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Chuck E. Cheese’s

I don't even want to think about the E. coli factor in the place, you'd be insane to do the salad bar. Babies in diapers and nothing else were crawling all over tables, the air conditioning appeared to be nonexistent. I'm not a germ freak at all, but this was a serious breeding ground. I could imagine the strep and pink eye brewing in the already filthy kiddie habitrail (it had only been open seven days and already looked sticky and worn out). I didn't dare brave the bathrooms (though I entertained the notion of leaving a big, messy dump somewhere inside it and preferably not in the toilet).

The fact that adults with children are given a different hand stamp than the childless grown ups is telling. I couldn't figure out the logic at first, how would that keep anyone from kidnapping? I don't think nabbing kids is the fear so much as parents will taking off without their children. I'd certainly be tempted. But to be fair, I have to admit that despite the madhouse atmosphere, both kids and parents were in surprisingly good spirits. It was kind of shocking. I didn't witness any yelling, spanking, threatening to spank, or general rudeness from any grown ups, and I while I saw lots of wrestling, kicking and hitting, I didn't see or hear a single crying child, which is pretty miraculous. I guess they were having a good fucking time, and who can blame them? Their tagline is "where a kid can be a kid," after all.

What strikes me about experiences like this is the demographics, and how uniquely NYC it all is. I don't understand how white people know not to go there, and why black people do. There's always been a bit of the same at NYC area Red Lobsters too. Certainly, there arent any hard and fast rules, anyone can go anywhere, they just don't. It's not so much of a race thing as a culture issue, like there's a strata of people who think they're above chain restaurants (I'm fascinated by Trading Spouses. So far they're only swapped two moms, but both of the richer families eat out at Japanese restaurants, and shun carbs, of course. The lower income moms are freaked out by sushi [this has also been recently employed as a look-at-the-differences device on Amish in the City. The Amish, and of course, the one non-Amish black girl have never eaten sushi.] Low fat and exotic equal classy, didn't you know? Lowbrow people love fried food and starch! Heck, I do.) and taste tends to align with income and perceived notions about what they're supposed to enjoy and disdain. And high taste people have strong ideas about what's good for children, and Chuck E. Cheese's probably doesn't align with their values.

And its not a simple matter of people living closest to this Chuck E. Cheese's being black because that's not true at all. The Atlantic Terminal mall is in a part of Brooklyn that falls under Community District 2. That district includes a variety of neighborhoods: Brooklyn Heights, Fulton Mall, Boerum Hill, Fort Greene, Brooklyn Navy Yard, Fulton Ferry, Clinton Hill (I have no idea what Fulton Ferry is, I'm just going by what NYC Gov tells me). The composition of that district is: 34. 4% white, 40.5% black, and 16.8% Hispanic. The minor 6% white/black difference certainly isn't reflected by Chuck E. Cheese's clientele. So, where are all the white families going on Saturday nights? Probably somewhere precocious in my neighborhood. When it comes down to it, I think I prefer my children penned-up and concentrated in mall spaces.


No, its not video installation art. We managed to snag a few seconds on Chuck E. Cheeses creepy TV camera toy before hordes of tiny riff raff commandeered it again.

Chuck E. Cheese's * 139 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, NY


This year I was lucky enough to have my formal birthday dinner at brand new uber-chic Thai restaurant, Kittichai. I don't really have a strong desire to eat at of-the-minute, trendy and intimidating restaurants (like Spice Market, which I did for James's birthday in May), but I do like trying innovative and/or upscale takes on S.E. Asian food because I'm crazy fixated on the cuisine and use special occasions to check out what's going on at the higher end of the spectrum.

I wasn't so concerned about the scene (apparently, it has been closed on Sundays so people like Alek Wek can throw parties), but had read an article in an Oct. 2003 Saveur about Bangkok chefs including Ian Chalermkittichai, who is the chef at this Soho restaurant using half his surname. I was fascinated by the idea of a Thai celebrity chef (in Thailand, I mean) and that he was the first-ever Thai executive chef (as opposed to the usual European choices) at a Bangkok five-star hotel, the Bangkok Four Seasons.  (What I havent been able to figure out is why Jean-George took the name Spice Market for his MePa [I'm joking, I'm joking, like I'd ever seriously acronym Meatpacking District] restaurant, when that name is already used and associated with one of the restaurants in the Bangkok Four Seasons. I didnt have a chance to try it, having reached my quota for fancy dining with Blue Elephant and Celadon) Plus, his recipe for poo khai kem, a take on Singapore chile crab, peaked my interest. It's not the sort of Thai food you really get in NYC, so I was curious.

