How could anyone possibly say no to that? Even if the superlative is subjective, the fact that someone is saying it makes it worth the effort to find out whether it's true or not. I mean, right?
The someone in question is my friend Julie, who fancies herself a hard-nosed lesbian but in actuality has a heart of gold that she tries hard to keep hidden and the comic timing of Groucho Marx. That's a winning combination, and the truth is, her recommendation comes second-hand: it's hers, but also the opinion of her Jewish parents, self-professed foodies. Jews know good Chinese food, if you ask me.
The place in question? Shun Lee Palace, located on East 55th. And Julie was treating, too. ("I spent the day making all the right contacts and saying all the right things. I just want to go to dinner with people I like.")
For an appetizer: springs rolls with crispy duck, two servings cut in half so that all four of us can enjoy. Then, three main courses, served in combination and carefully arranged on our plates so none of the items are touching. We enjoyed: Slippery Chicken, a thin shredded breast of chicken stir-fry in brown sauce with spinach, Ants Climb on Tree, minced fillet of beef with cellophane noodles in spicy garlic sauce, and Buddhist Vegatarian Delight (for David), fresh water chesnuts, Chinese mushrooms, bamboo shoots, snow peas, gingko nuts, Chinese cabbage and carrots.
A good meal truly is truly like a symphony. This one was played with a flourish, expertly conducted. My favorite item was Ants Climb on Tree, especially the tiny pieces of fillet of beef. The only thing I didn't like so much was the spinach, and that was only because I thought there was too much of it. But the experience was a complete delight, including the little Chinese woman that served us wearing a military-looking jacket and long gray tie. Fitting for a Palace.
David tried hard to play it coy and to pretend as if my discovery on Saturday night hadn't occurred. At least, in public. Privately, he showed me photos of his boyfriend of the past year, proud of himself. They have an open relationship, apparently. He is so in his season of whoredom, a season I remember well. Fondly, even.
Publicly, I almost slipped once in front of the ladies with us, although I quickly caught myself.
After the meal, Julie and I made our way back to the hotel we were staying at, arm in arm. "Do you want to hear a secret?" I asked, and I whispered in her ear my exploits from Saturday night as we scurried back to the warmth of the Waldorf-Astoria on a brisk January night.
Now the Waldorf-Astoria was built in 1931 at the height of the Great Depression, so I imagine it has to have a few ghosts.
At five in the morning, as I was sound asleep in my bed in Room 1131, I suddenly was awoken by the feeling of a tapping on the back of my neck. Three soft taps. Bump bump bump. I woke up screaming, quickly turned on the lights.
I looked around. Nobody was there. Had I imagined it?
I wasn't going to take my chances. These old hotels all have stories. I spent the rest of the sleeping hours with all the lights on, a blanket over my head, and my eyelids half open. It wasn't until 6:30 that I truly started to fall asleep again.