Saturday, April 19, 2014

2013-2014 NBA Playoffs Round 1 Preview: Eastern Conference (sport, gambling)

As the season ended, neither the Pacers nor the Heat seemed particularly bothered with getting the 1 seed. In the end, Indiana kept it, and it'll be interesting to see if this comes back to bite Miami in the ass.

Atlanta Hawks (8) at Indiana Pacers (1)

Indiana is still a heavy favorite despite some chatter about how Pero Antic's ability to shoot the three will draw Hibbert out of the middle and disrupt Indiana's vaunted defense. In the end, Atlanta's offense still flows through their go-to guy Paul Millsap, and he really hasn't had much success against the Pacers this year. It should be a low scoring series just the way Indiana likes it, although Atlanta should be able to take a home game by shooting lights out from the outside.

Prediction: Indiana 4-1
Possible bets: Bet the under for the first two games, then the over for the next two.

Charlotte Bobcats (7) at Miami Heat (2)

Miami really hasn't had any inside presence for a while now, but that hasn't stopped them from winning two of the last three championships. Al Jefferson will have his way with them, but I just don't see how the rest of the team will score enough points to overcome Miami. It doesn't help that their forwards can't shoot and their guards are undersized facing Miami's aggressive trap scheme.

Prediction: Miami 4-0
Possible bets: Nothing really jumps out at me. Maybe a player prop taking the over on Al Jefferson's points or points+rebounds.

Brooklyn Nets (6) at Toronto Raptors (3)

Somehow the Nets are favored in this series despite being the 6th seed. They may have experience on their side, but they're lacking in both size down low and speed in the backcourt. One of the things people don't realize is that Toronto can play some pretty stifling defense. I see a lot of Joe Johnson or Paul Pierce isolations, and that won't get them through.

Prediction: Toronto 4-1
Possible bets: Bet Toronto to win the series. The odds for Toronto to win the series (around +130) represents great value. Bet the under in every game of the series as I expect that both teams will look to the defense as their best chance of winning the series.

Washington Wizards (5) at Chicago Bulls (4)

A really difficult matchup to predict as the Bulls' vaunted offense faces a team with as many as 7 different players who can put up double digit points. In the end, Chicago's defense should be too much, but Washington should hold their own in a close, tightly fought series.

Prediction: Chicago 4-3
Possible bets: Bet the underdog to win straight up every game. While I expect the series to go the distance, I think it's a punch-counterpunch situation where home field won't be enough of an edge to get a team through a tough game.


Please click here for my Western conference preview.

2013-2014 NBA Playoffs Round 1 Preview: Western Conference (sport, gambling)

The Western conference was even more stacked this year, and it wouldn't really surprise me if any of the lower seeds pulled off an upset.

Dallas Mavericks (8) at San Antonio Spurs (1)

I really like how this Dallas team has managed to be competitive this year, but this matchup is a real problem for them as San Antonio is a very similar team that just happens to do everything better. Dallas' best hope is to catch the Spurs during a cold shooting streak, but I don't think that will happen.

Prediction: San Antonio 4-0
Possible bets: Bet the over on every game. San Antonio should be willing to go back and forth scoring, assuming that their base defense will create enough separation by the time the game is over.

Memphis Grizzlies (7) at Oklahoma City Thunder (2)

During the last day of the regular season, I really thought Memphis was going to intentionally lose to play the Spurs instead of the Thunder. A more confident Reggie Jackson leading the second team and increased interior presence from the improved Adams specifically make them a harder matchup for the Grizzlies. By the way, I was watching the ESPN 30 for 30 on the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons earlier this week, and I think this Grit and Grind Grizzlies team of the past few years would've gotten much further in that era.

Prediction: Oklahoma City 4-2
Possible bets: Nothing really jumps out at me.

Golden State Warriors (6) at Los Angeles Clippers (3)

Even though the Warriors were my dark horse pick a couple months back to go far in the playoffs, this is just the worst possible matchup for them, especially with Bogut hurt. The Clippers have the interior size and skill to take advantage, while Doc Rivers should be reinforcing discipline and the need to take care of business. He knows a good showing will build the confidence and swagger they need to be real title contenders.

