My sister and her partner flew up from Texas for a conference in NYC, so we spent a nice Saturday in Soho. I recommend each of these stops:
Quickly Shabu Shabu is a tiny little hole-in-the-wall restaurant tucked away in the hustle and bustle of Chinatown (photos courtesy of nitrolicious). From the outside looking in through its steamy window, you can only see a crowded take-out counter, but there is actually a backrooom with 5-6 tables featyring hotpot portals in front of each seat. For those not familiar, Shabu Shabu is a Japanese DIY cooking method most commonly acheieved by swishing thinly sliced meats and various seafood with your chopsticks in a table top hot pot.
I know what you're thinking - Shabu Shabu in Chinatown? Sounds suspicious right? All I can say is that the food exceeded the ambience. There's an old call-and-response joke in our family where one of us justifies the cost of a fancy restaurant by saying "we're paying for the ambience" only to receive the reply of "What? I don't see ambience on the menu?!". Think of this as the opposite. Place looks crappy and service is lazy but the food is decent and you make the most of the surroundings. With good company, the environment transforms from hole-in-the-wall to cozy. The four of us shared stories, sipped bubble tea and shabu shabu'd 3 platters of meats, seafood and sirloin. Not mindblowing, but it was a great lunch on a colder than normal spring day.
The Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz, located on Broome Street between Mott & Mulberry, opened in 2005 and is only the second church dedicated to Filipinos outside the Philippines. The first one was The Basilica of Sta. Pudenciana in Rome. The Chapel itself is fairly small and modest. The main area can probably hold 200 people and features dark wooden chairs in place of pews. The lobby area features community photos of priests and parishioners celebrating mass and sharing meals. As we walked in to "light" an electric candle, we observed a choir rehearsing hymns with familiar inflections interrupted by conversations in taglish.
I am not a religious man. I believe in God but not so much in religion. God is God and religion is interpretation. Depending on your experience, sometimes the interpretation is good natured; other times the interpretation is misleading and self-serving. History has consistently demonstrated the questionable role of organized religion in various world conflicts. I have problems with the agenda based presence of religion in politics and despise religious intolerance as much as racism. I suppose every organization is susceptible to corruption, but how serious do you take their efforts to evaluate themselves when they typically brush problems under the rug and reaffirm their holier than thou attitude. Youth and cynicism may be coloring my perspective at this moment and many people become more religious as they age or encounter a crisis, but like I said, in the grand scheme of things, I have a belief in God and a natural inclination to question interpretations.
At the "grass-roots" level, I appreciate the sense of community that it fosters and I respect people who find comfort in their religion - no matter what their belief system. Judging by my short visit to the Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz, I can see and appreciate that the Filipino Apostolate in NYC does a great job of promoting togetherness and involvement.
Enough religious talk. On to shopping! Uniqlo on Broadway always delivers the goods - unfortunately none of the goods were in my size. But my companions fared better. Uniqlo has a cool new series of t-shirts based on manga characters that appear in Kodansha's Weekly Shonen Magazine and Shogakukan's Weekly Shonen Sunday. Its sure to be a hit among American shoppers and hipsters who gush over Japanese denim and pop culture. The crowd at the store was full of urban hipsters wearing their regulation uniform of tight jeans, retro hi-top kicks and bright colors. I ran into a few Retro Kids wannabes with hi-top fades.
After exhausting ourselves in the hectic sidewalks of Broadway, we escaped to window shop in the more peaceful and expensive stores in Soho. We made a brief pit stop at a small cafe on Prince Street. By small, I mean shoulder to shoulder. Living in suburban Jersey makes you accustomed to an ample amount of personal space and it takes some time to acclimate yourself to the cramp quarters of the city. Anyway, the name of the establishment escapes me, but they serve some heavenly pecan pie. The Pecans were huge and the pie filling had a moist, almost gelatinous consistency with the right amount of sweetness.
