Monday, June 28, 2010

Clearly Erroneous Call (sport, stock/trading)

There's been plenty of talk during this World Cup about FIFA's reluctance to implement some sort of instant replay. While I am a big fan of instant replay in sports, I understand FIFA's reluctance. Whether it actually is a technology issue or not, the sport has always been one of continuous flow (see my post about continuous and discrete sports) and replay might take away from that.

That doesn't mean there aren't other solutions. In trading, most US exchanges have a "clearly erroneous transaction" policy. As with most US laws and regulations, the idea is sound but the execution is flawed. With regards to soccer, one can implement it by having an extra official watch a live broadcast with multiple angles, and only stop play if there was a clearly erroneous call. Something that could be identified in real time (no need for slow-motion replay). Perhaps only to help for something that is "line-oriented" like the England non-goal the other day.

If they really, really, really don't want to use technology, that's fine too. Have 5 officials. Whether it be two extra line judges or any other configuration, it certainly can't hurt. Three officials can barely manage an NBA game, let alone a game with a field that big and that many players. Sure they do it for rugby, but isn't futbol/soccer supposed to be the world's sport that's bigger than everything else?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Amazing Solo Dinner at 15 East (food)

During a month in which I went to Eleven Madison Park and Daniel, my favorite meal (and clear front-runner for favorite meal of the year) came while dining solo at the sushi counter of 15 East. I left myself in the chef's capable hands, although I did say that I wanted to try some cooked food as well. I ate a lot, so this could take a while.

Upon arriving at the sushi bar, I was greeted with this edamame with seaweed salt. I'm not a big edamame person, and still don't get people ordering edamame at restaurants, but this was nice to start.

Also complimentary was this amuse of string bean veloute.

The chef plopped this impressive beast down in front of us (me and other patrons at the sushi bar).

TAKO YAWARAKANI It wasn't just for show as he cut off one of the tentacles to deliver us slices of slow poached octopus served with sea salt. It had a nice flavor but more importantly was amazingly tender, melty even, with soft skin and a nice gelatinous layer just under the skin.

FUKKO "ARAI" Next up was sashimi of ice-cured Japanese wild striped bass served with ponzu sauce and a light sprinkle of zest from baby yuzu. When I asked about the ice-curing, the chef explained that it was a traditional Japanese method, and had trouble actually translating it. From what I could tell, it was some sort of ice bath to keep the flesh firm. The flesh was indeed firm and had a nice fresh taste.

Chef showed us cuts of the day's tuna. He enjoyed remarking that the tuna was from Jersey, as it was caught not too far offshore of New Jersey in the Atlantic. From right to left, cuts from the inside, the backside, the belly, and the collar. He referred to the collar cuts as being from "the cheek", saying that it sounded better that way.

ASSORTED SASHIMI Starting on the left side, there is AOYAGI, an orange clam that he threw down onto a stone slab to show its freshness and tensile strength as the clam rebounded to its original shape. This is followed by SABA (mackerel), TAI (Japanese snapper), and HAMACHI (yellowtail) in the back. On the right side starting from the front is OTORO (fattiest tuna), followed by BOTAN EBI (sweet shrimp) that was freshly taken from a small bowl of water behind the chef. As we each got our plates, the whiskers on the shrimp were still moving. Finally, behind the shrimp is seared ISAKI (grunt fish). I really liked the aoyagi clam and the mackerel was one of the least fishy-tasting examples of that fish I've had. The otoro was lovely and the grunt fish was really tasty, with the searing giving it a nice smoky feel.


The tofu was to be enjoyed with each bite containing a mix of the warm broth, ginger, and scallions.

More shrimp head. Perfectly crunchy and salty.

My last cooked dish before the sushi began. Fried greenling fish with shisito peppers and mushrooms.

The fried fish came with this sauce of soy-cucumber vinaigrette and shichimi togarashi (seven spice powder). Putting together a piece of the fish with a piece of the pepper and the sauce was an explosion of flavor, brought together by the perfectly fried fish.

SHIMA AJI (striped jack) Nice firm flesh that had a bounce to the bite.

MAKOGAREI (marbled sole, served with liver sauce) The chef keeps a book on hand that is sort of an encyclopedia of fish, and looked through it to show me what this fish looked like. I liked the liver sauce, though the flavor is hard to describe.

TAI More red snapper, this one served with some scallions.

KINMEDAI (golden eye snapper) This was lightly seared on top to puff up the flesh and gave it a great taste as well as a nice contrast to the firm raw flesh. One of the best preparations of kinmedai sushi I've had.