Prediction: Los Angeles 4-0
Possible bets: Bet the under in every game. I really think the Clippers will clamp down here and use their size and skill to bully the Warriors.

Portland Trailblazers (5) at Houston Rockets (4)

Both teams are very capable but also very inconsistent. In the end, it will probably come down to three point shooting for both teams. While the return of Beverly will definitely affect Liliard, the rest of the Portland team matches up pretty well, and Lopez at least has a big body to go up against Dwight Howard with. If they can stop the other shooters and let Harden get his, they should be able to pull through.

Prediction: Portland 4-2
Possible bets: Nothing really jumps out at me. The odds on a Portland upset (+160) don't offer much in the way of value.

Please click here for my Eastern conference preview.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Large Format Chicken and Lamb over Rice at Ma Peche (food)

There are some things that restaurants in the Momofuku empire tend to do better than others. One of them is the large format feast, the largest of which is the chicken and lamb over rice offered at Ma Peche. You can order the chicken or lamb group meals separately, but if you get them together it's cheaper while having the same amount of food. Unlike the other often-cramped Momofuku restaurants, there is a large table at Ma Peche that seats up to 14 that is perfect for this huge feast. However, I don't know if the recent passed plates/dim sum rollout has affected the seating for the large format meal.

TWO WHOLE FRIED CHICKENS AND A SMOKED LAMB SHOULDER
The main proteins presented whole. By the way, for better pictures check out my friend Katie's post over at www.donuts4dinner.com.


They confit, smoke and then roast the lamb shoulder, while the chicken is poached and then deep fried with spices and herbs. While the lamb was the more deeply flavorful of the two, I thought the chicken stood out to me as being more unique. There was a slickness of grease on the surface from the frying, but underneath that was very tender and flavorful chicken, highlighted by the slightly sweet sauce and spices.

PICKLES, CHUTNEY AND SAUCES
Pickles are a very Momofuku thing, and they were the perfect accompaniment to help cut the fat.


ICEBERG LETTUCE SALAD WITH CHICKEN SKIN CROUTONS
CUCUMBERS WITH WHEAT BERRY
Salads, especially those made with iceberg lettuce, are often just filler. That was not the case here as both salads managed to be refreshing, flavorful, and add a nice crunchy texture to the rest of the meal.


CHICKPEAS
EGGPLANT
Both of these were bursting with flavor, and were our favorite side dishes. In fact, we asked for seconds of each. However, we did not know that only the pita bread came with free refills, and these extra sides were in fact $12-14 each.


CURRY RICE
PITA BREAD
The curry rice was rather disappointing as I found it very dry. The pita bread, on the other hand, was some of the best and fluffiest I've ever had.

Everything together on one plate, which is as it should be. While there were so many different tastes and textures going on, it all somehow came together, much like the food from the halal carts that inspired this meal. Even the dry curry rice was fine when mixed with all the available sauces.

Overall, this was a great large format meal and among the cheapest out there when you break down the cost per person. It was very representative of the type of food served at Momofuku restaurants in how it elevated and enlivened comfort food. The seating was comfortable and there was plenty of room for our large group. Service was excellent and friendly. In fact, when the check came and I told them that they never notified us of the cost of the extra sides when we ordered them, they took the extra step to take them off the final bill.

Ma Peche
Chambers Hotel (separate entrance, you go into the milk bar first)
15 W 56th St
Manhattan, NY

Monday, March 17, 2014

No More Dollarmania at 100 Montaditos (food)

I'd written about 100 Montaditos and their Dollarmania Wednesday promotion but it is no more. In fact, they've revamped the menu, and raised prices across the board. Sandwiches which use to range from $1 to $2.50 now range from $1.50 to $3. Appetizers, platters, salads, wine, imported beer, and sangria also saw price increases. There are, however, 5 preset sandwich collections that are discounted from their a la carte price.

In addition to the changes in price, there are now more selections on the menu to choose from as well. More products representative of Spain are also featured, including anchovies, garlic pork loin, and cured pork products from Spain including salchicon and lomo. This makes sense as it appears that much of their non-discount-seeking clientele are Spanish speakers interested in watching their huge selection of soccer matches on TV.

