Thursday, December 31, 2009
Favorite restaurant: Eleven Madison Park, no contest. For lunch and dinner.
Most memorable: Pascal Barbot guesting at Ko. True European 3 Michelin Star food without having to travel. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Most eye-opening: Eating in the countryside with the best natural food flavors at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. The tastiest eggs, tomatoes, chicken, and more.
Most indulgent: The 3 week food-fest when my Mom came to visit.
Restaurant I love: Marea. Second to EMP, the pasta is terrific but the fish is really at another level.
Restaurant I wanted to love but didn't: Joel Robuchon at the Mansion. The food here is certainly first class, but it wasn't majestic enough to make it worth its price tag.
Terrific but overshadowed by the extraordinary: Picasso and SHO
Most surreal: My trip to Vegas. 10 days in Vegas is too much. I did a lot of eating.
Rediscovering New York: Pizza in Brooklyn, asian food in Flushing and Queens, burgers and hot dogs, and down 1st Avenue.
Disappointing meals: Jean Georges and Bouley.
Unexpected good meal out of town: Sushi Taro in DC, found through the power of Chowhound.
Extraordinary comfort foods: Ramen, BBQ, the extraordinary fried chicken at Momofuku, and the consistently amazing sandwiches at Num Pang that probably constituted a majority of my lunches in the fall.
Looking towards 2010, I hope to be able to afford more good food, but there are a couple specific aims. First is to try some of the other amazing pasta places in the city. Can't always just go to Marea and Scarpetta. On the list are Locande Verde and SD26. I also want to go back to Kurumazushi. The most amazing raw fish meal I ever had, also the most ridiculously expensive. It's been over 2 years since I've been, so I want to see how it is now. In the meantime, Seki and Yasuda have been consistently remarkable. Any readers want to join me? Or any suggestions for other things to try?
The robot races are amusing enough for me and with the fast pace, feed into my ADHD perfectly. I've built my BB$ bankroll from 2 to about 26 over the course of 2 days. I pretty much followed the basic strategy that JL mentioned on his blog (which he no longer updates), and after enough games, made some tweaks that I feel work really well. One of the things that I noticed was that because of the speed level of the GIBs in the races, they are very very very bad. Significantly worse than the ones that play in the matchpoint duplicates.
Some of their tendencies include almost always covering an honor with an honor (the old Zia Bols tip), switching suits against your notrump contracts even though you're wide open, rarely ducking, and rarely underleading an A or K in the middle of the hand.
So if you're interested in playing against the GIBS for bridge purposes, I would avoid these. Even if you stumble into some interesting play contracts, your aim is speed and the defense you receive will be poor. If you just want to do a lot of clicking, toss some virtual cards, and enjoy constantly playing hand after hand, then these might be for you. My full strategy really takes out a lot of what people consider to be fun at bridge, so I won't share all of it. I will say that to succeed at a high rate, you have to know when to bash slams and in general how GIB reacts to jumps in different situations.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
They now officially say that it's two and a quarter chickens. For dinner, I think that it feeds about 5 people. We were 4, and after we were done, we each took a leftover piece home. The Korean fried chicken was spicier and less sweet compared to last time. I think I liked that version last time better. However, I thought it was perfect when I ate it cold the next morning.
The veggies and sauces were the same, and I think the ginger scallion again stood out as everyone's favorite.
At one point during our meal, a big guy at the table next to us asked us about the chicken. We explained that this had to be specially reserved, and he said pretty loudly, "But it looks so good!" I think we all entertained the idea of sharing a piece for about 2 seconds before we came to our senses.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
This is a picture of the shoyu ramen, which kinda looked like a miso ramen in color. Look at those streaks of fat in that pork and that beautifully cooked egg. The set lunch comes with a bowl of rice with shrimp and mushrooms for $13.50 while the ramen itself is $9.50.
