Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Wishing everyone a happy and successful 2012.

No NFL picks this week, but I will discuss all the playoff games and lines in more detail like I did last year. I will also offer my thoughts on the belated NBA season. All that coming up, including... a post of my favorite meal of 2011!

Dining at the bar at Eleven Madison Park (food)

I haven't eaten in the main dining room at Eleven Madison Park since it got its third Michelin Star. Reservations have been harder to come by since the prestigious announcement, and it's hard to plan an expensive dinner with people so far in advance. However, I have eaten at the bar a couple of times, and the food is still wonderful.

The bar is busy all the time, but they do a good job of finding seats for diners among the people just grabbing a drink or waiting for their table in the dining room. Both times they told me it was going to be about 15 minutes and I didn't have to wait more than that, unlike many places in NYC. It's louder and more lively than the main dining room, but still very comfortable.

There are four appetizer choices ranging from $22-28, and four entrees in the $36-38 range, not including white truffle options. These prices are about right for high end restaurants in NYC, although the portion sizes are smaller here than at some other places.

There's no selection of canapes, but there is bread service, with a delicious goat's milk butter, a creamy salted cow's milk butter, and salt.

The bread is terrific. The inside is flaky, fluffy, and buttery, while the outside has a delicate, soft crust. It's quite rich by itself, and doesn't even really need butter.

The terrine was rich and smooth, with a wonderful smell of truffle and a hint of smokiness. The flavors were concentrated and earthy, including the vegetables and potato nubbins. While foie is often served with some sweet or sour component to cut the richness, it wasn't evident here and I don't think it's necessary. That being said, the dish is a bit "busier" as a whole than I'm used to eating here.

While wine pairings are normal and EMP even does beer pairings, I decided to step up the difficulty by asking for a cocktail to go with the dish. While more flavors can be combined in a cocktail, skill is also needed to temper the higher alcohol content with the food. This one I had was called the "Repossession" (I think, I could be wrong), and while I forget the ingredients, it worked beautifully with the foie dish. It had nuances of umami and smokiness that enhanced those essences from the dish itself, while the citrus base was complementary and helped to cut the richness as mentioned above.

♫ "Reunited, and it feels so good." ♫
I used to eat this dish a lot back when they were doing their two course lunch. It is a comforting, delicious combination of sweetness from the crab with the brightness of the lemon and the sharpness of the black pepper. The texture of the tagliolini leans more toward the texture I associate with noodles rather than pasta, and appeals to me greatly.

I had this entree a while back and don't recall the exact description. Everything was cooked perfectly and the flavors settled into a warm, comforting harmony with earthy, autumnal overtones.

In fact, I hadn't been to EMP in a while and the moment I started eating this dish, the flavors started to come back like memories and I could easily say, "Yes, this is Daniel Humm's food at EMP. These are the flavors, essences, and combinations that epitomize his cooking."

The bar at EMP allows customers to enjoy some of the restaurant's characteristic dishes in a slightly livelier atmosphere and without having to make a reservation well in advance. However, considering the lack of canapes and the (expensive, but reasonable) $60 price for an appetizer and an entree, it makes me appreciate even more the value of the $125 prix fixe in the main dining room.

Friday, December 23, 2011

NFL Picks Week 16 2011 (sport, gambling)

In the NBA, where an 82-game season forces many players and teams to be on autopilot some nights, motivation can play a significant role. But in the NFL, every game is crucial in the short 16-game season. Therefore I don't buy into the theory that teams will play significantly better when they are facing must-win games for playoff positioning late in the season. To me, it is important to focus on the dominant statistical themes that have worked well throughout the season, and not get caught up in the playoff push or draft tank.


A game that features a number of previous themes:
1. The divide between the best teams and the worst teams is just too large.
2. A dominant defense will very easily help a mediocre offense cover a large spread.
3. Home-road splits matter. Baltimore is undefeated at home while Cleveland has only one win on the road.
4. This is the second meeting between these two teams this season, with Baltimore winning 24-10 at Cleveland a few weeks ago. There is no reason to believe the Ravens will win by a smaller margin now that they get to play at home.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

NFL Picks Week 15 2011 (sport, gambling)

I remember back in the 2008 MLB season, I went over 65% on over a hundred bets. A large part of the system was fairly simple. Whenever both pitchers in a game were on a roll with great numbers in their last three outings, I played the under. Many of the lines were in the 8-8.5 range, and maybe a rare 7-7.5 when two dominant aces faced off against each other.

