Sunday, June 26, 2011

TV: Some New, Some Old, Some Good Some Bad (TV)

The summer TV season is upon us, and for me, it usually means that basic cable dominates my DVR. But before we get to those shows, there were still a couple of shows that I had to finish.

Some Good: I tend to rotate my premium cable subscription depending on which series have finished and could be viewed in entirety on demand. I'm about to switch over to HBO to watch Game of Thrones, but I currently still have Showtime, where I just finished watching and enjoying Shameless. It's very much in the Showtime style where the plots can get pretty out there, but the producers have done a pretty good job of trying to include comedy, drama, and emotion into each episode. The characters are well-developed and very well acted, and I look forward to watching the second season.

Some Bad: A series that I won't be looking forward to the second season of, but will probably still watch begrudgingly, is AMC's The Killing. If you search online, most of the reviews will be similar. It started out with potential, then just became slow and directionless. Just a bunch of red herrings and meaningless plot points about characters that I couldn't get myself to care about. But whatever, most of us continued watching it just to get closure and find out who the killer was.


Except that they didn't reveal the killer! While I originally thought that they would wrap this up and offer a new case in season 2, the producers apparently did not feel that way. It was a big slap in the face to those of us who persevered just to see it reach its conclusion. I didn't get anywhere this upset from the Sopranos ending.


As for the summer season, the USA network tends to dominate my DVR. Most of the shows are light and entertaining, which perfectly fits the summer theme. In Plain Sight, Royal Pains, Covert Affairs, White Collar, Burn Notice, Psych. There are a lot of them, some better than others. My favorite is still Burn Notice, the first of the bunch that really helped put USA on the map for original series following their "characters welcome" theme. It has been a while since last season, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun the new season premiere was.

Some New: USA is also adding two more new shows to that lineup, and the first one, Suits, had an ok pilot. I'm usually not much for legal dramedies since the end of Boston Legal, and I don't expect that I will put this one or TNT's Franklin and Bash on my DVR. However, they're not bad and I certainly would watch them over some random rerun.

Some Old: Speaking of reruns, BBC America is showing Battlestar Galactica from the very beginning. I've heard a lot of praise from friends about this series, and even though I've only watched the miniseries and the first two TV episodes (BBCA is airing two per week), I definitely have to agree with them. While I'm not completely sold on all the characters, the tension and drama have been captivating. As opposed to Spielberg and TNT's Falling Skies, which had a such a huge premiere that there were talks of a second season renewal already. I found it boring, I didn't like any of the characters, and most importantly I didn't feel any of the kind of tension that would arise from the direness of the situation.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Complete Experience at Eleven Madison Park (food)

I have mentioned again and again that Eleven Madison Park (EMP) is my favorite restaurant in NYC and that I think it is the best restaurant in NYC. I think this time I will go into more detail about what I think sets EMP apart from other restaurants in its class.

Accomodative service and FOH:

There was a recent thread on Chowhound about expectations of EMP's service and some disparity among guests. I firmly believe that it is perfectly reasonable for restaurants to provide certain perks to regulars. What separates EMP in my opinion, is the ability to identify "regulars" without the need for a high frequency of repeat visits. They understand that at their price point, they are a luxury dining experience for many, and that one doesn't have to eat there every month to show one's appreciation for their restaurant.

Besides the reciprocal appreciation, EMP's baseline service is also at a very high level. They are very good at anticipating the needs of diners, but that is not as important to me personally. I am very demanding of service, but I do not expect them to be psychics. I am very comfortable asking for things, and all I ask is that the staff respond promptly, politely, and with a warm smile. EMP's service is very fine-tuned in this area, and they are also especially warm when you engage them in conversation. Never have I gotten an impression that they have something better to do or somebody more important to talk to.


I personally love the art deco design and the extremely high ceilings. While I agree it may not convey the warmth and coziness of the dining room at Daniel, it offers a majestic elegance without the over-the-top opulence of a place like Robuchon at the Mansion in Las Vegas.


It has been almost a year since the menu revamp, but I completely understand now its relevance as a showcase for the food at EMP. The thing about EMP is that they do everything well. While the focus at Le Bernardin is seafood, and the truly outstanding components of a meal at Blue Hill are the farm-fresh produce, EMP excels at a wide array of main ingredients, from vegetables to pork to duck to fish, and more. While every dish at WD50 is interesting, not every dish is good. While every dish at Daniel is perfectly executed, not every dish is interesting. I find that EMP is remarkably consistent in its ability to deliver an array of interesting small tastes through the canapes, and back them up with wonderfully refined yet comforting composed dishes.