One place that I did give a second try was Ippudo, and I really just don't like it. The broth is really nice and rich, but I just can't stand the noodles. Supposedly, the noodles are intentionally thin and hard so that they form a little pocket for the broth. However, I like my noodles to have bite and after ordering the noodles two ways (regular and al dente), there's just no springiness at all. It's just hard and thin. I do understand its popularity though because it's just the noodles that I have a problem with, and that could just be personal preference. The pork buns are ok, while the kakuni is quite nice even if just a tad too sweet. Actually, I also don't like the hipster crowd and the fact that lunching solo at 2pm I needed to wait 10 minutes. So NYC.
Monday, December 28, 2009
With the end of the year approaching, EMP has been fully booked for lunch every time I've been, but walk-ins can still find comfortable seats in the bar area and enjoy the full menu. The lunch menu, which now has an array of pastas added to it, is offered as 2 or 3 savory courses for $14 per course. The dishes here are from the current winter menu, but it looks like chef's creative juices have been flowing, and I've noticed a couple of small changes the last two weeks.
Hors d'oeuvres including the celery from before and now a foie gras and apple macaron. A popular savory combination put into a pastry/dessert form. Interesting. Like his beet marshmallow.
The linguini with Alaskan king crab, black pepper and meyer lemon from the new selection of pastas. I've had this twice now and I honestly can't be bothered to try any of the other pastas as I love this one so much. The pasta is perfect for me. It is more noodle-y than pasta-y, if there is such a thing. The light meyer lemon and oil goes perfectly with the sweet crab and black pepper. I actually think this is better than the crab pasta I had at Marea just for that added element alone.
I had the cochon de lait (suckling pig) done three ways, with rack, loin, and braised belly. The rack was wonderfully cooked for a piece that thick. It had good bite, while the loin was very very tender. The belly was nice and fatty, and came with crispy skin.
First, I understand that the pictures are not of a good quality, but I'm happy to announce that I do have a Canon Powershot coming in the mail in the near future. As for the meal, it was a terrific amount of food. I've done the two course menu twice now (had the crab pasta and salmon main, again delicious but no pics) and both times have left with the perfect feeling of satiation (no need for dessert) without feeling too full either.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Hors d'oeuvres of celery sables and hamachi tartare. Lots of celery flavor, but the tartare wasn't anything particularly special.
Amuse of matsutake sabayon with chive oil and a bit of gold foil for decoration. I tend to find the sabayons at EMP too tart for my taste, but this was just perfect. Stirring together the chive oil that's at the bottom really brings it all together.
First course for both of us was the uni cappuccino with cauliflower and peekytoe crab. Unfortunately, my first bite was right into some bits of crab shell, so I let them know and they gave me a new one. I love the flavors but I think it needs to be hotter, and I think the addition of something a little refreshing like apple or celery would make it better.
Our next course was the foie gras torchon with maple syrup, apples, and spiced brioche. This was terrific. Flavorful and dense, with the refreshing apple and the sweet maple syrup. Where is the maple syrup you ask? It's inside the torchon! I didn't take a cross-section shot, but once you cut into the torchon, maple syrup oozes out. Whimsical and amusing.
At my suggestion, my friend supplemented the lobster in place of the scallop. This was the Nova Scotia Lobster navarin with chestnuts, butternut squash, and tarragon. The current menu already has a different preparation, but my friend said he enjoyed this a lot. I've had this before, and think the lobster oil on top of the navarin really brings out the fragrance and flavor.
I had the seared scallop with celery root puree and bits of celery and meyer lemon. It was good, well-cooked, but nothing spectacular.
It was my turn to supplement something as I couldn't finish the year without having chef Humm's suckling pig confit (also not on the current menu). The delicious brick of confit under the ridiculously crispy cracklin skin went perfectly with the cippolini onion and cranberry chutney.
My friend was not a fan of venison, so he switched out the venison dish with this spaetzle with braised rabbit and chanterelles. He said it was good, but he much preferred my brick of confit.
For dessert we had the chocolate peanut butter palette with caramel popcorn and popcorn ice cream. The popcorn and ice cream were amusing, but I really loved the palette. With the crunchy, not quite wafery texture, it was like the best butterfinger ever.
