Sunday, October 31, 2010

The New Eleven Madison Park Lunch (food)

Much has been made about the Eleven Madison Park renovations and the menu change. Being a big fan of EMP, I obviously had to go give it a try myself. I've done both lunch and dinner since the change, but this post is just about the lunch experience, for which I was dining alone.

I made a previous visit to the bar area, which now serves only a separate a la carte menu. There was nothing on the a la carte menu that jumped out at me, so I made a reservation for the main dining room instead. A recap of the food first, and then my full thoughts on the new concept at the end.

This is the new menu at EMP. It is already placed on the plate under the napkin. Diners may choose between a 3 course or 4 course menu, with one selection from each of the bottom two rows and one or two selections from the top two rows. The top row is cold appetizers, the second row is warm appetizers, then main courses and dessert.

The gougeres have not changed, and are as addictive as ever.

The first of the canapes to arrive is a baked potato tea. They take potato skins with a little flesh (too much would ruin the tea), salt them and bake them, then steep them in hot water like a tea. There is a really nice baked potato flavor, but I thought my tea was a little too salty.

Accompanying the tea were these two potato crisps with sour cream, chives, and sour cream powder. These were thin layers of potato puree, so they were brittle and very crisp without any frying. I liked the sour cream flavors with the tea, and I think a cute thing would have been if they offered some of the sour cream and sour cream powder to go with the tea, like a play on adding milk and sugar to one's tea.

Presented in an egg shell is the smoked sturgeon sabayon with chive oil. I've seen them do variations of this before, so I made sure to mix this thoroughly with my spoon so as to incorporate the chive oil at the bottom. There are tasty bits of sturgeon and a nice mix of saltiness from the smoked fish with the slight tartness of the sabayon and the warmth of the lovely chive oil.

The last of the canapes was a trio of snow. Green apple, foie gras, and salted caramel are frozen with liquid nitrogen, then pureed/pulsed to create the snow crumbles. This dish was not a success in my opinion. It could be that one of the components was just made/frozen, but overall it was too cold. There was no pillowy, melty, snow-like texture, but instead a lot of chewing. Furthermore, the green apple was too tart and overwhelmed all the other flavors. It was a chore to finish, and I noticed tables where diners in fact did not finish theirs.

The bread is still the same, picholine olive on the left, baguette on the right.

The butter at lunch now includes the delicious goat's milk butter on the right, and the cow's milk butter which was previously unsalted is now salted in-house.

My first course was uni. I was deciding between the uni and foie, but when I was told that the uni came with lobster and scallops it was a no-brainer for me. The uni is featured in two ways. Tongues and as an emulsion. Also on the dish were pieces of lobster, scallop, potato, fennel, thyme, and a lemon oil. This was absolutely delicious. A great range of textures on offer with the uni tongue, scallop, lobster, potato, and fennel (soft to crunchy). The uni emulsion had great flavor that was really brought out by the lemon oil.

My warm appetizer was the poached dover sole, served with autumn mushrooms, chanterelle puree, spinach, lettuce, and finished with a matsutaki sabayon. This dish was also absolutely delicious. The fish was perfect in my opinion, tender yet firm. The dish was very autumnal, very earthy, with all the mushrooms, but was beautifully balanced by the sabayon which added a needed tartness.

Roasted pork loin, confit belly, pork jus with guanciale, served with sweet potato, fresh and dry plums, and amaretti cookies. The pork was perfectly cooked as expected, with a tender, slightly pink loin, juicy belly confit, and a super crispy skin on top of it. I loved the two different plum flavors with the pork, but I did not think the sweet potato and cookies added much.

A predessert which they call "malted milkshake" consisted of malt ice cream, a sort of meringue-like bark also malt flavored, salted lemon gelee, milk puree, and black pepper. The flavors seemed a little heavier than what I would normally associate with a predessert, but I loved it because I grew up as a kid with all kinds of malted drinks (malt vitasoy, ovaltine, horlicks, etc.)

