Month: May, 2007

Don’t do it

Friday, May 11th, 2007 | All Things, Travel

Driving to DC on Friday afternoon, I spied this sign on the approach to the Delaware Memorial Bridge:

Delaware Memorial Bridge

Are jumpers such a widespread problem on this 2.5 mile span? A little research shows that between 1952 and 2003, 132 people took the plunge, which while not insignificant, is nowhere near the figures for the Golden Gate Bridge. I was stunned to read in The New Yorker a while back that a person jumps off that bridge every two weeks(!), on average — at least twelve hundred people since the bridge opened 70 years ago this month — a figure which prompted the initiation of the Golden Gate Bridge Suicide Deterrent System Study in 2006.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a toll collector? Here’s an interesting Time magazine profile from 1980 when it costs 60 cents to cross from New Jersey into Delaware — now it’s $3.00 — and a somewhat less morbid view of the bridge:

Delaware Memorial Bridge

And speaking of jumping off bridges (after which I will stop, promise!): David Blaine may just be the most annoying man on the planet.

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Marco! Polo!

Thursday, May 10th, 2007 | All Things, Eats

At Marco Polo Noodle Shop at 94 Baxter Street, the house specialty is, as one would expect: noodles. Here, the Lanchou style beef stew noodle soup , which are “fresh made” in house daily. It was very good – and for $4.75 for this generous bowl, great value! — but I miss the spectacle of the hand-pulled variety at the other noodle shops, farther east.

Marco Polo

beef stew noodle soup

So why a Chinese noodle shop named for an Italian? As any fifth grader can tell you, Marco Polo’s 13th century wanderings along the Silk Road served as the basis for his travel account, which became an important document of East-West exchanges. His writings (the veracity of which has been disputed through the years) formed the basis of the popular idea that the explorer introduced Chinese noodles to the Italians, where they were reborn as spaghetti. (“We [Italians] take credit for it, but we just added oregano,” as the Estelle Getty character quips to a Chinese doctor in one episode of The Golden Girls.) It’s a version perpetuated by the Chinese, where the schools promote national pride for the Four Great Inventions: the compass, gunpowder, paper and movable type.

More accurately, it appears that macaroni/noodles evolved independently in the two countries, though the origins trace far earlier in China — further even than was believed until a couple of years ago. In 2005, Chinese researchers unearthed a 4,000-year-old container of noodles in northwestern China, predating the first written mention of noodles by at least 2,000 years. (Insert old Chinese leftovers joke here.)

In one of those cross-cultural idiosyncrasies, “Italian noodle” is actually quite popular in Hong Kong, where the Spaghetti House restaurant chain has 25 outlets throughout the region.

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Eating on Avenue B

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007 | All Things, Eats, Friends

After a couple of postponements, CL, CF and I had our long-awaited dinner at the new-ish Italian spot, Enoteca Barbone.

I hopped the 4 to Union Square for a quick stop at Trader Joe’s. Well, “quick,” is relative – the store, located on the ground level of NYU’s Palladium residence hall, named for the once-popular Steve Rubell-Ian Schrager owned dance club which it replaced, has been perpetually mobbed since it opened last spring.

A couple packs of roasted almonds and dark chocolate covered espresso beans later, I headed east to Avenue B with my TJ’s brown paper bag. I arrived at our destination early to find CF at the bar, already enjoying a pre-dinner quartino of wine – a signature feature of the Babbo wine program, most likely carried over by Barbone chef John Baron, who spent time in Mario Batali’s kitchens at Babbo and Lupa.

At 7:00PM on a Wednesday, the restaurant was oddly empty of other diners. The front dining room had a warm, rustic design: exposed red brick walls, dark wood, white tablecloths – reminiscent of half a dozen similarly-themed Italian inotecas. Once CL arrived and our server led us down a short, narrow hall into the back, it was another story: Barbone’s raison d’être, and the feature that sets it apart from the other East Village Italians in its price range (Max, Supper, Il Bagatto, Frank, etc.): its expansive outdoor garden, a charming green-filled patio with European vintage-styled street lamps and wood and rattan seating, which offers a soothing respite amid the still occasionally gritty Avenue B.

Enoteca Barbone

In the garden, the scene was more lively; eventually every table was filled with groups of diners, relaxing in the warm open air with glasses from the extensive, all-Italian wine list, many under $40.

We began with plates roasted artichokes and terrific asparagus fries – delicate, tender stalks battered in a light wine batter and served with pancetta aïoli. We each selected from among the fine, homemade pasta offerings ($12-$15): for CL and CF, the ricotta gnocchi with brown butter and sage; for me, the linguine with clams pancetta, white wine, garlic and chili — a good yardstick dish. To finish, we three friends shared creamy cheesecake and a dish of the affogato – vanilla ice cream topped with a shot of hot espresso – as we laid the groundwork for future travels come winter.

On the way out, we chatted briefly with the gracious owner, a native of Istria, who explained to us the origins of the restaurant name: “enoteca” for “wine shop,” “barbone” meaning “tramp” (as in hobo) – a moniker which seems to belie the casual elegance of this welcome addition to the East Village.

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