Macaroons to round out the meal. I don't remember all the flavors, but there was violet, peaches and cream, and peanut butter and jelly.
While it was still a terrific meal, I think I much prefer the regular prix-fixe lunch or the gourmand dinner. This in-between just didn't work as well for me.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
My friend had the banh mi maison, a three terrine sandwich with daikon, carrots, cucumber, and cilantro. It looked just as good as when I had it last time.
This bun de riz was also from the lunch set and featured rice noodles, pork ragout, saw leaf herb. This was flavorful and fragrant, but there is something about this dish that I do not like. Similar to his spicy pork sausage and rice cakes with chinese broccoli and crispy shallots served at Ssam Bar, the rice noodles were crisped on the outside. I understand that completely if they crisped the outside of something that was soft. But both the rice noodles in this dish and the rice cakes at Ssam were chewy and dense. With something that I have to keep chewing at, the crisp outside quickly turns into a tough, hard, layer that's uncomfortable to chew through. The flavors of both those dishes are great, but that texture just doesn't work for me.
We added this course, because frankly, there's not a ton of food in the midtown lunch special. Although served in the same way as last time, the terrine this time had pork, chestnuts, and bacon. The bacon flavor definitely came out and the chestnuts added an interesting texture component to the terrine.
While we're all anxious to see what the full restaurant can do, I'm very happy to have lunch here if I'm in the area. The couches are very comfortable and the food is not expensive for a hotel just south of Central Park. I wouldn't go out of my way to have lunch here, but it seems like it would be a terrific place for the big-time shoppers to chill and refresh.
Friday, December 25, 2009
I've never liked the Rockefeller xmas tree, but I found this NYSE Xmas tree to be quite pretty.
The NYSE tree is 65' tall and decorated with over 10,000 lights and balls.
Onto the restaurant. SHO (named after the chef Shaun Hergatt) is located on the second floor of the Setai Hotel. I paid the restaurant a visit with wildman not long after it opened, but didn't get around to a full review. Now, on my second visit after some time has passed, I feel the restaurant has improved, and when we spoke with the chef later in the meal, he said that he also felt that things were coming together better than before.
Service: It's pretty good and pretty well-coordinated to be sure. The servers bring everything out on huge trays to a prep table before actually bringing food to the tables. If you ask for the restroom, most likely someone will walk you there. Water was refilled at a good pace. One thing which is very much a personal preference is that all their servers and captains had accents. I don't know if they think it's exotic, but it annoys me when I have to decipher the description of my food.
Atmosphere: The space is nice and big, sleek and elegant. There is a hallway of wines between the bar and the main dining area, and the color scheme is a nice classic red, black, and mahogany. The vibe in both the food and the space is luxury, and they pull it off. In the main dining area, there is a full view of the kitchen, separated by a glass wall. I'm mixed on this. I don't need to see the kitchen, but if I do sit near the pass, I'd like to actually feel the hustle and bustle instead of being separated by glass. Here are some action shots from our table right next to the glass:
Onto the food. We start off with the hors d'oeuvres, which are decadent and quite sizeable.
Lobster cream and gelee, goat cheese with tomato confit, and poached egg with caviar. The goat cheese had a nice strong flavor while my personal favorite was the lobster cream which had a nice texture and was full of lobster flavor. The egg caught me off guard as it was cold. I don't know if that was intentional, but cold egg just didn't work for me.
The amuse was a butternut squash soup with hazelnuts. The soup was nice, while I'm neutral about the hazelnuts.
For our first courses, DW had the sweetbreads poele with black truffle risotto and aged balsamic. I've never been a fan of risotto, as the texture is just not for me, but this was tasty. I loved the sweetbread poele, which was a nice thick piece with a texture that was not too soft.
My first course was the red chili and coconut milk glazed quail with a quail egg, shiitake duxelle, and wilted tetragonia.
