Monday, September 28, 2009

Mom left (MomVisit09)

Sent my mom off to the airport this afternoon. There are still a few more food posts coming. This whole food trip was not easy on my body, so I should be taking it easy for a little while. However, there will probably still be some good food in the future, and I might be ok with taking and posting pictures when those meals come.

Peter Luger in Brooklyn (food, MomVisit09)

A good steakhouse is a must-visit on any NYC food trip. While I really like Keens and it's more conveniently located in midtown, we went to Brooklyn for the most famous and best, Peter Luger. Having made a call two weeks in advance, the best I could get was a 9:45pm reservation. We got there at around 9:30 and the bar area was loud and packed as people waited for the tables to turn over. While Luger is famous for its brusque service, I found that the reputation is overrated and the servers are not as gruff as has been described in the past. The place is bright and simple with no tablecloths. There were many tables of just 6-8 men having some good steak, beer, and a laugh. This is not a date place.

This is, however, a place for really good meat. Pictured above is a slab of bacon, nicely charred on the outside, not too fatty, not salty. We also ordered a caesar salad to get some greens in, and it was serviceable, but nothing spectacular.

The crown jewel, the porterhouse for two. Arriving and still staying hot from their intense broiler. Some pieces came a little closer to rare than the requested medium rare, but a quick swipe across the hot plate made it all good. The filet part was truly tender while the sirloin had terrific flavor for a simply done piece of meat. The steak is really robust and cut thicker than I was used to. Sometimes I cut a normal-sized bite and got overwhelmed when I put it in my mouth, so I recommend cutting the steak into smaller bites than you would normally.

In addition to the gorgeous steak, we ordered the german fried potatoes and the creamed spinach. The potatoes were like home fries but crispier, while the spinach is the best version I've had, with full spinach flavor rather than tasting and looking like dip. I don't remember the total bill since it's cash only, but it was really reasonable at around 150 or so. Well, actually, you have to factor in the trek to Brooklyn, but it's well worth it and still one of the best places for belly-filling high quality meat and tasty sides.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

NFL Week 3 (sport, gambling)

As for last week, I actually made a total of 4 picks throughout the day, but seem to have shared the only losing one. Oops. Let's try to do better this week. I find that week 3 is usually the last week to ride the early trend. As weeks 4 and 5 come, the difference between the fast starters and slow starters comes into play, there's better scouting in the league on the current season's teams, the hits and injuries start to pile up, and the lines have been influenced too much from the public pouring onto certain trends.

So here are the streaks I think will continue this week:

Over 51.5

The line opened at 52.5, and came back in because that's a high number. However, the Bills managed to give up almost 300 yards and 3 TDs to Byron Leftwich. As Bill Simmons wrote in his NFL picks column on Friday:

Ever started peeing and completely missed the toilet, then stood there thinking, "My God, I can't believe I just did that?" That's Byron Leftwich 10 times a game.

The Bills have enough talented players that they will score as well, especially if T.O. manages to drop a couple less passes.

Over 38.5
BAL -13.5

A 2-0 ATS (against the spread) team against an 0-2 ATS team. Baltimore has already covered a 2TD spread. More importantly, Baltimore has scored 38 and 31 points in its first two games. How is the O/U line still 38.5? Baltimore isn't a bend-but-don't-break defense. It's a playmaking defense, which will often lead to good field position for its offense or possibly a defensive score.

Dinner at Sushi Seki (food, MomVisit09)

When my mom last visited three years ago, we went to Sushi of Gari. To try something along those lines, we went to Sushi Seki this past Wednesday even though we've already had sushi at Sushi Yasuda. Sushi Seki is like Sushi of Gari in that it's less about sushi and more about different combinations of sauces and (sometimes cooked) fish on sushi rice. The main problem we had here was that the rice paled in comparison to that at Yasuda. Otherwise, the flavors and textures were usually pretty good. I go to Seki by myself every now and again, and my favorites include the butter cooked whitefish, the snow crab, the spicy scallop roll, the salmon with cooked tomato, and the salmon with seaweed sauce. We also took pictures of some of our other favorites:

Chopped eel with avocado.

Tuna with tofu sauce.

Seared toro with a garlicky sauce.

Yellowtail with a jalapeno sauce.

Lightly seared tuna with an onion mixture and garlic chips.

