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.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

NFL Picks Week 6 2011 (sport, gambling)

While there is plenty of parity in the NFL overall, the difference between really good teams and really bad teams is just too great. I think linesmakers often just can't make lines large enough.


It might be 14.5 at some places, but I just don't see how a banged up Rams team can keep from getting routed by a team playing some of the best football on both sides of the ball I have seen in a long time.


It might be 7 at some places, but if you can get 6.5, I would say to jump on it. While the Jets' three consecutive losses have disappointed fans, a more objective look will reveal that all three losses were on the road to playoff contenders. When you consider that the Jets will be motivated and that the last time they played a home game against a bad team they won by 29 points, laying a TD sounds like very good value.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Limited Time: Matsutake Menu at Kajitsu (food)

While many are waiting for truffle season to really kick in, there is already a delicacy that is in season right now. The matsutake mushroom is technically the most expensive mushroom in the world (truffles are technically not mushrooms). In fact, they are one of the very few types of mushrooms that they cook with on Iron Chef America.

Kajitsu is a Japanese vegan restaurant that I have raved about before. Right now in October, they have a special matsutake menu which they limit to 5 parties per night. Similar to truffles, the aroma is key with matsutakes, and the chef did a wonderful job of preserving that whenever a dish had those mushrooms as a component.

Our first sake pairing of the night.

TERRINE OF AUTUMN VEGETABLES WITH CHESTNUT CRUMBS Absolutely gorgeous. Beautiful colors and lots of vegetables. I think vegetables in aspic is a fairly common Japanese preparation. This one was simple, focusing on the clean taste of the vegetables.

It rested on top of parsnip puree, and had two small slices of wheat gluten cut to look like autumn leaves, further decorating the plate.

So just how many vegetables were in this? I asked for a list, and they were nice enough to write them down for me. The terrine base (portions are not uniform) includes: broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, lotus root, bell pepper, tomato, okra, snow peas, mitsuba, red beets, zucchini, edamame, celery, corn, and potato.

The sudachi was the small slice of yuzu-like citrus. This was simple with very subtle flavors. A warm soup that focused on the aroma of the mushrooms. I thought the textural differences in the soup were interesting, with the mushroom slices and the fried tofu, although I'm personally not a fan of sogginess of the batter left in the soup.

More sake.

I absolutely loved this. The goma-dare was a beautifully harmonized sesame sauce and the udon were perfectly chewy. While the last time I had goma-dare I had soba, I thought their version of udon worked perfectly with it.

MATSUTAKE TEMPURA Accompanying the noodles were these pieces of lightly fried matsutake.

This was the first really assertive sake we had.

SLOW SIMMERED VEGETABLES, FEATURING SATOIMO, CARROT, MIZUNA, FRIED TOFU, KABOCHA, GOBO Here, the vegetables were simmered separately and then put together at the end. Our favorite was the kabocha.

The matsutake croquet had that wonderful mushroom earthiness in a creamy filling with a perfectly fried exterior. The awa-fu, like all their wheat gluten, has a texture that is definitely an acquired taste. It was fried this time.

Yet again, more vegetables than I could figure out. Luckily, they came through again: kabu turnip, kabu turnip leaf, fennel, fennel fronds, wax beans, enoki mushrooms, cherry tomato, tatsoi. The grilling and the smoked soy is there, but again, quite subtle.

Assortment of pickles for our final savory course. There was some eggplant and kelp in the assortment.


The aroma was bursting from this as they removed the lid.

A closer look, which was tough because of all the steam coming out.

The rice was hot and comforting, filled with the sweet umami of the wonderful mushrooms. For the three of us, there was probably a total of about eight bowls of this size.

RED MISO SOUP WITH EGGPLANT AND KARASHI Good strong flavor and again, served hot, which was important. This was very good and I had seconds.

SWEET POTATO KINTON WITH COCONUT TOFU CREAM, WALNUTS, AND MACADAMIA NUTS Like most of the desserts I've had at Kajitsu, the inside was filled with white bean paste. This overpowered any of the sweet potato or coconut tastes that were on the plate, but matched well with the nuts.

Assortment of sugar candies

Matcha to round out the meal. Another beautiful, solid meal at Kajitsu, and I think that the matsutake is worth the extra splurge ($100 instead of $70) if you like mushrooms. It's always impressive to consider the sheer variety of vegetables offered in every meal here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Japanese Comfort Food (food)

Now that the weather has shown clear signs of autumn, soul-warming comfort food is on the agenda. While a bowl of hot noodle soup certainly hits the spot, sometimes I'm in the mood for fried meat and hot rice.

Go-Go Curry (38th St/8th Ave)

One of my favorite places for fast, consistent comfort food at a great value. While Japanese curries in general tend to be a bit sweeter, this one tones down the sweetness and the curry actually seems more like a slightly thickened gravy. Accompanying the curry is rice, cabbage, and your choice of (mostly fried katsu-style) proteins available in four different sizes.

Or you can have it all with the grand slam for only $12.50. Pictured here, it includes one pork katsu (cutlet), one chicken katsu, one hard boiled egg, one shrimp katsu, and two berkshire sausages, along with a huge mound of rice and shredded cabbage smothered in their curry. The most disappointing (perhaps not so because my expectations are often low) is the shrimp katsu, with too much coating for very little meat. The pork and chicken cutlets are crispy, but a little on the thin side. It's perfectly fine when accompanied by the curry, but may disappoint those who (probably expect too much) are looking for particularly moist meat. The flavors are right on point though, and my favorite item is the berkshire sausage. The first thing I eat every time, they just burst with flavor with a delightful snap of the casing.

