Monday, February 20, 2012

Peking Duck Showdown: Chinatown Brasserie vs. Peking Duck House Midtown (food)

Been very busy lately and haven't updated in a while. Hopefully I'll be able to post at a faster pace soon, as there have been quite a few blog-worthy meals. In the meantime, here's a post featuring two restaurants to help me catch up.

Peking duck is an easy dish to love. Crisp skin, rendered fat, tender (for well-done) meat. While the versions here in NYC won't rank with the best in the world, I recently had dinners featuring two of the better versions in the city and thoroughly enjoyed both.

Peking Duck House has two locations. One in Chinatown and one in Midtown in the 50s on the East side. As can be expected, the prices vary between the two outposts, and they're upfront about it on their website. For this meal, we went to the one in Midtown, and I was pleasantly surprised with the food. Considering the abundance of extremely overpriced, ghastly Americanized Chinese restaurants such as Mr. Chow, Mr. K's, Philippe Chow, etc. it was nice to find a place with pretty good food at a comparable level of comfort, decor, and service.

We started with chopped chicken and pine nut lettuce wraps. This was okay and served its purpose. The predominant flavor was that of soy, which is fine in small enough doses.

Next came our whole duck, carved tableside. The skin was nice and crisp, but not the best I've had. What I did like though, was that the carver pulled the meat at the end of each slice, allowing only tender meat to come onto the plate.

The plate of skin and meat. There was still a good amount of meat on the carcass and I don't know what they did with it. The order of Peking duck does not come with any other preparations or duck soup.

The thing I really liked was the expertly-trained server who made perfect wraps for us in a quick and efficient manner. This is a skill that this "old hand" had clearly perfected, much like a server deboning a dover sole tableside at a French restaurant. As mentioned above, the skin was crispy and the meat was tender. There wasn't too much sauce and every wrap was satisfying. The plate of duck resulted in 9 wraps.

Moving on to the entrees, we had a pretty good version of chicken with cashews. The peppers were perfect to give the dish a nice balance.

The Grand Marnier prawns were nice and big, although they seemed especially big due to the specific butterflied shape that they fried them in. The sauce was, very importantly, not too sweet.

One of my favorite things to eat at Chinese restaurants growing up in NYC was pan fried whole flounder. This was a very good version, with a light yet crisp fried exterior giving way to delicate soft flesh.

Overall it was a satisfying meal and a pleasant surprise for the neighborhood. The prices are high, but that is to be expected. At least the food was way better than those even fancier Chinese restaurants that are all over Manhattan.

While I've eaten at Chinatown Brasserie before and enjoyed their dim sum very much, I hadn't tried their Peking Duck before this visit. There were 5 of us and we used Savored to get 30% off the meal including alcohol, which made it a great deal.

We ordered a bunch of dim sum in addition to the duck, and while the normal serving is 4 pieces per order, they were nice enough to let us make it 5 pieces per order.

Baby Bok Choy and Mushroom Dumplings

Look at the delicate pockets formed using the dumpling wrapper. This had great texture.

Turnip Cake with XO Sauce
They do a really great version of this, frying both sides to a perfect brown crisp. The XO sauce was flavorful without being greasy, which is a bonus.

Shanghai Soup Dumplings
These were a pretty good version, though the ones I had at Din Tai Fung in Hong Kong were still vastly superior in my opinion.

Shrimp and Snow Pea Leaf Dumplings
Aren't they cute with their little eyes? It's like eating the head off a gummy bear.

Watercress Shrimp and Pork Dumplings

Here was our Peking Duck. The skin was very crisp and it was nice that they served the legs with it.

Spicy Duck and Flowering Chive Wontons
Because you just can't get enough duck, as you will see from the food posts to come after this one.

Curry Black Bass and Avocado Tarts
This was one of the bigger hits of the night. A great and far from traditional combination of flavors and textures, with crisp tart, creamy avocado, and flaky flesh of the fish.

Asparagus and Shrimp in Applewood Bacon

Scallion-Bacon Pancakes with Spicy Hoisin
Because you can also never get enough bacon.

Shrimp, Chinese Chive, and Corn Dumplings
I love Chinese chives, but their pungent flavor is definitely an acquired taste.

Chicken and Shrimp Lollipops

In addition to the duck and dim sum, we each had a $13 cocktail. After the Savored discount, the bill came to $50 each all in. A terrific deal for some very high quality food.

So who wins the showdown between two of NYC's better Peking Duck preparations? The lacquer and crispiness of the skin was superior at Chinatown Brasserie, but I preferred the meat in the Peking Duck House version. But since the skin really plays such a big role in Peking Duck, the vote goes to Chinatown Brasserie. But I still thought Peking Duck House served great food given the neighborhood white tablecloth vibe.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Excellent Food at Minetta Tavern (food)

This meal was from a few months back, and it was my first visit to the dining room at Minetta Tavern. I'd eaten at the bar shortly after they opened to try the black label burger, which I enjoyed very much.

