In trying to sympathize with his lament, I, his loving wife, devised a task to spice up his jury duty experience: ten days in Chinatown. Every day for lunch, he would walk to the neighborhood nearest to the courthouses in search of its finest delicacies, seeking greater personal purpose in his public service. He accepted the challenge.
“I love Asian food, and I never had enough time to explore Chinatown the way I wanted to, so what better time was there?” he said. “With Bayard Street a block from Centre Street, walking from the jury room to lunch only took a few minutes.”
Day Two: After a lackluster kickoff, he ventured to Shanghai Asian Manor (21 Mott Street) (B) for steamed tiny buns, known to us laymen as soup dumplings. The pork soup dumplings arrived eight to an order and bubbled with super sweet broth that was “very demanding of hot oil to tone them down.” He also sampled the shrimp lo mein, which also tasted sweet but more balanced from cabbage and shitake mushrooms.
Day Three: Douglas had known of Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles (1 Doyers Street) (C) for years but just never had the chance to try it. “Tasty had people waiting outside, so you knew it had potential.” Of the dining ambience, he noted, “the place was truly a dump, but it added to the character,” as the “noodles were what [he] paid for.” He ordered the duck pan-fried hand-pulled noodles, which had elasticity to them, confirming their freshness. With soda, lunch came to $10 cash (which is all they accept).
Day Four: Tucked away in an “arcade” alley between Bowery and Elizabeth Streets, New Malaysia (48 Bowery) (D) served up his most memorable experience. With its unexpectedly modern, dimly lit interior, “it had the most people who knew why they were there.” For a mere $7.50, the cheapest of the week, Douglas tried a hearty curry beef brisket soup with egg noodles. “The beef was tender and fatty; perhaps too fatty for some, but great by me.”
Day Five: According to friends, the soup dumplings at Shanghai Café Deluxe (100 Mott Street) (E) would go toe-to-toe with those from our favorite, Joe’s Shanghai (9 Pell Street) (F) and Douglas agreed. Pork soup dumplings arrived eight to an order and were filled with a decadent broth that held up inside the sturdy, yet delicate, dumpling skin. “They were not too sweet, not too dull,” he reported, “much better than Shanghai Asian Manor, and equally as good as Joe’s.” Fried dim sum to the tune of spring rolls and a scallion pancake completed the meal.
Day Six: For another take on Malaysian cuisine, he ventured to Nyonya (199 Grand Street) (G), but it didn’t fare as well as his afternoon in the alley. The prawn mee soup with shrimp left him feeling conflicted. “The prawn stock itself had a rich depth to it, but the soup itself was filled with tiny, mediocre shrimp and dry pork,” he said. “Almost like the broth wasn’t made with the same crustacean.”
Day Seven: His journey would not be complete without proper dim sum, which he sampled at Ping’s Seafood (22 Mott Street) (H), a place that, in traditional fashion, provided the menu as a roadmap only. Classic offerings circled the dining room by cart for diners to make their selections on the fly. “I really liked the fried shrimp ball and pork pastry, but the beef noodles were complete mush.” Overall, he found it commercialized, forgettable, and fat. “You could just keep eating.”
Day Eight: See Day Four. Douglas couldn’t get enough of New Malaysia’s curry. He traveled back for the same beef curry noodle soup, but swapped the egg noodles for broad noodles. Be warned: “I stained my clothes again, even though I covered my entire body with napkins.”
Day Nine: Great NY Noodletown deserved its redemption and got it. “[Noodletown] disappointed me on the first day, but ended up being one of the highlights,” Douglas said of his soft shell crab “home run.” The salty guys came two to an order, lightly battered and plump inside, served with white rice on a bed of lettuce for $18.75 plus tip. “It was all about the crabs – no shenanigans.” His only complaint? “I could’ve eaten four more.”
Day Ten: “One duck, please.” For his grand finale and celebratory end to a long stint in the courtroom, he splurged on a whole Peking duck at Peking Duck House (28 Mott Street) (I). In a formal white tablecloth setting, the duck was presented tableside, then brought to the kitchen for carving and served with pancakes, scallion, hoisin sauce, and rice. “The meat was incredibly tender but the skin was still crispy.” As if he didn’t have enough of Chinatown, he brought the leftovers back to his office for an unofficial Day Eleven.
While he grew tired by the end of his expedition, Douglas would tell anyone serving on a jury to accept and embrace the Chinatown Challenge.
“It’s not for the faint of heart,” he advised, “but it’s all about mental preparation and variety. You’ve got to go into jury duty with a good attitude anyway to survive, so you might as well seek a new experience out of it, and I think I did just that.”
Words of Wisdom:
Bring cash. Many spots don’t take credit cards, and having cash will also streamline bill pay if you are in a rush to get back.
Stay on course. When in doubt, stick around Mott, Bayard, and Elizabeth Streets for the most authentic, least commercialized experience.
Treat yourself. Bubble tea from one of many local shops makes for a great post-lunch treat, and some courts will allow you to bring them inside (check first).
Listen to your body. Be mindful of curries, hot oils, and adventurous meats. After all, you will be sitting in a quiet courtroom all afternoon.