Monday, November 25, 2013

Betony: A Good Time with Great, Whimsical Food (food)

A lot has already been written about Betony, so I will try to only add a few specific points that are of personal interest. Pretty much everything that's been written about Betony has been positive, and I definitely agree as we had a great time there. The half-year-old restaurant is helmed by two accomplished EMP alums, and the excellence in pedigree is shown in both the food and the service.

Atmosphere: With two levels of dining rooms and a large bar out front, there was a lovely buzz to the restaurant as a whole. Some of the wall design, which was probably left over from Brasserie Pushkin, seemed a bit out of place, but overall it had a cozy yet upscale atmosphere. We were seated in the back dining room on the ground floor, and the lighting was a little too dim for my taste. I understand that many prefer dim lighting and think it's romantic, but you will probably have to use your smartphone or pen light to read the menu. I ended up being the one asshle who took pictures with flash to capture the chef's pretty plates, but it's possible that they no longer allow that going forward.

Service: Service was excellent; attentive and friendly. I wouldn't say it was completely polished and it wasn't running like a machine the way it is at the very top tier of restaurants in NYC such as Jean Georges, but it is still a fairly new restaurant that does a lot of covers each night. I can only imagine that it will continue to get even better with regards to tiny details and diner interaction.

Food: While Betony has often been mentioned in the same discussions as Juni, another upscale restaurant that just opened this year, I believe that the concepts are very different. While excellent food is still a key point of focus, the a la carte menu design caters to those who want to have a fancy fine dining meal as well as to those who just want to have amazing bites of food with an excellent cocktail or two. To me, Betony is much more similar to the NoMad. Much of the food is very whimsical in nature, especially the small bites to share section of the menu. At the time that we went, I felt that there should have been more dishes on offer given the a la carte nature of the menu. If you had certain dislikes or dietary restrictions, you could easily find yourself with very limited choices. However, looking at their current online menu, it does appear to have expanded since.

I think they were meant to have a cheese flavor, but it wasn't very strong. These were nice but rather forgettable as they weren't particularly substantial in flavor or volume. I think that as complimentary accompaniments to drinks they should pack a bit more punch.

The bites to share section of the menu is literally meant to be finger food. We weren't given utensils yet for this part of the meal.

Nice refreshing bites with good texture contrast.

There was a noticeable piece of lobster or two, but nothing significant. As a fancified version of lobster salad, I liked the taste of it more than the lobster roll at Atera, and I especially liked the parsley potato crumbs which provided good texture and a nice earthiness to balance out the lobster mixture.

I enjoy classic flavors redesigned, but there really wasn't enough tongue in each bite to let the unctuousness of the cut shine through.

I thought this was extraordinary. Crunchy, creamy, rich, nutty, slightly sweet, and with a bit of kick from the black pepper. This had it all, and really showcased that in addition to the whimsy of the idea and design, they could still pack a lot of flavor into one bite.

These were just so so good that it was hard to stop eating them. It appears that they change the vegetables they use for the pickles depending on the season/produce, but fried pickled brussels sprouts were just killer. The cooling yogurt dip was also perfect, with just a touch of savory, sweet, and tangy profiles.

Simple classic flavors executed well.

My friend loved the grain salad, and thought that the way everything was cut and portioned, especially the sprouts, was perfect and with great attention to detail.

Another dish I absolutely adored. The ham hock consomme was flavorful yet light on the tongue. A lot of effort goes into making a good consomme, and it was well worth it here as it provided the perfect medium for the rich seared foie gras cut by the crispy vinegared kale chips. I also loved that it was a seared foie gras dish that used only the acidity of those kale chips to cut the fatty foie gras, as opposed to sweet accompaniments which I see all too often.

Chef Bryce Shuman came out personally to shave the white truffles, which went perfectly with his delicious sheep's milk ravioli. The chef actually removed some of the eggplant and mustard green components of the dish so that the ravioli would be the perfect vehicle for the wonderful truffles.


A delicious two-part chicken dish, the jus was rich and comforting while the side bowl of chicken with greens had herby notes that provided a vibrant contrast.

Another delicious and satisfying dish. The short rib had a slick of aged minerally flavor while the cut itself was extremely meaty yet tender. The grilled flavor came through as well in both the meat and the romaine, while fried sweetbreads added a burst of salt and crispiness to the dish. I did want more of the lettuce puree, but overall a great beef lovers' main course.

I strongly feel that a la carte desserts that are deconstructions should always be labelled with quotation marks on menus. While they may be delicious, sometimes people just want to be comforted by their desserts and restaurants shouldn't confuse their expectations. Here, for example, the "rice pudding" was made of crisped rice.

At $4 for these three bites this was the cheapest thing on the menu but still very interesting. Liquid stout was literally coming out of the macaron as I bit into it, which was pretty cool. The taffy-esque caramel chew was too big for my tastes. You're likely going to be chewing on it for a long long time.

Overall, Betony, like the NoMad, is a restaurant that I recommend not only going, but going back again and again to try everything on the relatively small a la carte menu. Some items were bigger hits than others, but everything was worth trying. This is the type of place where you want to identify your own personal favorite dishes that you will certainly love so that you can stop in and have them again over a cocktail or two.

41 W 57th St
(between Avenue Of The Americas & 5th Ave)
Manhattan, NY

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Underdog of the Week: NFL 2013-2014 Season Week 12 (sport, gambling, NFLUnderdog13)

In this series, I will pick an underdog every week that I think will not only cover the spread, but also have a good chance at winning outright.