MAGURO AKAMI (lean tuna) This is the dark red meat of the fish. Mostly (if not all) muscle. I liked this a lot and thought this was one of the best pieces of non-toro tuna I've had.

CHU-TORO (medium fatty tuna) Often my favorite toro because it's not just plain fat like otoro, this was perfectly melty.


NAMERO (horse mackerel tartare with shiso) This had ginger, scallion, miso, and shiso in it. Unfortunately, I thought the shiso flavor was too strong.

BONITO (skipjack tuna) This was from Long Island, and served as usual with a quick sear and some scallions. I asked if he gets spring bonito (katsuo) from Japan, and he said that he does, but that this year the season started and ended much earlier than usual.

BABY JAPANESE RED SNAPPER This was given a quick marinade before being served as sushi.

The middle piece here is the size of the whole snapper filet, showing that it was indeed a baby.

IWASHI (Japanese sardine)

JAPANESE WHITING This was marinated in a kombu mixture which gave it quite a strong aftertaste that isn't for everyone.

NAMADAKO (live octopus) He threw this down onto a stone slab as well, and it also bounced back to original shape and continued to writhe a bit. Served with some green tea salt, I would say that this would remind most people of squid.

TORIGAI (beakneck clam) This clam doesn't have a direct English translation, but is so called because of its shape.

The next piece was Hokkaido Uni served in a gunkan maki (rice has seaweed wrapped around it to make a vessel for the ingredient). I devoured it so quickly that I forgot to take a picture. It was so good I almost ordered another one to take the picture anyway. Great ocean flavor.

As a contrast, he offered some uni that came from Chile (he said this was his first time getting this). It had a nice clean flavor similar to an American sea urchin. However, I much prefer the Japanese uni which is stronger in flavor.

A piece from the tuna collar he showed earlier, which had been cooked/simmered. I guess some of that fat needed to be broken down. He added some salt and pepper and was getting ready to give it a quick sear.

The finished product was delicious as expected.

ANAGO (sea eel)

TAMAGO (egg custard) This is the same as the custard sushi at Yasuda, although with a different recipe since the tamago is the one item that solely belongs to each individual chef. He said that this method was the traditional Japanese way, and that the tamago omelet sushi wasn't. This was terrific as it was just lightly sweet and had an almost cake-like texture.

I couldn't really have any dessert after this, but did manage one scoop of their coconut-lime sorbet which I had tried before. The sharpness of the lime is kept in check and rounded out by the milkiness of the coconut flavor.

Even this far into this long review, I haven't finished describing the excellence. The sushi rice was superb. While I can't make a direct comparison to Yasuda's rice, I feel that it was certainly above other sushi rice I've had. The bill was also a pleasant surprise. I've had a similar meal before (though not as good) at Kanoyama but the bill was over 30% higher. My average meals at Yasuda are also in that higher price range. My guess is that the reason for this is that at 15 East they charged me a set meal price. At other top sushi places like Yasuda, they end up charging me each piece at the a la carte price. Now that I think about it, that doesn't make much sense. Almost anywhere you go, if you commit to a long set meal, your cost per dish should be cheaper than the a la carte price, right? Why do sushi places get to be different? Isn't omakase like any other set meal?

But I digress. Back to the main point. The food was terrific, amazing at times, and there was a lot of it. The price was what I considered very reasonable, and the chef was friendly and engaging. I won't make direct comparisons to places like Yasuda (larger variety) and Seki (different style), but it definitely makes the rotation and I will be back.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dinner at Daniel (food)

In celebration of our inter-club bridge win, our team went to Daniel for a nice meal. Since this was more about enjoying a nice meal with my teammates, I was not too focused on taking pictures and writing down notes about the food. Flash was not allowed.

Before I get to the food, I want to discuss my experience and my feelings about the restaurant and other comparable places. When I asked our server which menu option would lead to "maximum culinary delight", I was surprised that he recommended the 6 course tasting menu of set dishes rather than the 8 course chef's tasting which would have been based more on the whim of the chef. We went with his recommendation, and while the food was terrific and I certainly respect the technique and the execution, there was no wow factor.

I feel that this is true of a few restaurants in NYC that are considered among the elite. When I went to Eleven Madison Park and Per Se, they welcomed the thought of the meal as an event. However, I've also been to Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, and now Daniel, and I don't get that feeling at all from these places. Rather, it feels like their aim is to be sort of a "canteen to the rich". If the money doesn't matter or you just want to eat while discussing some business, those are the places to go. This leads to service that I feel is less grand, less friendly and perhaps even a little snooty (Le Bernardin).