The following season, the books adjusted accordingly, and I broke even before realizing the edge had gone. Many of the lines felt like they had shifted down about half a point. In the last couple of years especially, it's felt like more and more lines in the 6-7.5 range have been sent out when aces faced each other.

Under 38.5

Pretty much the exact same play as SF@BAL three weeks ago. To me, this bet feels much like those 2008 baseball bets. Two dominant defenses (1st and 2nd in PPG) are going against each other, with San Francisco giving up 14 ppg and Pittsburgh giving up 15.2 ppg. The 38.5 line is just like those 8-8.5 lines I used to get in 2008. I really believe that the proper line when two dominant defenses like these play each other should be in the low to mid 30s. Perhaps we all need to get in on this before the books make adjustments next year.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

NFL Picks Week 14 2011 (sport, gambling)


Even though the Jets defense hasn't been playing up to their reputation, they should have no problem handling Tyler Palko and the struggling Kansas City offense. The Jets play much better at home than on the road, and they pretty much need to win out to have a shot at the playoff. They're plenty motivated and the offense has played much better of late.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Takashi: For The Timid and Adventurous Alike (food)

A few months ago, before it was featured on Anthony Bourdain's new show "The Layover", a couple of friends and I went to Takashi in the West Village. We chose Takashi because we wanted something that was not only good, but somewhat interesting. Takashi is indeed a very interesting place. They specialize in yakiniku, the Japanese take on Korean barbecue. You grill the meats yourself on a grill built into the table. What separates Takashi from other places, however, is the quality of its beef and the variety of offal it offers on the menu.

One thing to note. They do not take reservations for groups smaller than 4 people. They also called to confirm my reservation 3 hours before my scheduled time, which I feel is a rather useless endeavor. I originally made a reservation for 4 people, but one of them ended up not being able to make it. So I gave them a courtesy call just before we headed out to let them know we would only be 3, and the person on the phone tried to cancel my reservation because we no longer had four people. After explaining to them, rather forcefully, my views on such a policy, they acquiesced and honored our reservation.

Once we got there, everything was fine. The food was very good, and definitely interesting. They offered a choice of simple seasonings or a marinated preparation for each menu choice, and we deferred to their recommendations.

A simple selection of banchan featuring cabbage, soybeans, and kimchi. These were quite good and we asked for seconds. They actually cost $2 each, which I didn't find out till the bill arrived.

NAMAGIMO (ultra-fresh liver with sesame oil and roasted rock salt)

We started with a couple of selections from the raw part of their menu. The liver definitely had a mineral tang to it, and it became more evident in the aftertaste on the way down. I imagine that some of the aftertaste was already muted by how fresh this raw liver was. The texture was similar to that of fluke sashimi.

NIKU-UNI (chuck flap topped with sea urchin and fresh wasabi)
We had been looking forward to this interesting combination, but were very disappointed. The piece of raw beef, while looking well-marbled, was devoid of flavor, and the shiso leaf pretty much dominated everything. I would think that this would have been much better if the beef was given a quick sear and if we had only eaten half or less of the shiso leaf.

This was a tasty combination of rendered fat with a noticeable but not overpowering hint of truffle oil. The crostini and greens provided a nice crunchy texture and balance to the warm and satisfying richness.

As we move onto the main grilled meat courses, please note that this dinner was a while ago, and I'm not completely sure if my description matches the photographed meat.

TAN-SAKI, TAN-SUJI, & TAN-MOTO (the tongue experience)
The tongue experience featured the front of the tongue, the back of the tongue, and the underlying connective sinew. I found most of the flavors to be similar, and felt that texture was the only real noticeable difference between the parts. As it turns out, the three of us each preferred a different part of the tongue.

Oxtails are usually slow-cooked to break them down. They sliced the pieces pretty thin, but the meat was still rather tough, and it felt like I was gnawing at the bone part of grilled galbi (Korean barbecue shortrib).

As can be seen here, there's really not much meat. I did not feel that this was the best way to enjoy oxtail.

This was one of their specials of the night, and the only cut we strongly considered ordering seconds of.

They would not let us cook this piece ourselves, and one of the servers grilled it for us at the table.

This was probably one of the best pieces of US Kobe beef I've ever had. Well marbled with flavor and slowly melting with every bite. Sliced and pulled off the grill to each of our preferred doneness.

The belly was as rich with fat and flavor as expected.

It was, however, much tougher than say, pork belly, and offered quite a good chew. Probably one of the reasons they had to score the flesh.