And finally, the one piece that I really go to Seki for. I call this "the king of sushi" or the "triple decker". It contains a hot grilled kumamoto oyster on the bottom, a slice of toro above that with the garlic sauce, then a piece of somewhat chilled uni on top with the green basil sauce to finish it off. Between the different textures of oyster, melty toro, and creamy uni, the sharp temperature contrast of the hot oyster and the chilled uni, and the two different sauces on top, this single piece of sushi generates 3x2x2=12 different things going on in my mouth. This is the only piece I've had that rivals the hamachi with viet mignonette, thai basil, and shallots from O Ya in Boston. I don't know if they have a name for this piece, since I always special order it. One time I ate at a table and ordered it and the waitress drew a picture of it on her pad and asked me, "Does it look like this?" We ate a lot of food yet again, and the bill with t/t came to around $375.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pasta at Scarpetta (food, MomVisit09)

Stopped in to sit at the bar area of Scarpetta for dinner. Although we're pretty much all tomatoed-out, how often do you get to pay $24 for spaghetti with tomato and basil? Based on the dishes that I usually order, I tend to refer to Scott Conant's food here at Scarpetta as French-Italian. You'll see why below.

To start with the bread, which includes a delicious stromboli, are mascarpone, eggplant caponata, and olive oil.

Our first course was the creamy polenta with fricassee of truffled mushrooms. The aroma of the truffle comes out immediately while the polenta is ridiculously creamy and buttery. The portions here are pretty large in general, though they might not appear so at first. The picture above is of a half portion of the appetizer. I've also wondered whether you get more food here by ordering something and asking them to split it for two.

Next was the duck and foie gras ravioli with marsala reduction. This pic is also of a shared portion. You can definitely get good bites of foie gras and it is a pretty heavy dish.

This is the signature spaghetti with tomato and basil. Luscious and buttery and oily, this is consistently good and always lives up to the hype. The picture here is of a full portion, but it's actually pretty dense inside and very filling with the butter and oil.

I call it French-Italian because of the use of the foie gras and the heavier hand of butter and oil. It's Italian but feels like there's French technique in the background. Or, you can just call it rustic Italian if you prefer. Either way the food is delicious and hearty and the bar area has a really nice buzz to it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dinner at Eleven Madison Park (food, MomVisit09)

Barely eight days have passed since the Pascal Barbot at Ko dinner, and we've already had a meal that surpassed it. In fact, I think this may have been the best meal I've ever had. We ordered the 11-course gourmand tasting menu. It's tailored to be a personal taste experience, so I specifically requested to have his lobster, suckling pig rack, and suckling pig confit be courses featured in the meal. These are items that Chef Humm is known for and they did not disappoint. In fact, nothing did.

I have always loved the space with its high ceilings and large windows. We sat in an alcove in the far inside corner of the restaurant. They did a really smart thing in putting mirrors on the wall there. I didn't feel like I was staring at the wall all evening and managed to see all the action going on behind me, including the carving of the duck, which they now do table-side.

Service has always been an important feature of Danny Meyer restaurants, and the service here was just perfect. They have a huge and knowledgeable staff and all our questions were answered. Among the little things that I thought brought the service up to an even higher level included the fact that everyone was soft-spoken, and that when I walked around the establishment to stretch every now and again, the staff would make eye contact and smile.

But let's get to the food.
Gougeres. Warm and cheesy. Yum.
Assortment of hors d'oeuvre. From left, manila clam tart, jelly with foie gras, cucumber with balik (smoked salmon), fried coronet with sweetbread filling, and butter-dipped radish. I've had these before and they always come with dinner at EMP. The coronet is probably the tastiest while the clam tart had a lot of clam flavor.
The first course was served in a caviar tin. Hmmm, I wonder what's in it?

There was also this plate of deliciously warm and melty blinis that were replenished even before we finished them.

Oooh, caviar!
The first course was sterling royal caviar over panna cotta with columbian river sturgeon and lobster gelee. This was absolutely delicious and all the flavors and textures blended perfectly.

Next up were liquid spheres. Chef Humm's take on insalata caprese. The white sphere contained liquid mozzarella while the translucent one contained basil and tomato water. Both were refreshing, and when asked, we were told that the skin of the spheres was made by combining two chemical compounds the names of which I've since forgotten.

Part of our next course was a tomato cloud.

As well as tomato confit on the left and a tomato sorbet on the right. Accompanying the tomato sorbet was some fried pistachio which was an awesome flavor and texture combination. How does one come up with these things? We've eaten a lot of tomato lately, especially with the Blue Hill at Stone Barns dinner, but these were all really good and were a great showcase of the chef's skill.
Oh wait, there's more? Underneath the tomato foam were peeled whole cherry tomatoes.
Santa Barbara sea urchin cappuccino with pieces of peekytoe crab and cauliflower (our menu said cauliflower, although it tasted like apple when I ate this) inside. This was served in a porcelain bowl made out of a sea urchin shell mold. This was frothy, rich, buttery, oceany, and decadent as expected. I wished they fashioned an ear to attach to this bowl so that I could just pick it up and drink every last drop like a coffee cappuccino.

