Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare is No Longer in Brooklyn (food)

Without too much fanfare, the Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, the only three Michelin star restaurant in Brooklyn, moved to Manhattan earlier this year. Along with the move, the dining room has been upgraded and there are now several tables (2-tops and 4-tops) in addition to the main chef's table. This was the perfect opportunity for my friend and mentor, who's eaten at more 3 Michelin star restaurants than I can name, to finish his list of 3 Michelin star restaurants in NYC now that he doesn't have to endure sitting on barstools for the duration of the meal.

Atmosphere
The Chef's Table does not have it's own private entrance. You have to walk through the Brooklyn Fare market to get to the restaurant. But when you do get there, the elegant wood-accented dining room is lovely and inviting. The chef's table is no longer a semicircular metal counter, but a large rectangular bar. However, you can still get the feel of the old Brooklyn Fare as chef Cesar Ramirez brought over his row of copper pots and pans hanging over his kitchen. I highly recommend sitting at a table. Chef Ramirez goes to each of the tables throughout the night to shake hands and introduce himself, and the room is cozy enough that you don't feel like you're missing out on any of the action in the open kitchen.

Comfort and Service
One of the most important things to know is that there are no substitutions. If there are any dietary restrictions such as allergies, they will remove the offending item from the dish, but they will not make a different dish to replace it. The bathroom is also in the Brooklyn Fare market, and going there involves having one of the employees accompany you with the bathroom key. I did not experience this myself, but one of my dining companions said that it felt awkward and uncomfortable. On the bright side, the banquettes at the table were pretty comfortable and service was good. The sommeliers did a good job, and the wine list (I'd been told) had enough reasonable selections to not feel like you were getting gouged (ahem::Per Se::ahem).

Food

LAKE BIWA TROUT TARLET WITH SMOKED ROE
A wonderful start to the meal, with a smokiness and saltiness that whets the appetite while the fish itself comes through in the creamy finish.

HOKKAIDO UNI WITH TRUFFLE OVER BRIOCHE
Just as good as when I had it three years ago. A wonderful combination of earth and sea without any component overpowering the others.

SCOTTISH LANGOUSTINE WITH RADISH
This was cooked so perfectly I dare say it was cooked better than any langoustine I've had at Le Bernardin (and I've had quite a few). This was also the first of a few dishes where the plates were very warm to the touch, which probably helped the dish to maintain at the chef's desired temperature.

KOREAN FLUKE WITH YUZU KOSHO AND CRISPY KELP
I don't quite know what fish this was, but it was extremely meaty and satisfying and not what I would typically associate as fluke. What I really appreciated about this dish was that the fish was cooked through to take advantage of that meatiness. The crispy kelp strands added a nice texture component, and is a technique that I remember was on quite a few dishes during that meal 3 years ago.

NAGASAKI BURI WITH GINGER AND SANSHO PEPPER
Buri is essentially a large yellowtail. In contrast to the previous dish, this was much less cooked, almost as if done in a shabu shabu manner. This preparation suited the fish well, although the ginger and sansho pepper felt a bit more muted than I would have expected.

AKAMUTSU
I've read a few different translations for akamutsu, although the most consistent seems to be black throat sea perch. The sauce underneath was probably an emulsion of some sort, and the creaminess was nice with the fish. However, this was probably the least remarkable of the dishes that night.


KALUGA CAVIAR WITH CRUSHED POTATOES AND SOUR CREAM
For this dish, chef Cesar himself came to the table to finish the plating by scooping out large amounts of caviar.

I believe the potatoes were of the Carola variety, and a great vehicle for the caviar. What really stood out to me was the delicious sour cream. I feel like it's one of those food items where people often don't realize how much better freshly prepared versions are from the generic versions they buy in a supermarket, like real hot fudge sauce or schlag.

NORWEGIAN KING CRAB WITH GRANNY SMITH APPLE AND SHISO
I thought this was the best and most interesting dish of the night in terms of a composed dish of balanced flavor combinations. The crab was sweet, but not overpoweringly so where other items were just accents to the crab. There was nice contrast with the apple which provided a slight tartness and crisp texture. Rounding it all out was a wonderfully subdued shiso emulsion that gave it an earthy tone and lingering taste on the tongue, matching well with the warm temperature at which the dish was served. The emulsion reminded me of the chive oil in Eleven Madison Park's sturgeon sabayon.