We finished off the night with a dinner at Cendrillon with a few of my sister's contemporaries in the world of academia. I've written extensively on this place before and all I have to add this time is that the lechon was spot on. The textures and flavors were spot on: the unhealthily declicious fatty parts melted in your mouth as the crunchy skin enhanced the saltiness and stuck to your teeth. It was more than filling but I couldn't deny myself the customary halo-halo to finish the evening. Surprisingly, this group of accomplished academics were actually entertaining. I'm poking fun, but even though their professional world is foreign to me, its so easy to find humor in our common background. I'm sure my wife would also agree that it was nice to sit with a table full of smart, talented and creative filipinos.
Think this is racist? Its ironic that this LeBron James/Gisele photo is stirring up a racial controversy after being heralded by Vogue as their first cover featuring a black man. LeBron himself is pretty pleased with the picture as it expresses the raw emotions that he typically displays on the basketball court. But anyone aware of media images - specifically those of blacks - can understandably feel compelled to brand this as racially insensitive. It plays into that long standing fear of a savagely dangerous black man and is strikingly reminiscent of King Kong carrying a helpless white woman on top of the Empire State building. No, Gisele doesn't look frightened but that would be too obvious and the purpose of the cover is too generate publicity (positive and negative) not anger. You think they would make Dirk Nowitski, Sidney Crosby or Brian Urlacher pose in a beastly manner?
Even though Vogue is insisting that they simply wanted to pair an elite model and athlete, I'm sure the provocative tone of the photo was carefully planned out - because we all know that provocative covers sell magazines. And I certainly wouldn't be writing about a Vogue cover if it wasn't controversial.
Nicely illustrated 32 card deck featuring all the old school legends including Kurtis Blow, Run DMC, and others.
Japanese stars before and after plastic surgery. No wonder they all have those anime-like eyes over there.
Picked up a pair of Nike Legend limited Black Fives editions. The "Black Fives" refer to the early black basketball leagues of the early 1900's that thrived in the face of racial segregation. These particular sneakers honor the St. Christopher Club (aka The Red and Black Machine) of Harlem, NYC. A clean and classic old school design and rich maroon/black colorway provides an alternative to the multicolored kicks in my closet. Edit: Thanks to Claude for the photo clarification.
With our lives so digitally intense, its refreshing to come across handmade art. Rob Ryan is a London-based artist who slices up paper and hand paints some bold creations.
Classy return by Allen Iverson to Philadelphia. He showed his love for the city and the fans when he kissed the Sixers logo at midcourt, hugged Mo Cheeks and his former teammates, and did his trademark cupping of his ear to the crowd. He even rocked custom sneakers with "THXPHILA" imprinted on them. I've been a fan since his days in Gtown and rocked 2 of his jerseys during his time in Philly. He defined bball in Philly for almost a decade. Sure he had off the court issues and you can disagree with his playing style or the Sixers' strategy to build around a little guy, but he never let it affect his play on the court. The whole "Practice" soundbyte is real played out and it was nice to see fans appreciate a guy who played his heart out every night.
The Japanese love cute cellphone accessories. My wife has various jewels bedazzling her phone as well as multiple straps featuring animal figurines.
This cellphone strap series from Japan celebrates the 6 Stages of Drunkeness.
Ahh my favorite time of the sports year. Even with Maryland relegated to the Not Invited Tournament, my rooting interests will be with UNC, Gtown and Temple. I usually root for ACC teams but its been a down year for the conference. Clemson is hot and if they make it past Nova, they should be in the Sweet 16. I can see Miami falling in the first day and Duke could slip up early as well - especially since they live and die by the 3-pointer. As much as I like the Cinderellas, I'd rather see the elite teams make the Final 4. this is still my favorite time of the sports year.
Predictions (we can laugh at these in a couple weeks)
Upset teams: Temple, Davidson,
Final Four: Kansas over UNC, UCLA over Texas
Final: UCLA over Kansas
Friday morning: My wife woke up at 6:30AM with excruciating pain in her lower abdomen. She was in too much pain to walk or even get carried by me, so the ambulance took us our nearby hospital. She undergoes tests and treatments in the ER. A catscan found a kidney stone - a very painful condition which triggered nausea, vomiting and her migraines. They tried to send us home at 2PM with a few prescriptions but the continuing pain, nausea and vomiting made that impossible. So, we were admitted to the hospital. However, there were no beds available and we had to make room for other patients entering the ER. So, they rolled my wife's ER bed to the hallway. She was knocked out on pain meds with a steady stream of fluids via IV.
