Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sam the beer drinking bulldog

Sam is a special little critter whom I met this afternoon at The Pacific Standard in Brooklyn.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Poll: What should this be the summer of?

Which summer should this be?
The Summer of French Pastries
The Summer of the Ville de Chaya
The Summer of Picnics
The Summer of Finally Winning Fantasy Baseball
The Summer of Creative Pursuits
The Summer of Cardio Conditioning
= see results =

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My Trip to Japan: Completely Bananas

I recently got a job offer after having been in retirement for 5 months. I was to begin work in two weeks, which gave me time for some travel. Naturally, I did what any other sane person would do and booked a trip to Japan on two days notice. I stayed in Tokyo for 7 nights and Kyoto for 3 nights. I also had a one day excursion from Tokyo to see the shrines of Nikko and the historical theme park Edo Wonderland, Japan's over the top, ninja-infested answer to Colonial Williamsburg. While in Tokyo I went to the Asia office of my new employer, where the partner was kind enough to take us all out for lunch. I got dinner with a couple of them a few nights later. It was basically a reenactment of everything you've ever seen on sitcoms about American and Japanese businessmen breaking bread. My photos tell the story of what I saw in Tokyo, aside from a couple places that did not allow photography: the Sony building, with all its next generation electronics spread out over 4 floors, and the sumo museum.

After having seen just about everything in Tokyo, I bullet trained it down to Kyoto. Kyoto is thick with shrines, 18 of them UNESCO World Heritage sites. I went to a handful of them and pretty much got the idea. Although there are some photos, they are not in proportion to the amount of beautiful sights there as the Japanese are not too keen on having their buddahs photographed. I also took an afternoon/evening excursion to nearby Osaka to see their unparalleled aquarium, America town, and the Dotonburi arcade (the setting of Blade Runner). My last night in Kyoto I took the train to Kobe to get some beef for a splurge meal. The last day included a 22 hour travel marathon (bullet train to Tokyo, connecting train to Narita Airport, 13 hour flight to Newark, train to Penn station, cab to the Upper West). Here are the photo albums:

Tokyo Dome - Yomiuri Giants v. Nippon Ham Fighters
Japan Baseball Hall of Fame
Tokyo Metro
Meiji Jingumae, Tokyo
Hama Rikyu Garden, Tokyo
Tokyo National Museum
Edo Wonderland feat. Ninjas (Photos do not do justice to the amazing ninja show)
Osaka Aquarium and Doutonburi
Japan Food
Photos of the Ville de Chaya in Japan (available to Facebook friends)

You may be wondering from the last album why I would eat so many French pastries in Tokyo of all places. As it turns out, Tokyo is a major foodie city, boasting twice as many Michelin stars as the runner up, Paris. Even the French pastry scene is said to rival that of Paris. While all the French patisseries that I visited have Paris locations, none has a presence in New York, so I felt that they were a worthwhile investment of my limited stomach capacity.

In addition to the usual stuff like sushi, tempura udon, ramen, yakitori, and green tea Kit Kat bars, I also indulged in some Japanese foods that are less familiar to Americans, most of which were faithfully photographed. Over the last two years I have developed quite a taste for takoyaki and okonomiyaki at Otafuku in the East Village. In addition to finally tasting these delicacies at the source, I also discovered terrific variations on both, including a takoyaki omlette in Osaka (a crab flavored cracker with a fried egg, two takoyaki, and sauces) and monjayaki, the specialty of a street in Tsukishima, Tokyo with about 60 restaurants there serving it.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Never Forget: Shlock Rock

(From left to right)

Hey, moustache guy, are you Rainn Wilson dressed up as a 1970's detective?

Yo, bright shirt guy, the Belgian flag wants its colors back.

Blazer dude, what are you supposed to be, some kinda comedian?

Hey leather jacket guy, Dracula called, he wants his face back. Oh, and you wouldn't look like the Fonz even if you were hanging ten from a motorcycle over a pool of live sharks.

Necktie guy, shouldn't you be back on the set of Short Circuit, oiling up Johnny 5?

