Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Carbone NYC... the prices... but the food... (food)

Carbone is one of the more divisive restaurants in NYC, with many fans as well as many who proclaim it to be a showy/touristy rip-off. The pricey Italian-American restaurant is almost more famous for its prices than its food, but I did find the food excellent on a recent visit.

So was it worth the hefty price tag? I would say that a lot depends on how well you order and how hungry you are, but there are certainly values on the menu.


PARMESAN MARINATED IN CHIANTI
BREAD BASKET
CAULIFLOWER GIARDINIERA
SOPRESSATA
These delicious morsels are provided gratis, and certainly help the value proposition. The bread basket contains garlic bread, regular focaccia, and "grandma" bread (focaccia with a light spread of tomato sauce).

2009 BAROLO FALLETTO GIACOSA
We were indulging that night, and this delicious barolo fit the theme nicely.


BAKED CLAMS ($21)
CAPRESE ($19)
CAESAR ALLA ZZ ($21)
The huge caesar salad was done in a traditional table-side manner with three anchovy filets on the side. I didn't have any but was told it was very good. The clams and caprese were probably the best values on the entire menu, as they were both delicious and served in sizeable portions. Unlike baked clams I've had at other places, the clams underneath the topping were extremely meaty and juicy, and comparable to something that would be served at a fancy raw bar for $2-3 each as is. The caprese salad just exuded freshness, featuring delicious heirloom tomatoes, aromatic basil, and warm, fresh mozzarella. I could easily see a portion half the size selling for $12 at a "small plates" restaurant, with mozzarella nowhere near as wonderful as the one served here.


SPAGHETTI POMODORO ($25)
SPICY RIGATONI VODKA ($27)
The pasta section was probably the most disappointing section of the menu, based on these two dishes and what I read from other reviews. These weren't bad, but at these prices just pale in comparison to the many great pasta dishes found all over the city.


RIBEYE DIANA ($54)
DOUBLE LAMB CHOPS ($82 M/P)
DOVER SOLE PICCATA ($95 M/P)
The ribeye Diana was awesome, featuring a perfectly cooked medium rare (closer to rare) ribeye steak in a rich, sticky, sweet and herby reduction. The dover sole, expertly filleted at the table, was served with some pickled peppers that had just the right amount of tart and heat to enhance the flavor of the fish without overpowering it. The problem here, is the price, considering one can get a much bigger steak at many fine steakhouses in NYC for the same price, and that the entire dinner prix-fixe at La Grenouille, including the dover sole supplement, costs $126.


CORN TARTUFATO ($15)
CREAMED ESCAROLE ($15)
The corn was the single most revelatory dish of the night, as shaved truffle with corn was a pairing that was hard to stop eating by the spoonful. The escarole, on the other hand, epitomized the "we don't need to order this here at these prices" dish.

CARROT CAKE ($15)
The carrot cake, served with ginger ice cream, was delicious, moist, and extremely well made. However, at this price, I wouldn't go out of my way to order it. The weird shape of the cut may have thrown me off, but I also felt that it was a smaller portion than I was expecting.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

I Told You So (sport, horseracing)

I think this clip completely sums up my thoughts on the Travers Stakes.




"If you want to crown 'em, then crown their ass!"

American Pharoah did win the Triple Crown, and fully deserved all the accolades for that achievement.


"They are who we thought they were!"

But that doesn't mean American Pharoah is one of the best horses ever, or even of this generation, or even of this year. I know it's a bit apples and oranges to compare American dirt racing to European turf racing, but at least Golden Horn has already beaten older horses (several Group 1 winners), and when he was finally upset, that race was pretty stacked.

