Saturday, October 18, 2014

Underdog of the Week: 2014-2015 Season Week 7 (sport, gambling, NFLUnderdog14)

In this series, I will pick an underdog every week that I think will not only cover the spread, but also have a good chance at winning outright.

Didn't make an underdog pick last week, but not going to compound the problem again by picking two this week. After a long losing streak, let's try to get a winner on the board first.

Underdog of the Week:
KC @ SD
Line:
KC +4
KC +170 ML

Last season in week 7, I focused on division games as those always provide good motivation for the teams. This week, there are only three division games, and this one seems to be the most competitive. I think the Chargers' narrow win last week's was a sign that they aren't actually as dominant as some of their wins so far this season (over the Jets and Jaguars) may have suggested. Except for their opening week loss to the Titans, the Chiefs have actually played some very competitive games against good teams, and are probably being underrated by the public.

Record:
ATS 1-4
ML 1-4 -250

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Chain Restaurant All-You-Can-Eat Wars (food)

There was plenty of attention recently in the media regarding Olive Garden's pasta pass promotion, spawning black market resales and blogs like this one that I'm currently following. Last year, the chain restaurants were fighting for supremacy over 3+ course dinners, with almost every well-known restaurant chain offering some 3+ course meal for under $12.99. This year, they've all upped the ante with the all-you-can-eat wars.

It's not like Olive Garden's never-ending pasta bowl is new, while Red Lobster's unlimited shrimp has also been around for years. But there are several newcomers this year, including Applebee's AYCE cross-cut ribs, TGIF's endless appetizers, and Outback Steakhouse's steak with unlimited shrimp. The last one appealed to me the most, since I was on a low-carb kick and it seemed to be the exact same deal as Red Lobster (which I've done before) except with an added piece of steak.

I generally only eat steak on rare occasions, but when I do, it tends to be a deeply aged cut at a fancy NYC steakhouse. So I wasn't expecting much out of my 5 oz USDA Choice Sirloin. It was actually pretty decent flavor-wise, and didn't really need any additional sauce. I highly recommend cutting the steak into fairly small bites, otherwise you're going to be doing a lot of chewing.

Unlike Red Lobster's 5 different shrimp preparations, there were only 2 choices at Outback, fried or cooked in garlic herb butter. The fried version came with a choice of buffalo or cocktail sauce to dip them in, both of which were perfectly adequate. This was fine for me since I usually ended up just ordering the fried or scampi preparations when I did unlimited shrimp at Red Lobster anyway. The shrimp were tiny as expected, but seemed to be slightly larger on average than the ones I'd had at Red Lobster. My server also outperformed my expectations, making the experience much better as a whole and worth repeating. All too often when there's value in a food deal the service is compromised. That wasn't the case here.

Will we see another theme for chain restaurants to compete over next year? Or have they reached the zero lower bound in that they can't offer any deal better than AYCE? Who will emerge victorious in this race to the bottom? I haven't tried the other ones yet, but Outback currently has my vote.

Outback Steakhouse
88-01 Queens Blvd (inside a mall with Target, Best Buy, Red Lobster, etc.)
Elmhurst, Queens

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

American Classics Bang-Bang on Prince Street (food)

Josh Ozersky recently wrote an article for Esquire proclaiming the burger at Raoul's restaurant on Prince Street to be the best burger in America. I had to try it out for myself, and while I wouldn't go that far, it was a pretty great burger.

BURGER WITH FRIES ($19)
The burger arrived with a cone of fries and a dish of traditional French peppercorn sauce. The burger is only available at the bar, and the girls sitting next to us also came just for the burger. I don't know if the price has gone up since the article came out, but they continue to only make a limited number of them, regularly selling out within the first hour of the bar opening for dinner service.

The burger is greater than the sum of its parts, but the parts by themselves are pretty great too. The challah bun is robust, and the patty has a great crust and a nice sweetness to it. The mayonnaise, cheese, and watercress all add flavor, as opposed to iceberg lettuce mostly used for its crunch or processed American cheese mostly used because it melts well. I highly recommend opening up the burger and making sure that the cornichons are evenly spread. It is important to try to incorporate them into every bite as they balance out the richness of the burger and sauces, elevating the whole thing. I also found it extremely satisfying to dip the burger into the sauce and then taking a big bite, but that's just personal preference.

