The Girl Who Ate Everything

Blogging about food and whatever since 2004.

Joe's Shanghai, Pinisi, Les Halles, and Alcohol

[This entry originally took place on November 3rd. A month ago, practically. Dammit.]

"Number 72? Number 72?!" The young hostess at Joe's Shanghai given the task of rounding up the potential customers who were waiting outside the overcrowded restaurant had an impressively piercing voice common to the vocal cords of Chinese women. I should know—I've been around many of them. You could even label me a Chinese woman (in a very vague sense, in that my genes are all Chinese...oh) but I lack that sharply pitched tone of voice. My aunts on the other hand...well...

"Number 73?" A party responded to her call—the hostess had caught the attention of the hungry customers. We watched while leaning against the wall on the left side of the awning as the lucky people would be allowed admittance into the chamber of dumplings and—


Or not. The hostess called out many numbers in succession, then commanded each party to refrain from moving.

"My god, she sounds crazy," said Michelle. It was hard to disagree with that.

It wasn't much longer before Michelle, Jen, Kathy and I were allowed in, fo' realz, no longer held back by the forceful hostess with powerful lungs.

The human density of the restaurant looked like a fire hazard. We squeezed passed the kiddie pool-sized tables to the table in the back right corner by the drink refrigerator. About half a second after resting our butts on the seats, before we could crack open the menu, a waitress asked us how many orders of xiao long bao (soup dumplings) we wanted, xiao long bao being the thing that everyone nearly pees their pants over when they go to Joe's Shanghai.

crab and pork dumplings (or a jewish person's nightmare?)
You can tell that my camera was on the wrong setting...poop.

Many people have opinions about where to get the best soup dumplings in NYC. I have no problem admitting that I don't give half a crap. I've never had an "authentic" one (as in, I haven't searched China for the real deal) to compare the NYC version to, nor have I ever eaten one that disagreed with me. How can a thinly-walled dough pouch of meat sitting in a pool of its own porky juices taste bad?

I mention this because although Joe's is famous for their soup dumplings, many people say that their dumplings suck. Surely they're not the best in the world, but I think they taste good. I don't eat soup dumplings to attain an epiphanous eating experience; I just want a mouthful (or multiple mouthfuls) of ground pork mixed with pork juices and some dough. Preferably without burning my tongue, but I have the tendency to bite into hellishly hot soup dumplings too quickly, thus destroying a few tongue cells in the process.

Joe's Shanghai makes two kinds of soup dumplings filled with either pork and crab or just pork. They're both awesome. And I think you know why.


BECAUSE THEY BOTH HAVE PORK! I hope you got the right answer. If not, go sit in the corner and reflect on your misguided thoughts while I wag my finger at you.

shredded turnip shortcake innards

Michelle requested the shredded turnip cake, something that I had never seen before. Beneath the super flaky layered pastry shell (aided by the magic of lard, I assume) was a dense mass of stringy shredded turnip threads that resisted the edge of our serrated knife. That turnip, what a bitch. I don't remember at all what the turnip tasted like (you know, aside from "turnip"), but I know I liked it. They're pretty damn heavy though; I'm glad I only had to eat half of one.

scallion pancake
Scallion pancakes!

We shared an order of scallion pancakes, aka one of the best foods in the world. You dare resist the flat, layered, slightly chewy bread spotted with scallions and fried to thin-crusted heaven? NO.

Stewed Pork with Bean Curd Skin
Something random
innards of the bean curd knot thing
Bean curd innards

Although the name "stewed pork with bean curd skin" is pretty self-explanatory (perhaps it contains stewed pork and bean curd skin), we had no idea what kind of pork it would contain, nor what kind of bean curd skin, or what it would all be seasoned with. The resulting dish of small fatty pork cubes (composed of 50% fat, seriously) mixed with rolled up knots of bean curd skin on a bed of something green (you know, one of, typical Chinese green vegetables) pleased us muchly. Sauce was of the slightly sweet and salty brown goopy sort (yes, I wish I knew the names of these things) and pork was of the moist, fatty delicious variety. I loved the chewiness of the layered bean curd knots as well, although their density prevented me from eating as many of them as I would've liked.

totally don't remember what this was

Noodles provided the bulk of our carb consumption. What kind of noodles? Unfortunately, I don't remember! Helpful, eh?! And it sucks I can't remember since I really liked these udon-like noodles. Pencil-thick, just soft enough (I dislike over-soft noodles), coated in some kind of sauce that tasted a bit too MSG-ed, with some green bits and meaty bits and OH SWEET JESUS I'm going to move on because this paragraph sucks.