I was pleased to sample their cocktail of calamansi juice (I told you the fruit was going to be the It citrus of 2004), coconut milk, Grand Marnier and Skyy vodka. It was tart and creamy without being cloying. A very refreshing summer cooler. And I'm still not sure what the difference between tapas and appetizers is. The prices are similar and the portions seem close as well. We tried a tapa of Southern Thai ceviche with diver scallops, caviar and lemongrass in an egg nest, which while tasty didnt really highlight the scallop. It was more tangy and eggy. The crispy rock shrimp, grilled eggplant with chili lime appetizer was right on. My entre of short ribs in green curry was a nice choice. It was traditional in a good way, while using an atypically Thai cut of meat. James chose the special of dorado, which was cubed, dusted in tempura batter (they made the point of saying it was dusted, not heavily coated) and presented between the head and tail with a sweet chili sauce. I loved the accompanying fried basil and lime leaves, but then, I'm a sucker for fried herbs (or fried anything, really). For dessert we shared the kaffir lime tart with coconut ice cream and palm sugar syrup, which was enjoyable. The grated lime rind (I think that's what it was) added a nice punch of color to the little rectangle.

I thought the food was to be served family-style, this is what I'd heard, and we were both given small plates before our food arrived. But when it came to the table, our plates were removed untouched and the large bowls were placed in front of us, according to whom had ordered what. I wouldve preferred to share, though this seems to irk some people.

None of the food is terribly spicy, despite the slinky waitstaffs unnecessary warnings. And thats where I'm unclear. I'm not sure how upscale Thai food is supposed to be spiced. I know people have the tendency to equate authenticity with heat level, but not every dish is meant to eat the glaze off its artfully crafted ceramic plate. I felt disappointed with much of the fine hotel food we ate in Bangkok, it seemed tame, and one of our waitresses at Celadon confirmed that the menu was "for tourists." (Though that didnt stop a table of Middle Eastern men to choke and yell for water.)

The most amusing aspect of the evening (apart from James sharing the rest room with Mario Batali) was being seated next to the May/December table. First, it was the classic couple: a 50-ish guy with a super tiny, large breasted, early-20s blonde who drove me nuts because she called the kaffir lime key lime. They were replaced by German equivalents. They were more subtle, the Euro female had simple, chin length brown hair and minimal makeup (and thankfully since she wasn't speaking English I couldn't deduce if she was mangling the pronunciation of ingredients). She was wearing a ribbed white tank top that covered her up to her collarbones instead of a low-cut lacy camisole top like the other trollop, but after sneaking a few glances, I did note that it was quite snug and that she also had quite large breasts in proportion to the rest of her body.  It must be nice to have a sugar daddy to woo you through costly coriander and lemongrass concoctions. It sucks that that my much older boyfriend never, ever ate (seriously, he had some intestinal problem–the guy had a 27" waist).

Kittichai * 60 Thompson St., New York, NY

Deprived or Depraved?

Newtarget_1 Um, I can't even talk about Target anymore. The plain people's opening was just too traumatizing. Sunday, on my real birthday, I braved the new Atlantic Terminal mall opening. Jesus Christ. Actually it was almost exactly as harrowing as I'd anticipated. No celebrities, just lots of face painting (why do people equate painting children's' faces with celebratory fun?), a woman dressed like a princess, guys dressed like ringmasters on stilts, girls dressed like newsies (my personal favorite), a scrawny guy in a Spiderman costume who'd pose with kids for polaroids, and a band of guys playing steel drums. I only lasted about 20 minutes before succumbing to claustrophobia, it was shoulder-to-shoulder human traffic.

Targeter_1 Are people really this chain store deprived? Actually, shopping wasn't even a realistic option because maneuvering a cart or gaining access to shelves was impossible with all the gawking. Ooh, Advil. Dog food…wow, never seen that before. And I'm a little nervous because we did survey the Chuck E. Cheese's on the top floor and there was a line wrapped around a bunch of velveteen ropes inside and went all the way out the door.