DUCK FAT FRIES
Do not underestimate the fries, as there are a lot of them. While I enjoyed dipping them in the peppercorn sauce, I think next time I'm going to ask for some ketchup to cut the richness.

Raoul's has been around for about 40 years, and eating an excellent version of a classic American food in a classic NYC establishment usually makes for a great night. But my friend and I decided to take it a step further, and finished our American classics bang-bang a few blocks east of Raoul's at Prince Street Pizza. What's a bang-bang, you might ask? Originating from an episode of Louis CK's show Louie, "It's where we go have a whole meal at one place, and then go right to another place and have another one. Bang-bang."

Prince Street Pizza boasts an even more impressive history, as it is on the site of the original Ray's pizza, the one that spawned a gazillion variations all across New York.


SPICY SPRING ($3.95)
What really sets the square slice here apart from the others in the city is the crust. It is surprisingly light with a good chew, whereas many square slices, even good ones, often tend to be too bready or hard. If you request it extra crispy, you'll get a wonderful array of textures in each bite. The other components are also very good, including a fra diavolo sauce that has actual flavor, with just a hint of sweetness. It wasn't as spicy as I would like, but there was good spice on the pieces of crisped up pepperoni, with each of the tiny disks carrying a little pool of oil.

Both the burger and the pizza are well deserving of all the praise they get, but there's something magical about eating two great versions of American classics all on the same street across Manhattan in one night.

Raoul’s Restaurant
180 Prince St between Thompson St & Sullivan St
Prince Street Pizza
27 Prince St between Mott St & Elizabeth St

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Underdog of the Week: 2014-2015 Season Week 5 (sport, gambling, NFLUnderdog14)

In this series, I will pick an underdog every week that I think will not only cover the spread, but also have a good chance at winning outright.

Last week I picked against the Colts and that didn't end well. Hopefully it goes better this week. After a tough week 1 loss to the Bengals, a team that in retrospect might be the best in the NFL, the Ravens have pulled off three straight wins. Even with another incredible showing, the Colts are still 2-2 with only wins against the Jaguars and the Charlie Whitehurst-led Titans. It wouldn't surprise me if this game came down to one of those Andrew Luck come from behind drives that he's so good at, but even then the Ravens should still cover.

Underdog of the Week:
BAL @ IND
Line:
BAL +3.5
BAL + ML

Record:
ATS 1-3
ML 1-3 -150

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Underdog of the Week: 2014-2015 Season Week 4 (sport, gambling, NFLUnderdog14)

In this series, I will pick an underdog every week that I think will not only cover the spread, but also have a good chance at winning outright.

Last year for week 4 I tried to fade winless teams that were favored. This year, there are no winless teams that are favored. There is, however, a 1-2 team that is favored by a touchdown, so I'll go with that. The Colts under Andrew Luck have been famous for many come from behind victories, but also for its tendency to be inconsistent. In the end, they've lost 2 of 3 games and have only beaten the Jaguars. Coming off that dominating victory, my guess is people are overrating this team.

UnderdogS of the Week:
TEN @ IND
Line:
TEN +7
TEN +285 ML

Record:
ATS 1-2
ML 1-2 -50

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Underdog of the Week: 2014-2015 Season Week 3 (sport, gambling, NFLUnderdog14)

In this series, I will pick an underdog every week that I think will not only cover the spread, but also have a good chance at winning outright.

I was away at a wedding last week so didn't have any picks up, but I'm making up for it by picking two underdogs this week. Last year during week 3, I looked at 2-0 teams that were still underdogs. The one that stands out to me this week is Houston playing at the NY Giants. The Giants have looked terrible so far, and it looks unlikely that the Giants will get their offense together against this Texans defense. In fact, I think the Giants are even worse than most people think, which leads to my second underdog pick, the Green Bay Packers. The Packers are playing a Detroit team that I think is being overrated based on beating up a very poor Giants team in week 1. People think this will be a shootout, but I'm not sure Detroit's offense can keep up.