Unsurprisingly, two steam baskets of dumplings, two dense turnip balls, a round of fried flatbread, a mountain of pork and bean curd, and a pile of ropey noodles was more food than four people could handle. A moment of silence for the forgotten leftovers. [...]


After spending too much time at Uniqlo we roamed up to Amai for a quick peek at their stash of cookies and other baked goods. I'm not a big fan of shortbread, but my mom loves those buttery morsels to death, perhaps even more than she loves me. Being the good daughter that I am, I bought an assortment of cookies for her enjoyment. I guess she deserves it having begat me and everything.

Pinisi cakes

We walked down to Pinisi—the friendliest bakery for miles around, or possibly a wider area, such as tens of miles—for a little sugary pre-dinner snack. Totally acceptable. I mean...we walked and stuff. Calorie replenishment was in order.

white chocolate mousse cake
white chocolate mousse cake

I gravitated towards the snowy slab of white chocolate mousse. (I like white chocolate. Yes. Spare me the "it's not chocolate" lecture; I already know.) Sadly, it wasn't chock full of sweet, creamy white chocolate flavor, but tasted more like a more solid version of whipped cream. It was so light, smooth and delicate that I really have no idea how it kept its structure. My love for whipped cream caused me to eat most of the cake (what a burden), but I would've liked it more if it were sweeter and contained more white chocolate.

tiramisu-esque cake with strawberries
Tiramisu with strawberries

Kathy went for a big chunka tiramisu with strawberries. I'm not a fan of tiramisu (by now you probably know that the coffee/alcohol combination does not appeal to me) but this looked nice and...creamy and cakey and whatever else tiramisu should be like. (IF ONLY IT DID NOT HAVE COFFEE AND ALCOHOL! I would be all over it.)

pistachio/chocolate cheesecake
Pistachio chocolate cheesecake

Michelle went for the chocolate pistachio cheesecake. Also having eaten Pinisi's plain cheesecake, I quite like their cheesecakes—the texture is creamy and substantial without being too heavy. On that note, I don't remember much about this particular cheesecake (I mostly ate my white chocolate mousse cake), but if you have a thing for chocolate and pistachio (don't you?) then you'll probably like it. YEAH.

huge ass rugelach thingy
Huge ass thing

Kathy also ate this huge-ass ruglach-type thing given to her by the store owner, Alan, since it was fresh out of the oven and Kathy is entitled to such goodies being a regular and all. I only took a small bite since it was burninatingly hot, but Kathy managed to demolish it. Not surprising, I think. ;)

Les Halles
Les Halles

After killing more time by roaming around the East Village we subwayed up to Les Halles, named after the formerly famous Parisian marketplace and well-known for executive chef, Anthony Bourdain. I had always been interested in trying it out but hadn't felt pushed to do so until Michelle suggested it as one of the more splurgey meals during her short trip from San Francisco.

Jen sharkooteree Kathy Story time

Our 8 PM reservation turned more into a 9 PM reservation due to CUSTOMERS EATING TOO SLOWLY, and maybe other things like that the restaurant was completely packed. Without any idea when they would let us in, we patiently waited outside. JJ (the dude with the awesome fro) amused us with a story about almost getting murdered by drug-addict hipsters. Or something. I'm leaving out a lot of details but that's all you have to know.


As soon as our party of eight was admitted into the dark, aged-looking, cavernous dining room the waiter poured everyone a small glass of champagne. Is it customary for them to booze up the customers? Hm. Okay! I gave my glass to Michelle.

confit de canard
Duck confit

You know about my love for duck confit, right? Right. There was no question that I was ordering duck confit. Kathy decided to order it too so we could revel in ducky goodness and smack our fat-covered lips together in unison. It was meant to be a glorious experience.

