Dara writes:

If peering at a menu glued to the table beneath a greasy plastic tabletop, downing your bowl of soup wedged in among strangers at a communal table for eight, and blanching under flickering flourescent lights do not combine, for you, into a pleasurable dining experience, you might want to avoid Great N.Y. Noodletown, a Chinese restaurant on the Bowery in New York's Chinatown.

At least, I tried to avoid it, though James dragged me there a few times. Yes, the noodle soup was mighty tasty. The noodles a toothsome tangle, the shrimp dumplings fresh and tangy with chives, and the bits of juicy duck with crispy skin very hearty. Still, I found the establishment--there really is no other word for this--gross.

But friends, I have been converted. You see, about three weeks ago, when they were still in season, James and I ordered the soft shell crab. I admit I was intrigued to do so by a mention of the dish in Travel + Leisure. Indeed, the taste was delightful: crispy skin, touched by hot chilies, juicy, steaming meat. The dish was--there really is no other word for this--dainty. Delicate. And so my feelings about the restaurant that served it began to change. Any kitchen that could produce such lacey food couldn't be as lacking as I'd first judged.

Alas, the crabs were no more when James and I returned last night, but our waiter kindly recommended the salt-baked combo as a replacement. I like shrimp, but the consistency of scallops and squid--mushy and chewy, respectively--can get to me. Nevertheless, I capitulated. And dear reader, I cannot get the dish out of my mind. Again, so delicate! Salty, crispy, lightly fried exterieror, masking absolutely succulent fish, kissed by jalapenos. Heaven for a pittance!

Sure, the lights still flicker, and the service is nothing more than functional. But sometimes well-executed food, fast and cheap, is exactly what a city night requires.