My first impression was that it was super cramped. I've shared tables with strangers before in tiny hole-in-the-walls and this still felt more cramped. And that was after only being able to make a 5:30pm reservation. Thankfully, the food was excellent and the three of us ate a lot of it.

Bread with butter and salt.

Black Maple Hill bourbon. Quite good and more viscous than I was expecting. I first tried to ordered the 20yr Pappy which they didn't have. The server mentioned to me that people ask for it all the time and she wishes they just took it off the menu once and for all.

BRANDADE DE MORUE salt cod, potatoes, shaved summer truffles
I didn't have this but my friend enjoyed it very much.

HUITRES ET CREPINETTES truffled pork sausage, salt pond oysters
Pork and oysters are a great combination, and the taste of truffle gave it a nice earthy richness.

PIED DE PORC PANE crisp Berkshire pig trotter, lentils, herb salad
We ordered an entree portion of this dish and split it between two of us as a second appetizer. The portion shown here is half of the entire plate. The skin was crisp, and the meat was rich and tender. The lentils were a good addition, but I don't think the herb salad cut into the fattiness enough. I think I prefer the crispy pig's head at Ma Peche, which is slightly more refined but a very similar dish.

GRILLED WHOLE DAURADE fennel, charred lemon, herb oil
I did not have this but it looked well prepared. I really like daurade as a fish and don't tend to see it on menus often enough. My friend liked the fried capers that came with it, which was a great way to add flavor and texture.

DRY AGED COTE DE BOEUF, roasted marrow bones and sucrine lettuce salad
The salad was rather plain, but the huge steak for two was not.

The marrow bones were rich and unctuous, and while some would prefer the steak rarer and more bloody, this was fine for us.

The steak is rightly raved about, with an excellent minerally flavor and a great crust. You don't really need anything else, and the marrow kind of puts it over the top.

The mushrooms were terrific, though I liked the ones at Lincoln better, and the pommes anna were rich and crisp, if a little dry. I was getting jaw fatigue at this point, so they were not my first choice of side to indulge in.

The stuffed cabbage, on the other hand, was moist with nice simple flavors.

Essentially cheese melted into mashed potatoes, this fit right with the theme of over the top, rich, heavy foods we were eating that night.

This was quite good. I think it was meant for two, but I found the size interesting. I've only had souffles that were either much smaller or much larger.

Not particularly special.

The food was excellent. But between the cramped space and the difficulty in getting a reservation if you're not a VIP, it certainly wouldn't qualify as a special occasion place. Also, there's not much in the way of balance in the dishes, so it might not be the place to go if you're not in the mood for a heavy meal.

I think that Minetta Tavern is exactly what a one Michelin star place should be. Not worth making a detour for if you're vacationing. But if this is the type of food you're in the mood for, it's an excellent choice. And if you're a local, it's worth being a regular (if you can).

NFL Playoff Picks 2011-2012: Super Bowl (sport, gambling)

Another football season comes to an end this Sunday, one which has been quite successful for me in terms of picks. I think the biggest reason for that has been my focus on specific themes backed by simple data. However, I don't think I can do that here. This game is just so much different than any other game. I would suggest just having fun playing some squares or some of the 400+ props out there.

6:30PM ET
NE vs. NYG
Line: NE-2.5/3EV, o/u 54

The line opened at 3, and has been bought down so much, the line is now either NE-3 with no vig or NE-2.5, depending on the sportsbook. Gronkowski is still a big if, but he's such a freak that I expect him to play and play well. I expect the returns of Vollmer and Arrington will greatly help New England.

I think the deciding factor will be Eli Manning, and I think he will have a bad game this time. He hasn't exactly been great to begin with, having thrown a pass so bad last week that the opposing defensive backs hurt each other going after the interception. Even so, I feel that he's been outperforming of late (11TDs to 1INT in last 4 games, vs. 29TDs to 16INTs during the regular season), and will regress to the mean. I predict at least two turnovers that will allow the Patriots to take a commanding lead.

Some might question the "commanding lead" part of that because of the vaunted Giants front line. However, I think New England's tight end heavy passing offense and use of slot receivers is the perfect counterattack. The use of a no-huddle should also tire out the Giants' defense, and allow New England to string together a few scores.

Although everyone wants this to be a close, exciting game, I think New England will win by at least two touchdowns. Many sportsbooks offer adjusted lines, but I wouldn't make that bet, because you're probably not going to get enough value for such a bet. The last time the winning Superbowl team won by more than 14 points was back in 2003.

NE-3, Over 54