Smiley guy, I guess this settles the question of what Bob Costas was really doing in the 80's.

Who are these sons of bitches, you ask? They're Shlock Rock.

Reggae, metal, motown, rap, they do it all. And their lyrics reinforce positive Jewish identity! The tape I had as a kid was called Lenny and the Schlockers. Get it? Like Benny and the Jets.

Listen to it here. If you want to celebrate their entire catalogue, we can arrange that as well.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fashion Trends That Baffle Ville De Chaya: Shoulder Pads

Hey, first chick. Can you adjust your antenna? Your pantsuit seems to be picking up some interference.

Middle one, did you jump ship? I'm thinking something of the Somali pirate variety.

Third girl, brace yourself and grab onto a door frame, I'm about to turn on the fan.

Are shoulder pads really supposed to look sexy? Or is it more of a professional look? As far as I'm concerned, they fail on both counts. Here are some examples of people who have successfully pulled off the shoulder pad look. Note that they are all men.


The Legion of Doom

Janet Reno

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hassidic ATM job on the LES

"What do you say Shloimie, can we do this one?"

"Mendy, please. I'm a professional."

"Hold it still, schmendrik!"

"Mendy, look away. I don't want you to see what I'm going to do to this schlemazel. He needed to photograph us like he needed a hole in the head."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Project Papaya: The Definitive Guide to Manhattan's Papaya & Hot Dog Stands

Papaya Stands 101
For the uninitiated, a papaya stand is a small restaurant, usually without seating, that primarily serves thin Sabrett all beef hot dogs alongside various tropical fruit juices. Papaya, the flagship juice, is always available, although there are plenty of others worth trying, including banana daquiri, mango, and pina colada. All of the papayas covered were situated on street corners in Manhattan, including the busiest cross streets of the Upper West Side (72nd St), Upper East Side (86th St), Greenwich Village (W 4th St, 14th St on the East and West Sides), Midtown West (42nd St) and Chelsea (23rd St).

View Larger Map

The papaya stand is a contradiction wrapped in an enigma. Despite occupying some of the most prime Manhattan retail space, it serves up the cheapest, quickest meals in the city at about $3.50, give or take a dollar, for two hot dogs and a 12 oz cup of juice. While intuition may lead some to believe that they are getting low quality food, that’s really only the case at Papaya Dog, the largest chain. All of them claim to offer Sabrett hot dogs, but there is an undeniable difference in taste. In fact, they could all be telling the truth and serving different hot dogs as there is a Sabrett hot dog for every taste and budget. The papaya juices have an even wider spread due to their different additives and papaya concentration levels.

Ketchup, mustard, and sauerkraut are available at all papayas, while some offer chili and even more exotic dressings. Most papayas have branched out into similar fare, including knockwursts and sausages. Others have overreached, offering everything under the sun, including burgers, pizza, wings, knishes, coffee and breakfast pastries. I have never tried anything other than hot dogs and fruit juice and therefore cannot vouch for the taste or safety of these peripheral foods.

Papaya History
The story of the papaya stand goes back to 1931, when Greek immigrant Gus Poulos opened Hawaiian Tropical Fruits on 86th Street and 3rd Ave in a gamble that exotic fruit juices would set him apart from the competition. After falling in love with a German woman, he introduced frankfurters to his papaya stand in 1939. The combination was a sensation, leading to further store openings from Brooklyn to Baltimore. It was not until the early 1960’s that Gus’s stand was renamed Papaya King. The hot dog and papaya combination packs a one-two punch from a nutritional perspective as well, as papaya contains an enzyme called papain, which aids in protein digestion. In 1972, Papaya King partner Nicholas Gray set out on his own to create Gray’s Papaya. Then, somewhere along the way came Papaya Dog, Chelsea Papaya, and Mike’s Papaya. Many others have come and gone, the enumeration of which would be a whole other project in itself.
Sources: New York Times, Papaya King