Of course there are those who want to talk about Frosted pressuring him and maybe even bumping him. But that was my point exactly when I wrote that first American Pharoah piece after the Belmont. He was practically handed that race, as can be seen by comparing the starts of the Belmont and the Travers:





Another sad thing about all this is that there's so little mention of Keen Ice in the post-race media. The horse showed an excellent turn of foot in the final furlong to overtake American Pharoah from a two length deficit. Instead, it continues to be all about American Pharoah. The questions about his racing future, the excuses the ESPN writers continue to make for him (such crap that I refuse to link to it). In my view, this sad media coverage further validates my original point that The Sport of Kings has long been dead in America, and American Pharoah was the final nail in the coffin.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Better, but Still Not Much of a Challenge (horseracing, sport)

I didn't pay any attention to the Haskell. That race was a gimme for American Pharoah, much like my argument that he didn't really face much of a challenge in the Belmont. While this weekend's Travers Stakes at Saratoga will still be against fellow 3 year olds, I'm hoping the "Graveyard of Champions" will provide at least a bit of a challenge. When I wrote my post on American Pharoah a while back, it wasn't to criticize the horse or say that he wasn't an all-time great. My main gripe was with the excessive media fawning over him. He's definitely a great horse, but all the comparisons to the very best horses of all time seemed far-fetched given the competition he'd faced.

I probably won't be convinced until he beats older horses in the Breeders Cup Classic. But even then, it would probably depend on the margin/ease of victory whether I would even think about putting American Pharoah ahead of Frankel or Sea the Stars as the best horse of the past decade (let alone all-time). It doesn't help that Shared Belief sustained an injury earlier in the year, although I'm a bit suprised that the IFHA (International Federation of Horseracing Authorities) has American Pharoah rated 6 pounds higher than Shared Belief.

I'm still hoping American Pharoah routs the rest of his competition all the way through the Breeders Cup Classic to prove me wrong, but I'll definitely have my "I told you so" ready if he doesn't step up to the challenge.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Farewell Meals at 15 East (food)

Masato Shimizu, one of the most talented and well-loved sushi chefs in NYC, recently left New York for personal reasons to go to Bangkok, Thailand. I've always been a big fan of Masa-san, and omakase dinners with him were always among my favorite meals. I look forward to the day when I can eat at the restaurant he'll open up in Bangkok. In the meantime, I want to take the opportunity to highlight a few of my favorite bites from two meals at 15 East during his final farewell month, and celebrate what made Masa-san so special.

MASATO EDUCATING THE DINER ON CUTS OF TUNA
There are many talented chefs in NYC. Many of them also act like asshles. Masa-san, on the other hand, was humble, gregarious, funny, and always happy to educate his customers. In addition to this and other laminated diagrams, he was also known for the well-worn mini-encyclopedia of fish that he would pull off his book shelf to explain the more obscure species of fish he would serve.


MARBLE SOLE ENGAWA WITH SEA GRAPES AND LIVER SAUCE
FIREFLY SQUID
Engawa refers to sashimi taken from the fin of a flatfish, usually fluke or flounder. It has a unique crunchy texture, which was quite interesting with the sea grapes which also have a unique crunchy texture. The firefly squid were so delicious I asked for seconds. The umami and texture were just like biting into the gooey/chewy deliciousness of shrimp heads, except without having to deal with the shell. As far as I can recall, Masato was also one of the earlier sushi chefs in the city to consistently serve Japanese seafood less well-known in the states, along with uni from Hokkaido and Kyushu.


SPRING KATSUO WITH GINGER AND SCALLION
SMOKED SPANISH MACKEREL
Katsuo is also known by its more common name, bonito. Yes, the same bonito that gets shaven into flakes for use in Japanese dashi soup stock or wriggling on top of fried tofu. While katsuo as sashimi is often served tataki style (seared), this was fresh and the flesh was more moist and had a springier texture without the searing. The spanish mackerel was smoked for two hours over cherry wood, and was probably the best bite I've had all year. In fact, with its luscious mouthfeel and richeness of flavor, it might be the best smoked fish I've ever had, including the smoked sturgeon at Eleven Madison Park. Masa-san told me that he picked up these two things from a 1-Michelin star and a 2-Michelin star sushi restaurant while in Japan.

