Deciphering Encrypted CIA Data

By: Dick Wolfsie

My sister, Linda, worked for the CIA for about 15 years. She couldn’t talk much about what she did there because most of her responsibilities were top secret. Her work was a recipe for intrigue. I visited her office once and I was escorted every moment of the tour, but I did get a taste of what she did. By the way, the CIA here is not the Central Intelligence Agency; it was the Culinary Institute of America.

I mention my sister because later this month, the Wolfsies are going on a family trip to New York City. We will also visit my brother who, rumors have it, was once investigated by the other CIA.

Now, Linda is an excellent cook. At least I assume she is, but the only thing she has ever prepared when we have visited over the past 40 years is chicken parmigiana. In fairness, it’s totally awesome.  She must know it, because she always makes way too much.  This is why she still has portions in her freezer with labels like “Chicken Parm, summer of’2020” and “Chicken Parm fall of 21.”  I am sure if you came to Linda’s home for dinner you would enjoy the meal…if you like leftovers.

Linda was intent on finding some really unique restaurants in Manhattan, the kind of gourmet eateries that we would enjoy. So, the other day we got an email with a suggestion for our first dining out experience.  The restaurant is called Shukette, which specializes in Middle Eastern food. When you see the menu you’ll know in a sec that it was definitely not Midwestern food.

One of the slogans for the appetizers was:  WHEN YOU DIP, WE RIP. I had no idea what that meant; I just know it doesn’t sound appetizing.  Here were the first few appetizers listed:



Baba Gee

Confused, I called my sister.

“Linda, I have no idea what some of these dishes are.”

“You will love them.  Just google them.”

“I don’t want to google my food. I have enough trouble digesting it.”

Then I looked at the main courses. They are listed under Al Ha’esh, whatever that meant.

Kebbeh, Jooeh, Chicken Bang Bang Shata, Toum, White Harissa, Charmoula and Tomaca

“Don’t those all sound good?” asked Linda.

“Yes, I had fun saying them, but I’m not sure about eating them.”

My sister was a little disappointed with my provincial attitude. She said that when I come to New York I should be open to new dining experiences.

“Okay,” I said, examining the menu once again, “I’ll try the Fish in a Cage.” (Yes, that is actually a dish on the menu.)

“Great.” said Linda. “Trust me, I know the owners of this restaurant from my cooking school. The chef is a magician.”

“She must be to hold water in a cage.”

The final category on the menu is The Mic Drop, which I guess is a reference to the phrase that connotes a final significant achievement (in this case, the dessert) which is about to be served.  The only item offered is called a Tahini Soft Serve. The menu notes it is made with something called halva floss. I think I’ll pass on that item.

It sounds like something I would choke on.

– Dick Wolfsie spent his career sharing his humor, stories and video essays on television, radio and in newspapers. His columns appear weekly in The Paper of Montgomery County. E-mail Dick at Wolfsie@