Vilde Chaya’s Papayas - Methodology
In an ideal world, I would sample all the hot dogs, all the toppings, and all the juices at every papaya, revisiting each one to make sure I get a hot dog grilled to perfection at some point. In reality, there is a baker's dozen of these places, so I can only eat so much salted, processed beef over the course of three weeks before my risk of pancreatic cancer begins to increase exponentially. Furthermore, the lineup of drinks and dressings varies from place to place. Thus, I limited myself to a papaya juice and one or two hot dogs with ketchup and mustard at each establishment. While some people might think I’m insane for foregoing chili, or stark raving mad for passing on relish, my goal was to present an apples to apples comparison, so I distilled this ranking to the bare essence of what defines the papaya stand format. Any factor discussed in the reviews was fair game as far as rankings were concerned. While a toasted bun is sometimes mentioned, I view it more as a signal that they take pride in their work. As far as my enjoyment of the hot dog goes, it doesn't really move the needle. The quality of the juice had far greater variation than that of the hot dogs, making juice more decisive in the rankings despite the fact that I weighted juice and dogs equally. Finally, by hook or by crook, I snapped at least one photo of each stand, even when that meant using my Blackberry Curve's onboard camera. Without further ado, the rankings:

(1) Papaya King
86th St and 3rd Ave

The 86th St Papaya King is the one that started it all. One bite of their savory hot dog is all you’ll need to see how this place gave birth to an entire dining format. The dogs were spicy and smoky without being overpowering, perhaps a little better than Gray's. The bottom of the bun was toasted as well. The papaya juice was a little frothy on top but consistently smooth otherwise. It was delicious and rich, with the taste of real fruit and no added sweeteners. It's the most natural tasting, satisfying juice on the papaya circuit.

(2) Gray’s Papaya
8th St and 6th Ave

Gray’s Papaya at its best: the hot dog was smoky with perfect grill marks, yet it maintained its juicy texture. The dog had a satisfying snap to it and the bun was a little more toasted than any other that I had. The papaya juice was a well-balanced chaser, with just the right levels of sweetness and tartness. Gray’s Papaya’s juice can be distinguished by the fact that it is actually a juice, not some frothy creation occupying the nebulous territory between juice and smoothie. A panhandler systematically approached and harassed every patron in the store with nary a peep from the staff.

(3) Gray's Papaya
72nd St and Broadway

The dog struck a delicate balance of smoky, spicy, and juicy. The papaya juice was refreshing and sweet, but not too sweet. I’ve been here countless times and still haven’t read all the little signs around the store. It is one of the most crowded papayas due to its location at a major intersection across the street from an express subway stop. Having grown up within a few blocks of this Grays, I was excited to see it in the background of the classic films Die Hard With a Vengeance and The Warriors. For all you philistines, I’ve read that it was also featured in an episode of Sex and the City, but don’t ask me which one.

(4) Gray's Papaya
37th St and 8th Ave

The hot dog was not as well done as I’d have liked, but still had that smoky taste I’ve come to expect from Gray’s. The papaya juice was outstanding: bold, sweet, and cold enough to make it more refreshing without being a detriment given the cold January night. Nonetheless, I recommend the other locations on West 72nd St and West 8th St over this one.

(5) Papaya King
14th St and 7th Ave

Unfortunately, this Papaya King franchise will soon be closing down, leaving only the original location on 86th St and 3rd Ave. My hot dog was burned just right and it had a great spicy flavor. The juice was rather weak, with a subtle taste, or as a friend bluntly put it, “flavorless and artificial.” The fact that this place won’t be around much longer, by itself, warrants an urgent visit. This stand had my favorite staff (pictured). They were cool as shit, for lack of a better term. I’m not sure what their schedule is, but they were on duty at around 5:00 PM on a Saturday. I would pay to see the guy on the left do standup. I was thoroughly entertained and wish them the best of luck in their future career endeavors.

(6) Chelsea Papaya
23rd and 7th Avenue

The juice is sweet and pretty tasty despite being way too tart. The dog was very juicy and savory. The sounds of one of the Bantu languages permeate the establishment. They have offbeat menu signs inside that have a sort of graffiti motif. Along with Mike’s Papaya, Chelsea Papaya was the only independent papaya stand I could find. Both featured good hot dogs and disappointing papaya juice. They’re worth trying, if only to help out the little guy struggling against the corporate papaya titans.