Next was foie gras mille-feuille with greenmarket plums, umeboshi, and bitter almonds. The plums worked well with the foie gras and this beautiful dish was good, but perhaps with all the crazy high end eating of late I've become a little jaded with foie gras.

I am mostly a pinot noir drinker, so even though there was no red meat, I chose one to accompany our main courses. I don't recall the name of this, but I remember that it was a 1995, and that it smelled wonderful and was really earthy. It even came in this special huge wine glass. Check out the comparison with the water glass.

Seared Atlantic halibut in a sweet corn nage with summer radishes, purslane, and dehydrated corn on top. We were both surprised at how perfectly cooked the fish was, almost like it had been steamed.

Butter poached Nova Scotia lobster with lemon verbena and flavors of ratatouille. Perfectly cooked lobster was sweet and tender while the vegetables were a great addition. However, I think I still prefer the lobster I had here last time that came with a meyer lemon puree.

Gold foil and egg shell. Had this been served earlier in the meal, I would have guessed some sort of eggs and caviar dish. Instead, this was Everglades frogs' legs with black truffles and vin jaune sabayon. I'm not a big sabayon person, but the frog legs were very sweet and full of umami.

This was an extra course that supposedly the chef is still experimenting with but really loves. Smoked suckling pig belly (BACON!!!) with slices of truffle and truffle puree. It came in a glass dome that was filled with smoke so that when they lifted the lid a waft of the smoke came rushing out. This was beautifully earthy and rich and I hope it's on the menu soon so that everyone can enjoy this dish. My reaction to every bite was "Wow."
Suckling pig rack with summer beans, tomato confit, olives and savory. A perfectly crisp piece of skin on top. The meat was full of flavor, and there was more of it than we first expected. The beans were lovely and the crunch went well with the perfectly tender meat.

Suckling pig confit with apricot and baby leeks. The top layer was again beautifully crisp skin, covering juicy and flavorful meat which matched well with the apricot. Absolutely delicious and rightfully one of his signature dishes.

Next was the cheese course, but we opted to substitute it with a fresh fruit course instead. We didn't take a picture, but there were figs, blueberries, strawberries, slices of apple, pineapple, and whatever else I've forgotten.

Our first dessert course was "strawberries and champagne". A strawberry sorbet and champagne emulsion and a sugar tuile. Nice, light, and fresh.

The menu says Jivara chocolate moelleux with vanilla, olive oil, and cocoa raspberry sorbet. I looked up moelleux and it's supposed to be a muffin/cake which this clearly isn't. It was more of a ganache. I'm not a big chocolate person but chocolate and raspberry is a good combination and the chocolate was dense without being too heavy.

Macaroons to end the meal, I forget which flavors were which, but I remember black sesame, chocolate plum, and peaches and cream. Nice, not too sweet.

They also offered us some cognac, and just left the bottle on the table for us to finish our meal as we liked.
We each got to take home a copy of the menu fit into a caviar tin and a box of mignardises fruit jellies.

In total, we were there for 5 hours! I've had many high quality meals and tastings before, but I feel that this was the best fully composed 8+ course meal I've ever had. Many places have tasting menus where it really is about tastes. You taste something, it's novel, you wouldn't want to eat a lot of it, and you move on. Or you taste something and you really want to eat more of it, but they only give you a sliver. The gourmand menu at Eleven Madison Park does not suffer from this problem. It gave me a very satisfying feeling not only of tasting the chef's genius but also of having a full warm meal in my belly. The price pre-t/t was $175pp for the gourmand menu and $34 for my special glass of wine, which is just a really good deal for this quality and amount of food.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pascal Barbot at Ko Part 2 (food, MomVisit09)

Been really busy lately but here are more pictures and the rest of the savory courses from that amazing night. The third installment will come after my mom goes back to Hong Kong and we can then get the pics from her phone. It will include all the dessert courses, some photos of the wine pairings, photos of the crew, and other random interesting stuff from chatting with the chefs. But for now, on with the rest of the savory courses.

But first, Karin Dauch, one of our fellow diners that night, was nice enough to provide me with a nice photo of the razor clams instead of the photo of empty shells that I offered earlier.