TSURAMI (cheek)
After having eaten so much beef at this point, it was hard to detect any subtle nuances between cuts. All I can say is that this was very beefy, and the thin slices were a welcome relief from the bigger chunks we'd been eating till that point.

SHIBIRE (sweetbreads)
These were absolutely wonderful on the grill. A nicely charred surface gave way to soft, creamy innards. The cleanness of the flavor highlighted the freshness of the ingredient.

MINO (first stomach)
Not the typical stomach one associates with tripe, the flesh charred into a somewhat hard exterior and was very, very chewy. Honestly, that's all I can remember about this cut. Lots of chewing.

Home-made Madagascar vanilla softserve ice cream with azuki beans and green tea syrup. This was good, but it felt out of place for the meal. It wasn't rich and indulgently satisfying like all the previous courses of meat, but it wasn't a light ending that counteracted all that unctuousness either.

I'm pretty sure we also ordered the fourth stomach and the between-the-rib meat as well. But I have no recollection or photographs of those cuts. Honestly, after a few courses of meat, it all begins to blur together. Which is kind of the point. Takashi is a great place where both timid and adventurous eaters can come together, fall into a blissful meat coma, and marvel at the interesting cuts of offal on offer.

NFL Picks Week 13 2011 (sport, gambling)

It's always easiest to focus on what you do well. That leads some teams to be quite one-dimensional in their game plan. A team that is one-dimensional is actually more reliable to wager on or against than a team that is extremely good or bad, but more well-rounded.

Under 37.5

Denver's offense is not necessarily one-dimensional by choice. Tebow will sometimes just miss an open receiver. Minnesota's defense, however, has been fairly strong against the run, allowing only 3.67 yards per carry. Minnesota's offense has also been fairly one-dimensional, with a strong running game averaging 4.98 yards per carry. However, Adrian Peterson is out, and Christian Ponder has not really shown much. Add to that Denver's strong defensive performance in recent weeks, and I expect there to be a lot of punts in this game. Denver's substantial improvement on defense has coincided with Elvis Dumervil's 6 sacks in the last 4 games. This is a guy who had 17 sacks two years ago before he got injured, but someone whom many may have already forgotten.


This line might even move past the big 14 number if Bradford is indeed not playing. As I had mentioned earlier in the season, the gap between the best and the worst teams is just too big. Even though the 49ers didn't get much offense going against the Ravens last week, San Francisco has the best defense in the league, and I still believe that great defenses help mediocre offenses cover big spreads.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

NFL Picks Week 12 2011 (sport, gambling)

Defense may win championships, but many bettors don't realize that defense also covers spreads. Bettors often associate large spreads with dominant offenses, but a dominant defense can often propel a mediocre offense into covering a large spread. This is done not only by shutting down the opponent's offense, but by frequently providing the offense with good field position. Given enough chances with a short field, an NFL offense, no matter how bad, will manage to score.


This is a perfect example of a large spread that scares people away because of the mediocrity of the Jets' offense. But the Jets' defense is second in the league in opponent's QB rating, and should be able to provide good opportunities for their offense. In addition, two previously mentioned themes show up here as well. Buffalo is a significantly worse team on the road while the Jets are significantly better at home. They also played each other recently, with New York winning by double digits at Buffalo. Furthermore, New York has had 10 days to prepare for this game while this will be Buffalo's third consecutive road game. It just feels like Buffalo will be overwhelmed.

Under 38.5

How is it that a matchup between two of the top three defenses by opponents' PPG yields a total in the high 30s? My guess is this is another example of how fantasy football affects people's perspectives. Names like Flacco, Boldin, Gore, and Rice are on many fantasy teams, causing people to overestimate the actual offensive capabilities of their respective teams. I think this line should objectively be in the low to mid 30s, and I expect it to be an enjoyable, hard-fought, defense-dominated game.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

NFL Picks Week 11 2011 (sport, gambling)

Even though I've only been able to make one pick per week in recent weeks, I have been on quite a streak, having picked 6 winners in a row. I mention this since I may as well jinx myself as the only pick I have this week is one that will go against the instincts of most NFL fans and bettors.


The Redskins are reeling. They've lost 5 in a row including one to Carolina. There is no sense of consistency as to who will get the bulk of the work at their main offensive positions. Their defense has been hit with injuries. Dallas has fared better of late. Their 44-point offensive outburst against Buffalo was their best performance in a long time, and there's talk that the NFC East could be theirs for the taking. So why am I going against the "hot" team playing against the "cold" team?