GRILLED ABALONE WITH FOIE GRAS COOKED IN KOSHIHIKARI RICE
This was actually pretty good, except that it didn't really work for me on a personal (completely subjective) level. As someone who grew up eating a good amount of abalone in Chinese cooking, I prefer abalone that is tender but still with bite. Al dente, if you will. This abalone was too tender, and had almost no give. The abalone liver flavor was very strong, which while I can appreciate, is also not the flavor from the abalone that the Chinese prefer to highlight. The foie gras rice with dashi froth was magnificent though.

KINMEDAI WITH BLACK VINEGAR AND CIPOLLINI ONION
While I love Kinmedai, also known as alfonsino golden eye snapper, my favorite preparation will always be seared as sushi at 15 East before the chef left. I think that kind of semi-raw preparation is best for this fish, and I'm still not quite sure why this dish was served after the strongly flavored abalone foie gras rice.

A5 MIYAZAKI WAGYU WITH WASABI AND JUS
Simple and delicious, truly highlighting the fine quality of the ingredients. What I appreciated most was that this was beautifully cooked to start bringing out the flavor of the melting fat, whereas I've had Miyazaki wagyu at other places where they just did a mindless sear and left the rest practically raw.

ROASTED DUCK WITH TRUFFLE AND MOREL
At first I found it interesting that the duck came after the beef, but it all made sense as the sauce was much richer here. Despite just a tiny sliver of skin on the slice of duck, it managed to still be crispy which was quite a feat.

BLOOD ORANGE SORBET
Nice simple palate cleanser.

SOBACHA ICE CREAM WITH SOBACHA TOPPING AND SOY CARAMEL SAUCE
This was quite good, with the buckwheat flavor coming through nicely. However, in comparison to other similar Japanese fusion desserts I've had, this didn't stand out.

FROZEN ALMOND SOUFFLE WITH PUFFED ALMONDS
The highest praise I can give is that this really, really worked. It's not even about the flavor, which was great as I love almonds and the puffed almonds were delicious. It was that the flash frozen souffle worked beautifully in both temperature and texture to close the meal. After a long meal such as this, a frozen dessert that was denser that this light souffle would have been too much, while a more traditional souffle served warm would have dulled the senses at the very end. Ingenious conclusion to a wonderful meal.

PASSIONFRUIT AND CHOCOLATE TARTS
A couple petit fours, nothing crazy fancy.

MATCHA TEA SERVICE

I expected no less than phenomenal food given my last visit over three years ago. The overall experience was significantly better, and my main takeaway from this meal is "refinement". The dishes have been refined over the years and form a purposeful menu from start to finish. The dining room, the tables, and other FOH additions also solidify it as a grand restaurant experience, not just a chef's counter where you are at the whim of the chef's experiments. There are still some kinks to be worked out, but I have no doubt that with this move and the overall growth that this restaurant has experienced and will continue to go through, it will not only maintain its 3 Michelin Stars easily, but will also start climbing the World's 50 Best list where it was ranked 81st in 2016.


While Brooklyn Fare does not have or give out menus at the end of the meal, the fact that photos and notes are now allowed means that I can make and print my own menu cards for myself. The full sized version of this is here at https://www.collage.com/v/32713704

Monday, February 6, 2017

Of Course It Went to OT: What Happened to the Superbowl at the Turn of the Millennium? (sport, gambling)

There's really not much point to studying stats and trends with very few data points. But when it comes to the NFL and the Superbowl, it's fun to think about. Here were some stats I was looking at before tonight's amazing game.

Did you know that before the 21st Century, favorites covered 23 of 34 (68%) Superbowls while favorites have only covered 4 of 15 (27%) Superbowls since the turn of the millennium? Superbowl XXXIV played in the year 2000 was a push and Superbowl XLIX in 2015 was a pick'em.