The next dish had two components. This one was mackerel marinated with miso paste and served with toasted buckwheat and a meyer lemon confit. This was delicious and the meyer lemon confit was perfect. He really has a way with citrus. Plenty of flavor, but not overpowering.

The other component was a smoked eel mash in a mitsuba and rocket puree. Rocket is another name for arugula. I love eel and this had great flavor.

Next was the chef's fall/winter signature dish. This was a mix of black truffle puree and celeriac and parmesan puree. Really fragrant and earthy, I can see how this would be a great dish on a cold winter night.

The final savory course was a roasted duck. Accompanying it was cooked eggplant with miso paste, black curry paste, coffee, licorice, and a red pepper. The duck was flavorful but the lack of crisp skin was a little disappointing. There was a lot going on with the eggplant and paste mixture, but it went so well with every bite of the duck.

I thought the majority of the dishes were at a high level in terms of creativity and the matching of flavors and textures. However, I wonder if a meal at L'Astrance would be much better, with ample preparation time and his own kitchen and ingredients.

For Part 1, click here
For Part 3, click here

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dinner at Sushi Yasuda (food, MomVisit09)

Sushi Yasuda is almost always on everyone's list of top 3 sushi restaurants in NYC. It's most famous for its spectacular rice, but its large variety of fish, reasonable prices for a top tier restaurant, and its remarkable consistency are contributing factors as well. While I'm not a regular to the point where Yasuda knows my name, I go often enough that he does recognize me. I only sit at the sushi bar at his station, and order the omakase (chef's choice). It's not only about the food, it's a whole experience watching him work and listening to him talk as he's so passionate and knowledgeable about what he does.

A lot of it is about the food though. Sushi Yasuda's pieces are relatively small, with the aim of being able to fit in one bite in most people's mouths. They have a large variety of fish, and will usually have about 5 different types each of salmon, mackerel, yellowtail, and other families. We ate in total about 33 or so pieces of sushi each, so I'll just mention a few of our favorite pieces.

Fluke fin - Yasuda's favorite

Squid face - He said it was part of the face, and it did have a cartilaginous texture at parts which seemed like perhaps the eye socket?

Orange clam - Fresh with great texture

Peace passage oyster - Yasuda only uses this type of oyster, which he says is about two pounds in size. He cuts pieces from it and says that pieces from different parts of the oyster have different tastes and textures.

Scallion sprouts - Great scallion taste and yet just shy of the overpowering spiciness that raw garlic and raw scallions have.

Otoro - I really think he always saves the real nice piece of otoro for regulars. That night's piece was truly amazing, and, as Yasuda himself put it, "looks like (well-marbled) beef!" Here's a picture:
The chef at work:

That's not to say there aren't bad things about Yasuda. When you order omakase with as many pieces as I do, it's not guaranteed that he'll remember everything and bill you correctly. I usually don't care if the number is in the ballpark, although I'm pretty sure that night I paid for a couple pieces that the diners next to us had. In all, we had about 33 or so pieces each and the total with t/t came to $430 for two.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

NFL is back (sport, gambling)

Got destroyed last week on Pats and Chargers, but still going heavy this week. I love the Titans at home -6.5 against the Texans. This is their home opener coming off that tough road loss in Pittsburgh, so they should be hungry. They also got a few extra days of rest in, although Bo Scaife looks like he's still out. While the Jets defense is really good, I think the Titans defense is at least comparable and I expect them to dominate from the start. I think the line is where it is because people don't think of the Titans as scoring much on offense. However, I feel that touchdown lines are more often covered by strong defensive teams than strong offensive teams.

So here we go.

Good luck to all.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns (food, MomVisit09)

For a guy like me who's lived in big busy cities all his life, the food at Blue Hill has always struck me as exciting. The ability to bite into a simply seasoned raw tomato and get a taste that makes you wonder about what you've been eating your whole life is eye-opening. While there is a Blue Hill restaurant in Manhattan, we decided to make the trip up to Westchester and go to the real thing. We arrived at Penn Station only to realize that the Metro North left from Grand Central. Oops. Luckily I budgeted enough time so it wasn't a big deal. A Metro North ride to Tarrytown followed by a relaxing, scenic taxi ride got us to Stone Barns with time to spare.

We didn't have much time to look around but here we are on the way to the restaurant.Inside the restaurant is a large center table where they make final preparations and cut the bread. The service was knowledgeable and friendly. The servers were enthusiastic about the available produce and how the produce got to the tables. The runners were ok. The menu options are a 3 course prix fixe, a 5 course tasting menu, and an 8 course farmer's feast. I wanted to make sure we got all the small dishes, so I asked if I needed to supplement the farmer's feast, but our server assured us that all the small plates come with the farmer's feast. I also asked that the meal focus on local animals rather than seafood. My view is that fresh flash-frozen seafood can be shipped anywhere around the world, but that animals should be eaten freshly killed. I didn't come all the way to Stone Barns to eat Maine lobster.