...But no. NO. Such delights were taken away from us as soon as the dry duck legs hit the table. Yes, dry. How can something slow-cooked in a vat of its own fat come out dry? Doesn't the process exist to prevent such things from happening? The fat is supposed to infuse every muscle fiber with awesomeness. The wrongness of the dish went beyond the duck being dry (which also made it tougher than it should've been, as in I had to use a knife to eat it, oh dear); the fried potato bits in the salad, while initially appealing, soon tasted so salt-laden that my tastebuds winced after every bite, causing me to pick them out of the salad so I could semi-enjoy the greens. The fried potatoes are typically my second favorite part of eating duck confit (you know, after the duck). The best part about the dish was the slice of some sort of dark, hearty bread that sat beneath the duck, acting like an edible duck juice sponge. It was an exceptionally tasty slice of bread whose toasty grainy flavors mixed with those of the duck. Not that the bread could even out the sadness of the rest of the dish. Sigh.

If you're wondering why Kathy and I proceeded to finish our duck (minute some potato matter) despite concluding that it would make baby Jesus cry, the thought didn't cross our minds. Or it did, but the reasons to just eat the thing outweighed those to send it back. I think the only reason either of us would ever send food back is if were were given the wrong order. Otherwise, sending food back means wasting time while having to wait for another dish, and not eating it at all means feeling hungry. And then there's always the paranoid fear that the chef will want to poison you.


Fries: they do a body good. None of that milk crap. Nothing wrong with these fries—just crisp potato goodness. Jen asked for a side of mayonnaise and indeed, we were given a plate with a pile of mayo in the center. The creamy mayo was strangely lacking in taste so we squeezed on some lemon juice.

apple tart
Apple tart

I didn't feel compelled to get a dessert, but I tried a bit of Michelle's apple tart of thinly sliced apple on a light, buttery puffy crust. It was good! Actually, everything else I picked from other people's plates, like Michelle's coq au vin and Jen's ...something meat based, were the opposite of suck. No dryness, just tender meat, nothing like the duck confit Kathy and I reluctantly downed. The rest of the table was complaint-less as well. It seems like the duck confit was the only bad thing any of us had eaten. What luck I had.

Les Halles appears to churn out good dishes most of the time. I'll never know what was up with the duck.

There was one other weird thing about our dinner that might be worth mentioning. When the waiter asked what kind of waiter we wanted and simple asked "Sparkling or still?" Michelle said still and figured he meant tap water. But...he didn't. He didn't offer it. Of course tap water is an opinion, like at any other restaurant in NYC. The next time our waiter swung by the table, Kathy asked if we could have tap instead.

"Well, okay, but I already put in the order for bottled water..."

Neither of us had had any experience as a waiter, but this struck both of us as a weird response. It''s water, dude. We didn't ask for you to transform a rare steak into a medium rare steak; we asked if you could not bring us a bottle of water. You can give the bottle to someone else. Amazing, right?!

Maybe he was flustered. We'll never know.

I drinketh

I thought it might amuse you to see photographic evidence of the rare moment that is me drinking...alcohol:

I haz a can? CHUG CHUG CHUG?
Diana made me do it.

Yes, the second photo is completely staged. (We poured it all into a cup first.)

This drinking occurred a month ago at Fresh Salt, where Diana, Kathy and I had gone to wish a happy birthday to Nathan. Nathan, all too familiar with my animosity towards alcohol, told me to try Guinness. Surprisingly, it didn't match me retch. That doesn't mean I liked it, but that I stomached more than one sip is quite a feat.

Baby steps, my friends.


Joe's Shanghai
9 Pell St
New York, NY 10013

171 3rd Ave
New York, NY 10003

128 E 4th St
New York 10003

Les Halles
411 Park Ave
New York, NY 10022

Fresh Salt
146 Beekman St # 4
New York, NY 10038


Kathy / December 2, 2007 10:18 PM

Holy hell, it's been a month since that dinner?! bwfwahfjahg, I need to get to work on it - that was an awesome day..minus nasty duck confit. But we had good company so that made it all better! :)

we gotta get JJ and Jen back for Elvie's!!!

bwahaha, love the Guinness picture, I'd say it looks rather convincing! ;)

Michelle / December 2, 2007 10:35 PM

The Shanghai "tzho qao" looks delicious...a bit oily though. Chinese loves oil I guess=] one desert i really like from these places is the red bean pancake thing...sweetened red bean paste slapped between some kind of crepe/pancake and pan-fried to golden deliciousness...if you like red bean, give it a try next time!

