germany's wines by sharing his knowledge of them and offering them at bargain prices. In this day of inflated wine prices, Old Europe offers some of the great wines of the world–Schloss Vollrads, Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen, Erbacher Marcobrunn–for well under $40.
These days, Karl Herold is in for only three hours a day, usually at lunch. He has entrusted his innkeeping duties to his son, Alex, whose enthusiasm bodes well for his stewardship of Old Europe.
Thursday through Sunday, when a pianist pounds out show tunes on the restaurant's spinet, the dining room fills up. There are tables of four couples all-male tables of academics indulging in one-liter stems of German draught beer and plates crowded with sauerbraten, potato dumplings, red cabbage, and a sauce thick enough to stand up and salute young couples in search of comfort food and a neighborhood regular who asks for a Schnitzel à la Holstein–which hasn't been on the menu for years–and gets a breaded veal cutlet with a pair of fried eggs on top, decorated with a crossed pair of anchovy filets. Experience it and you'd have to be a cynic not to be taken in by the fun and old-fashioned comfort that is Old Europe.
City First Church surpasses 1 million pounds of food donated since pandemic began
ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — When the pandemic first hit, many Stateline workers struggled to find a way to feed their families. City First Church stepped up to help food on the table by hosting multiple grocery giveaways.
Volunteers have now reached an unprecedented milestone.
“It’s just awesome to see that so many people are just willing to jump in and do whatever it takes to just help the community,” said First Impressions Coordinator Dakota Peoples.
For the ninth time, Rockford’s City First Church hosted a food drive, giving away thousands of pounds of food.
“So we have different boxes of protein, dairy, and produce we’re handing out to families. Just to be a blessing in the community today,” said Peoples.
While COVID-19 has presented a trying time for many local residents, Peoples says this is the least they can do to help lighten the burden.
Tuesday’s food drive alone is expected to feed over a thousand families.
“We are actually hitting over a million pounds of food today. Overall of our food distributions total over a million pounds we’ve been able to give away during the Covid crisis,” said Peoples.
Everyone working the event was a volunteer. One Rockford resident says the drive provides some hope for her and her family.
“It came at a perfect time when we need it right now, there are so many workers. Even just waving goodbye gives a little hope right now. It’s great,” said Jessica Danhof.
City First Church is expected to continue with their scheduled food drives in November and December–but with winter approaching they are continuing to find innovative ways to help the community.
“Northern Illinois Food Bank is actually purchasing heated tents for our volunteers and serve team members so that way, as it gets colder, we’re still staying safe, keeping warm, being prepared,” Peoples added.
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Ocean Wise Responds to the Seaspiracy film
By Sophika KostyniukDirector of Fisheries and SeafoodOcean Wise Conservation Association On Wednesday, March 24th, Netflix launched environmental filmmaker Kip Andersen’s&hellip
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