The buried treasure inside: the quail is stuffed with foie gras. This dish was amazing. I've always been a fan of the foie stuffed quail at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, but this just brought it to another level. The red chili and coconut milk glaze reminded me of Malaysian curry, but the flavor was just so clean. In Hergatt's own words, it makes this dish "dynamite". In fact, this is the only dish that has never left the menu since SHO opened because everyone loves it.
We ordered a la carte the current version of his Golden Egg. Served in over-the-top fashion in a huge seashell vessel, the poached egg is served with uni, uni foam, and caviar. I thought the caviar needed to have a stronger flavor up against the uni and egg. Overall it was nice, but I doubt I would repeat spending $40 a la carte for an egg dish.
In this photo you can see the egg (the white bits) a little better.
For our mains, DW had the caramelized Scottish salmon with hon shimeji, tatsoi, and thai basil froth. I was disappointed to find out that a restaurant of this caliber did not use wild salmon, but the fish had a pretty good taste anyway. The thai basil froth was in my view too strong, however.
This thing was huge! Here's the level view so you can see how tall that piece of salmon actually was.
For my main, I ordered the milk-fed veal, with veal tongue and veal jus double cream emulsion. I thought the veal and the jus had great flavor, and the square of layered, thinly sliced veal tongue was amusing. What I really loved were the vegetables though. A good variety of perfectly cooked vegetables that were the perfect accompaniment to the veal and brought it to another level for me as a composed dish.
Here's the server spooning the jus/cream over my veal. Very good, though not the best I've ever had.
After our mains, we spoke with the chef to chat and thank him for the food. The guy is big and solidly built, and spoke with a clear Australian accent.
I mentioned to our server that we were there for DW's birthday, and the kitchen sent out an extra dessert with a candle and "Happy Birthday" written in chocolate. So we ended up with a trio of desserts.
Can't seem to find my notes on the desserts, and the SHO website doesn't list them, but this is the complimentary birthday dessert. I remember a strong passionfruit flavor. I liked the crunch on the bottom of this.
This was the java cremeux, very dense, good flavor. The cardamom ice cream (I think this was the cardamom) was quite nice and gave it a nice spice.
This was the Tahitian vanilla bavarois, with slices of pears. This was a very good, delicate dessert with a nice soft texture.
Mignardises included coffee macaroon and toasted marshmallows. The marshmallows were quite yummy and not too sweet.
Also with the mignardises were these, hard chocolate shell covering liquid salted caramel. Or as DW put it, "chef's chocolate salty balls".
Overall it was a nice meal with very high highs. The food and space exude a feeling of over-the-top luxury that's nice to experience once in a while. The three course prix-fixe is a good deal at $69+t/t. They also now have a 15 course tasting menu for $220+t/t. This wasn't available my first time there, but I'm curious to see what chef Hergatt can do with 15 courses.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Happy holidays and warm full bellies to all!
The AFC playoff picture looks pretty crazy. There are six 7-7 teams right now and the two wildcard teams ahead of the pack at 8-6 are Denver and Baltimore, who have tough games at Philadelphia and at Pittsburgh respectively. I would love to see Tennessee make it, what a story that would be.
There hasn't been too much mention of the Mike Tomlin onside kick call with 4 minutes to go up by 2, most probably because it was overshadowed by Ben Roethlisberger's 500 yard game including the game winning TD. It was a brilliant, gutsy, and correct call that even Belichick might not have thought of. It had the element of surprise, and if it failed, gave them more time on the clock to come back on offense. When I wrote about the Belichick 4th down a while back, I mentioned that I thought only he and Tomlin would have the security (and coaching ability) to make that call, and here was another example of that. As my friend DGW said, "but if Zorn made that call he'd be lampooned. Possibly harpooned."
In conjunction with the NBA2H stuff, I bought NBA League Pass and have been watching a lot of basketball. It's been great as I've already been able to watch Brandon Jennings' amazing 55 point game, and yesterday watched one of the biggest comebacks I've ever seen in a basketball game. The Chicago Bulls, at home, were up by 35 points against a young Sacramento Kings team with 8:11 to go in the third quarter. The Kings then slowly chipped away at the lead, and with a 33-10 fourth quarter, actually took the lead with just under a minute to go in the game, and ended up winning by 4. Amazing does happen in the NBA sometimes.