MINEOKA TOFU WITH BROWN SUGAR REDUCTION AND MOCHI WITH STRAWBERRY, AZUKI, AND SHISO
While I've extolled the virtues of dining at the sushi bar at 15 East with Masato, that doesn't mean that I'll stop going to 15 East now that he's left. Two of the more underrated aspects of dining at 15 East that don't get enough mention are the excellent service and tasty desserts. The front of house is absolutely first rate, with well trained staff and a knowledgeable sommelier. Meanwhile, the desserts are wonderful and refined. The mineoka tofu is not actually tofu but rather a rich milk pudding with a deep flavor, the simplicity of which contrasted well with the more complex flavor combination in the mochi.

The thing that I found most amazing during these two meals at 15 East was not the food, but the emotion of it all. Most of the sushi bar customers were regulars, and there were toasts, hugs, and amazing stories. One guy told me about his first date with his now wife back when Masa was at Jewel Bako. Another guy and his buddy once ate at the sushi bar at 15 East every week for about 30 weeks. One guy had the facade of the 15 East restaurant decorated onto his groom's cake for his wedding. Just a wonderful influence that went beyond his skills as a chef.

I truly wish him the best in the next leg of his life's journey. But until I get to eat at his next restaurant in Bangkok sometime in the future, I'm glad that I have this blog so that I can relive some of those joyous meals he's served me.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Catch Up (Entertainment, Food, Gambling, Sport, Rambling)

It's been a while since I last wrote a post, so I figured I'd give an update on what I've been doing.

New Hobbies

Watching fighting games
Even though I don't play any of them, I do find them very entertaining to watch, especially the high level contests. So lately I've not only caught up on past matches through Youtube, I'll actually watch live streaming on Twitch as well. This all culminated in me watching the live stream of an entire weekend's worth of EVO, which is the biggest fighting game tournament in the world, held every year in Las Vegas. It was a ridiculous display of skill and drama, packed with excitement, and honestly more entertaining for me than the NBA finals. My favorite games to watch are Ultra Street Fighter IV (where the biggest prize money is) and Mortal Kombat X (which is only a few months old but has a huge following). I really think the fighting game scene is going to blow up big time, and some would say it already has considering there were 250k concurrent live viewers at the championship's peak, even though the prize pools were below $100k, compared to League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients which boast multi-million dollar prize pools.

Daily fantasy sports
I've always played a good deal of daily fantasy sports, but the past month or so I've really been into the day-to-day grind of the MLB season. I'm mostly trying to develop a model for it and plan to play strictly off the model. It hasn't been going well financially, but it's still pretty fun. It's kind of developed into a daily routine now where I download some data into Google Docs, then read it into R to do my analysis. The model has shown a lot of promise, but it hasn't won consistently, so I'm thinking of moving on to NFL analysis very soon in anticipation of the new season starting.

Older Hobbies

Food
I haven't really been out to many restaurants. I haven't really exercised in the past half year due to a calf injury, and have ballooned in weight so I'm trying to get back in shape starting with my diet. I did have an excellent dinner at EMP a while back, but none of the main "story" dishes were new so I didn't write up the meal. I also had a couple of stellar meals at 15 East, but as beloved chef Masato Shimizu is leaving the country, there's no hurry to write a post on it as the reader won't be able to enjoy the experience as well.

Poker
I'd been playing in a couple of regular home games, but now that summer is here, everyone's enjoying the outdoors instead. I also haven't followed the poker scene at all, except for coming across a couple of WSOP headlines.

Bridge
I've kept up with bridge even less, to the extent that I didn't even know when and where this summer's nationals were being held. I continue to play in the interclub bridge league, but that's been on hiatus for the summer and won't resume till September.

TV/Anime
My DVR continues to be full, and I still watch a good amount of anime (3-5 per season last few seasons), but it feels like there's just too much entertainment media (much of it good) out there nowadays. And I don't even have a Netflix subscription!

So that's a pretty good snapshot of how things have been. I believe that I will have a couple of food posts up soon when I get around to it, and this NFL season perhaps I'll start writing some daily fantasy posts instead of the previous gambling posts. Enjoy the summer, everyone!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

American Pharoah: The Triple Crown Winner of the Millennial Generation (sport, gambling, rambling)

The Sport of Kings has long been dead in America, and American Pharoah was the final nail in the coffin.

