July. Time for family get-togethers, for outings, for rediscovering our collective heritage. Picnics on Independence Day, vacations at the beach, slot machines and a show in Atlantic City. At the end of the day, there’s always Aunt Sophie’s green jello salad…. Maybe we could go out to dinner?
The mere mention of fried kreplach is enough to start our mouths watering. And while boiled beef flanken may not look like much, it conjures up memories of grandma’s kitchen. Not our grandmother, but somebody’s, we’re quite sure. We hop on the 7th Avenue IRT and head for the border of SoHo and TriBeCa, where Bobby, Eddie, and Dave await us, the identical triplets of Triplets Roumanian Restaurant. Jewish soul food from the old country.
Open space complete with balcony, wood furnishings, plenty of theater lighting, and a staff direct from Central Casting set the stage for a great performance. We wave away the menus; that’s not why we came. It’s the prix fixe dinner that got us here. We prepared with the obligatory twenty-four hour fast, and have no plans to eat before next Thursday.
The waiters arrive in waves, laden with baskets of bread, bowls of intensely garlic-marinated and roasted peppers, plates of creamy chopped chicken livers with sweet radish and onion, and thick potato piroegi, platters of beef stuffed cabbage simmered in spiced tomato sauce, and savory lamb and garlic sausages. All-we-can-eat. Seltzer, fright from the blue glass seltzer bottles. No olive oil, butter, or margarine graces this feast. Instead, the golden nectar of high cholesterol – schmaltz, pitches of schmaltz.
The appetizer binge over, we dive into our main courses. Broiled lamb chops, grilled salmon with rich dill mayonnaise, a Roumanian tenderloin studded with cloves of garlic, a tender breaded veal cutlet.
Instead of a trendy sorbet to clear the palate, our waiter brings more seltzer, milk, and a bottle of U-Bet chocolate syrup. The production of egg creams commences, followed by an encore of cookies and pastries for dessert. We fight over the apricot rugelach and the jelly rings. Thank God the subway station is only a short waddle away.
Triplets Roumanian Restaurant, 11-17 Grand Street (at Houston), 212-925-9303. Open for dinner Thursday to Sunday during the summer. Cash or credit cards. Dinner $40.
We were in one of those soul food kind of moods, so we decided to check in on another set of roots. Just a block away from Piano Bar Row on Grove Street, behind a facade of twinkle lights, we set ourselves down at The Pink Tea Cup, serving up what is arguably the best southern barbecue in New York City.
The Pink Tea Cup is brightly lit, with rows of tables along two walls of picnic benches. A rickety spiral staircase leads down to the bathrooms, where the walls are a mosaic of celebrity patron photos. When not busy, the casually competent wait-staff are only too willing to chat. Sometimes we hear about more than we wanted to know, and sometimes we tell more. We’ve even been asked to help peel and core the apples.
So what if the shredded salad with creamy house dressing isn’t arugula with basil vinaigrette? Who cares if the bean soup needs more pepper and less salt? Bring us an order of apple fritters and another of corn fritters, light and juicy on the inside, dark golden fried on the outside, and a spark blossoms around the table. Wash them down with tall glasses of iced tea, “sweet or unsweet.”
We have ordered the chicken and dumplings, the half-a-fried chicken with hot sauce, the smothered pork chops, and even the chicken-fried steak. We weren’t disappointed. But we’re here for the barbecue. Chicken, ribs, or chopped pork. Showing complete ineptitude at decision-making, we cover the checked tablecloth with plates of each. Adding to the spread are side bowls of black-eyed peas, simmered greens, okra, corn, creamy potato salad, and cornbread.
With our eyes rolling, we order dessert. Bread pudding, jello, pecan pie, and what may just be the best sweet potato pie this side of the Hudson. A proper sized cup of coffee and we’re ready to wander up the block and drop in on the piano bars.
The Pink Tea Cup, 42 Grove Street (at Bleecker), 212-807-6755. Open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. Cash only. Lunch $10-12, Dinner $15-20.
When we were growing up, we had Cantonese take-out on Sunday nights. Sweet and sour chicken, chow mein, and egg foo young were the height of adventure. Then came Szechuan and Hunan, with their hot peppers and garlic. We eagerly sampled whatever was pushed our way, and soon the mavens of food were throwing us Japanese tempura, then sushi, then Thai with tamarinds, limes, and searing peppers. Now, the hot new trend; Vietnamese food, haute form. Tasty, but refurbished by years of French occupation. It took the New Viet Huong to show us from whence it came.
At the height of the Vietnam War, Craig Claiborne talked The New York Times into sending him to Saigon to find authentic chagio, the delicate spring rolls of Vietnamese cuisine. Without having to brave bombs bursting in air, we were able to tuck away a half dozen of these crispy delights with fresh mint leaves and a brightly vinegared dipping sauce. Whole battered prawns encircling a juicy scepter of sugarcane were as appealling to our eyes as to our taste buds. Spiced beef wrapped in vine leaves left nothing to be desired.
The list of entrees at New Viet Huong goes on for pages, ranging from simple rice dishes to elaborate multi-dish samplers. From whole fried bass to curried goat to barbecued beef, we’ve ambled through a couple dozen of the selections. The staff at New Viet Huong is friendly, and always willing to make suggestions if you’re not quite sure what to order. Among the winners to date, tender sautéed squid with strips of sour cabbage, salt and pepper fried crabs, battered and spiced soft shells, and garlic and ginger snails. The latter require being french-kissed to suction them from their shells. It may take some lung power, but it livens up even the toughest crowd.
We accompany our meals here with tea, soda or milkshakes. The shakes don’t come in the usual chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry; but jackfruit, durian, and baby coconut make enticing substitutes. New Viet Huong also serves the most unusual soda we’ve had, salty plum. Next time you want taht touch of the orient, and moo shu and yellowtail just don’t make it, wend your way through the Chinatown markets and drop in.
New Viet Huong, 77 Mulberry Street (at Pell), 212-233-8988. Open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, free delivery available. Cash or credit cards. Lunch $5-10, Dinner $15-20.
CaB magazine was one of the first publications I ever wrote for. Published by my dear friend Andrew Martin, it covered the Cabaret, Theater, Music and Dining scene in New York City, long before slick publications like Time Out NY and Where NY became popular. We had great fun writing it, and some wonderful writers contributed to its pages. When the magazine folded in the mid-90s, Andrew disappeared from the scene, and rumors had it that he departed from this existence not long after. I was thrilled to find out in mid-October 2005, a decade later, that the rumors were just that. Andrew contacted me after finding my site via that omnipresent force, Google. He’s alive and well and a member of a comedy troupe called Meet the Mistake. Somehow quite fitting!