What about the fact that in the 2000's, of the 7 times a regular season MVP played in the Superbowl, none of them won or even covered the spread? The list includes Cam Newton, Peyton Manning (x2), Tom Brady, Shaun Alexander, Rich Gannon, Marshall Faulk/Kurt Warner depending on AP or PFWA. Before 2000? AP MVPs covered 9 of 16 times.

Between the underdog trend and the 0-for MVP trend, of course it went to OT.

Obviously, choosing 2000 as the divide is also completely random. But it's interesting to wonder if something actually changed in the league, considering the 2001 Superbowl was the first Brady Belichick Superbowl as well as the biggest upset in Superbowl history.

In the end, I took the Pats. The idea that regular season MVPs are 0-8 against the spread in the Superbowl amused me.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Significant Implication of Belichick's 4th Down Call (sport)

Over the years, Bill Belichick has gone for many 4th downs with the game on the line, so it isn't that big a surprise that there hasn't been a ton of media coverage about his call to go for it on 4th and 1 with 6 minutes to go in the game. It wasn't a clear cut decision by any means, and there were certainly plenty of arguments both in support of and against his decision. In fact, I'm pretty sure that both Andy Reid and Mike McCarthy would have kicked the field goal in that same situation, given their play-calling history. But I do think the decision itself has a pretty significant implication that's hasn't been broadly discussed.

Down 8 points with 6 minutes to go in the game, the Patriots had 4th and 1 at the Denver 16 yard line. I'm sure there are plenty of people who, probably in hindsight, thought that it was a terrible decision to go for it, so let's look at the reasons to kick the field goal. First of all, even with a touchdown, the Patriots would still need a 2 point conversion just to tie the game. A field goal would remove the need for a 2 point conversion if the Patriots scored a subsequent touchdown after stopping Denver. Secondly, the Patriots defense had been doing a very good job stopping Denver, having only given up one field goal in the second half up to that point. While it was unlikely the Patriots would be able to march down the field two more times (as actually happened) for two more field goals to win the game, it was certainly not unlikely for them to get the ball back with the chance to win it with a touchdown.

So why didn't they kick the field goal? Well, the Denver defense had been smothering them all game, and their receiving corps was looking a little banged up. Let's assume that they stop Denver after kicking the field goal. Where would they start the next drive? Best guess for average field position would probably be around their own 30 yard line. Given how hard it had been to score against the Denver defense up to that point, was it really more likely that they could orchestrate a 70 yard touchdown drive versus making a 4th and 1 while already in the red zone? In terms of playing to one's strengths, New England was one of the 5 best teams in the league at red zone conversion rate this season. And even if they missed the two point conversion, one of their other strengths was Gostkowski's leg as he was 4-5 from 50+ during the season, including a long of 57.

I also want to point out that I found it hilarious that Phil Simms, one of the absolute worst and most conservative NFL analysts on TV, agreed with the decision to go for it. I firmly believe that had it been a different coach and not Belichick making the decision, Simms would have mentioned how he would have chosen to kick the field goal instead.

So what is this "significant implication" that I'm getting at? Well, I truly believe that Belichick's decision to go for it was based on not believing they could march down the field again and score a touchdown if they kicked the field goal there. Yes, they were clearly not at full health and Denver's defense was spectacular, but this would mark the FIRST time in the Belichick/Brady era that he doubted his OFFENSE. Think about all those other 4th downs they've attempted over the years. It was usually because he was confident in his offense converting for a first down, or because he was not confident enough in his defense that he could afford to give the ball to the other team. I think this speaks volumes regarding the end of the Patriots dynasty, even with Brady still on contract through the 2017 season.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Quick Trip To Boston (food, travel)

Wanted to highlight a few things from a quick one day trip to Boston a couple of weeks back.

First, I booked my hotel through Hotwire. For $210 total (including all taxes and fees) for a Thursday night in early November, I ended up at the Westin Copley Place. This was quite a deal for any upscale hotel, but even more so when you consider the Westin's prime Back Bay location, connected to the Copley Square Mall and steps from Newbury Street.


I also ended up in a room that was easily large enough to sleep 4+ people, and included a large sofa as well as a full dining table.


Not only was the room super spacious, check out the tremendous view from the two windows!