The decision to remove the Dollarmania Wednesday promotion appears to be a corporate one, as a similar .50 Euro promotion that used to be on their Spanish/International website is also gone. That being said, they are currently running a Wednesday promotion where all the aforementioned preset sandwich collections are $5 each.


THE MEAT LOVERS COLLECTION ($7 as a set, $11.50 individually)
THE MEDITERRANEAN COLLECTION ($9 as a set, $12.50 individually, not pictured)
THE BLACK LABEL COLLECTION ($12 as a set, $15 individually)
Even though sandwiches still come out to a $1+tax each as a result of the current Wednesday promotion, it's a big drop off in value given the lack of choices. The Mediterranean collection features 5 fish-based sandwiches, while the black label collection includes rather nondescript tuna, chicken, and "philly steak".

ANCHOVIES, FRESH TOMATO, MAYO, AND PEPINILLO (PICKLES FROM SPAIN)
In terms of taste, the newly featured ingredients such as anchovies and garlic pork loin were pretty good. Though I was a bit disappointed to find only one anchovy filet in my sandwich.

Even with the increases, prices are still cheaper or comparable to nearby places in that neighborhood. If you stick with the Spanish themed ingredients, you'll probably have a good time. And if you're a big fan of Spanish soccer, you'll probably have a great time.

176 Bleecker St
(between Sullivan St and Mac Dougal St)
Manhattan, NY



Thursday, March 13, 2014

Delivery from Torishin (food)

While I loved my meal at Yakitori Totto, the only yakitori restaurant in NYC with a Michelin star is actually Torishin. Another thing Torishin has that Totto doesn't is delivery. There aren't many one Michelin star restaurants in the world that do delivery, so I just had to give it a try.

A couple of general points to note about delivery from Torishin:
1. It appears their delivery zone is about a 10-block (streets) radius from their 64th St/1st Ave location.
2. While they can take orders before the restaurant officially opens, they can't start cooking anything until the restaurant opens as the charcoal won't be ready yet.

My experience:
I got to the restaurant at about 5:45pm on a Thursday to put in my order. As the restaurant wasn't open yet, the front door was locked and I knocked on the window to get someone's attention. While they originally said that only items from the takeout/delivery menu were available for delivery, they let me order a la carte off the regular menu once they realized that I was placing a big order for 4 people. I'm not sure if it would've been different had I ordered on the phone.

They reminded me again that they wouldn't be able to start cooking until 6pm, and expected the food to get delivered at 7pm. Considering the size of our order and that we were 10 blocks away from them, this seemed reasonable. They were right on time, arriving shortly after 7pm. It's unclear to me, however, how efficient their delivery would be during peak hours.

The food:

SKEWER SET C (FOR 2) $55
POTATO, ONION, SHISHITO PEPPER, SHIITAKE;
PORK BELLY W/TOMATO, CHICKEN BREAST W/SCALLION, CHICKEN BREAST W/YUAN MOROMI MISO, CHICKEN BREAST W/SHISO PLUM;
MEATBALL, CHICKEN WING, CHICKEN RIBS, DARK MEAT
COMES WITH 2 WHITE RICE AND 1 SALAD
While the food was no longer piping hot, it was still tender and flavorful. The pieces of meat were denser than what I had at Totto, and are deceptively filling. Everything was good, but our favorite of this group was the chicken wing. We wondered at first if they were ribs as there were bones, but it was definitely just some outstanding wings. The meatball also stood out as cartilage had been mixed in to give it a unique texture.


DUCK W/ASPARAGUS $9
PEPPER W/GARLIC MISO $5
While I'm normally much more adventurous when it comes to yakitori, I wasn't sure obscure cuts and offal would hold up well to delivery, so we ended up getting additional a la carte skewers of mostly meat. Our absolute favorite of the entire evening was the duck with asparagus, which was meaty and flavorful, with the asparagus providing a nice soft crunch and mellowing out some of the richness.

Overall:
It's definitely not as good as getting the skewers hot off the charcoal, but it's a good alternative if you just want some tasty delivery or if you can't be bothered with the crowded space and wait at the restaurant. Their ever-aging sauce is terrific, and the quality of the ingredients, from meat to produce, shines through. The food is clearly prepared with love and care, which makes it a worthy splurge.