(7) Mike’s Papaya
Corner of Reade and Church

My hot dogs at Mike’s Papaya were some of the juiciest I had in my entire adventure. That was despite the dogs being generously blackened to perfection. At 99 cents each, Mike’s Papaya is perhaps the best doggone deal in town. The papaya juice was unfortunately not up to that standard. In fact, it may have been the worst. It was so watered down that you could barely taste the papaya and there didn’t seem to be any added sugar to compensate for it. It’s a shame, because an above average papaya juice could have vaulted this place into the top spot. The festive ceiling décor (a la Gray’s), chessboard floor, above average cleanliness, and Tribeca loft voyeur opportunities make the ambiance second to none. The store’s signage is notable for its almost complete lack of ballyhoo. It’s charming when originals Papaya King and Gray’s Papaya do it, but competitors like Mike are right to take it easy on our eyes.

(8) Papaya Dog
Penn Station (LIRR concourse right near the exit to the A/C/E lines)

What sets this Papaya Dog apart from its sister stores is the availability of beer. Not only that, but it's cheap beer. A 20 oz draught beer will set you back $2.25, and for those long trips to Montauk, you can score a 32 oz for only $3. As far as the papaya stand fare is concerned, let's just say that you're better off thinking of this place as a bar and no more. The hot dog was dry to the point of being totally desiccated. The papaya juice was so thick that I had to exert my oral muscles in a way that is improper for a papaya stand. The papaya juice had a strange flavor that was a mixture of chemicals and candy.

(9) Papaya Dog

177th and Broadway

The Papaya Dog in Washington Heights is by far the northernmost papaya stand in the city, the only one remaining north of 86th st. When you walk in, a number of features make it suspect: tables, chairs, and an expansive menu that includes pizza, among other things. The hot dogs were almost tasteless and the papaya juice was thick and foamy, but tart, with a chemical aftertaste.

(10) Papaya Dog
42nd and 9th

The Papaya dog on 42nd is an oasis of relative cleanliness in the sea of filth that is West 42nd St (save for a homeless patron). The frothy papaya juice here was a little bit tastier than that of all the other Papaya Dogs, but that's kind of like winning the Special Olympics. It had a sweet, citrusy, tropical “je ne sais quois.” The hot dog was classic Papaya Dog bland.

(11) Papaya Dog
33rd and 5th (kitty corner from the Empire State Building)

At first glance, this papaya stand is the smallest one in town, with almost no counter space beyond the register. In fact, the pizza parlor two doors down is under the same ownership and it welcomes Papaya Dog patrons. The countless tourists who pass through the sliding accordion doors are served up the same tasteless, dried out fare that I’ve come to expect from Papaya Dog. The papaya juice had a chemical taste that finished like Smarties/Fizzers, a candy that I have not had since childhood. After tasting their papaya juice, I remembered why that was the case.

(12) Papaya Dog
West 4th St and 6th Ave

This was yet another dried out, bland hot dog. The papaya juice tasted like a watered down version of the Fizzers juice from the 33rd St location. It looked alright, had some visually appealing grill marks and a very clean floor given its busy location. Nonetheless, another dud, especially with the champion Gray's only 4 blocks up.

(13) Papaya Dog
14th St and 1st Ave

Last and least, this Papaya Dog was served at a tepid temperature with no grill marks to speak of. It could easily have been mistaken for a dirty water dog in both appearance and taste. The bun seemed toasted but upon closer inspection it appeared to be stale as each side was equally crispy with no evidence of the physical reactions that one might expect from the toasting process (such as darkening and warmth). At lunch time there were truants and vagrants surrounding the storefront, accompanied by a half dozen cops. The Balebusta hid inside the Duane Reade while she waited for me out of fear for her personal safety. The frothy papaya juice evoked memories of the childrens' amoxycillin that aspired to taste like bazooka joe bubble gum.