So for the next 8 hours in the hallway, I looked over her and tried to entertain myself with some people watching. Watching nurses and doctors going about their job and watching patients going about their suffering. The population of an ER gives you an idea about its surrounding neighborhood. Here, the patients were 98% white. I would estimate 60% of the patients were elderly with chest and plumbing ailments. Occasionally, you'll see a schoolkid suffering a sports injury. The long wait in the hallway was torturous but at least we weren't in Philly. Years ago, I went to Temple University's ER with a dislocated kneecap from bball and I left without any treatment because I was a non-priority on a waiting list filled with gunshot and stabbing victims.
I had a nice conversation with Sigfreud, a Filipino nurse from the Visayas region of the Philippines. He explained that Visayans have certain types of family names and guessed correctly that my parents are not from his 'hood. He is fairly new and unfamiliar with the regions of South Jersey - mainly because his life consists of late night shifts at the hospital and occasional naps at home. He was genuinely grateful to speak to a fellow Pinoy and I was grateful to talk to someone while I waited in the hallway. Plus he finally hooked us up with a room in the hospital at 11pm.
I leave the hospital at midnight with my wife sharing a room with Judy, a middle aged lady who just had spine surgery. She's good natured but incredibly loud. Lots of moaning and groaning when she's in pain and a boisterously chatty personality when feeling well. Unfortunately, Judy is up all Friday night and her noise triggers my wife's migraines. On top of that, she has 6 equally loud family members visiting on Saturday. My wife's migraines intensify, worsening the nausea that renders her unable to eat anything. So, I negotiate with the nurses to move my wife to another room. Luckily by end of day Saturday, we land a private room. The peace and quiet helps my wife's condition and I take her home Sunday morning.
Its too easy to take good health for granted. Especially if you're like me and you haven't had any major medical problems in your life. But visiting a hospital over the weekend reminded me to appreciate...or rather celebrate the simple joys of life and the ability to carry out basic bodily functions such as eating a normal diet and using the bathroom without any problems. I am living the pain-free and healthy life (at least according to my last check up) that these patients are desperate for.
Pretty cool prototype game. Hope it hits the market. I can see it doing well on the Nintendo DS to fit in with their brain game line - if its feasible on a smaller screen.
While Ramiele Malubay survived another week in American Idol, another Filipino surfaces on a reality show competition: Dale Talde is gunning to be the next "Top Chef" on Bravo. The premiere show aired this week and Dale seems to be a promising competitor with an impressive resumé. Seems a bit cocky but for now I'll classify it as self-confidence.
Thanks to Geraldine Ferraro for accelerating the ugly. This type of negative campaigning is one of the reasons why I never get caught up in politics in the first place. This race-baiting which started with Bill Clinton in S.C. and now with Ferraro has really turned me off from Hillary. Its appears to be a strategy to paint Obama as the black candidate.
I was drawn to Obama because he ran on a positive message of hope and stayed above the fray. Now you wonder if he'll have to abandon that strategy and get his hands dirty to fight back.
The owners of P.F. Chang's (the "upscale" chinese restaurant chain whose food doesn't live up to its forced pretentiousness) recently opened Pei Wei in Cherry Hill. This establishment bills itself as an "Asian diner" - a unique concept for South Jersey, a region inundated with cookie cutter chinese/japanese fare. The interior shares a similar style to Chang's with lots of reds, golds and dark wood - a rich palette contrasted nicely with framed black and white slice of life photos of China. I suppose these photos are meant to establish some authenticity. There is a long bar where one can sit and observe the chefs cooking in front - but nobody was seated there by the hostess. Maybe we aren't supposed to examine what the cooks were actually doing. Anyhow, we place an order up front at the register and wait for our food to be served at our numbered table.