1193 1st Ave
Between 64th and 65th Streets
Manhattan, NY

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Per Se: Wonderful, but No Longer Magical (food)

The last time I ate in the main dining room at Per Se, it was magical. Each course was a lesson in how to bring flavors and textures into perfect harmony on a plate. Fast forward 4 years, and it feels to me like the magic is gone. Per Se continues to deliver excellence in execution, but there are small signs indicating that they may have peaked.

That is not to say it wasn't an amazing meal. The food and service are still extraordinary in many ways. But there are more great restaurants in NYC now than before, and many of them continue to push boundaries constantly. Per Se just doesn't seem to distinguish itself from the other top fine dining restaurants in New York the way it used to.


SALMON TARTARE CORNET
GOUGERES
Dinner started with a familar duo of Keller classics. Not only delicious, they liven up the tongue with a contrast of temperatures. While I was still more fascinated by the tuile than the salmon tartare, the refreshing chill of the tartare and the warm burst of cheese from the gougeres went together beautifully.


"OYSTERS AND PEARLS" - "Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar
TSAR IMPERIAL OSSETRA CAVIAR - Smoked Sturgeon, Quail Egg Yolk, Hand Cut "Anellini," Compressed Spinach and Red Radishes ($75 supplement)
Next came another well-known Per Se dish. I'm not really big on tapioca, but the texture was perfect here as well as the warm temperature contrasting with the chilled oyster. Looking back at my previous Per Se review, it turns out I made the same comments back then about the excellent use of tapioca!


"VELOUTE" OF FRENCH LAUNDRY GARDEN RUTABAGA - Grilled Onion "Pierogi," Mache and "Parmigiano Reggiano"
Warm and comforting, yet with a twinge of lightness to the dish provided by the presence of the mache. One of the things I really appreciated about Per Se's cooking from last time was how they managed to find the one ingredient that balanced each dish the right way. This was another example of that as the mache provided a refreshing touch without using something more overpowering or overtly citrusy.


"GATEAU" OF HUDSON VALLEY MOULARD DUCK FOIE GRAS - "Demi-Sec" Satsuma Mandarins, Sunchokes, Upland Cress and Preserved Black Walnut; Served with hot brioche ($40 supplement in place of the veloute, we decided to add it a la carte)
This was ethereal. This was the smoothest liver mousse I've ever had, and the enjoyment of it was enhanced manifold by the fresh hot brioche that was quickly replenished. Only the tiniest sliver was needed as the flavor multiplied when it spread so easily over the hot brioche.


"PARKER HOUSE ROLL" - SALTED AND UNSALTED BUTTER, SIX KINDS OF SALT
The Parker House rolls were great, but the six kinds of salt didn't really do anything for me. While I've had the pretzel bread before and loved it, the real surprising standout from the bread tray was the multigrain. The grains sprinkled throughout provided a great texture that made the nuttiness come alive, as opposed to multigrain breads which I usually associate with being dense or difficult to eat.

SAUTEED FILLET OF ATLANTIC HALIBUT - Saffron Infused Fingerling Potatoes, Cocktail Artichokes, Jingle Bell Peppers, Cerignola Olives and "Salsa Verde"
Once again, the most impressive part of the dish was the balance. Very similar to the fish dish I had four years ago, it was an impressive display of balancing components that are usually pretty strong, such as saffron, artichoke, olives, and the jingle bell peppers, which were my favorite.

GRILLED NOVA SCOTIA LOBSTER - Sweet Carrots, Radicchio, Pea Tendrils and Braised Pine Nuts
This was a rather interesting dish as wrapping the lobster with radicchio introduced a pronounced bitter element. It didn't quite work here as this dish lacked the harmony that the other dishes had. While the bitterness provided contrast to the sweetness, there was probably too much of it all around the lobster, making it too bold for the sweetness to come through. I think bitter gourd would have provided the same crunch and bitterness with a sweeter finish.

