Thursday, July 11, 2013

Date Spot: Momokawa NYC (food)

As it is mainly a residential area, I find Murray Hill/Kips Bay to have many overpriced neighborhood restaurants that don't really stand out. So I was very happy to discover Momokawa through Chowhound. Momokawa is a small, intimate Japanese restaurant that can be a bit hard to find. The restaurant is located on the second floor, but you actually have to enter the building by going down some stairs outside, through the basement door, and then back up some stairs inside to get there.

Here are some of the reasons I think it works very well as a date spot.

1. It is walking distance to the Kips Bay cinemas, for those who like to do dinner and a movie.
2. It is quiet and intimate. It is easy to hear your date and converse.
3. The food is reasonably priced. They have some prix fixe options (2 ppl minimum) ranging from $45 to $60 +t/t per person.
4. The signature items here are shabu shabu (hot pot) and sukiyaki. Having to cook and share your food is a good way to get closer to your date.

We chose the $45 prix fixe option, which consisted of an appetizer plate, a sashimi plate, a choice of sukiyaki or shabu shabu, and dessert.

The appetizer plate that night featured some soft tofu, squares of sauce made into gelatin, and slices of braised duck marinated in red wine and soy sauce. The tofu tasted very fresh, although it was so soft that I couldn't pick it up with my chopsticks without it breaking apart. I don't quite remember what the gelatin was made of, but it had a nice spicy kick to it. The duck, also served chilled, was cooked very well.

Two slices each of cooked octopus and yellowtail sashimi then arrived. I'm not a big fan of octopus sashimi, and while the yellowtail was good, it wasn't anything special. I think if you talk to the server when you order you can have some say in the sashimi options.

This was ordered separate from the prix fixe, and was a good value at $7. The coating was thicker than I usually associate with karaage, but it helped to keep the meat very juicy.

While they are similar in concept, a lot of people know what shabu shabu is, whereas many have never experienced sukiyaki. As opposed to a hot pot filled with boiling broth, sukiyaki is served in a shallow pot, with a base sauce of soy, sugar, and mirin that is used to simmer the meat and vegetables.

The sukiyaki comes with a bowl filled with a nice assortment of vegetables, including mushrooms, tofu, and cabbage. Underneath the vegetables is a sizeable mound of what I think was thick vermicelli.

The star of the sukiyaki is the protein. For the prix fixe, you get to choose from beef or pork, while there are more options if ordering a la carte. We went with the beef which had pretty good flavor. For sukiyaki, the beef is dipped in raw egg before eating, and they break and whip the raw egg for you.

When ordering the sukiyaki, they offer you a choice of udon or rice to come at the end of the meal. We chose udon, and cooked it in the remaining sauce in the pot, coating the noodles in the slightly sweet sauce that has absorbed some of the flavors of the stuff we cooked in it. While the udon was pretty good, and fairly substantial in portion, we would probably have gone with rice had we known that there was already a mound of vermicelli in the bowl of vegetables.

Dessert is a simple vanilla ice cream mochi served with red beans. Pretty much what you would get from an Asian supermarket.

Momokawa actually has an outpost in Japan, even though they started here in NYC first. I find that pretty interesting, since it's usually the other way around.

Momokawa NYC
157 E 28th St
(between Lexington Ave & 3rd Ave)
New York, NY 10016

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

2012-2013 NBA Finals Recap Part 3 of 3 (sport)

Championships matter. The lack of one is often one of the first things mentioned when discussing the hall of fame careers of such greats as Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, and many more. How one performs on the biggest stage defines careers and legacies. So after discussing game 7 and the series as a whole, I'm going to focus this post on how I view some individual players in the aftermath of this year's finals.

Danny Green
Probably the biggest winner to come out of the series. His historic shooting performance, combined with effective defense in limited stints on LeBron, pretty much guarantee he'll always have an NBA contract somewhere. Current scouts will see not only the hot shooting, but the couple of plays where he single handedly stopped LeBron James in transition. This will allow them to overlook the fact that he was horribly lost whenever he had to put the ball on the floor. It's even possible that off this performance alone, teams will take a flyer on him as a veteran years from now in the hope that he can get hot during the right series of games.

Kawhi Leonard
The breakout star of this season's playoffs was Paul George. Until Kawhi Leonard put up similar numbers in the finals, also while having to defend LeBron. Leonard averaged 14.6 ppg 11.1 rpg and 2 spg during the finals compared to George's 19.4 ppg 6.0 rpg and 5.1 apg. George became an all-star this season and the word "superstar" was being thrown around during that Pacers-Heat series. I can only imagine that Leonard follows in a similar path, and after this finals performance, people might start meaning him when they refer to San Antonio's "big three".

LeBron James
When you're the best player of your generation and one of the best players ever in the NBA, championships matter even more. But the way this series played out, winning achieved more than just getting another title closer to the Jordan and Kobe comparisons. Because the Spurs dared him to beat them by shooting over them from the outside, all the old criticisms of his game reemerged. By winning game 7 with that spectacular shooting performance, he put those demons to rest. For now.

Chris Bosh
I think Bosh also emerged from this series as a winner. Some might point to his 0 point performance in game 7 and talk about how the Heat could get a third banana with similar numbers for a lot less than what Bosh is getting paid. But that doesn't take into consideration the fact that Bosh was key to their team defense, especially on the pick and roll. It also doesn't factor in that even though he's a third banana, he's able to step up and win regular season games by himself in a way that other third bananas aren't able to do. Those regular season games do matter, as I'm absolutely certain San Antonio would have won the series if they had home court advantage. To me, Chris Bosh proved that he was more valuable to the Heat and what they have specifically built than Dwyane Wade. I think Wade is more likely to take a bigger pay cut than Bosh when their contracts are up, leaving Bosh in a pretty comfortable situation.