UnderdogS of the Week:
HOU @ NYG
Line:
HOU +1
HOU +105 ML

GB @ DET
Line:
GB +1
GB +EV ML

Record:
ATS 1-0
ML 1-0 +150

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fogo de Chao: The Best Churrascaria Rodízio has Finally Come to NYC! (food)

The first time I ate at a churrascaria rodizio, the Brazilian all-you-can-eat steakhouse concept, in the U.S. was at a Fogo de Chao in Houston about ten years ago. It was extraordinary. Since then, I've gone to a couple of these types of places in NYC, but none have lived up to that experience. I found the food at Churrascaria Plataforma to be salty while I thought (now-shuttered) Porcao didn't have a large enough selection of meat.

Some people might have reservations about Fogo de Chao because it is a chain, but I've generally found many high end chain steakhouses (think Morton's, Ruth Chris, not Outback) to be quite good at what they do. At $39.50+t/t for lunch and $59.50+t/t for dinner for all-you-can-eat meat and salad bar, it's one of the best values in the city. The restaurant is located just steps from MoMA, and is beautiful and spacious, with the tri-level space able to fit about 500 customers at max capacity. Because space is needed for the gaucho chef/servers to move around, this is one of the least cramped dining experiences you'll find in the heart of midtown.


CRISPY POLENTA
GARLIC MASHED POTATOES
CARAMELIZED BANANAS
CHEESE BREAD
The meal starts with the sides/starches presented to the table. All of them are tasty, especially their signature cheese bread. The bread is incredible, full of cheesy flavor yet soft and light, all while being gluten free.

SALAD BAR
Most people tend to start with the salad bar, although I prefer to start with the meat and use the salad bar to take a break. The quality of the stuff is very good, but I think the selection is rather limited for the salad bar-only price of $24.50 for lunch and $28.50 for dinner. The most notable options in my mind were the sliced smoked salmon, large leaves of butter lettuce, and jumbo spears of asparagus.

PICAHNA
The signature cut of meat at almost any churrascaria rodizio is the picahna, also known as the rump cap or top sirloin cap. What makes this cut of meat special is, in fact, that fat cap, and the slightly melting fat is both easy to eat and added great flavor to the rest of the meat.

TOP SIRLOIN
The piece of top sirloin without the fat cap of the picahna had a nice subtle sweetness. Cooked medium rare (you can request your preferred done-ness) and sliced thin, it reminded me of roast beef.

BOTTOM SIRLOIN
The bottom sirloin arrived with a nice, crisp crust. The texture was a bit loose, perhaps because it was a big slice against the grain, so it didn't have the mouth feel of eating steak.

RIBEYE
The ribeye, on the other hand, had big beefy flavor and ate like steak. I recommend asking them to cut it thick to take advantage of that mouth feel.

GARLIC STEAK
I wasn't quite sure what cut of meat the garlic steak was, but true to its name, the garlic was the star. The strong garlic flavor packed a punch from under the fat. I recommend garlic lovers to eat a large piece of the steak in one big bite.


FILET
BACON WRAPPED FILET
When it comes to steak, many people still prefer the filet due to its tenderness despite the lack of flavor that has caused it to lose favor among chefs. The filet's tenderness is also often an excuse to eat it well done, but the chefs at Fogo de Chao cooked my piece to a beautiful medium rare. For those who want more flavor but still prefer to eat the filet cut, they offer a bacon wrapped version. The bacon adds some nice fat and flavor to the meat, and wasn't overpowering like I was worried it might be. In fact, probably the best thing about the cooking at Fogo de Chao is that they tend to season lightly.


CHICKEN
BACON WRAPPED CHICKEN
They also wrap bacon around chicken, another meat that's often disparaged for a lack of flavor. I didn't particularly care for either piece of chicken compared to all the other meat options, but I preferred the chicken that wasn't wrapped in bacon, which was cooked in white wine.

PARMESAN CRUSTED PORK
They didn't wrap bacon around pork, but instead crusted it with parmesan. I was looking forward to this, but my overall impression was "meh". There just wasn't enough flavor given the ingredients, although it was cooked well like pretty much all the meat on offer.