Morten / December 2, 2007 10:50 PM

Send food back, Robyn. Any chef or cook that cares about his work will be happy to be able to correct your dishes. If things came out wrong, and they sometimes do, the restaurant doesn't want them to actually be eaten.

Boots in the Oven / December 2, 2007 11:18 PM

I've decided I'm not a big fan of turnips, EXCEPT in turnip cake. Those look delicious. And I'd love to be able to get a good soup dumpling in Austin... I had one in Macau that still makes me sigh when I think about it.

Sorry Les Halles' confit was teh suck! That is unfortunate. Send it back! (Easy for me to say, I wasn't there.)

janet / December 2, 2007 11:27 PM

ooh done with big test and am catching up on my internetz! it's so... big! soup dumplings are one of my favs! there's actually a good restaurant in nj for that. yay asian people in nj.

i checked out amai yesterday and had a green tea cupcake which was pretty awesome. my language is feeling generic to me right now but i think my brain is somewhere not inside my head.

roboppy / December 3, 2007 12:31 AM

K: Thanks for the info! You wouldn't happen to know which one that is on their menu? I assume they put it under another

Kathy: ELVIE'S! And...the other place that Tina mentioned? :O

Michelle: Oh yes, we loves the oil! I DOOO!!

I've had that dessert before, but just once. Yeah, it was awesome. I don't usually eat desserts at Chinese restaurants but I'll keep that in mind for next time.

Morten: If I'm ever in a situation like this again (and preferably not with a large group...after 9PM), I'll say something. That was really the first time I can recall eating something that was so...wrong...but not inedibly so.

Boots: You know, I don't even recall eating turnip aside from turnip cakes. Mmm, taste so good in...cake form...

I'm curious to see if Les Halles consistently makes blech duck confit, but I'm not gonna go back to find out!

Janet: AH, your test! Another one of my friends took it on Sat Hope it wasn't too deathly!

There's a good restaurant, like one restaurant? Hehe. I don't eat much Asian food in NJ...except for Japanese. So many Japanese restaurants here!

Oo, I didn't think of trying the cupcakes! Bah. Someday...

"Awesome" is totally Robyn-speak. YOUR BRAIN IS DEGENERATING!!!

Tina / December 3, 2007 6:05 AM

Replying to your comment, Robyn (to Kathy), you mean Pistahan? I wanna go! After my finals are over though...

Damn, that took place a month ago? I thought it was last week or something when I saw these photos on your Flickr gallery. Time's really flying!

Oh, I'm sorry you and Kathy had an awful duck confit. The one I had in Balthazar was good but I thought it was weird they had potato chips even though on the menu it said, "crisped potatoes."

mike / December 3, 2007 9:16 AM

I've never liked turnips but I do approve of it in flaky cake form. It is so damn heavy though that it is hard to eat other things if you finish one by yourself.

I'm pretty sure you guys got champagne because of the hour long wait past your reservation time. I know most restaruants aren't in the habit of boozing customers for free. Man I wish.

Antony Bourdain is actually at the Union Square B&N tonight for his new No Reservations book.

dana / December 3, 2007 12:42 PM

whoa, I feel the same way about sending food back. I'm glad I'm not in a paranoid group of 1 here.

I only had duck confit once, and it was ... just bad. There was no difference between what I had and just regular old LEFT OVER roast duck.

Joe's Shanghai looks absolutely delish. The wait seem horrendous though!

susannah / December 3, 2007 1:04 PM

oooh, I hate ordering the wrong thing. such a sad experience. those fries look gooood though . . .

Graeme / December 3, 2007 2:35 PM

Great post, Robyn. I was transfixed by those cakes.

But Guinness from the can? I was always told you MUST pour it into a glass and wait for it to settle.

Kathryn / December 3, 2007 2:46 PM

Graeme (hi! I don't know you, though, haha) is absolutely right; you have to gently pour the Guinness into a pint glass and let the beer separate from the head. It's an amazing taste experience, let me tell you.

Glad you liked the pictures! =) and sorry that your duck was bad! I really want to try Les Halles someday .. I'm a huuugee Anthony Bourdain fan. I know he's not there anymore, but it'd still be sweet. Maybe I'll try the duck, hahaha ...

Christina / December 3, 2007 3:15 PM

How ironic, I'm about to post in my blog something that happened about 3 weeks ago but first I'm reading your post of something that took place 1 month ago!

