If you have 20 cents, you can recapture your childhood on the Wildwood boardwalk. For that price, you can play a round of Flipper’s Fascination, a strangely hypnotic, and once widespread, midway game that is a cross between bingo and Skee-Ball. And if you keep playing and Randy Senna, the owner of the joint, is feeling generous, he might call out, “Next game on the house,” and you, like everyone around you, will focus all your energy into rolling a ball into one of 25 little holes, hoping for the lights on your board to go off, indicating that you have triumphed over all the other crazy vacationers.

Wildwood, New Jersey, is one of the few seaside towns that offer the attractions of nearly extinct pleasures, a place where you can still play Fascination, bocce, and shuffleboard; where you can wander the two-mile-long boardwalk with a Polish ice in one hand and a giant pretzel in the other; where drive-through windows are meant for bikes, not cars; and where riding down a giant slide in a burlap bag is still worth paying for. But the “doo wop” motels that give the town its distinctive look, buildings that seem to come straight out of “The Jetsons,” are being razed in favor of condominiums, and Skee-Ball has been pushed aside for louder arcade machines. The demolition of Wildwood has been so swift and unrelenting that last year the National Trust put the doo-wop motels on its list of Most Endangered Historic Places, hoping to call attention to their charms before Wildwood, like Asbury Park, becomes just another memory. Read More…

Posted in history, travel, Uncategorized, Writing at July 18th, 2009.

Dim sum restaurants have long been great places to eat out with friends or kids. You sit at big round tables and choose servings that are small, but numerous and varied. Cantonese for “touching the heart,” dim sum refers to the collection of tasty dishes—filled buns, pastries, and dumplings, along with noodles, vegetables, and barbecued meats—that make up the meal.

Dim sum originated in Canton (now Guangdong) province as savory snacks at teahouses—places where people gather to socialize or talk business, much like cafés in the West. Ordering tea is still the first step of the meal, and you can show your savvy by asking for a specific type: tie guan yin (an oolong), jasmine, chrysanthemum, bo lei (a black tea), or guk bo (a mixture of chrysanthemum and bo lei). It’s customary to pour tea for other guests before filling your own cup, and when your table needs a refill, slide the teapot lid off to the side. You may see customers tapping their fingers on the table when their cups are almost full—a gesture not of impatience, but of thanks.

Waiters push around carts loaded with steamer baskets from which you make selections. Servers announce the Chinese names of the food, but it’s OK to request a translation, and even native speakers ask to peek inside the baskets. The server stamps a card indicating your choices so your bill can be tallied at the end of the meal. (Dishes range in price from $2.50 to $7, depending on their size.)

Classic dim sum offerings include har gow (shrimp dumplings), siu mai (shrimp and pork dumplings), and cheung fun (rice noodle rolls, available with different fillings such as shrimp, sausage, or beef). Don’t forget to check out dessert. Egg custard tarts and tofu fa, a pudding, are typical sweets to be savored at meal’s end.

San Francisco’s Chinatown is a classic destination for dim sum, but you might be surprised to learn that some of the best dim sum spots are found in the city’s financial district and in smaller cities around the bay.

East Ocean, Alameda, (510) 865-3381 • Fook Yuen, Millbrae, (650) 692-8600
• Hong Kong Flower Lounge, Millbrae, (650) 692-6666 • Koi Palace, Daly City, (650) 992-9000 • Ton Kiang, San Francisco, (415) 386-8530 • Yank Sing, San Francisco, (415) 957-9300 (Rincon Center) and (415) 541-4949 (Stevenson Street).

Originally published in Via magazine, January 2005

Posted in food, travel, Uncategorized at July 18th, 2009.