Gut Instinct: From Xanax to Xanadu

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From Xanax to Xanadu
Eggs and bacon? Eww! A lifelong brunch eater finds bok choy bliss in Sunset Park

“Hey, Josh, want to do brunch?” is a question I answer by screaming and galloping to a dark corner safe from runny eggs, crisp bacon, fluffy pancakes and other sinister tortures.
Whereas New Yorkers find brunch to be both Xanax and Xanadu—mingling with friends, scanning the Sunday Times, faking interest in the previous night’s coitus companion—I despise brunch. Particularly when people use it as a verb.

My belief places me in a NYC minority more miniscule than single heterosexual men. Why? Because brunch is hell served with greasy taters. Service is erratic. Lines are epic. Seating is cheek to jowl. Waiters force customers out as quickly as plates are cleared. In this regard, brunch-serving restaurants are like porn stars angling for an orgy world record: Pack ’em in, pleasure not included.

Ideally, brunch spots would operate on Chinatown’s magical formula: low cost + high volume = a happy me. I find this mathematical bliss at old-school diners like Tom’s and old-man coffee shops like Mei Lei Wah. Here, roast-pork buns cost $.75. A coffee is another $.75. Sure, the wrinkled cashiers are surly and the clientele ain’t winning any beauty contests, but I’m allowed to dine at my pace, not one dictated by profit margins.

Instead, eateries’ formula of high volume + high cost = the reason I avoid brunch like Greenpeace volunteers begging for donations. During weekend mornings, I’ll cook gossamer egg sandwiches for everyone, but it’s easier to convince me to wax my Speedo line than hit brunch.

Then my lady friend hit me with an order: “My cousin Jen and her girlfriend want to meet you,” she said.

“Great,” I replied. Maybe I could cadge a free drink off a family member.

“She wants to have brunch.”

“No.”

“Please?”

“N-O.”

“I’m asking you nicely.”

I considered standing firm, but since I’d like conjugal relations before 2009, I played good boyfriend and compromised: “Dim sum!” I exclaimed. “Dim. Freakin’. Sum.” It’s chaotic. It’s mysterious. It’s a sensory assault that requires snap reflexes to differentiate delectable and repellent eats.

“OK, dim sum it is on Saturday,” she said.

On Friday night, I prepared myself by getting pie-eyed at a birthday party. This fete was for home brewers opening Connecticut’s Upside Brewing later this year. This meant beer. Gallons of beer. I sipped Upside’s smooth English bitters before guzzling Captain Lawrence’s bourbon-y Nor’Easter Winter Warmer and Green Flash’s imperial IPA. It smelled like marijuana and made me unfortunate.

“Oh, my God!” the host screamed. He watched, googly-eyed, as I relieved myself outside. “You’re peeing on my grill.”

I slurred an apology and snagged a cab, mumbling along to Rihanna as I sped.

The next morning, my girlfriend dragged my bedraggled body to Sunset Park. It was an instant restorative. I love visiting this hurly-burly Chinatown as much as I adore sniffing my fingers when no one’s looking. I drift among crowds, snacking on thin mei fun noodles and joining cantankerous Chinese women in uncovering plump shiitakes and leafy bok choy.

“Stop looking at the vegetable stands,” my girlfriend said, as if I were ogling another woman. “It’s time for dim sum.”

In Manhattan, I head to Triple 8 Palace or Jing Fong. In Sunset Park I’m gaga for Pacificana (813 55th St. at 8th Ave., 718-871-2880), located above a bank. The parlor’s nearly as long as a basketball court, with ceilings tall enough for Yao Ming to trampoline. The tablecloth-topped tables are filled with Chinese families feasting wantonly—$10 covers even gluttonous diners, tips included. Our foursome sat down. We sipped green tea. Then I began flagging down cart-pushing ladies with vim that belied my beer-addled brain.

“Har gau!” I commanded to a woman peddling bamboo containers filled with translucent shrimp dumplings.

“Rice noodles!” I ordered, grabbing a plate jiggling with soft shrimp-studded rolls.

“Gimme…that!” I said, nabbing bean curd stuffed with mushrooms, pork and other minced creatures. Soon arrived plates burdened by soy-sauce-slicked greens, fried buns with black-bean paste centers, skin-on eggplants. Our bill filled with circular stamps, signifying each—god bless dim sum—sub-$3 purchase.

“I thought you didn’t like brunch?” my girlfriend asked, chopsticking up a veggie dumpling. Her cousin was enthralled by black-bean goo, the girlfriend occupied by a crisp scallion pancake.

“Shh,” I replied, plucking more steaming deliciousness from endlessly circling carts, like sharks in reverse, until my lips curled into an odd shape that looked awful close to a smile.

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