HERB ROASTED POULARDE - Forest Mushroom "Porridge," Celery Branch, Piedmont Hazelnuts and Aged Madeira Jus
What seemed like a delicious, but rather simple combination was punched up by the celery. It's one of those seemingly throwaway pieces on the plate, but when you eat it together, it totally works, and you wonder how they came up with it.


ELYSIAN FIELDS FARM' "SELLE D'AGNEAU" - Glazed Chestnuts, Granny Smith Apple, Crispy Salsify, Heirloom Sorrel and "Sauce Perigourdine"
MIYAZAKI JAPANESE WAGYU - Greek Bottarga, Romain Lettuce "Paquette," Torpedo Shallot, "Pain de Campagne" and "Anchoiade" ($100 supplement)
This to me was the most disappointing dish of the night. While I raved last time about the way the calotte de boeuf was cooked to bring out the flavor, that did not happen here. There wasn't a lasting juiciness to each bite as the cooking method didn't particularly improve or expand the flavor. The beef was excellent, and would probably have been great just served simply and sliced thinly, like the wonderful shabu shabu I had at Hakubai a month later. This dish reminded me of the beef I had at Atera which I also found disappointing and lacking in flavor.


"BRIE DE MEAUX" - Applewood Smoked Bacon, Melted Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, Pickled Beets and Horseradish Root
This was weird in that it was very disjointed. Even though it had the sweet and savory components, it did not bridge the savory and sweet the way cheese courses are supposed to.


"ASSORTMENT OF DESSERTS" - Fruit, Ice Cream, Chocolate and "Candies"
On the left are the desserts from the chef's tasting, while the ones on the right are from the vegetable tasting. I'd been reading for a while on Chowhound that Per Se's desserts had been disappointing recently, and after experiencing it myself, I can only confirm that assessment. The desserts were specifically separated into one focused on fruit, one on ice cream, and one on chocolate. But by doing this, there was no complexity to any of the desserts. There was no layering of textures, and minimal interaction of flavors. Tasty and comforting, but I just expect much more from Per Se.


MIGNARDISES
A crazy selection of filled chocolates. I wonder if they specifically had one person whose only job was to memorize all 30 of them.


"COFFEE AND DOUGHNUTS" - Cappuccino Semifreddo with Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnuts
I wasn't sure if they were part of the meal, but to me this dish is as integral a part of the Per Se experience as the cornet and gougeres, so I asked to make sure we got them. The combination of cool, creamy semifreddo and the sweet, light doughnuts was just sublime.

Parting Gift

While service was excellent and attentive, there wasn't much of an initiative to engage and discuss the produce, even though we were curious enough to ask about a few of the specific ingredients. Overall, I just didn't get the sense of a grand dining experience like the one I had four years ago, or like my tasting menus at EMP. Even though it was wonderful, the meal just had a paint-by-numbers kind of feel to it.

I did, however, notice some extremely intriguing dishes from Per Se on a couple of blogs. Perhaps the only way to experience those would be to fork up for the extended tasting. When you consider how much the supplements were, it might make more sense to just book the extended tasting right from the start. So perhaps the magic isn't gone, you just need to work harder (pay more) to find it.

10 Columbus Circle
4th Floor of Time Warner Center
Manhattan, NY

Bonus: Items from the vegetable tasting menu

ROASTED CHESTNUT "POTAGE" - Celery Root Glaze and Black Winter Truffle "Grissini"

PICKLED HEN EGG - Crispy Potato "Allumettes," Romaine Lettuce Hearts, Young Fennel and Piedmont Hazelnuts

"CONFIT" OF TRUMPET ROYALE MUSHROOM - Grilled Belgian Endive, Shaved Cauliflower, Italian Capers, Sylvetta Arugula and Curry Scented Oil

"CAPELLINI" PASTA SALAD - Charred Jingle Bell Peppers, Persian Cucumbers, Olive "Relish," Basil Blossoms and "Romesco"

SLOW ROASTED CARROT "EN CROUTE" - Brussels Sprouts Leaves, Petite Onions and Raisin-Caraway Seed Vinaigrette

BUTTERNUT SQUASH "PORRIDGE" - "Fiore Sardo" and Black Winter Truffle

SPRING BROOK FARM'S TARENTAISE "TARTE" - Broccoli Puree and San Marzano Tomato Marmalade