I did not get a chance to tour the kitchen on my previous two visits for dinner, but there was no blizzard this time, so my friends DC and SC and I went a little crazy getting the complete experience, and it was a truly memorable meal.

I arrived early and had a drink at the bar. There were olives, chips, and roasted peanuts on offer. The chips were kind of bland and I much prefer the ones at the bar at Scarpetta.

I ended up having two drinks, one was from the cocktails menu while this one was off-menu and expertly mixed by head bartender Leo. The flavors just kept opening up as I kept sipping it, and it definitely opened up my tastes buds for the big dinner I was about to have.

We started off with lovely champagne Roses de Jeanne from Cedric Bouchard. A wonderful recommendation by the sommelier as even an accomplished oenophile such as my friend DC did not know about Bouchard.

Look at that lovely color.

The wine to accompany our main meal (and duck) would be this 1978 Chateau Lynch-Bages. Another excellent choice.

As usual, gougeres to start the meal. Just as good as ever, with a slight taste of salt and the savoriness of the warm cheese center. We had at least thirds.

PEA chilled soup with buttermilk snow and ham crisp. Our first canape involved traditional ham and pea flavors with an interesting play on temperatures with the buttermilk snow. DC could not have the ham crisp so they made a mint crisp for him.

FLUKE AND SCALLOP with basil and meyer lemon; ceviche with tangerine. The ceviche on the left was bright and flavorful, but I really liked the spices that went with the basil and lemon on the fluke.

CUCUMBER with fennel and tangerine. This was in place of the scallop for DC.
GOAT CHEESE lollipop with beets; croquette with watercress and chive. Goat cheese and beet just go so well together. A lovely presentation with the lollipop.

The croquettes were wonderfully light and airy.

ASPARAGUS with sorrel and lemon. This was for DC. Just beautiful.

SEA URCHIN cappuccino with crab and apple. For us, a favorite from last year makes its return. Full of sea urchin flavor, I think the apple really helps bring this dish together both texturally and with that refreshing flavor.

SMOKED STURGEON AND CAVIAR sabayon with chive; fingerling potato and creme fraiche. Another EMP favorite. I'm glad this is constantly offered. Just a wonderful range of savory goodness brought together by the chive oil at the bottom.

The potato looks even prettier than it did last time, and again showcases classic flavors brought together.

QUAIL ballotine with foie gras, fava beans, and radish. We ordered separately as opposed to the tasting menu to get a broader look into the food that was coming out of the kitchen that night. This was perfectly cooked quail meat with a lovely foie gras center. The fava beans and radish helped to offer a full array of textures and provided a refreshing spring flavor.

TROUT smoked with asparagus, creme fraiche and rye crisps.

CRAB salad with pickled daikon radish and crustacean mayonnaise. Just stunning to look at.

For the new bread service, EMP now offers its in-house roll. While it looked like a roll, it ate more like a biscuit, with a wonderful rich and buttery interior. It was served warm, so we had to wait a little bit of time in between each batch they brought us. I think in all we stopped eating the bread about the sixth time around.

The cows' milk and goats' milk butters. We went through a few of these.

LOBSTER poached with carrots and vadouvan granola. The lobster was cooked perfectly, but I found the sauce to be a little too sweet. The mix of vadouvan granola and carrots provided nice crunch and balance to the dish. I'm still hoping they bring back the lobster with meyer lemon.

The lobster after it was sauced tableside.

BROCCOLI variations with parmesan and lemon. If I didn't like EMP's lobster so much I definitely would have ordered this too.

LAMB loin with morels and english peas.

CHICKEN poached with provencal asparagus, morels, and black truffles. DC kept raving about this dish. I could smell the truffles sitting next to him.

PORK rack and confit with cherries, onions, and guanciale. The cherries were perfect without being too sweet. The rack was cooked beautifully, and I was happy to see the return of the confit with the crisp layer of skin on top. I just wish there was more of it. I remember when the confit was served by itself like a brick.

The pork after it was sauced.

DUCK rooasted with lavender honey, rhubarb and celery.

Our server expertly carving the duck tableside.