Monday, December 21, 2009
This whole season was a great big mindfck. In my view the best season since the first. This show is probably the best on tv at creating suspense. From the twists and turns to John Lithgow's excellent performance (he's really been terrific in everything and very underrated), it had me captivated and I'm really glad I didn't have to wait a week between episodes.
Gratuitous nudity, depraved characters, over the top situations, smart and witty dialogue. What's not to like? While all that is thoroughly enjoyable, the show is really about a modern dysfunctional family with probably more raw love for each other than any family depicted on television. Then there's Eva Amurri's strip scene. Hot. She's young, cute round face, and has big tickets. Hot. Also there's Kathleen Turner's character who's just hilarious. I would strongly recommend this show, but you'll know very quickly whether you'll enjoy it or find it highly offensive.
Speaking of being offensive, even though this show is not on SHOWtime, I have to mention it. This season's Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO) was my favorite show of the year. From the plots that were even more wrong than usual to the Funkhouser joke to the brilliantly written Seinfeld reunion, I couldn't stop laughing and cringing at the same time.
As much as I love House, Mad Men, Gossip Girl, and 30 Rock, these three shows get my votes for best comedy (CYE), drama (Dexter), and guilty pleasure (Californication) on tv this year.
Monday, December 14, 2009
While that IBD article came out a little while ago, the stock caught my eye today because it finally made new highs above $15, a level at which some institutional investors start paying attention. A lot of China-based stocks have been doing very well, such as RINO, DGW, and ASIA, and I can easily see this one performing similarly and reaching $30+ in the future. As always, everyone needs to do his/her own homework when it comes to investing, but I think this stock is definitely worth a look and a follow.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
The other big sporting event of the weekend was the Hong Kong International Races (horseracing), truly the world turf championships. The sprint had one of the deepest horse racing fields ever assembled with multiple group 1 winners from a myriad of racing jurisdictions. In the end, Sacred Kingdom regained his crown as the world's best sprinter, beating three other Hong Kong horses as Hong Kong swept the superfecta. Hong Kong also showed its dominance in the Mile event, again having the first four home as Good Ba Ba won the event a historic third consecutive time. Collection also ran well for Hong Kong in the main event Cup, coming in second to probably the best mile and a quarter turf horse in training right now.
It's a great time to be a Hong Kong sports fan!
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
The Sicilian slice ($3.5) at Artichoke is my favorite slice in Manhattan, and probably in all of NYC if you factor in the hassle of going to DiFara and the price. Very similar to DiFara's square slice, you get the smell of fresh basil and flavorful sauce with a perfect crust. Blackened and crunchy, yet with no taste of carbon at all.
Next we walked down 1st ave until 7th st and went to Porchetta. Porchetta is an Italian preparation of slow-roasted pork stuffed with many herbs. We split one sandwich ($10+t), which comes on a tasty ciabatta roll with chunks of the moist roast pork and pieces of the cracklin skin. The skin is the key to sandwich, providing a terrific crunch while at the same time oozing more and more fat onto the sandwich to keep it moist. This skin is probably also something JL will be unlikely to find in HK since the Chinese tend to prefer their roast pig skin to be more puffed up.
It is very important to eat the sandwich here at the restaurant. I think the porchetta sandwich loses its magic when the skin is no longer crisp and the fat can't continue to moisten the pork as you're eating it.
A whole porchetta.
For our next stop, we continued walking down to Houston st to stop at Katz's. Here we decided to split both a pastrami and a tongue sandwich. In retrospect, I think we should have split a pastrami sandwich here and then gone next door to Russ and Daughters to split a Super Heeb sandwich. Then we really would've gotten everything.
Since JL didn't have any Dr. Brown's sodas on previous trips to Katz's, I made sure JL had to try some, especially the Cel-Ray. As usual, the comment was something along the lines of "interesting" and "weird".