The menu offers various Chinese, Korean, Thai and Vietnamese dishes - all fairly basic and suitably Americanized for its location. I ordered the spring rolls for appetizer and the Mongolian beef, while my wife sampled the Pad Thai. Spring rolls were decent but both of our entrees were totally over-seasoned. It was so salty that I discovered new veins in my forehead throbbing from my blood pressure going through the roof. My wife comes from the Japanese school of minimal seasoning with the belief that over seasoning distracts from the natural flavor of the food. Too much oil actually disrupts her stomach. So as you can imagine, she wasn't enjoying her Pad Thai at all. She kept mixing the noodles furiously in a futile attempt to dilute the heavy flavors. I looked around for sympathy. The family near us was eating it up and adding hot sauce. On our other side, the waitress was recommending one dish because it has so many flavors going on. Yeah, don't forget to recommend 20 glasses of water with that. I did see one couple leave with their dishes half-eaten. So we weren't alone.
My hunger actually overrode my health concerns and I nearly finished my Mongolian beef. I did walk out craving water. The only other time I crave water is after a dehydrating 5 mile run. Funny thing is I was more disappointed by P.F. Changs because it was pricey and faux-pretentious. Yes, Pei Wei was over-seasoned beyond belief...but it was cheap...and thus a sub-par meal more easy to swallow...or forget.
Obama City is located in the Fukui Prefecture in Japan. This video shows the people's support for the presidential hopeful who shares their city's namesake:
Read a BoingBoing post about a billboard announcing the Takashi Murakami exhibit at the L.A. Museum of contemporary art. 2 well known local graffiti artists bombed the billboard with their names and Murakami characters. Murakami asked for the billboard to be taken down - not out of anger but because he liked it so much that he wanted it shipped back to Tokyo.
This video has been banned by MTV because its strobelight effects failed the Harding Test - which judges whether images may trigger epilectic seizures.
More random tracks:
Q-tip | midnight 08 (smirnoff signature mix)
The Roots feat. Dice Raw, Peedi Crakk & DJ Jazzy Jeff | Get Busy
Idle Warship feat. mc chris | Screamin
Snoop Dogg | Press Play
Who wouldn't want a side of fries with a pair of Air Force 1's?
Yuki Nakano is a talented artist who works in a variety of media including illustration, collage and photography.
Yakitori Boy is a restaurant/bar and karaoke club that recently opened in Philly's Chinatown. Its the first Japanese establishment in this neighborhood and uniquely serves "Japas" - you guessed it: Japanese tapas. These type of joints are common in Japan and the after-work crowd relish in eating small dishes that perfectly complement the need to get drunk after a hectic workday. My brother-in-law took us to a joint near Tokyo and we found ourselves among the hectic salaryman crowd drinking and eating away their stress.
Upon entering Yakitori Boy, I found myself agreeing with a reviewer who commented that the decor was reminiscent of the movie "Lost in Translation". The interior is dimly lit with Japanese styled beamed structures framing the private booth area. The bar and tabled seating areas are ultramodern and minimal.
On to the food. I was encouraged to be served by a Japanese waitress and welcomed the complimentary edamame. The sushi was a little underwhelming - not so fresh or up to the standards of Morimoto or Genji. I enjoyed the okonomyaki - a pancake filled with shrimp, octopus, bonito flakes and various vegetables topped with sauce and mayonnaise. Lots of stuff going on in this dish - but its went perfectly with my Asahi. Their specialty Yakitori dish (photo above courtesy of philadining.com) features meatballs, gizzards, and beef on skewers. Gizzards were a little tough but the meatballs melted in your mouth. Lots of flavors and spices going on. Again...perfect to eat with beer. The portions are fairly generous and cheap.
The food is adequate if not mind-blowing but I came away seeing Yakitori Boy as more about the experience than the food. Chinatown needs a hip place to drink and lounge at and you'll enjoy getting tipsy and eating perfectly complementary "Japas". You almost expect Bill Murray to be sipping some Suntory in the corner or singing some Elvis Costello in the karaoke lounge upstairs.
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