I can't wait to bet against American Pharoah when he races against older competition. I hope he really is a great horse and can prove me wrong, but he certainly hasn't yet earned all the respect and hype he appears to be getting. In a lot of ways, American Pharoah's Triple Crown victory reflects many of the negative things that older generations tend to associate with millennials.

We can start with the things that don't even have to do with horse racing. Like the horse's name, crowd-sourced from an online contest and misspelling the word "pharaoh". Or how, one of the most successful stables of the past decade has a 23 year old, who just recently graduated from NYU, as its racing manager. Oh wait, Justin Zayat just happens to be the owner's son.

But it's the actual horse racing aspect of it that makes a true fan cringe. I did tell people before the race that American Pharoah had the best chance of any Triple Crown contender I'd seen in the 21st century. But that wasn't because I thought he was a special horse. Rather, it was because the field was small, weak, and had no true stayers or rabbits (pace setters). As much as the Belmont is about backing up to race three times in 5 weeks, it is also about getting a full mile and a half. A true stayer, even if a little less talented, would make a would-be Triple Crown winner earn his victory. A good example of this was Birdstone's upset of Smarty Jones in 2004. And yet, even without a perfect start, American Pharoah managed to grab the rail and a cushy lead when the only other frontrunner in the race, Materiality, "decided" not to contest the lead. I knew it was already over at that point. This triple crown was nothing more than a participation trophy, and there wasn't even a cash bonus for winning it (there hasn't been for the last 10 years).

As I mentioned above, American Pharoah may still end up being a special racehorse and earn my respect. But the media can't wait that long. In an era when notable celebrities are famous for being famous rather than being talented, and where we can't determine real news from Onion headlines, the fluff pieces hit ESPN almost immediately.

There was this one, which proclaimed American Pharaoh as "a horse so perfect" without actually going into much detail about what distinguished him from previous Triple Crown contenders. The article mentioned also-rans like Funny Cide and War Emblem. Well how about Sunday Silence? Was he not a worthy, special horse? Probably one of the greatest sires ever behind only Northern Dancer, Danehill, and Sadler's Wells, Sunday Silence beat Easy Goer in the first two legs of the Triple Crown before losing to him at the Belmont. He would get his revenge by winning the Breeders Cup Classic, a race billed as the "race of the decade" as Easy Goer had one of the greatest 3-year-old campaigns ever. That was one of the greatest times in American horse racing, with a whole host of top jockeys including Jerry Bailey, Gary Stevens, Chris McCarron, Pat Day, Pat Valenzuela, and more. Nowadays, a 50 year old Gary Stevens (yes, the same one!) can come back and still be a dominant force on the scene.

Although, according to this writer, horse racing in America doesn't need saving as it has record crowds and gigantic TV ratings. But how many of those attendees actually know anything about horse racing or its history? How many of those attendees will place another horse racing bet in their life? How many of those who watched the Belmont will watch the Travers or the Haskell? American Pharoah is the Millennial generation's Triple Crown winner. Not a crowning of talent, fortitude, or competitive achievement, but rather a spectacle we can cheer on to keep the party going. The Sport of Kings has long been dead in America, and American Pharaoh was the final nail in the coffin.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

2014-2015 NBA Finals Preview (sport, gambling)

Umm... not much to say here really. I mean, the only real arguments for Cleveland are LeBron and experience. Wait, the only guys with Finals experience on the Cavs are actually Mike Miller, James Jones, and Kendrick Perkins. Scratch that. I mean, if you compare this Cleveland team to his Miami teams, you can say that Kyrie is an upgrade over the final years with Wade. But they don't even have an equivalent of Chris Bosh. I'm really trying here but I just can't find any real reason to pick the Cavaliers. They came out of a very weak Eastern conference, where Chicago just kind of imploded and Atlanta ran into injuries to key players.

Bottom line. Warriors -230 for the series is great value. Warriors in 4 (+550) and Warriors in 5 (+180) are also worth taking a look at. I kind of see this series ending up the same way as last year's Spurs-Heat series.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Cosme: Everything Was Good, Yet Still Felt Overhyped (food)

Please note that this meal occurred in February 2015.

