Sharing Meals: More Than Food

King Yum Restaurant, Flushing, Queens, NYC

On a Friday night nearly fifteen years ago, we sipped drinks at a strangely out of place Tiki bar as we waited for our table at King Yum restaurant in Flushing. Our friend Steve, a world-class musician and overall nice guy, assured us we were in for a unique dining experience. When Steve promises uniqueness, you can generally count on it being true. Flushing, Queens in New York City has a large East Asian population and it is alive with restaurants that reflect those cultures. We were not in charge of ordering our own food that night: Joey, a friend of a friend’s father who was A GREAT CHEF, and knew the King Yum chef FOR YEARS, and knew ALL the best restaurants in New York would know EXACTLY what to order—and WE WOULD LOVE IT!

Recommendations from Friends

To truly appreciate this story requires more Steve-knowledge. A ridiculously accomplished musician, he has performed on six continents with some of the world’s best orchestras. He has also been heard on television soundtracks, played in all sorts of jazz and rock settings, and even filled in with Blue Man Group on two weeks notice—no easy feat. But, you won’t learn any of that from him, unless you become close friends. He doesn’t brag. He also gets along with everyone. More of a listener than a talker, Steve laughs at everything. He is also blessed with a top-notch BS detector.

Steve’s brother Mike, an equally adept musician, has a dissimilar personality in that he loves to mingle with people and have intense, in-depth, intellectual discussions. Always up for a healthy debate, Mike is willing to listen and engage in conversations about a wide array of topics. Mike went to The Julliard School for his graduate studies and sought out actors and dancers because he wanted to learn what made them tick and how the different arts could enhance his musicianship. Mike is always learning and he is not introverted about it. As opposite as these two talented siblings are—and they will be the first to admit that—their parents raised two fine men. Both would give their left arm for you! Well, maybe not their arm due to the whole musician thing, but you get my point.

Although Mike was not available on the night of the planned dinner, he gave an encouraging endorsement for an evening at King Yum restaurant. His only question was whether Dan and his father Joey, a New York City chef would be there. When told that Joey would be there, Mike said, “You’re going to have a great time!”

Sharing Meals

In my mind, communal eating can be categorized in many ways, depending upon culture, time and place, and nomenclature. There is Spanish tapas, Chinese dim sum, Korean barbecue, Italian family style, etc. I simply see it as ‘meal sharing.’ To me, meal sharing at restaurants requires two things: 1. Openness to the foods selected. 2. An understanding that everyone will share the bill equally, regardless of how much you eat or drink. Both of these require friendships, an open mind, and accepting that you just might pay more than your fair share. After all, some people are bad at math, others don’t account for tax and gratuity, some are low on funds, and a few are just plain stingy.

My favorite shared meal memories center around the circumstances of the meal, the company, and the taste of the food. I am decidedly not a foodie, but I like to eat [see: https://myunexpectedlife.net/2019/02/02/food-glorious-food/ .] For me, my memory of taste might be similar to musicians who see music in colors. The taste of a good meal emanates from a feeling deep within me.

Not a Foodie

Foodies have told me that my palate is relatively strong. My descriptions of food—not so much. If forced to write a food-specific review, you might get this: “The duck was delicious, not overcooked, and generally tasted like a duck!” Ask me to tell you about the same meal: “It was wonderful! We were seated at a great table towards the back. Everyone was having fun, although Chris was a little quiet. Oh, I forgot, the chef came out because he wanted us to try a sauce he had concocted. That guy is hilarious and the sauce was delicious. Then the manager Bruce gave us some aperitifs and told us the funniest joke. Lorraine was happy, as usual. The food was great. We shared some pizzas and then I had duck, which was amazing! We didn’t plan to eat dessert, but couldn’t resist. Then, out of nowhere, Bruce was back and had a tray of Frangelico with coffee beans as a digestif. What a night!”

As I just wrote that description of an actual meal from years ago, I could taste that specific duck dish, the pizzas, and the tiramisu, but an attempt to describe it is impossible for me. Fortunately, I review classical brass music and not restaurants!

Here are four short, important memories of shared meals in my unexpected life:

  1. A Monday night tapas meal with a former girlfriend in London: Stopping for tapas was a whim after we both had rough days at work. The place was an unexpected find. Only a few minutes walk from her office near St. Paul’s Cathedral, the small plates were fantastic. Shrimp, meatballs, bread, maybe chorizo, all with great, subtle sauces. We laughed a lot and left our work troubles at the door. We shared a special warmth that evening, which was not always the case in what was a tumultuous relationship. The terrific food and the warmth we felt after a rough Monday at work are still with me.
  2. Family style Italian at Carmine’s in Manhattan’s Theatre District: I grumpily rushed through a crowded Times Square to meet up with my wife and her family. When I arrived, my little daughter looked incredibly cute at the enormous communal table. The place was buzzing. Carmine’s is touristy. It wasn’t my favorite Italian food. I was spoiled from Nimmy’s meals in my childhood [read about meals with Nimmy and Papa here: https://myunexpectedlife.net/2019/01/07/a-preamble-childhood-in-north-syracuse/ .] But food quality is not what made that night memorable. Saying barely a word, I simply observed the goings-on at our table. The pure joy of their familial interactions and the deep love I felt for my wife and daughter in that moment are permanently ingrained in my mind and my heart.
  3. Dim sum in London’s China Town: We made our way there after walking through Green Park, alongside Buckingham Palace, and then up towards Trafalgar Square. It was a beautiful day, and the food was terrific. However, it was not the setting or the food that memorializes that shared meal. One of my friends had his five-year old son with him. The young boy would not eat and I empathized with his father’s frustration. But, there was mischief in that little tyke’s face that makes me laugh to this day. What he really wanted was ice cream. The second his father gave up and the delicious dessert passed his lips, the child transformed into a perfect British gentleman! That boy is a clever little chap.
  4. Whole animal in Astoria, NYC: Suckling pig was our selection and our friend Amy took the lead putting everything together. She outdid herself! We sat outside on the front patio of MP Taverna. I knew many people and others were friends of friends. The amount of food was incredible. Each part of the animal was described to us before it was prepared for serving. We had wine, but nobody overdid it. Accompanied by a slight breeze and intermittent sunshine, the entire spectacle was impressive. A couple of neighborhood friends ambled up and we shared the bounty with them. Our dear friend Terry stopped by. This was one of the last times we saw him before he passed away. It was good that he was there that day. For me, that meal is memorable not only because of the extraordinary food, but the way Amy made sure everyone was cared for, regardless of their financial situation.

Our Evening at King Yum

The details might not be precise, but as with many of my stories, this is how I remember our night sharing a meal at King Yum. Me and Adrianna, my colleague and friend, made our way via car from nearby Astoria to meet Steve and Dan. Chef Joey arrived much later. When our table was ready, the smiley owner led us to a round table towards the center of the dining room. As mentioned before, we didn’t have any say in what we ordered. At first, Dan took over with some appetizer choices. Fantastic! We had the best…umm, actually, I have no idea what we ate. Shellfish? Dumplings? Maybe some sort of soup? Damned if I know. The conversation jumped between music, life stories, and other random topics. The food guru, Chef Joey, had still not appeared, but he was on his way and would soon be the man in charge. I was excited.

More eating and conversation ensued. Dan and Steve were telling tales of past adventures. After an interminable amount of time, Joey the Chef arrived. This was it. What would he order? He spoke to the owner about selections not listed on the menu. Within minutes, the table was filled with food, most of which I had never seen before. It was time for the main course and Steve was right—it was delicious! We ate and ate and ate. Somewhat curiously, there seemed to be several sketchy phone calls being made by Joey (body facing away from the table, hand covering mouth.) More food was consumed and I believe the owner comped our desserts. We did our best to ignore the phone calls. It was time to leave, we split the bill, and left fully satiated and content.

Adrianna and I walked to her car. Dan and Steve walked down the street and Joey seemed to be walking a different way. Unsure what Joey was up to and how much it had to do with the curious dinner table phone calls, Adrianna and I looked at each other. We paused, laughed a bit uncomfortably, and then almost simultaneously blurted out, “That was weird!” We pretty much left it at that. She dropped me safely at my apartment and then headed to hers a few blocks away and the night was complete.

Sharing What Is Important To You

Why tell this story, with such an anticlimactic ending? Because people are quirky, everyone is unique, and having the innate ability to accept others as they are is more than admirable. Steve wasn’t tying to impress us with a meal at some high-end establishment. He wanted to share something that he enjoyed. Dan was one of his best friends and Dan’s father was eccentric and frankly, he was a bit out of sorts that night and possibly on many nights. But Steve is loyal and sees the good in people.

What made Steve invite us out that night? If it was only the food, he would have simply provided the restaurant name and left it at that, like most people do. He wanted us to meet Dan and his father Joey and have us experience a meal, selected by a food expert, who clearly followed his own path in life. Steve knew it would be memorable, and it was.

~Kevin

In My Unexpected Life: Travel, Food, and More, I will share stories, thoughts, and simple ideas to entertain and maybe even inspire others to engage with new food, travel, and more…no matter how big or small those experiences may be.

Even if my writings do not produce the desired result—please enjoy the blog!

8 comments

  1. Love this! Being a “Foodie” and raising “Foodies”, I can honestly say, I remember every restaurant, who I was with and the food we ate. Of course, being with people who know the etiquette of dining is a must. You know, the person at the corner of the table, counting each penny they spent on the check., But, putting that unpleasantness to the side, I always tell my future “Foodies” this one thing…every plate that is placed in front of you, is a story. Historically made, modified to fit the surroundings, or about the person who just placed it in front of you. Eat, learn, and love…always!

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