For the dirty Chuck E. Cheese's scoop, look no further.

Target * 139 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Off the Mark

Since I'm not a someone who gets invites to star-studded openings, even when they involve my precious Target, I wasn't privy to tongue-in-cheekily strolling the aisles with the likes of Maggie Gyllenhaal, Chloe Sevigny or whatever former and current it-girls decided to get all downscale and ironic last night. Where the hell was Scarlett Johansen? I can't think too hard on it or I'll fucking hurl, but don't you worry, I'll be there Sunday with the rest of the common people, the "Brooklyn trash," you know? Since July 25, the hard opening, falls on my birthday, I originally thought I must be blessed. But seeing how Lizzie Grubman's pained, poop-brown visage has already sullied the space, it's clear that I'm cursed. That's the kind of taint you couldn't even remove with an entire display of artfully poised Clorox bottles.

Target * 139 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Trouble in Paradise

Jeez, why do Brooklynites have to oppose every goddamn little thing' When I first moved to Carroll Gardens earlier in the year it was 'Stop the Shelter,' a campaign against a battered Asian women's refuge. Next it will be stop everyone who isn't white (unless you're a professional or hip guy with an Asian girlfriend or wife. No abused Asian women, thank you, just hot ones) and doesn't have babies, dogs or loves jogging.

The latest bee in the community bonnet is the planned Red Hook Ikea. And while Carroll Gardens and Red Hook share the same zip code, it's not the Red Hook residents (who'll be most affected) making the biggest stink. For the love of God, what about the children' According to their gobbledygook, this proposed Ikea will cause asthma, cancer and heart disease rates to increase, will slow emergency response times, will drive out jobs, and "put children in harms way" (I can't take hysterical propaganda seriously when it doesn't make proper use of apostrophes).

Sometimes there's a table set up at the Carroll St. station, staffed by angry white women who feel the need to educate the neighborhood about the dangers of Ikea. I overheard one of them saying, "I already have furniture." Well, good for you. How about the rest of us who don't, and lack the means purchase high end show pieces (or even mid-priced, adequate items, for that matter)? And tell me where all these great, stylish, affordable mom-and-pop places are because I've yet to stumble upon one in Brooklyn.

Ikea * Various locations, NJ & NY


Forget that lame ass Target holiday boat and Mizrahi Rockefeller Center thing. Everyone knows stand-alone Targets rule, and Manhattan is just plain missing out. My first NYC box store experience was monumental, and it certainly wouldn't be my last. That's why I was so excited about the Starrett City Greatlands that opened a year or so ago in Brooklyn. But to be honest, it was more of haul than I'd anticipated, even by car. (My last foray into those oddball streets like New Lots Ave. was when I fell asleep/passed out on the L train [no, I didn't live in Williamsburg] and ended up in the Canarsie subway yards at 5am.) Starrett City is always an adventure, but not one I've repeated since.

The round, double-decker Target in Elmhurst has proven to be more my speed. And they've even managed to keep the shopping cart escalator from falling into disrepair (I was convinced the mechanical novelty would be perpetually broken). This location is more subway and pedestrian friendly than Starret City, despite its placement on the "boulevard of death," Queens Blvd. The center is enhanced by the presence of Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Daffy's, DSW and assorted other mall stalwarts. But I think Queens still freaks a lot of people out, it's doubtful they get many Manhattan trekkers.

That's why I'm so curious to see what will happen with the Atlantic Terminal mall. Sitting atop a major subway hub, a mere express stop from Manhattan, it could be a hit. Part of me fears The City-dwellers will overrun the place like some undiscovered gem they've carelessly claimed as their own find. The other half wonders if it'll suck as hard as the bastard stepchild of a "mall" across the street. I've never encountered a shopping hub so ghetto un-fabulous as the Atlantic Center. The saddest Old Navy, Marshall's and Macy's ever, woefully reside in the concrete eyesore. I've heard that it was designed to discourage loitering, and believe me it does. But we're in a new millenium, and a new rapidly gentrifying downtown Brooklyn. There are going to be two Starbucks in the Atlantic Terminal mall, for Frappuccino-ing out loud (though let's not forget the middlebrow Chuck E. Cheese's that will also be present). Who knows what riches the Atlantic Terminal mall will bring to the borough?