Two of the points I've made in earlier weeks are applicable here. First, Dallas has not done particularly well on the road. They lack the consistency to really be a heavy road favorite. The Redskins play significantly better at home. Second, this is their second game against each other this season. In the first game in Dallas, the Cowboys won on a late field goal. Now they play in Washington, and they have to lay a TD? Sure the teams are different than they were then, but I don't feel that the Cowboys played particularly badly in that game or that the Redskins played particularly well. 7 points is a lot to give on the road. Earlier in the week, and perhaps still at some books, the line was at 7.5.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Full Rundown of Masa 2011 (food)

If you've decided that you're going to go to Masa and spend the money, you might as well go for white truffle season. The basic set omakase is still $450, but there are a couple of white truffle supplements available.

It was not difficult at all to get a reservation. I called one week in advance, and when we arrived for our 8pm reservation, there was no one at the sushi bar, and two two-tops at the tables in addition to our foursome. Everything is just as beautiful and tranquil as I remember from our visit last year. The sanded wood of the tables is just as beautiful as that at the sushi bar. Service was friendly and professional.

Photos are not allowed at Masa. I thought it was about the food or disturbing the guests, so I asked to take photos of the restaurant after our meal was over and we were the last ones there. We were told that the restaurant itself is exactly what the chef does not want people taking photos of. They offered to take one photo of us behind the sushi bar, but that everything else was off limits.

The dinner began as usual with a progression of small courses. When I say "as usual", the dinner really is almost an exact replica of my meal there last year.

Eel and cucumber is a terrific combination, and the vinegary tartness of the sunomono made for a bright and refreshing first course.

Similar to my meal last year, I found the toro to be nice and rich, but nothing was really done to it. The flavor of the dish came from the terrific caviar, of which there was a huge mound on top of the toro. The texture combination of all the components was stellar.

A good combination of textures with fresh raw fugu. Fugu is one of those fish like fluke that chefs seem to love but I personally don't get. Especially as the blowfish they use is of the non-poisonous variety, taking away from what makes fugu exotic.

The fugu flesh, when cooked, has an interesting tender texture with a little bit of give. The fry job was perfect and we enjoyed this very much. We were encouraged to use our hands and really get at the flavor in the bones.

The langoustine was simply done with a splash of citrus. It arrived at a perfect, just-cooked temperature, with a wonderful aroma. Again they encouraged us to use our hands, and I really went at getting all the little pieces of meat out of all the claws and legs.

Those of us who could not eat langoustine were served a wonderfully aromatic mushroom risotto featuring three kinds of mushrooms, including matsutake and maitake mushrooms, and a little shaving of white truffle.

This cost $150 per dish compared with $120 when we went last year. We ordered two for the four of us. However, I enjoyed this dish much better this year, as I felt the beef was seasoned a bit more and had a better sear, which both brought out the flavor of the beef, and melded better with the truffle shavings.

The usual hot pot presentation featuring a deep, fragrant broth. We each received two generously-sized slices each of foie gras and kue, an extremely expensive fish also known as kelp bass. The kue had a fresh taste and wonderful texture, with the fattiness encased in the flesh. The foie gras was rich and flavorful, yet in a mild and gentle manner. A perfect example of the harmonized nature of his cuisine.

The sushi courses were served two pieces at a time on a beautiful black rectangular block that they had to carry over from the bar for every course. It was specifically designed to span the two tables of our four-top, while the other two-tops had shorter versions.

SHIMA AJI striped jack
TAI sea bream
TORO tuna
HIRAME fluke
KINMEDAI golden eye snapper
IKA squid
AMAEBI sweet shrimp
AOYAGI orange clam
SUJI grilled toro sinew
AJI horse mackerel
KURUMA EBI cooked tiger prawn
ANAGO sea water eel
UNAGI fresh water eel
UNI Santa Barbara sea urchin
WHITE TRUFFLE sushi rice rolled in white truffle shavings
NEGI TORO toro and scallions

For my friends who couldn't eat some of the pieces, replacement pieces of
MAITAKE mushroom
MATSUTAKE mushroom
AKAMI lean tuna
were served.

This list was the list provided to me by email a week after the meal. I am not exactly sure that those were indeed all the individual pieces we had, but the list seems to be on point for the most part.

Dessert was a light, sweet melon which I didn't eat any of.