Okay, I'm totally the polar opposite of you in that I could down an entire pot of coffee meant for 14 normal people entirely by myself. >.

Wow, those soup dumplings look amazing! So... they don't come in soup? Or they do and I can't tell? I would look this up myself but I don't feel like it.

akatsuki / December 3, 2007 4:23 PM

>dense mass of stringy shredded turnip threads that resisted the edge of our serrated knife.

Ah, a familiar experience... Scissors are your friend when sharing dim sum. Or just be greedy like me and order multiple plates of the same item...

And agreed on the screechy lady voice; it's uniquely Chinese... Of a certain generation...

roboppy / December 3, 2007 4:24 PM

Tina: Yeah, that's it! We'll have a post-finals celebration.

I love that they renamed potato chips. SO UNNECESSARY!

Mike: I would've rather gotten free fries...but I guess that would be a weird thing to give. ...sniff.

Ooh I heard about the B&N thing. I've seen him speak before though, so I think I can miss it and not feel sad. He's definitely amusing.

Angeline: And I've had neither! Someday, maybe.

Dana: I'm glad I'm not the only one either. WOO we can eat bad food in silence togetherrr...

I hope you give duck confit another chance though. It's usually good! The way it's supposed to be cooked deems it so. FAAT. SAAALT. GARLIC. ETC.

We didn't wait too long for JH, but it was a bit zoo-like. Blech.

Graeme: The cakes have hypnotic powers. This is true.

Oh, we did pour it out completely! The photo was staged. ;) When I tipped the can back I felt the widget hit my mouth.

Kathryn: I forgot to take a photo of it at full-foaminess, but here it is somewhat foamy:

I can haz Guiness

I heard Les Halles makes good steak. Stick with that, perhaps?

Christina: That's a lot of coffee. DO NOT DIE FROM COFFEE POISONING PLZ.

Oh, the dumplings don't come in soup; the soup is inside them! Gotta be careful when you eat them or else you'll be scalded by hot meat juices. Which is what happened to me. You eat it out of a spoon and slurp out the innards. :)

Akatsuki: Scissors definitely would've helped. I think the only time I've used scissors at a meal was when I had short ribs at some Korean good...


Heidi / December 3, 2007 7:06 PM

Wow, sorry to read that about the duck. Bourdain seems to be all about the red meat, though, so maybe the duck gets less love because of that? You know, like it's an obliga-entree or something.

joanne / December 3, 2007 9:05 PM

I waited tables when I was an undergrad, and many restaurants require their waiters to upsell items from their menus, thus no mention of tap water. I hated it when my managers required me to do certain things to get a bigger check because it made me quite uncomfortable, but if I didn't, I'd get crappy shifts.

bassbiz / December 3, 2007 11:41 PM

Oh how I love XLB, you are gonna have to make your way westward to LA, specifically San Gabriel Valley for some proper XLB, I could easily eat 8 of them on my own, way too good! Great, now I'm hungry, great post again!

danny / December 4, 2007 12:19 AM

i agree with you, people have such strong opinions about where to get those soup buns. for the most part they are all delicious! oh and they say joe's ginger (just down the street from joe's shanghai) has the same food but less lines? you probably would not get the same experience with the numbers though.

Vince / December 4, 2007 2:04 AM

i used to not like alcohol at all too. and then i got determined to fit in and now I'm a drunk and a failure.

just kidding. although after getting really hammered and really sick the next day, my mental block of alcohol was conquered. i now enjoy beer and wine with the best of them.

and sorry about your duck confit experience at les halles. how does fat come out dry? the only explanation is if it was sitting out all...night...long.

roboppy / December 4, 2007 2:11 AM

Heidi: Bourdain should love ALL MEATS! GREAT AND SMALL. ...Red or not red. Sniffle.

Joanne: Aw man, that sucks for you! I can understand waiters needing to upsell stuff, but in the long run I think it makes the restaurant look bad. This is the first time I can remember going to a restaurant that didn't offer tap water. Weiiird!

bassbiz: Oh I could eat 8 of them too, although only if I had nothing else to eat. 8 dumplings is comfortable for me. ...Then again, I've probably eaten 18 dumplings in one meal. (Not soup dumplings! That would hurt.)