The skin was beautifully crisp and the concentrated duck flavor was definitely there. This duck was fatter than the one we had last time, and I think I would have preferred it cooked a bit more. Given the aging preparation, I think the meat would have been able to stand further cooking while still being tender, and the fat would have cooked down some more.

POTATO MOUSSELINE with wine braised dark meat. After previous discussion about what happens to the dark meat, we were offered this delicious mix of potato and dark meat. I would have preferred the potato texture to have been less watery though.

EGG CREAM malt, vanilla, and olive oil. Our predesserts were also prepared tableside.

Just wonderful. The flavors were delicate and as someone who does not particularly prefer carbonated drinks (especially water), I found the carbonation to blend in perfectly with the flavors in the drinking experience.

STRAWBERRY vacherin with lemon and basil. Amazing dessert. Strong strawberry flavor from the ice cream harmonized with the light citrus and creaminess from the vacherin. But when you add some of the basil into the same bite it just sings in your mouth.

PEAR poached with honey and ginger.

CHEVRE 4 farms with onion, walnut, and cherries.

MIGNARDISES I cannot recall what these were.

Peanut butter and jelly macarons, mango and coconut meringues.

Olive oil pate de fruit, bread crisps with chocolate and maldon sea salt. Chocolate and salt just go so well together.

Another tableside preparation, this was their coffee service, featuring Bolivian coffee that had a rich flavor that I enjoyed sipping even without milk or sugar.

Only after a specific temperature was reached did the coffee go in.

Finally we were off to the kitchen. DC had to stay behind while we toured the kitchen. It's a pretty big kitchen:

They set up a counter with full view of the kitchen where they prepare a special dessert right in front of us using liquid nitrogen.

Frozen scoop of champagne to be broken and mixed over the top of orange segments and some orange liquer, if I remember correctly. Delicious and interesting.

Just because DC could not make the kitchen tour did not mean EMP didn't have something special for him. When we returned to our table, it turns out that they had overheard him talking about sauternes and poured him a healthy glass of Chateau d'Yquem 1999. I took a sip myself and it was wonderful. The aromatic sweetness, great body, and depth of flavors slowly opening up in your mouth.

It was a truly memorable experience at EMP, made special from beginning to end.

2010-2011 NBA and NHL Finals Recaps (sport)

Two amazing finals series that were both exciting from start to finish.

It was like LOST. First, you had the good guys, many of whom had their own tales of redemption and second chances. Flashbacks to when they had their first chances at a championship. Flashforwards to the tail end of their career and a question of how many more chances they would get. In the end, they came together and won as a team.

Carlisle: He had that talented team in Indiana that was broken up by the Artest melee. He helped build that Detroit team until they won the championship without him. But this championship will separate him from being compared to Rick Adelman, another superb coach who hasn't been able to win the big one, and his decision to start Barea late in the series was pivotal.

Nowitzki: Like a true hero, he was always there to lead at the end. A thoroughly underrated player in the public eye throughout his career because it was so hard for an average fan to relate to his skill set. I still don't think enough can be said about his finals performance, especially the game where he battled the >100 degree fever and still made the final basket.

Terry: Was there with Dirk in their previous finals collapse. As Dallas kept failing year after year in the playoffs, one wonders how many more chances the two of them would have together before management decided to blow everything up.

Kidd: He had his chances with two previous finals appearances, but finally got a well-deserved championship. Does anyone remember now all the debates about the Jason Kidd trade? All the talk about what a bust it was for the Mavericks?

Chandler: Speaking of busts, Chandler was one of the big three high-schoolers to come out of the infamous 2001 draft along with Kwame Brown and Eddy Curry. We'd just assumed that they were all complete busts, but he played well throughout the season and was key in the finals.

Marion: He had his chance with the D'Antoni Suns, and people wondered after he left whether his stats were just buoyed by playing in that system and with Nash. He was important throughout the playoffs, providing the solid defense and rebounding that helped hold the team together when they weren't shooting well.

Stevenson: Another key defender and streak shooting role player, he had previous playoff experience from when he was on that mess of a Wizards team.

Peja: While he ran cold and was benched for the finals, he provided a scoring touch that really propelled the team to another level when he came over midseason. Another great story of a top performer in his time (the Kings team before he hurt his knee) who was running out of time to do something again.

Barea, Cardinal, etc.: Guys that make you wonder whether they should get playing time at all, and yet proved to be useful pieces important to the team's energy and chemistry. Their success was a great representation of why the Mavericks won.