Target * Various locations, NYC


For some reason we ended up on Magazine St. more than any other road in the city, and yet I almost missed this little place. That would've been a shame. In a touristy fit, I decided I needed pralines but was put off by all the overpriced pecan confections on Decatur St. James surprised me by remembering a big bright store-side mural touting pralines that we'd passed the night before.

Right, it was Tee-Eva's. Pralines are in their name, but I was afraid it was no more than a snowball (snow cones minus the cone) stand. And I wasn't sure it was even open, so I kept surveillance in the comfort of our air-conditioned rental car. The small brightly painted structure only has a take out window, and while scoping it out, customers paused for icy treats, not brown sugary disks.

As it turned out, they not only had pralines, but mini pies (pecan being my all-time favorite) and daily savory specials like catfish and macaroni and cheese, too. Everything was homemade and freshly baked and crafted. And their snowballs werent bad either.

Tee-Eva's Famous Pies and Pralines * 4430 Magazine St., New Orleans, LA

Praline Connection

I do think they sell pralines here, but it's really more of a restaurant.
I'll admit that Praline Connection wasn't my first choice, but it wasn't a
bad decision. It was our last night in town and I was crushed because the
place where I had wanted to eat, Dick and Jenny's, was closed for the summer
(same with Ugelisch's–what's up with these Southerners and their casual
ways?). I started feeling desperate and James began to threaten Gumbo Shop
or Bubba Gumps. This had to be nipped in the bud, pronto. I scrounged up
Praline Connection from the deep recesses of my back up to do list.

It wasn't that late, maybe 9pm or so, but as we walked in, the few
filled tables were finishing up. Eating in an empty room always makes me
uncomfortable, so I was a little stressed. I wanted fried chicken (even
though I'd overloaded on crispy birds during our week below the Mason-Dixon
line) but James had a plan to head to Popeye's later that evening, so I held
off. I probably should've just ordered the chicken because the stuffed crab
I did try was pretty bready and so-so (and we never even ended up going to

But the $4.95 fried chicken livers with sweet hot pepper jelly were
insane, the star of the evening. The serving plate was filled with the
little crispy nuggets, it easily could've served four, and this was
primarily for me since James wasn't keen on eating battered organ meat.

This was also my last chance to try fried pickles, something I'd meant
to do while on vacation, but there was too much breading and frying already
going on in my stomach. I settled for dill pickle flavored chips from the
grocery store. It does make me wonder why the pickle flavor is so popular in
the South (and ketchup flavored chips up North in Canada). I'd never seen or
imagined it before.

Praline Connection *
542 Frenchmen St. New Orleans, LA

Mr. B’s

I'd heard about barbecued shrimp, but didn't really know what I was in for. Who knew it would end up being one of my absolute favorite New Orleans delicacies? First off, they're not barbecued as in grilled, nor barbecued as in zestily sauced. They list their recipe online, so it's no secret (though they might not want everyone knowing that one serving contains a stick and a half of butter. Jeez, no wonder it's so tasty). The giant head on shrimp come swimming in a brown buttery sauce spiked with lots of black pepper, Worcestershire sauce and assorted Creole seasonings. I could easily just eat sauce sopped up with crusty French bread. The only embarrassing part about ordering the bbq shrimp is how the waiter puts a bib on you with much fanfare. I don't like drawing attention while dining and feel self-conscious when it seems like I've ordered the manly, messy, eaten with your hands meal (James managed to choose a light, girly fish entre, so I looked particularly gluttonous). But it's worth suffering a little indignity for a bowl of rich, spicy shrimp.

Mr. B's Bistro * 201 Royal St., New Orleans, LA

Morning Call

Being my second New Orleans visit, I thought I'd branch out from Cafe du Monde and try the other 24-hour beignet place. It's smaller, indoors, and woody in an old-timey style. The beignets arrive naked, and you shake on the powdered sugar to your taste. It's a nice touch, considering how overboard they go with the confectioners sugar at Cafe du Monde, but to be perfectly honest the fried dough just didn't match up. It lacked the crispy, fried exterior and was merely a soft sweet chewy rectangle. As popular and tourist crazed as it is, Cafe du Monde makes a better beignet.

Morning Call * 3325 Severn Ave., Metairie, LA