Well folks, thirteen papaya stands later, I’m happy to report that I’m still alive to write about it, with a ranking of the best papayas & hot dogs in NYC to show for it. In fact, I don’t recall getting so much as a stomach ache from any of these places, save for the East 14th St Papaya Dog. Special thanks to the Balebusta, her fiancé, and El Si Guy for joining me on segments of the grand papaya tour and providing their valued input. Thanks to WSG for informing me that papaya has an entirely different meaning in Cuban slang. If you know of any new papaya stand or one that I otherwise left out, please leave a comment and let me know! I intend to continuously update this page as Project Papaya is a living, breathing document.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

On the Variety of Mamzers at the Gym

I’m sure 100 bloggers have already written this post, many of them better, so let's consider this my attempt to add a little more to the public discourse on gym mamzers:

Monica Seles
The Monica Seles at the gym is not necessarily the actual tennis player, but anybody who feels the need to grunt as loud as possible at all times so that everyone in earshot knows just how hard she is pushing herself. In fact, the most offensive Monica Seles at my gym is some dude who’s always hogging the flat bench or the cable station. The best way to deal with a Monica Seles is to have some fun by trumping each of his grunts with an even louder grunt until he gets the point.

Obnoxious iPod Guy
Obnoxious iPod Guy is a menace both inside and outside of the gym. He is deeply into his music and he plays it so loud as to be unconscious of his own utterances. This results in him singing aloud while he stares at himself in the mirror doing Arnold curls. The Obnoxious iPod Guy is often a Monica Seles. Feel free to give him a swift kick in the ‘nads.

The Cher is the 70-year-old woman who traipses around the machine circuit in her tiny shorts and sports bra, baring her withered flesh for all to see. As if that’s not bad enough, she also sweats through what little athletic wear she has on, making it cling to her prune-like form. As awful a sight as she is, the good news is that you won’t have to wait long for her to die.

Naked Guy in the Locker Room who Makes Small Talk
There’s a time and a place for everything. The Naked Guy in the Locker Room never got that memo. He prances around, pretending to be doing things, hoping people notice him. He approaches you, naked as a jaybird, and talks about the weather, the showers being too cold, or how much his new piercing hurts. There isn’t much you can say to him, as he has no shame. Just remember to stay calm, look down at the floor as you get dressed, and never acknowledge him with anything more than a monosyllab.

The Burned Out Gym Employee
She’s in her 40’s, working at a dead end job, and bored stiff. She can be seen greasing up equipment and picking up weights that inconsiderate members neglected to rack. She has a tough life, and you feel sympathy for her. That is, until you see her walking around the stretching area, doing her cleaning while eating a ham sandwich. Bitch please! How you gonna eat a sammich while you clean my gym?!

Cadillac Handbags: The Cadillac of Handbags

The Cadillac handbag is one of the most ghetto fabulous accoutrements in New York this season. I subtly snapped a shot with my camera phone for your viewing pleasure.

Here's a close-up of the bag to prove that I am not making it up.

Next week: a review of the new line of lingerie from International Harvester that has sent designers frantically scrambling to the drawing boards at Victoria's Secret.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mamzer of the Day: Tom Daschle

No, it's not his tax evasion that bothers me. I've never heard of a tax that I wanted to pay so it's hard not to sympathize with him. Tom Daschle wins Mamzer of the Day because of his circular red glasses.

Photo Credit: AP

Red? Really? I give him credit for his chutzpah, but the whole Andy Warhol thing does not work for him. The shape is also problematic. Where have we seen this before?

Peter Griffin, Family Guy

For the few you still unaware, my glasses are made of bubinga and tanganika woods. The organic materials cultivate a natural look; subtle earth tones complement my auburn hair and hazel eyes. A light horn or tortoise shell frame would be more flattering for the former senator. Alternatively, he could opt for silver wire rim if he's trying to pull off more of a downtown look.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Sportime USA: FAQ

When I was in summer camp they surprised us a couple of times with an evening trip to Sportime USA, a large facility in Westchester that featured arcade games, batting cages, pizza, and the like. For some reason I thought of checking on the Web to see if they still exist, and it looks like they do, or at least did as recently as October. Their Web site has a tendency to explain each activity with a level of detail that one would reserve for only the most idiotic unfrozen caveman Martian. I created the following questions and used the copy on their site for answers.

