What the phone line's all about is that you dial it up and solicit restaurant information?ratings, addresses, phone numbers?from a disembodied computer voice named Chef Bob, and that you don't have to use touchtone commands, which are an enormous inconvenience, as anyone who's ever suffered extortion at the hands of the government and has thus had to appeal to the IRS's labyrinthine 800 number will know. The restaurant line's nifty?the computer actually does recognize what you're telling it, and answers accordingly. But here's the thing: Chef Bob can be fucked with.
"OKAY, GREAT. WHAT'S THE NAME OF THE RESTAURANT?" Chef Bob asked us with that hard good cheer we associate with methamphetamine users. And God forgive us, but we really did get off, that lonely evening, on mumbling nonsense into the mouthpiece in order to confound the computer; really did get off on enunciating in imitation of that retarded kid Paul with whom we used to await the schoolbus down on Leroy Ave. a million and a half years ago.
"DEORRRRONNNNGGGGHHHHH" we drawled, contorting our faces like you do if you've either been stricken with cerebral palsy or you're making fun of someone else who has. "DEEERRRRRRGGGGHHHHH," we moaned in repetition. And again: "DWWOOOOOOOUUGGGGGHHH."
"I THINK YOU SAID 'ZUTTO'!" chirped the cheerful and disembodied Chef Bob.
He was wrong.
"I THINK YOU SAID 'ODEON'!"
"I THINK YOU SAID 'GENNARO'!"
"I THINK YOU SAID?"
Cambodian food. There isn't any. Get it? That's why Cambodian children are always starving. That's why you used to see them on tv, lolling about in the dust with beer bellies and whip-thick limbs. That's why you used to collect coins for Cambodian youngsters in an orange UNICEF box at Halloween, then spend 45 minutes on Nov. 1 tweezing quarters out of the thing so that you could run down to the stationery store and buy football cards. Remember?
At least, such were our thoughts the first time we were ever invited out for Cambodian food. And not long after that, as friends of ours hauled us out for our first Vietnamese dinner, we thought in a similarly skeptical manner. Vietnamese food? But weren't the Vietnamese a...war-torn nation? And hadn't we made them that way? Why would they want to feed us?
And yet as the years pass, history melts at its edges and you stop asking such sophisticated metahistorical questions. At this point, we?along with most everybody else in this city?satisfiedly poke our snouts into the mishmashy trough that New York's ethnic restaurants comprise, taken all in all. And to that extent we ought to mention a restaurant on the edge of Chinatown called Pho Viet Huong?a stout Anglo-Saxon name, a cinch to remember?which has become one of our standbys, the sort of versatile place that's as suited for a quick and inexpensive Vietnamese bite on the way home as it is for a birthday party.
It's not much to look at?an unremarkable rectangle of a place, sparsely decorated with a few fake banana trees, with bamboo awnings sprouting from the ceiling and coolie hats hanging forlornly on the walls?but no one eats Vietnamese for the ambience anyway. We order the summer rolls?thin rice paper filled with vermicelli noodles, shrimp, scallions and mint?and smear them with a chocolate-colored peanut-tamarind sauce. Deep-fried spring rolls cradled in lettuce leaves and sprinkled with mint are good, too. So's Viet-style softshell crab. The chicken with basil and chili sauce is served with lightly sauteed peppers, and it's a fine bet, as is the shrimp with string beans and satay sauce.
If you can manage it, order a ball of Pho Viet Huong's homemade mango, banana or coconut ice cream, into which they'll slam a couple candles if you tell them it's your birthday.
Pho Viet Huong, 73 Mulberry St. (betw. Bayard & Canal Sts.), 233-8988, 233-8992.
New York Press' Pressmatch is presenting a cocktail party mixer at Lemon, which is located at 230 Park Ave. S. (18th St.), 614-1200. The event costs $35, which buys you two drinks and hors d'oeuvres. (And a chance to meet New York Press' own Riley Manlapaz!) Attendance also gets you 10 free MatchMinutes during which to browse through New York Press Pressmatch ads. For more details, call 244-9711, ext. 232.
Either holing up in a bar somewhere safe on a seedy riverside Main Street up in Westchester, or else storming northward up the Thruway toward the mountains at 110 per, if it comes to that: there you've got both of our New Year's Eve options.
And yet if we were hanging around in the city we'd be happy to spend the night at C3, the restaurant we happen to like up there at the top of Washington Square Park. C3's presenting a "Last Supper" celebration on that melancholy night. Seventy-five dollars per person at the 7:30 p.m. seating, a hundred dollars at the 10 p.m. seating. and one at 10. The menu's intense. Smoked trout with horseradish chantilly and caviar as hors d'oeuvres. Steak tartare, warm lobster and asparagus salad, Hudson Valley foie gras or oysters on the half shell for the first course. Venison loin, grilled beef tenderloin, poached halibut, roasted breast of pheasant or lobster bouillabaisse for the main course. A sampler of creme brulee, tarte tatin and warm chocolate cake, or else passion-fruit sorbet with champagne, for dessert.
C3, 103 Waverly Pl. (MacDougal St.), 254-1200.
The Internet's amazing, birthing prodigies no one's ever really pined for; phenomena the previous nonexistence of which affected not one human being's life. We're not talking penicillin here.
Example: eDelights.com, a nice newish website that allows you to create personalized boxes of chocolate. Which differ from the traditional boxes of chocolate with which everybody got along fine for a thousand years in this: that you get to choose what percentage of butter creams to yummy marshmallow squares?what ratio of tasty coconut dainties to Swiss brandy truffles?you're sending.
Is this going to transform the Earth? Absolutely not. But it is helpful inasmuch as it means you don't have to send your dear Grammy a standard chocolate-sampler box half-filled with a lot of crap that nobody wants to eat, like candied cherries or something. And the site's fun to use. Click on a tray size first. Then whale away, clicking on the icons representing the mint cremes, coconut clusters, fruit and nut extravaganzas, etc., with which you want to fill that tray up. Then punch in your credit card number and pray.
Orders are filled and shipped within 48 hours; eDelights ships only in the continental U.S.
Contributors: Beth Broome, Andrey Slivka. E-mail tips and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or fax to 244-9864.