The Pastrami sandwich. Still juicy, though not piled as high as it used to be.
I mentioned before that I like the tongue at Katz's, because it is very fatty. However, it was just too much after we'd already done so much eating. We knew it was good but couldn't really enjoy it.
On the way back we walked back up towards my office, and got away from 1st ave to go to Momofuku Milk Bar and grab some cookies to go. This is the cornflake, marshmallow, and chocolate chip (all in one!) cookie, and it's really heavy but so good. I'm glad we at least got some walking in while gorging on all this NYC food. Good luck in HK, JL!
Atmosphere: It's a pretty place. From the huge display of apples (with a strong apple scent) before you go in to the elegant yet comforting main dining room to the castle-like nooks and private dining room downstairs, I can see why many think of this restaurant as a romantic place.
Service: Disappointing, though I have very high standards and expectations for a restaurant that markets itself as a 3+/4 star restaurant. It was fussy without being correct was the way I felt about the service. For example, my lunch companions were running late and I asked for a menu just to see what was on it. While the server mentioned a couple changes on the menu to me, he did not subsequently mention the changes to them when they got there. Two pieces of bread were forced onto our breadplates without telling us what they were or asking what we'd like. In a dining room that was at best a quarter full, my water glass was refilled only once, even though I was drinking plenty of it.
Food: While the menu looked very exciting online, much was taken away by the time we faced the actual menu. The oyster, caviar, and scallop dish which Bruni loved in his NYT review a while back was in fact not on the 5 course tasting menu, and actually wasn't available at all that day even though it was still printed on the a la carte menu. The fish course was listed as having the option of rouget or baby skate, but the rouget was also now substituted with haddock. There were only two dessert courses although the older online menu had shown three. Since I was busy catching up with JT, I didn't really take good notes on the food.
Amuse: Tomato Coulis with whipped cauliflower, salmon roe, and balsamic was flat. I didn't feel any fresh burst of flavor that I would have expected with those ingredients.
First Course: We all chose the signature porcini flan with dungeness crab. There was a good deal of sweet crab meat, surrounded by a goopy porcini sauce and flan at the bottom. If there was truffle in this I didn't really taste it. I was hoping for actual porcini essence in the flan, like the mushroom flan I fondly remember from EVOO in Cambridge, MA. This was good, but as a signature dish it left a lot to be desired.
Second Course: We all opted for the baby skate. I don't remember all the components, but the gooseberry sauce was way too strong for the delicate skate. Not a fan.
Third Course: We each got a different main course, with the cod, duck, and striploin between the three of us. I was disappointed by the fact that there were only two pieces of breast meat for my duck entree, but when I ate all the components together it was actually very very good. My lunch companions also enjoyed their mains more than the other dishes we'd had up till then.
Fourth Course: Essentially a pre-dessert, some purple-colored sorbet with concord grape jelly and something else. It was good.
Fifth Course: Two of us got the chocolate souffles while JT got some mango-passion fruit dome thing. JT said it was a complete fail. The chocolate souffle, on the other hand, was quite rich, with a molten center (was it in fact a souffle?) and three accompanying quenelles of ice cream that were all terrific. Unfortunately, this course probably had the largest quantity of food of any of the courses.
A very disappointing meal overall in my eyes. Service-wise this was far from the class of service at places like EMP and SHO (Shaun Hergatt in FiDi, ate there a while back but never wrote the review). I felt the same way that I do about the restaurant part of Gramercy Tavern. I know there is some very solid cooking going on (I enjoyed the duck breast very much), but some of their flavor combinations just didn't work for me. I don't believe that a restaurant needs to do many things well for me to like it, but when your signature dish doesn't wow me either, it's harder for me to tolerate other shortcomings. While the $48+t/t price seemed good for a 5 course meal, it wasn't actually that great of a deal considering the portions and that essentially a predessert was one of the courses. Perhaps it's better at dinner and worth the praise then.