Where can I find information on your upcoming Halloween party?


I need to be both thrilled and delighted. What do you have that may accommodate my needs?
Over 200 video/arcade games to thrill and delight

What is a video game? What kinds of things can one do in these games as of 1992?
  • Shoot video characters with your laser gun to score points
  • Show your martial arts skills against video masters
  • Bop Homer Simpson on the head as he runs to help Bart defeat the bad guys
  • Race a motorcycle through the streets of a big city
  • It's easy to win prize tickets on many of the games

May I bring anyone?
Bring mom, dad or your buddies to share the fun

I've heard stories about sexual predators in video arcades. Will my children be safe? I am particularly concerned about my son. He is 49 inches tall.

The "Soft Adventure" playground is reserved for our younger children. This special play area is designed with safety and fun in mind. It is for children 5 yrs old and under who are less then 48 inches tall.

I have heard rumors that you are anti-Semitic. Do you both provide kosher food AND support Israel's right to defend itself against Islamic terror? Or are you merely willing to accommodate my dietary needs while avoiding taking a stance on Israel? Keep in mind that you're either with us or you're against us.

You may bring in a kosher caterer, or we can provide Kosher Food for you.

I want to climb Mount Everest but I am no longer welcome in Nepal. How can you help me?

Sportime USA has one of the hottest activities, a 24 foot wall climbing station.

Supervised closely by Sportime staff, your child can safely work their way up the wall for a thrill only found in TV action movies and National Geographic specials.

Not only is it an excellent exercise but the challenge also helps build the self esteem of youngsters. With mom and dad watching your child can feel like he or she is conquering Mt. Everest.

I impulsively masturbate. Will you judge me?

Groups of all ages can enjoy an interactive round of shooting...It's a great release for the action hero in all of us.

What are "Bumper Cars?" Are they safe? What is my objective while riding them?
Bumper cars are one of the many indoor rides at Sportime USA.

Safely bounce off your friends and others as you drive around the bumper car arena. The smiles and laughs come quickly as the cars collide with each other.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Somebody call the ADL!

This is straight racialist:

Bagel dog is an anti-Semitic slur. It made the Racial Slur Database, so it's official.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Food fads that baffle The Vilde Chaya: Açaí berry juice

A year ago at this time, nobody had ever heard of the açaí berry. Nor were they sure how to pronounce açaí, which likely remains the case. It was confined to the Brazilian rainforests, while pomegranite juice enjoyed its day in the stateside sun. Suddenly, everybody needs their 8 glasses per day of açaí juice, lest they miss out on the myriad health benefits of this panacea berry. Didn't you hear? It's America's #1 superfood. An authority no less than Dr. Perricone went on Oprah and said so. It's no wonder then, that Google search queries went up twentyfold over the course of 2008:
Ballyhoo over the health benefits aside, curiosity got the best of me and I tasted a couple of açaí beverages for the benefit of my readers, leaving the nutrition debate to the experts. The result? It was scrotumtighteningly tart. So why would anyone buy this stuff? Because they're morons who buy into hype. My proof is that the top 10 states by "acai berry juice" search volume, as reported by Google, are generally populated by people of below average intelligence. The estimated average IQs of these states, courtesy of, are reproduced below.
The average IQ of the other 40 states is 100.85, two and a half points higher than their most açaí-thirsty counterparts. Say what you want about IQ tests, but 9 out of the 10 states in the Açaí Belt went for Bush in 2004.

Let it be clear: I'm not arguing that drinking açaí berry juice makes you dumb, just that dumb people will more readily buy into hype, and hype is the one thing that açaí conclusively has going for it, irrespective of its purported health benefits.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Shabbat Dinner Bingo

1) Print this blog post.
2) Cut out the bingo card (below).
3) Bring card and a golf pencil to Friday night dinner table at the most stereotypical New York Jewish family you can find.
4) Circle the words/conversation topics that come up at the table.
5) You may shout bingo when you have a full row, column, or diagonal
6) First to shout "BINGO" wins.