The procession of small plates/tastes began with a shot of chilled corn and verbena soup. Since most of the food here is about the ingredients, there won't be a lot of taste and texture matches to write about. In the end, the best description that I can give of the food is that it's exactly what you'd expect, but fresher, more flagrant, and more flavorful.

Fresh vegetables from the farm. Simply dressed or seasoned.

Tomato burgers. There's a lot of tomato throughout the meal.

Summer melon balls with black pepper.

Eggs and potatoes. I could eat a ridiculous amount of these.

Skewers of summer squash with homemade pancetta and covered with sesame seeds.
Butter, ricotta, and tomato salt. I put too much of the tomato salt on my bread and was coughing for a while. Now I can see why eating a spoonful of cinnamon is impossible.

Charcuterie. Lonza from the loin, coppa from the leg. Flavorful without being salty.
Tomato tarts on top of tomato water gazpacho. The tomato water was really refreshing. One of the great things about the way things tasted that evening was that just when you thought something would be too sweet or too sour, it would stop just shy of going too far.

Now onto the first of the eight real courses. Smoked tomato soup with a fried oyster, slice of mushroom, and american sturgeon caviar on top. Even though we've already had a lot of tomato, the smoked tomato soup was yet a different flavor.
Late summer fruits and vegetables with purslane and yogurt. This was probably the best dish in terms of mixing and matching flavors. The beans were wonderful, and the yogurt brought in all together. My favorite bite was one that contained tomato and watermelon.

Speaking of tomatoes, the server brought over a collection of their tomatoes to show us and talk about the tomato blight of 2009. While nowhere near the maximum crop they could have gotten because of the blight, they managed to get a bunch of tomatoes that were protected by being grown in greenhouses. Look at the different varieties! One of them, the jersey devil, looks like a red pepper.
Once it became dark outside, it became very dark in the dining room. You'll have to excuse the photos since flash was not allowed. I understand the dim lighting and the candles and everything, but there's romantic, and then there's squinting. I am not a fan of dining rooms that are too dimly lit. This was the egg dish. In the summer season, their 1200 hens lay about 1 egg a day. When there's less light out, they average about 3 to 4 per week. The hens are not cooped up and are wheeled around the grounds. This dish had an egg, black trumpet mushrooms, and tomato marmalade. The TLC for the hens comes out in a yolk that is especially rich.

The first of our three meat courses is a dish of chicken breast and thigh from a whole cornish cross hen roasted with sassafras, orange thyme, and dill flower. The chicken was served with lima beans and chicken mushrooms. Being from Hong Kong, I grew up eating fresh chicken. This was some of the tastiest chicken I've ever had. Perfectly moist with crisp skin. For those who say that many things taste like chicken, this does not taste like chicken.

This was berkshire pig parts with whole beans and almonds. The beans and almonds were quite nice. One of my pork pieces was a little dry. In the end, I felt that this was a dish that I could get at a lot of places in Manhattan.

The last savory course was slow cooked neck of lamb with mountain magic tomato (more tomato!) and an eggplant mash of some sort. The lamb was flavorful, and the neck was a wonderful combination of tender meat, melty fat, and occasional gelatinous texture.

Before the dessert courses, I decided to take a little walk outside to the patio. Having been in the city for so long, breathing in the fresh night air was really nice. It was also nice to look up into the sky and see lots of stars. I could have sworn I heard "baaaaa" from somewhere in the field, though it was too dark to see clearly.

It got too dark to take decent pictures of the desserts, but there were two dessert courses. The first was concord grape puree with anise gelee and fromage blanc sorbet. The second was blackberries with a wheat cake and fruit seed (I think that's what I heard) ice cream. The wheat cake was really interesting with whole grains in the cake texture. Everything was finished off with petit fours including the usual suspects of macaroons, gelee, and chocolate.

I asked our server which time of the year was the best to come, and she started going through the seasons and gushing about all of them. In the end, it depends on which season's ingredients you prefer, but there will always be a great fresh selection here. It was fun watching her being all giddy as she talked about all the wonders of the different seasons. The meal itself was about 375 with t/t including a glass of pinot noir and a coffee. I highly recommend this place to everyone if you can get a reservation, but especially to people who have never had the chance to be out and eat in the countryside.