PORK RIB
The pork rib wasn't much better in terms of flavor. It was super tender and the meat practically fell off the bone, but it felt more like an afterthought compared to the many bbq places around the city with superior ribs.

LINGUICA
The best pork on offer came in the form of their linguica sausage, which had a robust texture (no casing snap though), nice spices and seasonings, and a tiny spicy kick.

LAMB TBONE
I first ate mini lamb tbones during the whole lamb dinner at Resto, and wondered why I hadn't encountered them more often. These were very flavorful, with a strong lamb (some might call gamey) scent hitting my nose as soon as this hit the table. It wasn't easy to get at all the meat with a fork and knife, but well worth it for someone who enjoys eating lamb.

BEEF RIB
This was probably the best meat offering out of all of them. The beef ribs don't come on sword skewers, so you may have to request them separately from your server. The server arrived carrying a large wooden plank holding a couple of beef short ribs. The server then slices the meat off the top of the rib at a slight horizontal angle, resulting in strips that look like gyro from afar. The meat is flavorful, soft, and well marbled with fat.

It's been roughly a decade, but I am so glad that Fogo de Chao has finally expanded to the Northeast (there's a new one in Boston as well). It might not be as amazing as I remember it (especially the salad bar), but it surely beats any other rodizio we've had in NYC by far. Along with the comfortable classy ambiance, I would highly recommend Fogo de Chao for large group dinners, all you can eat binges, and low carb nights out.


40 W 53rd St btw 5th and 6th aves
New York, NY 10019

Saturday, September 6, 2014

2014-2015 Season Week 1 (sport, gambling, NFLUnderdog14)

In this series, I will pick an underdog every week that I think will not only cover the spread, but also have a good chance at winning outright.

I quite enjoyed doing these posts last season, so I'm going to try to keep it up this season as well. For those who didn't read last season's underdog series, you can find those posts with the label NFLUnderdog13. Even though in general I tried to get each week's post up before the Thursday night game, I think this season I'm going to just try to get it out by Sunday morning.

Underdog of the Week:
MIN @ STL
Line:
MIN +3 with reduced juice
MIN +150 ML


I started last season off with an outright win, and looking back, this is what I wrote: "[I] found that teams that had unexpectedly outperformed record-wise during the previous season, but were still inconsistent on a game-to-game basis, were quite vulnerable. Furthermore, over the past 5 seasons, at least one new coach won outright in an upset." That describes this Vikings at Rams game to a tee. The Rams surprised a lot of folks last year with some big upset wins, but were still pretty inconsistent. The Vikings also have a new coach who's supposed to be defense-oriented and disciplined, which should help this Minnesota team tremendously. Note that I probably would have made this pick even if Bradford were starting for the Rams.

Good luck and enjoy football season everyone!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The NoMad Bar: Stunning Gastropub/Cocktail Bar Hybrid (food)

With only one dish above $20 and no reservations, the new NoMad Bar is meant to be the most accessible of the group of dining establishments operated by the Made Nice Hospitality Group, which include the 3 Michelin Star Eleven Madison Park and the 1 Michelin Star NoMad hotel restaurant.


The stunning bi-level space consists of a gorgeous back-lit bar on the ground floor and a comfortable dining room upstairs. It's pretty amazing how disparate the two are, as the volume from the mostly standing room bar doesn't seem to make much of an impact on the separate dining room. In a way, it reinforces my view that the NoMad Bar is a hybrid that is hard to classify as just a cocktail bar or just a gastropub.

The cocktail bar aspect is evident with two pages of the menu highlighting over 30 house cocktails as well as a few specialty reserve cocktails. Cocktails are currently priced at $16 each, and my favorite is the Repossession, although they probably have something for every mood and taste. And while many other places have large format meals, the NoMad bar has large format cocktails. But the NoMad bar is also a gastropub in the sense that there is also a strong focus on beer, and the food is still overseen by and rooted in the foundation of the NoMad hotel restaurant. In fact, some of the dishes come straight off the original restaurant's menu.