This is definitely an NYC thing. Places like Le Cirque and the Four Seasons restaurant also served as canteens to the rich and the place for power lunches and dinners. However, that is not me, and when I pay this amount of money for a meal, I want an experience.

That's not to say the food at Daniel wasn't terrific. I put it ahead of Jean Georges and Le Bernardin as a place that I'm more likely to revisit. I respect the techniques and the execution. The service was far from perfect, but still very good. Also, one of my problems with the meal was probably my own fault. With options for every course of the meal, I always chose the item that sounded the most interesting or tasty, which unfortunately led to a meal filled with all of the heavier, heartier choices. This was at least better than Jean Georges where I felt there were no hearty, filling options on its tasting menu.

Let's get to the food, since everyone prefers looking at pictures.

TRIO OF WATERCRESS: smoked sablefish, mousseline with tomato confit, and poached shrimp salad. Nice start of flavors. My favorite was the mousseline with tomato confit. I thought that went best with the watercress flavor.

BREAD BASKET: My favorites were the garlic parmesan roll, the sourdough slice (they had sourdough rolls as well), and the baguette.

MOSAIC OF LOLA DUCK, PORCINI AND RED WINE GELEE with shallot confit and rapeseed vinaigrette. A pretty plate of duck preparations that worked well as a starter course.

Due to a misunderstanding, one of my teammates ordered a piece of sauteed duck foie gras that he did not want. Bonus for me. I loved the stuff. However, I would have preferred it if there was more stuff accompanying it.

MEYER LEMON ROYALE WITH SEA URCHIN and North Star caviar, Barron Point oyster, finger lime, tapioca vinaigrette. I was completely confused by this dish. I had no idea which went with what, and what kind of tastes and textures were intended to be brought out by this dish. I'm still not sure what the star of this dish was. The lemon? The sea urchin flavor was not very strong.

ARTICHOKE RAVIOLINI IN SAFFRON SAUCE with littleneck clams, squid, cuttlefish, and anise hyssop salad. This was my favorite dish of the night. Great flavors, great textures, and everything in balance.

GRILLED YELLOWFIN TUNA WITH VADOUVAN and Hawaiian hearts of palm, fennel confit, basil salad. This was my fault. I tried to go lighter with this dish but probably would have enjoyed the black bass option instead. The Vadouvan spices (think curry) were really nice, and the accompanying hearts of palm and salad went well with that flavor, but yellowfin tuna just doesn't do it for me.

One of my teammates supplemented the dover sole special for his meat course and graciously shared a piece with me. This was fantastic. The fish was cooked perfectly and the green sauce and fiddlehead fern went terrifically with it. My favorite single item of the night.

DUO OF BEEF: Black Angus short ribs with quinoa, spring onion confit in red wine, alongside Wagyu tenderloin with chanterelles, green asparagus, and tellicherry pepper jus. This tasted fine, but red wine braised short rib is not particularly special. I was disappointed with the vegetables accompanying this dish, since I've mentioned before that I consider the vegetables to be a huge component of a composed beef dish.

WARM GUANAJA CHOCOLATE COULANT with liquid caramel, fleur de sel, milk sorbet. The liquid caramel inside was a terrific touch because it kept the dessert from being an overload of chocolate.

Assorted petit fours. I had the macaron, but don't even remember what anything was.

Assorted chocolates and madeleines. We loved the fresh madeleines and asked for seconds which we devoured.

Everything being said, it was a terrific meal. We had a great time eating, drinking, and chatting. We got there shortly after 8:30pm and closed the place up well after midnight. However, I don't know that I would go out of my way to make a reservation and spend that kind of money. Perhaps the 8 course chef's menu would have been more enlightening, but if that were the case I don't know why the server didn't recommend it.

Two Years for Scarpetta (food)

A while back Scarpetta was celebrating its second birthday with a special 4 course menu, just as they had done for their first birthday. This is one of the best dining deals in NYC so if they do it again next year (around early-mid May) don't miss out. It's 4 courses PLUS wine pairing for $50+t/t.

The lovely bread basket with that delicious stromboli.

For the first course both my friend SM and I chose the creamy polenta with mushroom fricasee. I still haven't had polenta this creamy anywhere else and that fricasee has a terrific truffle smell that hits you very quickly.

For our second course we both had the spaghetti with tomato and basil. I can't say enough about this pasta. One of my all-time favorites. This portion is smaller than the full priced portion, but not by much.

For my main I had the black cod entree. Good fish, decently crispy skin.

My friend had the halibut and seemed to like it.

I don't remember what either of the desserts were.

The wine pairings were nice and the sommelier was quite enthusiastic about the selections.

I fully expect to be back next year as this is just a value that's too hard to pass up.