Thursday, October 23, 2014

Underdog of the Week: 2014-2015 Season Week 8 (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.

Finally had a winner last week, and the first since week 1. Can't believe we're almost at the half-way point of the season. The NFL season has gone by so quickly, and the NBA is starting in less than a week!

Underdog of the Week:
SD +8.5
SD +320 ML

While I usually wait until the weekend to post my pick, there just weren't any underdogs I liked on Sunday. So I'm picking the Chargers on Thursday night even though I picked them to be upset last week and said that the previous two weeks was a sign that they aren't actually as dominant as some of their wins so far this season may have suggested. At the same time, Denver is rolling again, now that all their receivers are back.

So why do I like the Chargers here? It's not really for football reasons. First off, the spread is too big. Since Manning joined the Broncos, the Chargers have lost to the Broncos by more than 8 points just once, and that was a game when they led 24-0 at the half. Another thing I'm looking at is that the Broncos have both covered the spread and went over the total in their last 3 games. In fact, during Manning's tenure with the Broncos, Denver has done exactly that almost 40% of the time, well above the 25% as expected by random chance. But there is only one game tonight and it is in prime time. This is the first game between contenders on Thursday night football all year. Everyone will be watching this game and casual players love parlaying the favorite and the over. Do you really think Vegas would offer up such an easy layup?

ATS 2-4
ML 2-4 -80

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Delicious Day of Seafood (food)

A couple of weeks ago,I went to see the doctor for the first time this year. Given a clean bill of health, I decided to treat myself to a day of delicious seafood to celebrate.

Within walking distance from my doctor's office, my first stop was Takesushi for lunch. I've written about Takesushi before, and they continue to be great value.

UNI-DON ($17 with miso soup)
$17 is on the high side for a lunch set, even by Manhattan standards. But just look at that bowl of uni! It seemed like there was at least half a tray of uni on there! While they sometimes get Santa Barbara uni which I generally prefer, Takesushi usually gets most of its uni from Maine. Maine uni tends to not be as sweet and creamy as the Santa Barbara version, but has an added depth of umami flavor. This may have been the most uni I've ever eaten in one sitting, and it was glorious!

I happened to have an out-of-town friend visiting that same night, so I took him to Louro in the West Village. Here are some of the highlights:

Louro also has one of the best happy hour deals in the city, with beer, wine, and cocktails at $4,$6, and $8 respectively. Each drink also gets you a plate of petiscos, which are the Portuguese equivalent of tapas. When in season, they also have excellent, meaty oysters at a dollar each.

My friend absolutely loved this dish, especially the delicious dashi that it swam in. The fragrant mushrooms worked well with the subtle yet umami-rich custard and dashi. I'm not really a big chawanmushi guy, but this was excellent.

One of Louro's signature dishes, this hearty plate of pasta has been on the menu since they opened. It was as delicious as it was comforting, with occasional bursts of boar pancetta livening up the rich octopus ragu.

UNI, PORK BELLY (for comparison)
This was an absolutely special dish that currently ranks among my favorites of 2014. I suggest getting everything in one bite to experience the great interaction of textures featuring the crispy sweetbreads, creamy uni, and soft, yet not mushy, squash. The earthiness of the squash provided a great base and brought together all the flavors of this unique rendition of surf and turf. Great uni dishes are not new to Louro, as last year's uni with pork belly was also excellent in combining flavors and textures. This dish, however, featured layering, balancing, and interplay that was far superior, in my mind, to that already excellent dish.

I actually ate even more seafood as we also had Louro's signature piri piri shrimp and the kimchi fried rice featuring calamari, clams, and shrimp, which was just as delicious as it sounds. Louro is one of my favorite restaurants in the city, and one of the places I frequently recommend to people. I've never really written about it on the blog however, as they change the menu so frequently (including a new, unique themed menu EVERY WEEK) that it becomes hard to use one meal as a snapshot for a review.

What a great day! From lunch to dinner, this delicious day of seafood surpassed even my burger-pizza bang-bang in terms of indulgence!

43-46 42nd St
Sunnyside, Queens

142 W 10th St

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 +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.

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.

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.

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.

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 +3.5

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 +7
TEN +285 ML

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 +1
HOU +105 ML

GB +1

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 +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!