While people tend to associate gastropub fare with refined traditional pub food, that does not appear the case here. There is a burger, but there are no fancy versions of mac n' cheese, shepherd's pie, fish and chips, wings, or other bar favorites. Instead, I think the aim of the menu is to provide dishes that one would enjoy with either beer, wine, or cocktails, and that can be ordered a la carte and shared. While still elegant, the food is meant to be simple and comforting.

Food critics have so far been mixed on the NoMad bar, and while some dishes did in fact stand out more than others, I found my experiences to be consistently good. In fact, with multiple visits covering over two-thirds of the menu, this may be one of the most thorough reviews of the NoMad bar you'll come across. However, with Labor Day just around the corner, it wouldn't surprise me to see some of the dishes reviewed here changing with the season.

CRUDITE; RAW VEGETABLES WITH CHIVE CREAM ($13)
Available on both the bar menu and the original restaurant's menu, this is good for those who are specifically trying to eat some raw vegetables, but I wouldn't go out of my way to order it.

BROCCOLI RABE; SALAD WITH ANCHOVY AND PARMESAN ($12)
I wouldn't have thought to order this just looking at the menu, but this was absolutely delicious. The broccoli rabe didn't have an overpowering bitterness, and the classic anchovy and parmesan combo packed a nice clean umami punch.

BAY SCALLOPS; MARINATED WITH YUZU AND PISTACHIO ($14)
This was originally one of my favorite pieces from the original restaurant's fruits de mer platter (right behind the hamachi with horseradish), so it was nice being able to order just the scallops a la carte. It's simple, bright, and sweet, with a nice nuttiness and crunch from the pistachio.

EGGPLANT; BEIGNET WITH PINE NUTS AND MINTED YOGURT ($12)
These were more like small empanadas than beignets, and did not really stand out in any way. At these prices, just that alone was enough to elicit disappointment, but expecting hot fried goodness made it much, much worse.

SCOTCH OLIVES; LAMB SAUSAGE AND SHEEPS' MILK CHEESE ($11)
These have proven to be so popular that they made their way onto the NoMad hotel's main restaurant menu despite starting out on the new bar menu. I found these to be remarkable in that the salinity hit me immediately upon the first bite, but the savoriness continued without any lingering feelings of saltiness. It was hard to reconcile the overwhelming savoriness with the lack of moisture-draining mouth feel that usually accompanies salty foods. Those sensitive to salt, however, would probably still consider this dish to be too salty.

ASPARAGUS; ROASTED WITH QUINOA AND PARMESAN ($12)
I did not taste this as my friend ordered it, but I imagine that it's the same as the original NoMad restaurant's egg dish (which was delicious) minus the egg.

SWISS CHEESE; BEER MUSTARD, PICKLES, AND PRETZEL CHIPS ($15)
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this, given that it was essentially a hunk of cheese, after all. Everything went so well together, from the nutty, flavorful cheese, to the slight kick of the mustard sauce, to the excellent pickles, that I just wanted to keep eating it. The only thing missing was that there weren't enough pretzel chips, but my guess is that more would have been provided if I'd asked.

CARROT TARTARE; SUNFLOWER SEEDS AND MUSTARD ($15)
This may have been inspired by the carrot tartare at Eleven Madison Park, but the flavors were more reminiscent of a traditional tartare. The use of small strips of raw carrot gave it a nice sweetness and a texture which went well with the rye crisps.


CLAMS
BAKED; BREADCRUMBS, BACON, AND GARLIC ($16)
IN BROTH; CORN, BACON, AND TOMATO ($19)
Clams are offered on the menu in three different preparations. The baked version is tasty, simple, and rather traditional. But the dish that stood out to me was the clams in broth. Brushing aside the pieces of toast placed on top revealed a treasure trove of clams in a tasty broth that reminded me of the stunning tomato and corn broth I had in an earlier version of Eleven Madison Park's clambake dish. This delicious essence of summer in a bowl is also one of the best values on the menu.


SKEWERS
SKIRT STEAK; PARSLEY AND LIME ($17)
STRIPED BASS; A LA PLANCHA WITH FENNEL AND ORANGE ($19)
Both sets of skewers are served on more pieces of toast, and work well in sandwich form if you wanted to use your hands. The skirt steak was cooked nicely and featured a good but not particularly noteworthy chimichurri sauce. The striped bass, on the other hand, was on another level. The fish had real flavor, unlike the bland pieces of protein that merely serve as vessels for sauce often found elsewhere. Some might consider that flavor to lean a bit onto the "fishy" or "muddy" side, but I loved it. The fennel and orange also worked well with the fish, providing a great balance of texture and flavor and making for a great bite.