My dessert was nuts. As in many variations of nuts. The featured hazelnut came as a paste, crumble, meringue, and ice cream. There was chestnut bavarois, as well as pistachio ice cream, pistachio tuile, and some more pistachio bits. I don't know if it was originally meant to be so nut-centric, as I mentioned that I did not really want fruit in my dessert, but it was delicious. The real winner, though, in this dessert, was the pistachio ice cream. The best I've ever had by far.

The parting mignardises featured two of the more intriguing and tasty items I had during lunch. On the very right is an espresso filled beignet. A warm liquid espresso center that just shoots out of the delicious beignet as you bite into it. To the left of that was a chocolate truffle with ground black truffle mixed in and a chocolate ice cream center. Just great contrasts there. On the very left were two squash tuiles with pumpkin seeds which were also nice, but overshadowed by the two little balls of goodness.

As a parting gift, diners receive this nice mason jar of granola. It's a little on the sweet side, but is tasty and goes great with a lot of things.

The main idea of the menu concept is that it's a tasting menu, but instead of just sitting down to the whim of the chef, diners get some say on the direction of the meal. It was still a little awkward because my server wanted to keep some mystery, but if I was going to make a choice, I wanted to make an informed choice. Another problem with trying to make an informed choice is that while the listed "main" ingredient may be the featured ingredient, it was not always the "defining" ingredient (what separates one dish from another) for me. For example, it was the mention of lobster and scallops that swayed me towards the uni, and I certainly feel that I chose wisely.

The food was still absolutely delicious across the board. Nothing has really changed in terms of the style of their food. There was also concern about the increased prices versus the old lunch prix fixe. What I will say is that they have achieved their goal of making the lunch experience much more like the dinner experience. The value is still there because it is so similar to the dinner experience at a discounted price. There is also value because of the more expensive ingredients such as uni and dover sole that were not present in the previous prix fixe. In fact, lobster and beef often required supplements in the old lunch prix fixe. That being said, and as much as I love the more expensive ingredients, I really go to EMP for the high level of cooking. So for a guy like me, who wants to just go there for lunch and eat perfect pasta and perfect pork, the old prix fixe, even with a slightly higher price tag, would suit me much better and be a better value.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Officially no longer a daytrader (life, stock/trading)

It's official, although some close to me have known recently that this was coming. I always say that it's a great job when you're making money, but full of horrible feelings when you're not. I hadn't really been happy doing this for a while, and someone came along and planted the seed which turned into the push I needed to reach this point.

I don't know what I'll be doing in the future. As those of you who know me know, I have many varied interests. But I strongly doubt that I will jump back into this specific industry soon. Here's an interesting article written by a former coworker that explains very well why he thinks day trading is dead.

I will now take a short break, go home to Hong Kong for a quick family visit, and come back ready for the job search that awaits me. I want to thank the people who have wished me well and good luck. I do believe that this is the start of something bigger and better, and I've been amused by the number of people whose reaction has been along the lines of, "Thank goodness you've finally seen the light!"

Happy holidays to all, and don't worry, food posts are still coming.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Diet Break: The not-so-healthy (food)

Just so everyone knows that I didn't just eat Indian and vegetarian foods when I took my break, here's some of the not-so-healthy stuff.

Out by Madison Square Park, they've set up stalls for eating and shopping that they call Madison Square Mark't. They seem to do this every fall, and this year it lasts from Sept 25-Oct 23. I was in the area with a friend, and since the lines at Eataly were insane, we grabbed an assortment of food from these stalls.

Chicken biscuit from Pies N Thighs, with a freshly fried piece of chicken, biscuit, and their honey butter and hot sauce. Freshly cut and fried french fries right off the mandolin from Bar Suzette. Also from Bar Suzette, ricotta and mushroom crepe, which was a delicious mix of sweet and savory in one.

We stopped by and walked through Eataly, but it was so packed that there was no point trying to eat any food there. We walked further up Broadway and reached FoodParc, the huge new food court in the Eventi hotel. There are electronic kiosks all over the place that allow you to order and pay by credit card, and large screens everywhere listing order numbers from the various stands.