At this point, our server came to us to tell us that the chef had white truffle ice cream, at a supplement of $95 each. We ordered three servings (one scoop apiece). The ice cream was tremendously flavorful, with a just-right texture in between hard and soft. This was the "wow" ending that a meal like this needs.

Overall, the sushi was fresh, and I actually thought the rice was better than on our last visit. The quality of the ingredients and flavors are not really up for debate here. The only question is one of value, which was the sole reason for the New York Times downgrade to three stars. To that end, I think it depends what you think you are paying for. The food is top notch, and full of expensive ingredients that command high premiums. But I also believe that people, especially in New York, pay to have such a meal in this private, serene setting. If you need this privacy in addition to enjoying a top quality meal, then it is worth it by all means. For me, I don't feel that I need all these expensive ingredients crammed into just one meal, and would prefer some more new dishes in the menu at these prices.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When Whimsical Presentations Go Too Far (food)

I'm all for whimsical food presentations, such as WD50's Everything Bagel. But I think the following dish went a little too far. Shared by my friend AF on Facebook, this dish was served from the kitchen of "Demon Chef" Alvin Leung in Hong Kong. Chef Leung was featured in Anthony Bourdain's Hong Kong episode of No Reservations.

The name of this masterpiece of a dish is "After Sex on the Beach". Pretty self-explanatory.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

NFL Picks Week 10 2011 (sport, gambling)

I mentioned last week that as the weather gets colder, hard hitting defenses are more likely to prevail. Another advantage that I feel gets amplified as the weather gets colder is home field advantage. It gets harder to travel and it gets harder to fight through the noise and get up from the hits.

On a completely random note, I continue to see those Buffalo Wild Wings commercials where they send the game into overtime. I'm surprised I haven't seen a spoof where everyone at the bar and BWLD (stock ticker) management get arrested in some sort of huge gambling ring.

Under 41

Combine Baltimore's hard hitting defense with Seattle's deafening home field advantage, and I predict a lot of punts. Then again, there could also be a lot of turnovers, but I think that this will be a tight, low scoring game.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

NFL Picks Week 9 2011 (sport, gambling)

As the weather gets colder, defense becomes even more important. Not just any defense, but real hard hitting defenses. As some offenses start to play more conservatively, defenses will be worn down even more. Defenses that succeeded early in the season by gambling on interceptions will probably regress as the end of the season approaches.

Under 37.5

These two teams have conservative, mediocre at best offenses. They also happen to have two of the best defenses this season. Normally two defenses that hold opponents to such low averages (15.3 OPPG for SF, 19.9 OPPG for WAS) would end up with a line below 35. However, because they are not big name teams, people don't associate them with dominant defenses like Pittsburgh and Baltimore. And that is where the value lies.

A Tale of Two White Truffle Dinners (food)

It was the best of times, it was... that's about it. Really hard to go wrong with two different white truffle tasting dinners that each cost less than the average white truffle shavings supplement at most good restaurants in Manhattan.

The first dinner was Trufflepalooza at Locanda Verde. A one night only event featuring a three course white truffle menu for $49.99. It was my first time at Andrew Carmellini's popular TriBeCa Italian eatery.

The service:
When I first called to make a reservation, I inquired about whether we would be able to order off the regular menu. I was skeptical whether a three course dinner light on meat protein would be sufficient, and was surprised when the answer I got back was "no". When we actually got to the restaurant, we found out we could actually order off the regular menu. Unfortunately, they were still not particularly flexible when it came to ordering. We had 3 people, and two of the regular menu items we wanted had two portions to an order. They refused to make a third portion of either even though we offered to pay for the extra. In the end we just ordered one of each and found our own way to share.

Also after getting to the restaurant, we had to wait about 20 minutes for our 10:30pm reservation. One other misstep was that by the time we had finished our late dinner, they had thrown out all the hard copies of the truffle menu. As for the rest of the service, it was fine. Water was replenished, but it was not always easy to get our server's attention. I thought the runners did a very good job though.

The ambiance:
It was dark and loud, with a busy, trendy vibe. Perfect for that neighborhood. Not perfect for me when I'm there for a special dinner after having not eaten anything for 10 hours. It was noisier than what I would normally consider a good buzz for a restaurant. I was beginning to worry about whether the food would really be excellent, or more like "pretty good for the scene", like at John Dory.

Truffled focaccia. Warm and full of truffle flavor. The aroma was delightful. We had seconds.

BLUE CRAB CROSTINI WITH JALAPENO AND TOMATO The first of our regular menu items, and one of their signatures. Notice how it was cut in two but they wouldn't cut it into thirds? This was bursting with fresh crab flavor and the jalapeno added a very nice kick. A lovely starter of harmonized concentrated flavors.