The title pretty much says it all, but I think it's more reflective of the hype that Cosme gets than anything else. The hype is understandable. The named celebrity chef, Enrique Olvera, is arguably the top chef in Mexico and has a restaurant ranked 16th in the latest World's Best Restaurant rankings. The night we went, the New York Times had just awarded them 3 stars. But even with chef Olvera in the house that night celebrating the review, there were some things that just seemed to be missing.

Atmosphere:
The place is trendy. No doubt about it. One of our fellow diners believes she spotted Isaac Mizrahi. And while the music was acceptable during prime dinner time, it definitely turned into a very clubby vibe by about 11pm. And compared to those types of MePa restaurants, Cosme is indeed excellent. But for a restaurant that prides itself on its food and hiding the guacamole in a small corner of the menu, it wasn't quite there yet.

Food:
Everything involving corn was phenomenal. This includes all the tortillas and tostadas, as well as the purple corn chileatole served with the octopus cocktail, and the signature husk meringue dessert. Some items on the menu were more of the "check things off the list" variety, such as the seafood stuffed avocado or the uni tostada (uni! bone marrow!), which I liked far less than the mussel tostada which had a great depth of flavor. When I think of Mexican or Mexican-inspired food, I think of either freshness or depth of flavor. While freshness of flavor was evident in some of the dishes such as the scallop and the excellent cobia al pastor, none of the dishes really presented a depth and complexity of flavor except for the pozole. This was especially disappointing in regard to the enfrijolada. In terms of food, everything overall was good. And when I say everything, I mean literally almost everything, as the 6 of us ordered everything on the menu except for 4 items.

Service:
Service was friendly and prompt. And like I already mentioned, that is excellent for a trendy, busy NYC restaurant considering the large number of horrible waitstaff in the city filled with actor/singer wannabes. But for a critically acclaimed, sophisticated, serious restaurant, that's not enough. We had already mentioned that we were ordering practically the entire menu to share. The first miscue was when the server told us that the hamachi would not be large enough to share, and recommended we get two orders. We decided to get one order first and see how it turned out. It turned out that there were 5 slices of fish for the 6 of us. You're telling me we couldn't just pay for that one extra slice so that everyone could have one? Don't bullshit me with that everything is pre-portioned crap. The second miscue was when they brought our duck carnitas (meant to serve two) along with the accompanying basket of tortillas. Two tortillas. Seriously?

What made this worse was that these were things that should have had two opportunities to have been corrected before they got to the table. Not only should the server communicate with the kitchen, but a diligent world class chef should notice these things and question what goes out. "Two tortillas for a 6-top?" And yet they said Olvera was in the kitchen that night, although I don't know if he was manning the pass.

Price/Value:
Yes, the portions are small and the prices add up quickly. That has pretty much been mentioned on most of the reviews out there. But considering we ordered almost the entire menu, including all the desserts (but only one of the main entrees), the price for one person including tax and tip without alcohol was a very reasonable $100. So no arguments there, although I doubt diners can achieve those economies of scale without a group of 6.

Overall:
It's a good restaurant with good food. If a friend wanted to go to a trendy restaurant and we ended up there, I wouldn't be disappointed. But it's just way overhyped by the food media. This is not a restaurant that will change how NYers view Mexican food. It's not exactly a cash grab, but I doubt one would really consider it an extension of Pujol, Olvera's acclaimed restaurant in Mexico.

Photos and descriptions:
TOSTADAS, PUMPKIN BUTTER


UNI TOSTADA; AVOCADO, BONE MARROW SALSA, CUCUMBER $17
MUSSEL TOSTADA; RUSSIAN SALAD, CHIPOTLE MAYONNAISE $14

SLICED RAW HAMACHI; FERMENTED SERRANOS, FISH SAUCE, BLACK LIMES $19

CHICHARRON; RADISH, CILANTRO, AVOCADO, HOT SAUCE $12

STUFFED AVOCADO; SEAFOOD VUELVE A AL VIDA, HORSERADISH $18


OCTOPUS COCKTAIL; PURPLE OCCIDENTAL CORN CHILEATOLE, CHARRED AVOCADO, RED ONION $26
SCALLOP AGUACHILE; POACHED JICAMA, FRESH WASABI-CUCUMBER-LIME $20