My friend had the mango smoothie from the smoothie place, and I chose to try the Katz's pastrami egg roll from the asian food stand. The egg roll was fried so crispy that there was no sense of a skin at all, and the pastrami had good flavor dipped in the mustard. Not bad.

From the burgers and shakes stand, I opted to try an egg cream, which was good and not too expensive.

There are so many big name Italian restaurants in NYC, but Via Emilia manages to continue being a crowd favorite with it's fresh pastas, solid Italian fare, and no reservations/cash-only policy. I was there for lunch and had the lasagna (Northern Italian style). The pork and beef ragu was absolutely delicious, and worked well with the soft but not mushy spinach noodles. The menus are essentially the same for lunch and dinner, with lunch options being $2 cheaper on average.

It's amazing how many new food options have opened up in the flatiron/madison square park area recently, and another one that's gotten buzz is Hill Country Chicken, the fried chicken place from the Hill Country BBQ people.

The fried chicken is sold by the piece, with a piece of breast costing $5.50! I opted to try a thigh piece, and while it was definitely tender and juicy, I didn't think there was enough flavoring in the fried skin. Then I noticed that at the condiments area there was chicken shake, so perhaps I was supposed to use it.

The chicken tenders, however, were amazing I thought. At $6.50 for 3, they were huge, moist, and tender. They have three dipping sauces (BBQ, buttermilk ranch, honey mustard), and I got one of each and enjoyed mixing and matching the tang of the BBQ, the sweetness of the mustard, and the cool of the ranch.

They also have a whole bunch of pies, ranging from these small ones for $3@ to slices of full-sized ones. I tried the banana cream pie, which was nice, but I'm not a big pie person to begin with so I didn't think it was anything special. It was a bigger portion than I originally thought, though.

Back home, I ordered delivery for the first time since I moved to this new place. Half a hainanese chicken from Penang, which has pretty good food, was perfect since I've really missed hainanese chicken.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Diet Break: Indian Food (food)

Sometimes you just have to take a break to let your body adapt, so I took one week off where I didn't go to the gym and wasn't on the diet plan. However, I managed not to go too crazy eating as I was on a budget for the most part. One of the best ways to satisfy cravings on a budget is an all you can eat buffet, and it seems like the most common ones in NYC are Indian buffets. So that is where we start.

Mehfil 76-05 37th Ave, Jackson Heights Queens

I took a half day on Columbus Day and had to choose from the many Indian buffets in my Jackson Heights neighborhood. I decided to go to Mehfil, because it had good reviews on Chowhound and also because it was the only buffet in the area that had fish as one of the buffet offerings.

First up are some samosas and some chutneys. Besides the ubiquitous mint sauce, tamarind sauce, and onion chutney, they also had a mango chutney and some pickled vegetables that I decided to try. The stuff wasn't bad, but nothing was particularly special on this starting plate.

I usually go right to all the meats on my first main plate, and here is a selection of chicken tikka masala, goat curry, fish curry, and tandoori chicken drummettes. The chicken in the masala was kinda tough, but the drummettes were perfect. Because there is a much higher skin and fat to meat ratio, the drummettes remained juicy. This is not always the case with tandoori chicken pieces put out in a buffet. The fish curry was very mild, but satisfying in its own way. It was lightly fried and had a pretty good texture. I liked it.

The naan and rice were put on the table, and not part of the buffet. I don't know how I feel about this. It's good because it leaves more room at the buffet for more main dishes, but the rice and bread can get cold and dry much more quickly.

My next plate I usually go for all the vegetarian options, and here I got some zucchini, aloo gobi (cauliflower and potato), and saag (spinach). I love saag paneer (spinach and cheese), but they only had spinach and it was still very tasty with the rice. There were many other options, such as chana masala, dal makhani, aloo matar, and mixed vegetables, but I didn't get any of those.

Usually I finish off the meal with one more plate of favorites. Here I had the spinach, fish, and tandoori chicken. I took a bigger piece of chicken to compare, and it was indeed much less juicy and tender than the drummettes.