AL'S STATE STREET CAFE
Next was a quick lunch, as I reminisced about where I used to work a decade ago. There are now 4 Al's across greater Boston, but nothing has changed in the 10 years since I last went to the one on State Street, except for an increase in prices. The subs are still big and delicious, with my go-to being chicken salad with lettuce, tomato, and hots. The sub pictured cost $9 + tax.


NEPTUNE OYSTER
Finally, it was time to try a New England classic.
One of the most popular raw bar/restaurants in Boston, this 40-seat eatery had me wait half an hour for one seat at 3:45pm in the afternoon! But it was definitely worth the wait as I got my hands on both versions of their lobster roll. While the first bite of the buttery hot lobster roll was amazing, I actually preferred the cold prep, as it felt less dense and heavy by the end of the meal. This is quite important considering each lobster roll ($29+t/t) had a full 7 ounces of meat and comes with a large mound of fries!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Breeders' Cup 2015 (horseracing, sport, gambling)

Did you know the Breeders' Cup was happening this weekend?

I didn't, until I came across a brief mention of it on one of the sports forums that I read.

After all, American Pharoah turned out to not be the superhorse the media hyped him up to be, and so the mainstream media is off to chase whatever other fad might get them pageviews and clicks. Which is a bit of a shame since the field for this year's Classic is actually relatively weak, and could easily have served as a great coronation for American Pharoah. Regardless, American Pharoah will probably still dominate whatever media coverage remains, even though he shouldn't.

For what will probably be the same price payout, any money you want to bet on American Pharoah to win should be spent on Golden Horn. If American Pharoah were to win the Breeders' Cup Classic and Golden Horn were to have retired after the L'Arc de Triomphe, Golden Horn would still have my vote for horse of the year. That's how much this horse has accomplished this year. After winning the Epsom Derby in June, Golden Horn has taken on Group One horses of all ages, unlike American Pharoah who has yet to run against older horses. Like American Pharoah, Golden Horn also suffered an upset defeat in August. But since then, the horse has already won two more Group One races, including what is arguably Europe's biggest weight-for-age race in the L'Arc de Triomphe.

Of course there are risks. This will be his 8th race of the year, and the last time an Arc winner came to run in the Breeders' Cup, Dylan Thomas disappointed. But given that both American Pharoah and Golden Horn will be heavy odds-on favorites, I'd rather have my money on the truly proven champion.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Eleven Madison Park: Late Summer 2015 Tasting Menu (food)

I write a good amount about Eleven Madison Park. After all, it has been and still is my favorite restaurant in NYC. Does that make my reviews biased? Yes and no. When I go to EMP, I don't necessarily have my "critic's hat" on, trying to analyze every dish. I go in expecting and looking to have a good time. While some may view this as self-fulfilling, I think this is a very important part of making the most of the EMP experience.

Take, for example, Pete Wells' 4 star review of Eleven Madison Park in the New York Times. That was the worst-sounding 4 star review i've ever read. There were clearly many things about EMP's approach that he vehemently disagreed with, from "dopey speeches" and "clunky, humorless history lesson[s]" to "entry-level locavorism" that "only underlines the shallowness of Eleven Madison Park’s approach to it." Yet, the end result was a 4 star review due to the sheer enjoyment being had by everyone around him: "a roomful of people almost goofy with happiness." In his own words: "Under the restaurant’s relentless, skillful campaign to spread joy, I gave in."

That campaign to spread joy was also successful when we dined at Eleven Madison Park earlier this month to celebrate last year's win in our bridge league. A grand time was had by all. I was especially excited to see what was on the late summer menu, as I'd only eaten at EMP during Spring and Winter the past few years. Some of the dishes are now staples of the tasting menu, so please refer to my previous review for photos and comments.

CHEDDAR - SAVORY BLACK AND WHITE COOKIE WITH APPLE
Similar to prior visits.

TUNA - MARINATED, WITH CUCUMBER
An interesting and refreshing take on a combination that's not new by any means. The marinade really came through strongly, and cucumber ended up being more of the focus in this dish than the tuna.

EGGPLANT - SLOW-COOKED, WITH SHELLING BEANS AND MINT
The mint provided a nice refreshing touch, allowing the eggplant to work as an early course even though it had a hearty taste.