LAMB MEATBALL SLIDERS WITH CAPRINO AND CUCUMBER The second of our regular menu items, this had wonderful concentrated lamb flavor. It may be too much for some, as it borders on gaminess and funk. The goat cheese enhanced it with another powerful flavor while the cucumber provided a nice, relaxing contrast. Another lovely starter of harmonized deep flavors.

FEATHER RIDGE FARM EGG WITH POLENTA AND PORCINI RAGU I'm able to provide full descriptions of our truffle menu because my friend TF was smart enough to photograph the menu. Silly me, relying on the restaurant. Notice the generous amount of white truffle shavings for this first course.

Of course, the breaking of the egg. To me, any egg dish needs to both showcase the richness of the yolk and focus on a strong texture profile. That was definitely accomplished here with the slight crunch of the frisee, the creaminess of the polenta, the ragu, and the well-cooked egg providing a wonderful array of textures.

CARNE CRUDA PIEDMONTESE WITH HAZELNUTS, CELERY, AND FETT'UNTA The other choice for the first course was a tartare. I did not find it particularly appealing as I'm more a fan of the traditional French version. I also did not feel that the truffle enhanced it in any way. I did not try any of the fett'unta (garlic bread).

MY GRANDMOTHER'S RAVIOLI Another signature dish we ordered off the regular menu. Unfortunately, they brought this out to us at the same time as all of our second courses. Since nothing was served particularly hot, something was bound to get cold. The thin skin on the ravioli was nice, but the filling of a beef, pork, and veal mixture did not stand out to me. I also found the sauce slightly too acidic.

PAPPARDELLE VERDE WITH WHITE BOLOGNESE It was originally supposed to be duck agnolotti with artichokes sugo and parmigiano reggiano, but they ran out. This can be ordered off the regular menu (without truffles), and it definitely was enhanced by the truffles. The pasta was excellent and I enjoyed the hearty bolognese sauce. It might have affected my view of the grandmother ravioli.

FONDUTA RAVIOLI WITH CHESTNUTS AND LEEKS The other option for the second course was absolutely wonderful. A traditional preparation of pasta and truffle cheese sauce was enhanced in both flavor and texture by earthy chestnuts and leeks. Home run.

TRUFFLE-HONEY CAKE WITH WHIPPED RICOTTA AND CHAMOMILE GRANITA A sizeable dessert to finish off the meal. I liked the subtle flavor of the cake quite a lot. The combination of cake, ricotta, and chamomile granita went together very well, offering a delightful contrast of temperatures and textures.

WHITE TRUFFLE RISOTTO DOLCE WITH PEAR SORBETTO I did not really try the other dessert option as I'm not really a big fan of risotto or rice pudding.

The second dinner was at Sapori D'Ishcia in Woodside, Queens. They hold their 2011 Truffle Festival from late October until they run out, offering a different four-course white truffle tasting dinner for $60 every Tuesday night. I read somewhere that the owner's father is actually from Piedmont and gets their truffles himself. It was also my first time at this restaurant.

The service:
Pleasant, efficient, and unobtrusive. Although it wouldn't surprise me if this may depend specifically on your server. Note that they only have bottled water, and at the end of the meal, they offered a 10% discount if we paid in cash.

The ambiance:
A pleasant surprise considering it is kind of in the middle of nowhere in a quiet warehouse area in Woodside. It had the feel of a cozy old-school Italian eatery. It was dark, but the restaurant had a nice buzz. At the back wall of the restaurant, they have shelves and a freezer section with retail food items as they are still very much a food market storefront, although I assume that has taken a backseat to the restaurant in recent years.

Bread and olive oil. Plain and simple.

RICOTTINA DI BUFALA, SPEK ALTO ADIGE D.O.P., SMOKED PROSCIUTTO, PEASANT BREAD The first thing that hit me when the dish came was the smell of truffle oil. There were real white truffle shavings, which I felt had a slightly different aroma than the most powerful smell of the dish. Regardless, it was a wonderful dish. The smokiness of the prosciutto paired with the creamy cheese, enhanced by the aroma of truffles. The inclusion of greens and bread helped to round out the spectrum of textures in each bite.

HOMEMADE PORCINI SCENTED FETTUCINE, WHITE TRUFFLE CREAM SAUCE The pasta was absolutely delicious. Perfect texture. Wonderful cream sauce that brought out the truffle aroma and the accent of porcini.