In all, I found this buffet to be quite good and fair at its $8.95 price point. It's too bad they only offer it for lunch. I've had other buffets in the area, and I do feel the fish and chicken drummette options set them apart.

Tiffin Wallah 127 East 28th Street, Manhattan

I'd been meaning to try Tiffin Wallah for a while but only just got around to it. I don't know why since it's not far from work. They do South Indian vegetarian fare and the room is quite nice compared to some of the other Indian restaurants in the "Curry Hill" part of town.

I ate more than this but I only took one picture. In addition to this plate, there were some papadum chips and sambar, and some chutney, but nothing else in terms of variety of selections. The other thing is that none of the food is identified. They will tell you what it is if you ask, but why spoil the surprise?

My favorites were the lentil dumplings in yogurt curry sauce (the light yellow stuff on the right) and the uttapams (the small round things, or are they idli? I can't tell the difference from the wiki definitions) which are like savory-sweet pancakes. Regardless, I thought that overall everything was good. I also liked the papadum chips a lot. While North Indian papadums are thin, the South Indian variation has an airy texture that reminds me a lot of Indonesian shrimp crackers. And I love Indonesian shrimp crackers, even though I can't seem to find any in the Chinese grocery stores in NYC.

In all, this was a terrific value for a satisfying lunch in Manhattan for $6.95.

Dosa Place 35-66 73rd st, Jackson Heights Queens

Somehow still in the mood for Indian food during my week off, I looked again to chowhound for guidance and it led me to Dosa Place for more South Indian fare.

You would think that at a place called Dosa Place, I would order the dosa. Instead, I went with the vegetarian thali. On this night, there was potato and cauliflower, long beans, eggplant, dal, sambar, rasam, yogurt, pickled vegetables, with rice, papadam, a choice of roti or poori, and kheer for dessert.

I was quite impressed with the food here. Things were spiced, but not so much that the spices were all you could taste. I could definitely taste the underlying vegetable flavors. When things got too spicy, a spoonful of the yogurt was perfect. Overall there was a lot to like and I thought the $8.95 price was very reasonable.

NFL Picks Week 6 2010 (sport, gambling)

I've given up on the season gambling-wise, but I'll still post my picks in case anyone wants to fade me.



The return of Roethlisberger is irrelevant. Cleveland is banged up and starting a rookie QB against arguably the best defense in the league. Great defensive teams can cover big spreads even with mediocre offenses because they increase the number of opportunities the offense gets and create advantages in field position.



I just don't see how Seattle isn't one of the worst teams in the NFL when they play on the road. Let's not forget also that Chicago is a 4-1 team, and their loss to the Giants doesn't look as bad after New York had another strong effort against Houston.

Running total: -4.7

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Where did my football picks go? (sport, gambling)

Easy answer. There weren't any. Not just because my picks have been off, but because there literally was nothing on the board I liked. Remember, the bookmaker's edge is the vig, but the player's edge is that he doesn't have to handicap every game. I guess I was right because there were definitely some upsets that were tough to pick. A few thoughts about this week's games and the NFL season so far.

I'm still not sure whether Buffalo or Carolina is the worst team in the NFL right now. The Panthers been a little more competitive in their games, but I think Buffalo has played stronger opponents. In my fantasy league, I hoarded Marshawn Lynch for the expected trade, but Seattle was probably the worst of the possible destinations for me. I'm still quite happy with my Buffalo Regular Season Wins <5 futures bet though.

Even though the Colts are banged up, Kansas City did a good job of going on the road and being competitive. I think it goes to show that Crennel and Weis are still high level coordinators in the NFL, even if their head coaching stints didn't work out so well. I also have the Chiefs Regular Season Wins >6.5, so I'll be rooting for them.

