I See Stars

In food on 04/23/2010 at 6:09 pm

I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve been craving Chinese take-out. No, not the nasty dry, greasy and bland kind I’ve encountered in the ‘pit, but the delicious incarnation of the true blue Americanized junk that is so bad it’s good. Case in point, Harlem’s Red Star.

Yes, this truly is a pathetic day in the life of jeju when we’ve writ nada for awhile, and all we come up with is a post about crappy ‘Chi-nee’ take-out. I’d actually gotten a little rusty on the inner workings of WordPress. We are busy frantic settling into our new ‘hood and our poor excuses for lives have dwindled down to working slave-ishly, and sheep sleep, very necessary or that mean ol’ cortisol starts kicking in. I definitely eat more when I’m tired.

I hadn’t gotten grub at Red Star for over one year. Sadly, our precious was taken for granted while we lived in Harlem. We started assuming everyone used Yellow No.5-soaked rice, technicolor menus, piled a ton of mouth-watering, flavorful corn-starched to QQ meats coated in gravy into large styrofoam boxes to bust a gut. This is the essence of good take-out. Open up box and shovel into mouth until you can’t shovel no mo’. But man, it is also quite tasty. When you haven’t got Flushing or Chinatown nearby, a trusty take-out place is what you’ve got to hang onto for dear life.

Today’s special trip was only because I was in the ‘hood, taking an exam for the Man. I was starved by the time I made my usual order: General Tso’s and Beef & Broccoli, with pork fried rice. Battered chicken soaked in spicy sauce that thuds down into the grist mill is the best! Coupled with savory tender slices of beef and my favorite American veg. The pork fried rice is something else, generous amount of cubed bright red meat with sprinkles of diced white onion. Everything is just so plump and juicy. Mmm…mmpph! (to paraphrase my Pakistani friend).

Please excuse my slobbery pics. My iPhone is still not properly equipped.

Besides the magnificent soul food, Red Star is a cut above the competition because they have an unique design aesthetic. And it’s not grungy or lined with bullet proof plexiglass. Bright, clean, and stocked chockfull of FOBs. Today’s crew was speaking a dialect that was definitely not Cantonese. There was another location that opened further up around the 130s which we never had the pleasure to sample, but the ‘look’ was retained and carried over. I’ll let you take a peek first before I comment.

So freaking brilliant! Mah-jong tile skirt, so stereotypical and yet so fantastic. They add a textural counterpoint to the rocks below the counter. Red Star knows, if you must be gaudy, you must go all the way. Add that to the nod to Chairman Mao’s favorite colors on the awning and echoed in the tiles, we are talking magnificence to the umpteenth power.

The only woman behind the counter crossed the divide while I was waiting for my order. She tiptoed over to a black woman eating at a table. Next to her was a double stroller filled with chubby white babies. The cashier inquired how much the woman earned. $20. All day or per hour? Per hour. Per hour per baby? Yes! She scurried back and chattered excitedly to her co-worker. First I thought, boy, that cashier sure has some balls. Then I thought, man I’m in the wrong business! That’s raking in at least $45K per year, probably under the table, just to be a nanny and eat my favorite Chi-nee take-out every day for a mere $5.50 for the lunch special. What a gig.

The beauty of styrofoam packaging revealed itself to me as I took the subway down to meet the other half, who yesterday refused to buy me fancy schmancy ‘French’ Chi-nee take-out because someone refused to pay $9 for much less than we got from Red Star. And at Au Mandarin, they divide the meal into compartments, wasting valuable food storage space. As the other half likes to bemoan, “They give you a tiny egg roll <———this big—————-> (actual size) that takes up one whole 1/3!” Our food was still steaming hot half an hour later while we ate it outside the Winter Garden. Between mouthfuls, we commented on how fugly the financial buildings were across the river in Jersey City. I suppose it was all worth it in the end.

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