Ray Allen
He's so workmanlike that a lot of casual fans don't know how great of a scorer he was in his youth. Adding a second championship and another big, dramatic, 3 point shot to his resume should help cement his status as a first ballot Hall of Famer and separate him from comparisons to Reggie Miller, who was a great shooter but nowhere near the scorer Ray Allen has been throughout his career.

Tim Duncan
A 5th championship would probably have cemented his status as the greatest player of his generation. Especially if it ended in game 6 when he gave a vintage Tim Duncan performance of 30 points and 17 rebounds. Unfortunately that was not to be, which means that it will still be up for debate between him and Kobe Bryant, even though I think it's clear that Duncan was the greatest player of his generation. While Kobe will probably play for longer in the league, Duncan's career longevity and consistency was amazing to behold, especially considering he played a position that many believe is more physically demanding. He also anchored one of the best defenses in the league year after year. Kobe did far more on offense, but he also took many many bad shots (which he excelled at making), while Duncan focused more on taking good shots. Kobe fans will undoubtedly point to his 5 (or more when it's all said and done) championship rings versus Duncan's 4, but people forget that Duncan was the best player on 3 championship teams (3 Finals MVPs) while Kobe was only the best player on two of his winning teams (2 Finals MVPs).

Monday, July 8, 2013

Did I Just Watch Wimbledon or the French Open? (sport)

This year's Wimbledon, with its many upsets, resembled a typical French Open much more than a typical Wimbledon. But what really made this comparison apt was yesterday's men's final. With rallies going as many as 30 shots deep repeatedly, and 11 total breaks in 3 sets, it was a very different experience from the many serve-dominated Wimbledons I've watched over the years.

Serves did matter, though, as Andy Murray came out on top with a better and more consistent serve.

Serve stats, courtesy of the Wimbledon website, powered by IBM:
Aces: Murray 9, Djokovic 4
Double Faults: Murray 2 Djokovic 4
1st Serve Pts Won: Murray 72%, Djokovic 59%

But it wasn't just the serving. Djokovic had a whopping 40 unforced errors to 31 winners, compared to Murray's 36 winners with only 21 unforced errors. Not to take anything from Murray, but it does makes me wonder whether Djokovic was still not fully recovered from the grueling 5 set match he played against Del Potro in the semifinals. On the other hand, the draw in Murray's half was wide open after a slew of high profile upsets.

I often like to say that sports are all about the matchups. Perhaps in Del Potro and Murray, we've found the matchups that are worst for Djokovic. Both are baseline ground stroke players, and at 6'6 and 6'3 respectively, have enough reach to keep up side to side with Djokovic during rallies, as opposed to slightly shorter players like Federer and Nadal. With both Djokovic and Murray still 26 years old and Del Potro slightly younger at 24, chances are good that there will be many more exciting tennis matches left between these guys in the coming years.

2012-2013 NBA Finals Recap Part 2 of 3 (sport)

While everyone seems to have already moved on to how the draft and free agency will affect NBA teams next season, I'm still catching up on my thoughts from one of the best NBA Finals series ever. What's the point of speculating so early on, when there's still a few months until the next season tips off? We can at least wait until July 10th, when all the "leaked" trades and signings can become official.

This is the 2nd of 3 posts recapping the NBA finals. I discussed game 7 in the first one. This post will focus on the entire series as a whole. So let's start by revisiting my predictions in my preview post.

I identified key players who needed to step up in Mario Chalmers, Chris Bosh, and Danny Green. In addition to key plays each of these players made, the difference in the numbers between the games where Miami won and the ones that the Spurs won also stood out:

Heat wins (games 2, 4, 6, 7)
Mario Chalmers 14.8 ppg
Chris Bosh 10.5 ppg 10.3 rpg
Danny Green 8.8 ppg 11-22 3pm-a

Spurs wins (games 1, 3, 5)
Mario Chalmers 5 ppg
Chris Bosh 13.7 ppg 7 rpg
Danny Green 21 ppg 17-28 3pm-a

I also wrote that "if San Antonio manages to steal one early, it might be too late for Miami to adjust and come back." That almost turned out to be the case as Miami and San Antonio alternated games, with San Antonio almost winning it all in game 6. That back and forth alternating of games is what made the series so compelling in my mind. While there have been other NBA finals that have had closer games throughout, the constant adjusting between the teams on the coaching side meant that what worked one game was no longer going to work in the next. While this resulted in a few blowouts, it also meant that the two teams kept bettering themselves throughout the series, which made for a more complete experience for fans of the game of basketball, as opposed to just the current superstar-driven NBA product. Fans, especially casual ones, too often associate a close game with being a good game.

But even for those fans just looking for drama and excitement, there was the amazing game 6, featuring one of the most improbable comebacks in NBA finals history. The entire series as a whole just seemed to have something for everyone. There were instances of basketball being played at the highest level on both offense and defense. There was a record breaking performance in Danny Green's run of 3 point shooting. There were tight games filled with drama and excitement. There were poster-making blocks and dunks. There were moments of uncertainty and moments of inevitability. This was an instant classic of a series, and that is why I am still writing about the NBA Finals, even though many have moved on to the next thing.