I mentioned before to a couple of friends that I thought Carson Palmer was going to be this season's Jake Delhomme. He proved me right by pretty much singlehandedly losing the game by throwing 3 interceptions late. In my fantasy league, I actually picked up and started Tampa Bay's defense fully expecting the interceptions as the Buc's defensive players are good at jumping routes. The problem with Carson Palmer being this season's Jake Delhomme is that Jake Delhomme is still Jake Delhomme. The Browns were leading when Wallace was in, but that didn't last long. The Browns are not a bad team, and I fully expect them to continue to be frisky.

The NFC East continues to be schizophrenic. I still say the teams are talented, evidenced by wins against Houston and Green Bay, but there's just no week to week consistency from any of the four teams in that division.

It seems like every week a new team looks like they're in great shape to take the NFC West. San Francisco were clear preseason favorites, and then they got smoked by Seattle. Then St. Louis won two in a row for the first time in ages, routing Seattle at home. This week, it's Arizona, defeating a highly regarded Saints team. The Saints offense is clearly suffering from injuries, while many also predicted that the defense wouldn't be able to maintain the number of takeaways they had last year. However, I still expect them to be in it when the end of the season comes around.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

NFL Picks Week 4 2010 (sport, gambling)

More straight picks even though last week was not good.



Carolina has to be ranked among the worst three teams in the NFL right now. They lost three games (two at home) to mediocre (at best average) teams by double digits. As long as Carolina can't get their running game going, the Saints defense is definitely one that creates turnovers and will probably feast on Claussen's first road start.



At what point will the bookies stop considering preseason rankings and go with what we see on the field? The 49ers have been awful, and Atlanta is a much better home team than road team. Atlanta destroyed them in San Francisco last year and I can't imagine that this will be close unless San Francisco creates a bunch of turnovers.

Running total: -2.5

Diet Detour: ABC Kitchen (food)

My friend JC came to town on short notice with her roommate, so we went to MOMA to see the Matisse exhibit. We also stopped by ABC Kitchen, Jean Georges Vongerichten's farm/market to table restaurant on 18th street. The service was slow all around, from the bartender to us waiting half an hour for a table with a reservation, but the food was quite good.

I didn't have my camera with me, so here are some descriptions of what I had. The portions ranged from adequate to substantial, and I found the overall value to be quite good.

Chocolate chunk smoothie: almond milk base, frozen bananas, Thai coconut meat, chocolate syrup, and cocao nibs sprinkled in and blended together. The texture from the cocao nibs worked really well and the almond milk flavor definitely came through. It's not cheap at $10, but it's also a step above your neigborhood chocolate banana smoothie.

Chicken liver toast: a healthy (amount) spread of chicken liver pate on their terrific bread. I really liked the crust on the bread, which was flavorful and crunchy without being hard and tough. A larger portion than I expected for $9.

Pretzel dusted calamari: served with marinara and a mustard aioli, but the main attraction is the batter on the calamari, which was terrificly seasoned and had a clear pretzel flavor that was not overwhelming. The batter stuck to the calamari without excess clumps. I thought it was a very well done fried calamari dish.

Grilled portabello sandwich: the juicy portabello was served on a nice soft bun with arugula, parmesan, lemon mayo, and jalapenos. I couldn't really get the jalapeno flavor, but what really made the sandwich for me was the great peppery flavor from the arugula. The sandwich came with some nice fries, and ketchup which I could taste was Heinz. When I asked our server, he replied that it was Heinz, but Heinz organic.

Side of sauteed corn, shredded manchego cheese, jalapenos, and lime juice. A little bit of everything. Sweetness of the corn, creaminess of the cheese, heat from the jalapenos, acidity from the lime juice. Simple and delicious.

Like I said, I believe the value was quite good (especially for a place with the JG name attached to it), and the simple flavors were accentuated but not overdressed, which is exactly what you want from a farm/market to table restaurant.

After MOMA, we also stopped by the Momofuku Milk Bar in midtown at the Chambers Hotel. I had a chocolate chocolate cookie and a strawberry milk which was amazing. Containing 17% juice, it tasted less like strawberry flavored milk, and more like strawberry juice rounded out with a milky creamy finish. Not too sweet, just right.