A cold night for travel but it’s my last concert of the 2008 and as I board my train I think how much I miss the warm weather of this most glorious summer. A quiet ride tonight with commuters, some reading books or newspapers, a few seats away an old black man reads a small bible. For the last two days at work we’ve been under siege and I need a night out badly, so I call Webster Hall to find out when Duffy is going on-9:15 good. That will give me time to get there and have some supper, once again I flew home and showered, changed and ran out the door. I can’t decide whether or not to eat in Penn Station or just get to my destination and eat there.
What a contrast to the warm weather last week when I went to the Mercury Lounge and was uncomfortable in my denim jacket, tonight I’m cold in my three quarter length winter coat complete with my black beanie cap with it’s silver dragon on it, this my brother calls my Tom Warrior (of Celtic Frost fame) look, especially since he was teaching me some CF chords on guitar a few nights ago. I will be sick as a dog by the time I get home from work on Friday but right now I feel good and munch some fund raising chocolate that I bought from a kid in Hicksville Station with a coffee to warm me up. I wait to change trains at Jamaica Station to make a little more time, the platform is full of anxious people waiting to get to where their going and the train is a little late. Some pace back and forth, a girl flirts with her boyfriend (they need to get a room…fast), while others complain on cell phones to somebody who probably wishes they hadn’t answered and are figuring out an exit strategy, yet others just read the paper and wait-the veterans take it all in stride. The train arrives and whisks us off to Penn Station rapidly building up speed till we arrive-I’ve got two hours before the show.
When I come up the stairs I immediately go up the Eighth Ave escalator and as I ride up I feel the air grow colder and I shiver as I walk out into the plaza, as usual the sights and sounds of the city rush at you like a freight train going by at full throttle, the cool breeze growing stronger as I walk to the taxi stand. The smell of exhaust is replaced by the vendor selling Gyro’s, Shish-Ka-Bob, and all manner of cooked meats and veg to go on Pita bread or hero, but I decide to eat in the Village instead, no Al-Fresco for me tonight.
A short,quick taxi ride drops me off at Webster Hall, I haven’t been here in years so I head for the nearest main street where the glow of lights and neon promises a good but cheap meal is on the way. Here in this Asian part of the city you can find some upscale Sushi or Chinese food, and if you have the money you can enjoy what I’m sure is some of the finest dinning experiences money can buy (although I’m sure Anthony Bourdain could top these places) they look pretty good to me from afar-I’m not dressed for this and cheap sit down is what my tiredly cold body wants right now. I see across the street is a place called “Saint Alps Tearoom” and after looking at the window menu… I go in. The place is small and simple yet somehow elegant in a downscale college student sort of way, the tables are dark red laquered wood with small round stools to match, not made for large backsides I’m thinking as I’m directed to a corner table with my back to the wall and as I peruse the menu I scan the room. The place is packed and from my vantage point I can see that except for two Freshman girls-everyone here is Asian, a good sign. The menu is quite extensive for a fast food joint, they offer all sorts of deep fried goodness, Yakitori, noodle bowls, rice bowls and all sorts of tea to wash it down, hot tea, milk tea, bubble tea, a fascinating array of teas. I sit and watch with interest as college students hunch over flatscreens, and young couples cuddle or playfully tease each other and laugh their fingers intertwined like wrestlers-the playful power struggle that is love-testing each others waters, hoping for the calm seas of bliss but learning to weather the storms of each others personalities, I’ve been there before-I’m jealous but at the same time happy to be free of the struggle. Such is the duality of my nature.
My food arrives and I’m impressed by the speed and the presentation, the Deep Fried Cuttlefish Balls are arranged on a piece of parchment with a little slivered cabbage as a garnish in the irregular Bakelite dish where one small square compartment at the end holds some fine ground salt-it is crispy and the sweet white fish is meaty and good, no sauce is present- it doesn’t need any. The Spicy Pork Rice bowl is another revelation, an Asian meat ragu spooned over sticky rice garnished with a half of a tea egg, a small steamed hand of Bok-Choy cut in half, a few slices of a bright yellow radish and some slivers of hot red pepper-all artfully arranged. The smoky slightly sweet spicy pork is a savory contrast to the mild sticky rice and the ginger mike tea is a very strong spicy opposite to the sweet fish and rice. It’s good and cheap and I’m really really glad I didn’t eat in Penn Station. I pay the check and for now it’s cash only so I have to hit a cash machine… I may want a drink later. The wind kicks up and I close my coat and walk back to Webster Hall warmed from my meal and pass by the upscale place I passed before and glance at the people paying twenty five bucks for a few pieces of Sushi and shake my head-you don’t know what your missing.