When it's July and the city's not even breaking 60, the wind is blowing and the sky is seamless and white, there's only one thing to do: Seek comfort.
I'm not the only patriotic soul who finds this in a classic Chinese-American restaurant. Which is why when I'm glum I always end up at Jade Cafe on Geary Street, only a block from work—me, and it seems half of the people who work in Union Square. Some are Neiman Marcus employees in suits, some are in construction. One regular definitely lives on the streets. Jade is made up of people of all persuasions and colors digging into their comfort with a side of rice, whether it's sweet and sour pork, broccoli beef or General Tsao chicken.
I don't go to Jade because the food is so good—though some of it is. I go there because it demands nothing of me. I love the gruff and efficient waitress who's bordering on 50-something. She wears a name tag that says ANNA with like 300-point font, as if it was created for diners on the brink of being blind. I've yet to see Anna crack a smile, but she works harder than I ever have. She also has no problem yelling things in Chinese at the top of her lungs across the room to the other waitresses.
Jade is so familiar that anyone could probably tell me what it looks like: fake wood paneling, flourescent lights, tables with white table clothes and glass tops, laminated menus, framed needlepoint scenes of China, that little waving cat. They even have crab rangoon. Why mess with the best-hits list?
My order—roasted duck noodle soup with greens—isn't on this list, but I highly recommend you get it at Jade or at most any Chinese-American diner. It's my go-to on a cold day.
At Jade, just like everywhere, the duck is chopped through the bone. I've witnessed little, elderly Chinese ladies, as dainty as can be, plunk these unwieldy morsels of duck in their mouth and a few minutes later remove it, the bones clean as a whistle—all with chopsticks. Me? Well, I do my best to remove the the rich duck meat and fatty, bronzed skin, but it's not pretty. The broth at Jade is good too and by the time I'm done leaning over the bowl, chopsticking up a tangle of skinny noodles, I feel infused with it. I'm also sweating a bit on the back of my neck from the heat of the soup as well as the the chili oil I've poured over everything.
Full and happy, all I need to complete the pick-me-up is a fortune cookie and another sip of tea.
Today my fortune said that I was going to have "a good head in matters of money this week." Maybe that's because the soup at Jade only set me back $6. I left a 25 percent tip to ANNA and walked out cured.