You also had the villains, who willfully made the decision to embrace becoming villains, trying hard to push against the accepted beliefs and create something new. But the problem, as often is the case with villains, was that they didn't really come together as a team. In the end, we will still remember this team for LBJ, Wade, and Bosh. It just wasn't enough in the end. Storybook ending: good hard workers triumph over evil power-seekers bent on domination through teamwork.

While I'm not that big of a hockey fan, I can appreciate the excitement of the sport when played at a high level. From Boston's penalty-killing, to Vancouver's clutch late goals early, to Tim Thomas playing like a man possessed, it was captivating from start to finish. While the level of hatred and intensity did improve the drama, tension, and excitement of the series, I did feel that some of the early altercations and the subsequent rioting marred the event somewhat.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Wonderful, Exquisite Dinner at Daniel (food)

In celebration of our second consecutive regular season triumph in the ICBL (we won by only half a board and were second in the playoff), our friend and teammate DC took the team out to Daniel just as he had last year. It was a truly wonderful experience all around that improved significantly on our dinner last year, and was perfect for our celebratory mood.

Accomodative service and FOH:

We are not the easiest of diners to deal with. It all started when I called two weeks after making the initial reservation to give them some notes on dietary restrictions. It turns out that someone had cancelled our reservation! But they still had record of it and reinstated the reservation without a problem. Then on the night of the dinner, one of our teammates came down with a stomach thing and couldn't make it. The receptionist was quite gracious when I called three hours before the meal to inform them that we would only be 3 instead of 4. They were also gracious when I came back the next day for a hard copy of our menu.

Our server/captain Yannick was friendly and engaging, yet professional and didn't hover. He deftly guided us through the menu options that would work with the dietary restrictions of my friends, and encouraged us to take a tour of the kitchen.


A beautiful room that conveyed warmth but was definitely busy. Lovely chandeliers provided enough light to see and take photos, but certainly not so bright that one would consider it unromantic.


From my visit last year, it was clear that the execution was top-notch, but there was a certain wow factor that was missing. I discovered the wow factor by ordering from the prix fixe and specials menu. While the tasting menu at Daniel does offer two choices for each course, I find that both of the choices are often too "safe" for my taste. Daniel is one of the few top end restaurants that have daily specials, and adding one or two courses from the specials to the prix fixe is a wonderful way to go. Both my teammates ended up with a starter, two mains, and dessert, while I went with three appetizers, a main, and dessert.

As we were celebrating, we started with this amazing champagne. While I'm usually not a champagne guy, this was just delicious.

Our amuse for the evening was a trio of beet. On the right was cured fluke with beet, potato gaufrette, and chive. In the middle was a beet puree with cardamom. On the left was cured beet with octopus. My favorite was the beet puree with a strong cardamom flavor.

Bread service included raisin walnut, garlic focaccia, mini baguette, sourdough, butter and sea salt roll, and 3 seed. While I did not try all of them, my favorite was the garlic focaccia, with whole cloves of garlic still in the bread.

CHILLED CAULIFLOWER VELOUTE with kataifi crusted blue prawns, romanesco, and cilantro cream. While I did not order this, I had some of the blue prawns and they were flavorful and sweet. The prawns were cooked to a perfect, just barely done texture that went beautifully with the crispy kataifi crust.

TAI SNAPPER CEVICHE with cucumber vinaigrette, tapioca pearls, shaved radishes, sea urchin, and northern lights caviar.

CRISPY SCOTTISH LANGOUSTINES with old Chatham yogurt, minted cucumber, lime gremolata. While the langoustine pieces were full of umami and covered in crispy greaseless fried dough, the star of the show for me was the combination of yogurt, cucumber, and gremolata. Everything went well together and complemented the langoustine flavor. If I could change one thing with this dish, it would be to have less of the crispy phyllo, making it easier to fit everything in one bite, including the langoustine, minted cucumber strands, and sauce.

WATERCRESS VELOUTE with Louisiana crayfish, chicken liver royale, crispy cockscomb, and mousseron mushrooms. Definitely not a dish that one would classify as "safe". A wonderful bounty of treasures awaiting a bath of watercress veloute.

The watercress veloute was assertive with a slight creamy finish. Every spoonful was delightfully highlighted by the sweetness, richness, and earthiness of the ingredients dotted along the plate. Every bite featured a wonderful contrast in textures.

