Saturday, April 3, 2010

Diasporic Dining XI: A Wrinkle in Time

Photos by Hallie Cohen

Travel writers like Paul Theroux institutionalize their desire to change their surroundings by making it their calling, the subject of their work. The kind of enchantment that comes from the appreciation of new and changeable environments is a form of promiscuity, which obviously does not offer the creature comforts afforded by the familiar. But wandering can involve not only place, but also time. Isn’t that what daydreaming is? The mind simply takes a detour out of the present, only to be roused from its waking sleep by an often-unpleasant exigency of the everyday, like an insistent phone or the reveille of the alarm clock. Inhabitants of the five boroughs of Manhattan can also experience time travel when they leave the cosmopolitanism of Manhattan—which seems to follow Ezra Pound’s famous dictum about poetry, “make it new”—for outer boroughs that still contain the world of the past.  Manhattan once had a Third Avenue elevated train that ran through the Yorkville area. Yorkville was also the home to numerous Czech, Hungarian, and German restaurants, which no longer exist. Yorkville is no longer comprised of an immigrant population, which both patronized and produced such establishments. But lo and behold there is still an “El” in Queens, in the shadows of which lies a Czech restaurant named Koliba, which serves roast duck, dumplings, and red cabbage in a white wood interior that could easily be found in a magazine with a name like Sauna Life.  Decades ago there was a famous Manhattan establishment on 14th Street named Luchow’s, which served similar fare. Koliba is an oasis for the time traveler. Rest assured, the chef has never heard of boneless duck breast, the slow food movement, or cuisine minceur.

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