Danny: Ahh, haven't been to that Joe's Ginger yet. I've felt bitter towards it since it replaced the former dumpling house (Ling's, maybe?). They had awesome vegetable dumplings! No more...:(

Vince: A friend once told me to get used to alcohol I just had to chug it down and ...bear with the pain. Not sure I wanna follow his advice though.

Exactly, how does fat come out dry? It doesn't really make sense. Sigh.

Geggie / December 4, 2007 8:35 AM

I've heard that Les Halles is not what it used to be. The water upsell is such a racket! And wasteful too...tap water is just better!

Steph / December 4, 2007 9:15 AM

Gorgeous photos!
Although you found the duck to be dry, you know me -- anything associated with Tony Bourdain can do no wrong. I heart cynical, skinny, unapologetic smokers. Dreamy.

- S

N / December 4, 2007 12:30 PM

Wait, Tony Bourdain is the executive chef but he's "not there" at Les Halles anymore? I am confused.

Kathryn / December 4, 2007 1:38 PM

Am I mistaken? I thought Bourdain was no longer Exec Chef at Les Halles because he was so busy with his books and his television. If he's still there it may be dangerous for me to visit. XD

eatyourheartout / December 4, 2007 4:19 PM

Apologies if someone had already answered this question, but that soft noodles (yet with an interesting symmetrical texture) is ONE OF MY FAVORITES. I think it's called, the way I pronounce it, "yee mein". HA.

roboppy / December 4, 2007 11:43 PM

Geggie: I'm all about the tap water. Mmm...except in Italy, where I only drank bottled. -__-

Steph: I could do without the smoking, but I guess I'll let it slide for the BOURDAIN.

N: I took that info off the bio on his website., he's definitely not workin' the kitchen. What he does for Les Halles, I DO NOT KNOW.

Kathryn: I don't think you'll see him roaming around the restaurant...I wonder if he's ever there at all?

Diana: Whoa, they're named after you! I won't forget the name now. ;)

Coco / December 5, 2007 3:51 PM

Previewing your Comment
Delurking to let say that if I ever go to NYC (need to need to need to) we must hang out. Never have I met someone who would rather go to a bakery on Saturday night than a bar... someone like meeeee!

wow, this could be seen as creepy. It's too bad I don't have a food blog or anything. But I live in Redlands, CA where fun places to eat are certainly not the norm. ::sigh:: back to reading the archives and drooling.

Julie / December 6, 2007 11:14 AM

I saw Bourdain cook duck confit on Chef Story (a PBS series), and it looked perfect, but that's not to say the Les Halles minions can repeat the simple act. I'm mostly with you, though--I don't like sending food back unless it's way wrong. There seems to be a growing trend here in backwards Phoenix, though, where your wait staff will notice if you seem to be unhappy with your food and will whisk it away and offer something else. These aren't high-end restaurants, either (not at all--I can barely afford Applebee's), but by those actions, I'd call them classy!

I hope you find an awesome duck confit soon to undo the disappointment--that's what I'd do, but I believe in undoing bad food karma that way.

roboppy / December 9, 2007 10:03 PM

Coco: Ooo, I could introduce you to a bunch of people who'd rather go bakery hunting than drink. :D SUCH GREAT PEOPLE, WE ARE!! Now what we need are more late-night bakeries.

Julie: Wow, I wish I had waiters who could tell whether or not I liked something. That's something I would only expect in a classy place. :O GO PHOENIX!

I really want to try and MAKE my own duck confit, but all that duck fat costs a lot. Ugh.

Yann: Ah, I'm sure you can fulfill such cravings in France. D

David / January 4, 2008 1:58 AM

I've noticed that, unfortunately, it's not uncommon to get dry duck confit at restaurants in the city. I'm never surprised, but always disappointed when it comes back overdone.

I had good duck confit about a week ago at Rock Center Cafe next to the Rockefeller Center skating rink. I'm usually wary of places next to touristy places but my brother was visiting with his kids and it was convenient. I decided to take my chances with their duck confit and was pleasantly surprised. It was cooked just right and came with an awesome side of potato gratin.

I thought of making duck confit for the 10 minutes it took me to look up and read the recipe. You could save money on the duck fat by buying a whole duck and rendering the fat yourself. I've decided to take my chances with restaurants. Though I've always wondered if canned duck confit was any good.

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