SAUTEED DUCK FOIE GRAS with brown Turkish figs, confit fennel, young mesclun. My final appetizer featured a beautifully cooked piece of foie gras. Devoid of excess grease on the plate, yet as rich and bursting with fatty goodness in the mouth as one would expect. The sweetness of the figs worked well with the foie gras, but I would have preferred more textural components to the dish.

GRILLED ALASKAN KING SALMON with chanterelle, wilted spinach, spring garlic, green peppercorn sauce. One of the other advantages to the prix fixe versus a tasting menu is the sizeable portions.

YELLOWFIN TUNA "A LA PLANCHA". My friend wanted to have the yellowtail, but it was determined that he could not have the accompaniments due to his dietary restrictions. So they brought the beautifully cooked tuna and drizzled some vintage olive oil over it.

Sweet pepper ragout with marinated anchovies, chickpea panisse, mustard salad, iberico ham. A wonderful mix of sweet and savory, with umami galore. I could easily see how this would go well with the tuna.

ROASTED BLACK SEA BASS with syrah sauce, stuffed leeks, potato confit, and caramelized cipollini. For their second main course, both friends chose this signature dish that always seems to be on the menu at Daniel.

Here's the wow factor. My main course, carefully baked in clay, arrived atop burning fennel sticks that released a wonderful aroma.

Our server carefully removing the meat from the clay shell and plating my dish.

DUO OF FOUR STORY HILL FARM SQUAB. BREAST baked in clay with English pea fricassee. STUFFED LEGS with glazed spring onion, radish, minted jus. Just perfect. Tender, perfectly cooked breast, concentrated in flavor. With its own juices still flowing in each bite in addition to the jus. The stuffed legs were little bites bursting with flavor and the fried shell provided a welcome crunchy texture to the plate. I often judge composed meat dishes based on the accompanying vegetables, and these were also wonderful. The English peas, spring onion, and radish brought the freshness of Spring while retaining an earthiness that brought the dish together as a whole.

While I've had squab many many times in my life, most of the time it's been with Chinese preparations. Unfortunately, many Chinese preparations tend to overcook certain meats. So it was especially wonderful for me to enjoy squab breast cooked to this perfect color and tenderness.

CARAMELIZED HAZELNUT SABLE with dulce de leche cream, caraibe chocolate mousse, horchata ice cream. I like hazelnut so I found this satisfying, but I thought the horchata ice cream could have been stronger in flavor. I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth of textures on the plate.

SPICE POACHED CHERRIES with pistachio feuilletine and mascarpone-brandied cherry ice cream.

BLACKBERRY AND FROMAGE BLANC VACHERIN with Swiss meringue and creme Chantilly.

While I was perusing the dessert menu, I was intrigued by an acacia-honey ice cream. I asked if I could have a taste, and they were gracious enough to bring a scoop for each of us. It was absolute delicious, with creamy notes finished off by a very clean-tasting honey flavor. Sometimes honey ice cream can be cloying, but this was not the case here. As we admired the honey ice cream, it was explained to us that the honey comes from a beekeeper in Pennsylvania who keeps eight hives.

MIGNARDISES An assortment that was glanced over as we focused on the...

FRESHLY BAKED MADELEINES. So good we asked for seconds. Warm, soft, and comforting, highlighted by a touch of lemon flavor.

ASSORTED CHOCOLATES We had some of these, but were still focused on the madeleines. I don't think these are made in-house.

After this wonderful meal, we made our way to the kitchen for a quick tour. It wasn't bustling, but things were still going on. Chef Boulud had been greeting some guests in the dining room earlier in the evening, but had left by the time we finished our meal. Nevertheless, executive chef Jean Francois Bruel was a gracious host, explaining and showing to us the dried fennel stalks that they used to create the wonderful smoke that accompanied my squab dish.

An assortment of spice jars behind the main doors of the kitchen.

A monitor observing the dining room through video cameras. I'd read about this and supposedly this helps them anticipate and pace the timing of the courses.

A little Buddha statue in between two duck presses. Pressed duck is available with advanced notice. Even more interesting is the window above the duck presses. It's the window of their "skybox", a private dining room for four overlooking the kitchen and right next to Boulud's personal office.

Overall, it was an exquisite meal in every aspect, and I finally found the wow factor I was looking for. I want to try dining in the skybox sometime in the future. Maybe if we win three in a row? Many thanks to DC for making the night possible, and many thanks to my teammates for playing hard throughout the season.