PAN SEARED VEAL MEDALLIONS, RUSTIC POTATO TORTINA, BARBARESCO RED WINE REDUCTION Beautifully cooked, sizeable portions of veal were enhanced by the presence of white truffles. The potato and vegetables were a nice touch to a well composed main course.

VALROHNA COCAO DUSTED CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE, MASCARPONE WHITE CHOCOLATE CHIP GELATO, DRIZZLED WITH WHITE TRUFFLE HONEY I enjoyed the gelato a lot, with that subtle sweet hint of truffle honey. I just wished there was more of it.

The comparison:
Like I wrote at the beginning, you really can't go wrong with either one. The truffle shavings at Locanda Verde were more generous, but it was a more complete meal with bigger portions at Sapori D'Ischia. Also, their truffles have to last for a while longer. Which is another bonus for them in that theirs is still going on, while Trufflepalooza was a one night event.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

ESPN Films: Charismatic (entertainment, horseracing, tv)

I've been a fan of almost all of the documentaries in ESPN Films' 30 for 30 series. While the 30th anniversary has passed, ESPN continues to release documentaries that had originally been planned, and they continue to be of extremely high quality.

"Charismatic" is the story of both the horse and its jockey, Chris Antley. Chris Antley was an extremely talented jockey who had battled substance abuse throughout his career. The kind of talent that is now completely gone from American horse racing in my view. I especially remember Chris Antley, as his first Kentucky Derby win aboard Strike The Gold was the first Derby winner I ever picked. Charismatic was an underachieving horse that became one of the biggest upset winners of the Kentucky Derby, and had a chance at the Triple Crown before breaking down in the final furlong of the Belmont.

Like most of the 30 for 30 documentaries, the subject matter transcends sports and is a human interest story that delves into real human drama. It was directed by Steven Michaels, son of legendary sportscaster Al Michaels. I highly recommend it, and you can watch it on Youtube here:

While we're at it, here's my favorite race call ever, featuring an exciting finish between two legends in turf racing and a roaring crowd:

Saturday, October 29, 2011

NFL Picks Week 8 2011 (sport, gambling)

As the season moves along, we learn more and more about the teams and get more data to work with. Perhaps the most relevant data for direct comparison is the first matchup of two division rivals for when they play again. This week offers the first divisional rematch on the schedule.


The first time these two teams played, Kansas City had just come off two embarrassing blowouts to teams that we didn't know at the time were as good as they turned out to be (Detroit and Buffalo). Still, Kansas City managed to keep it close at the end on the road. That game was the first sign that the Chiefs weren't that bad and that the Chargers weren't as good as many had predicted. Now that they're playing at Arrowhead where the Chiefs have a solid home field advantage, I don't see how they would be blown out.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

NFL Picks Week 7 2011 (sport, gambling)

We're far enough into the season that teams have established themselves as being different from preseason expectations. For example, teams like Buffalo, San Francisco, and Detroit are legit, and their success has not been from just one lucky win after another. With that, we can do a better job of handicapping teams as we have a better understanding of the strength of their opponents so far this season.


This line has been anywhere from NYJ+1 to NYJ-1. This is a perfect example of looking at the teams each of them has played. While the Chargers are 4-1, their four wins have been against four teams who have combined for four wins so far this season. The Jets, on the other hand, have had a tough schedule, and have shown to be able to take care of business at home. The Jets may be on a short week, but the Chargers also have to deal with an East coast 1pm start.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Curry-less Delights at Junoon (food)

When most people think of Indian food, they think of curries. But Indian food has much more to offer than just that. At Junoon, the one-Michelin-starred modern Indian restaurant, they do a fantastic job of demonstrating just that. We had the five elements tasting menu, which was very reasonably priced at $85 and featured five different Indian cooking techniques (one of which is curry).

I want to note that we used Savored, which gave us 30% off the final bill pre-tax. That turned a good deal into a great deal. I highly recommend Savored to everyone and they continue to constantly add more good restaurants. If you do decide to sign up, please use my referral link:

Junoon is very ambitious in all aspects. The dining room is huge and opulent with high ceilings, carved teak, and a reflecting pool. It was impressive, and I am tired of the many food critics in New York (most notably and recently Sifton) who complain about opulent decor. There were plenty of servers on hand, although they were slow to refill water for the only spicy course of the night.