Katsuhama (preferred: 55th St/btw 5th and 6th Ave, original: 47th St/btw 5th and Madison Ave)

For exceptional katsu, Katsuhama is still my favorite place. While the original seems a bit dingy, the newer one on 55th is quite nice. Very bright and clean. The prices are yet again very reasonable, especially when you consider that the rice, cabbage, and pickles have unlimited refills. I stopped by the other night and saw that they now have a $24 prix fixe which is a great deal.

The mortar and pestle filled with sesame seeds. You grind the seeds yourself and then mix in the katsu sauce. Some tartar sauce because I ordered seafood, and some pickled daikon and cabbage.

For the first course, you get to choose one of five appetizers. I went with the sashimi salad, which was prettier and tastier than I would have thought. The miso soup is also unlimited refills.

For the main course, you get to choose one main katsu, and two side katsus. For the main katsu, I chose king salmon, and added one shrimp and one crab croquette. The salmon had good flavor, and the croquette was creamy. The shrimp here is much superior to the one at Go-Go Curry, and the fry job is excellent for everything.

But the real star of katsu is almost always pork, so I ordered an extra a la carte berkshire pork loin (shown here $20 for 180g). The a la carte is just $2 less than the set, but I already had rice and cabbage from the other set. In this case they gave me some potato salad as well. The pork katsu is fried perfectly. Crunchy, juicy, and full of pork flavor. Be careful that the hot mustard is indeed quite spicy. They also feature the berkshire tenderloin, but I feel that the tenderloin is too tender and does not gain from the expert frying.

There is also dessert included in the prix fixe. I chose the red bean ice cream. While there were red beans in it, the base looked and tasted fruity, which felt a little weird.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

NFL Picks Week 5 2011 (sport, gambling)

Bill Simmons wrote a few seasons ago that he thinks home field advantage has disappeared. I do agree that home field isn't as big as it used to be for all the teams as a whole, but there are certain teams for which home field matters significantly, and I think the home-road differential for these teams is being underestimated.


This line has moved significantly as it opened with the Steelers -5. People are jumping on the fact that the Steelers' offensive line has looked horrible, Big Ben is hurt, and Chris Johnson finally having a 100 yard game. Well, the 100 yard game was against the horrible Browns, and the Steelers are really good at home. Given that the Steelers do have a home field advantage, the line suggests both teams are even, and I don't agree with that assessment.


Another line that has moved a lot from the GB-3.5 that it opened at. Atlanta is a much different team at home, and Green Bay hasn't been as dominant on the road. I expect this to be a competitive game, and I don't think it would really surprise anyone if lAtlanta won this one outright.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The John Dory @ Ace Hotel Review (food)

A friend and I were in the area looking to grab a drink and ended up at the John Dory because the wait at the Breslin was going to be over an hour. While our hostess gave us the "we'll have a table for you shortly", we still ended up waiting almost half an hour while getting a drink standing at the bar.

Overall, it has a really good vibe, nice buzz, and a good crowd. With some nice cocktails, it's a good place to grab a drink, and the food is fine in that context. But with too many misses, it certainly is not the kind of place I would go for the food alone. The menu, besides the raw bar, mostly focuses on seafood and consists of small plates.

CHAR PATE WITH PARKER HOUSE ROLL The pate had the nice mild taste of (arctic) char and a nice texture that wasn't too much like a spread. While the parker house roll was soft on the inside, it just wasn't anywhere near as good as parker house rolls I've had elsewhere. I think a more traditional texture pairing of soft pate with toast/crunchy bread would have worked better.

CHORIZO STUFFED SQUID WITH SMOKED TOMATO My friend had this and liked it a lot.

BRANDADE WITH TOMATO TOAST Now this was a texture match that worked better for me. The presence of the tomato provided a welcome sharpness to the tasty but one-note brandade.

CHILLED CRAB AND AVOCADO Pretty much exactly as it sounds, although it was pleasantly spiced up by some hot sauce.

GRILLED OCTOPUS WITH EGGPLANT, GARBONZO BEANS, AND HARISSA The flavor pairing was quite nice in this dish, with the charred octopus, smoky eggplant, and earthy beans. However, this dish lost me the moment I bit into the octopus. While I appreciate octopus being tender, it still needs to have some give. This did not, and while it wasn't mush, the best word to describe the texture was limp.

OYSTER PAN ROAST WITH UNI CROSTINI No photo, but this was the wow dish of the night. As in "wow, that's disappointing". The crostini itself tasted very little of uni and very much of butter. The pan roast managed to be creamy without being rich and satisfying. To me, the genius of the Grand Central Oyster Bar's pan roast is the ability to present flavorful, briny oysters in a way that is warm and comforting. This did not come close.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

NFL Picks Week 4 2011 (sport, gambling)

There were a couple of remarkable comebacks last week, but the most amazing thing for me last week was that Chicago punt return TD that was called back.

MIN 1H whatever the line is

The line for this game is Minnesota by 2.5, but I think the first half line needs to be at least Minnesota by 3. Despite being 0-3 this season, the Vikings have led during halftime in every one of those games, against teams much better than the Chiefs. In Kansas City's only game where they scored more than 7 points, they were held scoreless in the first half. This is one of those rare moments where the trends are very clear, but the books may not be able to set the line that reflects the trend because of the situation mathematically.

PIT +3.5

Pittsburgh's offensive line has looked horrible so far, but they still have weapons and know how to win. Houston's looked much more impressive so far, but they haven't played a strong defensive-minded team yet. I just don't think the Texans have proven themselves yet, and the extra half point is too much to give to a tough, experienced team.