SQUID - POACHED, WITH PEPPERS AND ARTICHOKES
Similar to the tuna course, the vegetables were the focus of the dish, with the squid providing a nice contrast in flavor and texture.

TOMATO - SALAD WITH BASIL AND RED ONION
A delicious tomato salad, simple yet refined.


CAVIAR - BENEDICT WITH EGG, CORN, AND HAM
Absolutely amazing and vastly superior to a previous version of eggs benedict that they did with asparagus. The rich and satisfying nature of eggs benedict comes through without the heaviness of the common brunch version. The presence of corn and caviar provided a great sweet and salty contrast that took the whole thing to another level.


FLAVORED BUTTER - HOUSE MADE BREAD
Butters flavored with the fat of our chosen main course proteins. The duck was great but the pork was outrageous and a sign of what was to come later that evening.


FOIE GRAS - SEARED WITH PLUM AND THYME
FOIE GRAS - MARINATED, WITH PEACHES AND GINGER
I often end up choosing the cold foie gras prep for the sake of completeness and photos, but EMP continues to serve the best hot foie gras prep in New York hands down.


LOBSTER - BOIL WITH CLAMS, SHRIMP, AND BEANS
How many 3 Michelin Star restaurants (or even 2 Michelin Star ones for that matter) encourage you to use your hands in a communal dish? Once again, it's all about a warm, fun, collective dining experience. The seafood is delicious and cooked perfectly, with the crab stuffed tomatoes providing a nice textural component to the dish. While the broth is not served with the dish, you can request it and it's not to be missed if you like tomatoes and seafood.


SUNFLOWER - BRAISED, WITH GREEN TOMATO AND SUNFLOWER SPROUTS
This was more of an interesting dish than a tasty dish, but a big part of it is that I still don't know how best to describe the flavor of the sunflower and the dish as a whole. It wasn't bad by any means, and how often do you get to say that you ate cooked sunflower?


PORK - GRILLED WITH WATERMELON RADISH AND ONION FLOWERS
DUCK - ROASTED WITH LAVENDER AND HONEY
The duck was excellent as always, but as my friend put it, "The duck was fantastic, but that pork was something special." Grilling over binchotan imparted a fantastic, deep flavor that really highlighted the flavor of the meat, and not just the fat as is often the case.


FARMER'S CHEESE - SUNDAE WITH HONEY, GRAPE, SORREL, AND OATS
An ingenious DIY cheese course that showcased why cheese is used as a bridge from savory to sweet. Loved the different ways to go about it, and the choice of cheese was great. Strong for a cow's milk cheese, but milder than goat cheese so it catered to everyone.

WHEY - SORBET WITH CARAMELIZED MILK AND YOGURT
Similar to last time, delicious but not particularly memorable.

BERRY - CHEESECAKE WITH WHITE CURRANT SORBET AND RASPBERRY VINEGAR
While I enjoyed the cheesecake, the sorbet, and the vinegar, the dessert felt disjointed. The berries were not really highlighted by the other components while the cheesecake could be enjoyed without the berries. Their desserts have not been particularly novel or daring in combining flavors and textures ever since their previous pastry chef left.


CHOCOLATE - "NAME THAT MILK"
A great way to wrap up the night. Four different chocolate bars are presented, and the game is to figure out the animal milk used to make that chocolate. The foodies/gourmands can take the challenge seriously while more casual diners can just enjoy different chocolates.
SPOILERS: highlight to read: Of the four choices, the cow's milk chocolate and the buffalo milk chocolate should stand out the most, being the most common tasting and the fattiest tasting respectively. Of the remaining two, there was one with a decidedly grassy flavor which I assigned to sheep's milk while the other was mild with a faint tang, which reminded me of goat cheese. However, it turned out that I got those two mixed up.

PRETZEL - CHOCOLATE COVERED WITH SEA SALT
SWEET BLACK AND WHITE COOKIE
Similar to prior visits.

Look, if you go to Eleven Madison Park with the mindset of "this is so expensive/this is a 3 Michelin star restaurant, every dish must blow me away", you're missing the point. But if you're going to celebrate something or looking to enjoy the whole experience of a night out, EMP will rarely disappoint.