CINNAMON LASSI This was an absolutely fabulous drink. A slightly sweet, slightly tart, not-too-thin and not-too-thick yogurt with a perfume of cinnamon in every sip. I began to swirl the glass and smell it as if it was actually wine. However, something has to pay for all that opulent decor, and this came at an exorbitant price. This barely half-filled wine glass of yogurt and cinnamon cost $8.

AMUSE: SEMOLINA CAKE There wasn't much flavor in this, but I guess it's meant to be a bridge to the stronger flavors in the rest of the meal.

AJWAINI MUSHROOM - STONE COOKING - CHANTERELLE, TRUMPET ROYALE, AND SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS SCENTED WITH AJWAIN AND BLACK PEPPER ON CARAMELIZED ONIONS The mushrooms had good flavor and a nice cooked texture. For me however, the onions tasted like the onions you get on a hot dog, and tainted the dish for me as a whole.

BLACK BASS RECHEADO - CAST IRON COOKING - BLACK SEA BASS SEASONED WITH A CLOVE-CHILI PASTE SERVED WITH SAUTEED VEGETABLES The first thing I noticed was the pretty substantial portion of fish for a second course. While the skin was not crispy, it was cooked pretty well overall. The marinade and seasoning had completely penetrated the fish, giving it great flavor without any real need for curry or sauce.

VENISON BOTI KEBAB - OPEN FIRE PIT - CUBES OF VENISON MARINATED WITH YOGURT, LIME JUICE, GROUND FENNEL AND MUSTARD OIL It's hard to retain moisture with a kebab, especially the ones with a spit through them charring over an open flame. This one does a pretty good job considering, but if you're someone who must have their meat on the rare side, it might not work.

Accompanying our third course were naan, dal, and raita. Pretty good, but nothing amazing.

LOBSTER TANDOORI AND DAHI WALE LAMB CHOP - TANDOOR CLAY OVEN - LOBSTER TAIL IN A TANDOORI SPICE BLEND, LOCAL LAMB CHOP MARINATED IN YOGURT, CASHEW NUT, WHITE PEPPER, AND GREEN CARDAMOM While both meats in the surf and turf had a tasty char on the surface, they suffered from the same problem as the kebab. Due to the style of cooking, you are going to be left with lamb and lobster more cooked than in modern Western cuisine. I personally don't mind it because the Chinese have always overcooked lobster, but there are many who will not like the texture. For what it's worth, I thought they did a marvelous job in keeping the flesh as tender as possible given this method of cooking, and the marinades really penetrated the meat.

DUCK TELLICHERRY PEPPER - CURRY - CRISP DUCK BREAST SLICES ATOP RED RICE WITH A SAUCE OF TELLICHERRY PEPPERCORNS, CURRY LEAVES, TAMARIND PULP, AND COCONUT MILK So it wasn't completely curry-less, but this was curry in the sense that it was a sauce. The protein itself wasn't cooked in the curry, and this allowed the skin to remain crisp and the duck to be cooked to a medium rare. This was also the only dish of the night that had a spicy kick. It was not clear to me that this curry particularly enhanced the duck.

TRIO OF KULFI - FIG, GREEN APPLE, CARDAMOM Neither of us liked the dessert on the tasting menu, so we asked to replace it. They allowed us our choice from the dessert menu. The fig kulfi was quite nice, but the green apple was too tart. The cardamom was pretty good. The problem I really had with this dessert was one of texture. Kulfi, by nature, should be denser and creamier. However, in doing these fruit flavors, that richness disappeared and the texture was a mediocre limbo between ice cream and sorbet.

SPICED CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH CHOCOLATE CRUNCH, COCOA NIBS, AND CHAI ICE CREAM All the components of this were good, but there was nothing particularly novel.

MIGNARDISES Passionfruit gelee and I think coffee-flavored chocolate. Not particularly memorable.

Downstairs by the bathrooms is where they showcase the many spices they use. On one side is a table filled with spice jars.

There is also a whole room filled with more spices. I don't think the door was locked when I was there. Given some New Yorkers' affinity for umm... exploring restaurant bathrooms, I hope they lock the door in the future.

When we asked for the bill, it originally came without the Savored discount. But that was quickly taken care of with no problem when I mentioned it to the server. Overall it was a very good meal in an attractive setting. The modern interpretations of classic Indian cooking styles were very well executed, but you have to be predisposed to liking those cooking styles, especially with the meats. I think even without the discount, the $85 price for the tasting menu is reasonable considering how many expensive proteins were involved, including lobster tail, lamb, duck, and bass.