SMOKED RAW SEPIA; SALSA MEXICANA, AVOCADO $19
COBIA AL PASTOR; PINEAPPLE PUREE, CILANTRO $23

BURRATA; SALSA VERDE, WEEDS $24

MUSHROOM AND SQUASH BARBACOA; CHILPACHOLE, HOJA SANTA $25


ENFRIJOLADA; RICOTTA, HOJA SANTA, CREME FRAICHE, ONION $19
EGGPLANT TAMAL; FRESH RICOTTA $14

DUCK CARNITAS; ONIONS, RADISHES, SALSA VERDE (TO SHARE) $58

OCCIDENTAL PURPLE CORN POZOLE; PORK JOWL, LETTUCE, RADISH, MEXICAN OREGANO $22

HUSK MERINGUE; CORN MOUSSE


NIXTAMALIZED CARROT, CINNAMON CAKE, CREAM CHEESE ICE CREAM $14
CHOCOLATE GANACHE, MEZCAL, BLOOD ORANGE, BEET SORBET $14
BRIOCHE, PERSIMMON, RICOTTA, FRESH PEANUT BUTTER $14
LEMON CAKE, GRAPEFRUIT, QUINCE SORBET $12

SWEET POTATO FLAN, COFFEE $12

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day Ramblings (sport, gambling, food)

Memorial Day, the prototypical American summer holiday. Most Americans are expected to be either on the road, having a backyard barbecue, or at a baseball game. For the rest of us, there's not much else going on. Only one NHL and one NBA game on tonight. The French Open just started, and while it's prone to early upsets, the first week of a major is often just going through the motions.

So let's focus on baseball, since that seems to be the "sport" with the most exposure today. The Yankees have lost 9 of their last 10, don't have Ellsbury, couldn't get it up to win last night when they were honoring Bernie Williams, and are facing the best team in baseball (by run differential). So why are they -130 favorites? The funny thing is, though, if you hop onto any of the major sports betting forums, there will be a fair share of posts suggesting that this Royals pick is too easy and that this has to be a trap game. Gamblers are a strange bunch. I'm gonna go with the Royals here, and think that the line is skewed because the Yankees fans, and their much bigger wallets, are supporting their team now that they have a day off to actually watch them. And then they'll realize the error of their ways.

I know I haven't posted any food/restaurant reviews in a while, and in fact I have a blog post from a meal back in February that really should have been put up long ago. So I'm going to go for a compromise here, and shorten my reviews so that I can at least put some posts up in the near future, and go from there. Blogging as an unpaid hobby is always tough. I've seen so many blogs, especially those of a personal nature, just stop updating. 


Monday, May 18, 2015

2014-2015 NBA Playoffs Conference Finals Preview (sport, gambling)

We didn't take the quickest road to get there, but we ended up with the top seeds in each conference playing each other. I think this is a good thing considering how often people say that the regular season is meaningless in the NBA.

Eastern Conference

Cleveland Cavaliers (2) at Atlanta Hawks (1)
As if Mozgov wasn't sitting on the bench enough, he should get very little playing time against this Hawks team filled with stretch big men who can shoot. So a lot of the burden will fall on LeBron, like it usually has throughout his career, as he will anchor almost all their small ball lineups. But we've seen this LeBron vs an all-around team matchup before. It didn't work well against the Celtics and Pistons when he was younger, and it didn't work well against the Spurs either. That means Kyrie Irving needs to really deliver for the Cavs to pull this one out. Then again, the most pivotal player in the series might be Kyle Korver. I don't think Atlanta will pull out tight, close games against the Cavs like the way they did against the Wizards, so Korver's ability to keep the Atlanta offense going throughout the game will be key.

Western Conference

Houston Rockets (2) at Golden State Warriors (1)
I was one of many who thought the Clippers would easily dispatch the Rockets, but guys stepped up and the Rockets managed a well earned comeback from a 3-1 deficit. Now they face a team that they couldn't beat even once during the regular season, and I just don't think lightning strikes twice. The Warriors should win easily.