SHRIMP; TOAST WITH TOMATO AND BASIL ($18)
The flavors were fresh, clean, and tasty. However, there just wasn't enough shrimp to justify the price.

HOT DOG; BACON-WRAPPED WITH BLACK TRUFFLE AND CELERY ($14)
This is essentially the same hot dog as the Humm dog served at PDT, but with real truffles. It's delicious, but the value proposition here solely depends on how much you like truffles and how much truffle you happen to get. Both times I've had it the truffle smell was evident as soon as it hit the table.

DUCK; SAUSAGE WITH PICKLED RAMPS AND CHERRIES ($19)
This was probably the most composed dish that I had at the NoMad bar. The coarsely ground, meaty duck sausage might have been too salty by itself, but the balance of sweet and tart from the pickles and cherries worked well with it.


BURGER; DRY-AGED WITH CHEDDAR, RED ONIONS, AND PICKLES ($18)
A juicy, sizeable, 6-ounce burger cooked beautifully and full of aged beef flavor. I've ordered it every time I've been at the NoMad bar, and it's just as satisfying every time. Large enough to share, I consider the burger one of the best values on the menu. Also of note is that every group of people I've brought to the NoMad bar has remarked on not just how good the burger was, but also how much they liked the accompanying pickle.


CHICKEN POT PIE; BLACK TRUFFLE AND FOIE GRAS ($36)
The pot pie arrived at the table accompanied by a skewer of foie gras and a quenelle of truffle mousse/butter. The server then broke open the pot pie, mixed in the foie and truffle, and the smell was heavenly. Inside the pot pie were pieces of chicken, aromatic vegetables, potatoes, and morels. The puff pastry was buttery and flaky, and was terrific dipped into the absolutely delicious stew. It was very rich and luscious, but still evoked the comfort of a more traditional chicken pot pie. At $36, this is the most expensive item on the food menu, but still a great value in my mind when you consider the ingredients. Foie and truffle aside, morels are not cheap!


COOKIES AND CREAM; ICE CREAM WITH CHOCOLATE CRUNCH ($12)
CHEESECAKE; STRAWBERRY AND SHORTBREAD ($12)
BANANA; PUDDING WITH RUM AND BRIOCHE ($11)
CANDY BAR; LITERALLY, WITH DARK CHOCOLATE AND CARAMEL ($14)
The desserts as a whole were simple and tasty, and I liked the whimsical (and portable) idea of the candy bar. But for a few dollars more, I'd much rather have the desserts next door at the original NoMad restaurant, which I find much more complex and satisfying.

BONUS:

CANLIS SALAD; ROMAINE, BACON, MINT, OREGANO AND ROMANO CHEESE, DRESSED WITH LEMON, OLIVE OIL, AND CODDLED EGG ($12)
For two weeks a while back they offered their version of Seattle's famous Canlis salad. It was a nice salad, but I didn't quite get the hype as the only thing that really ended up standing out was the mint.

THE HUMM BURGER
You know, if you order both the burger and the hot dog from the menu, all the ingredients are there to make your own upgraded Shake Shack 10th Anniversary Humm Burger!

Overall, the new NoMad bar is a great addition and complements the group's other two restaurants. I believe they've achieved their goal of accessibility as I've brought more friends to the new NoMad bar in the past month than I had brought to EMP and the NoMad hotel restaurant combined in the last two years. While there's little room for error at these prices, I feel that as an overall food and drink experience the NoMad bar trumps many other bars/restaurants/lounges in the city at comparable prices. Obviously, I highly recommend the place, but even I haven't been back alone by myself. I think this is one of those places where the more people you have and the more drinking they do the more fun it is. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why it wasn't so well received by some of the critics.

NoMad Bar
10 W28th Street (entrance on 28th, no name, just a symbol on the door)
Manhattan, New York