Underdog of the Week:
JAC +10
JAC +385 ML

I like to look back at what happened the same week in previous seasons to help with my picks, but I don't think that will work this week. This year is one of those rare occasions when week 12 does not fall on Thanksgiving week. It's only happened one other time during the past seven years, back in 2008. So what happened then? The biggest underdog of the week, an offensively-challenged Raiders team led by Jamarcus Russell, went on the road and beat up the Denver Broncos, a middling division rival that year. Can something similar happen this year? I say it will!

The stories are very similar. Jacksonville is the biggest underdog this week, an offensively-challenged team visiting a mediocre division rival. Looking just at the stats, Houston is rightfully a double digit favorite. But the Jaguars have played better on the road than at home, having covered the spread in their last two away games. I continue to think it's because of those horrible black home uniforms. Couple that with Houston, who hasn't covered any spread at home this season, and there's a recipe for a big upset. There's a lot of internal strife in Houston right now, and the pressure of playing at home in front of booing fans may be too much to handle.

While Houston has very impressive stats on both sides of the ball (their main failure has been turnovers), they do appear to have one weakness, and that is defending tight ends. Perhaps Marcedes Lewis can regain some of the form from that one random 10TD season he had.

Interesting Stat of the Week: Couldn't find the data, but I'd have to imagine a 2-8 team as a double digit favorite is pretty rare.

ATS 7-4
ML 4-7 -170

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Underdog of the Week: NFL 2013-2014 Season Week 11 (sport, gambling, NFLUnderdog13)

In this series, I will pick an underdog every week that I think will not only cover the spread, but also have a good chance at winning outright.

That's it, I'm done with Atlanta.

Underdog of the Week:
CLE +5.5
CLE +210 ML

I really have no numbers or stats for this week. Last year, week 11 saw only one underdog win outright. The only team that might have had a trend, the Rams, is on a bye.

The Bengals have won all their home games so far this season. On the road, every game they've played has had a final differential of a FG or less, except for their loss to the Browns. I think that means something. People will point at the Browns' QB situation, but the focus should really be on their defense which was the only team so far this season to hold Cincy to single digits. If it does end up being a 9-6 type of game, I think the Browns can pull it out coming off a bye.

Interesting Stat of the Week: Over the past 6 seasons, a winless road team visiting an undefeated home team in week 11 has only happened twice. The home team won both times, but was only 1-1 ATS.

ATS 7-3
ML 4-6 -70

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

NBA Thoughts 2 Weeks into the 2013-14 Season (sport, gambling)

Just some quick thoughts on teams I've watched so far this season, including suggestions for how to bet them.

Brooklyn Nets
They have very good players, but just aren't a very good team. They aren't creating enough easy shots, and they don't really have any stellar pure shooters to help space the floor. They've also had problems holding leads, losing two double digit leads late (winning barely vs Miami and losing at Washington) because Jason Kidd has no idea which lineups to use with his deep team. Up by double digits late in the 4th quarter against the Wizards, Kidd took out all his defensive players besides Garnett (Pierce, Kirilenko, Evans, etc.) to play Jason Terry, one of the streakiest shooters out there. That makes no sense, and until he figures out the right lineups for each late game situation, I would only bet on them in first halves.

This is an underrated team that is capable of scoring a ton of points. If they still had a healthy Tyson Chandler, I'd say they'd be a dark horse to win it all. Reminds me a lot of the old Monta Ellis Warriors teams, and I'd focus on the over whenever they play a team that's willing to run with them.

The vaunted Memphis grit n' grind defense is gone. And considering they're lacking in scorers, that's a big problem. The new coach just doesn't have it together, and until they start holding teams to under 90 points on the road, they shouldn't be treated like an elite team. Fade them and take the over when they play against other defensively-challenged teams.

Another team with a coaching change (Memphis, above) that looks completely lost. They're trying to run like they used to, but they don't have enough scorers and shooters to handle that approach. They do not look anything like a playoff team right now, and I would fade them against any team that has no problems scoring in a fast pace.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Underdog of the Week: NFL 2013-2014 Season Week 10 (sport, gambling, NFLUnderdog13)

In this series, I will pick an underdog every week that I think will not only cover the spread, but also have a good chance at winning outright.

Underdog of the Week:
ATL +5.5
ATL +210 ML

As the season is now past the halfway point, it's easy to have the recency effect take over and only focus on what happened the previous week as opposed to earlier in the year. Teams coming off a bad loss may appear much worse than they actually are. Over the past 5 years, teams that have lost by 10 or more points in week 9 and were a TD or less underdog in week 10 went 9-7 SU.

Atlanta has looked horrible the last two weeks, including week 8 when I took them against Arizona. However, both of those were on the road whereas they've had two wins at home as well as a close loss to a Jets team that's now proving to be not as bad as everyone first thought. I think Atlanta is in a good spot here this week. Seattle has been playing poorly the past two weeks, barely eking out wins against weak teams. Atlanta is still missing a couple of their top playmakers, but a few weeks of playing together and a return home should help the substitutes step up.

Interesting Stat of the Week:
Sometimes, bad teams are just bad, regardless of the recency effect. Over the past five seasons, those teams that lost by 10 or more points in week 9 and were an underdog of more than a TD in week 10 went 2-6 ATS.

ATS 7-2
ML 4-5 +30

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Chef's Tasting at Juni: Exceptional, Exquisite, Expensive (food)

Juni is a newcomer to NYC's fine dining scene, having opened just a few months ago. But its chef, Shaun Hergatt, is no stranger to NYC fine dining, having previously made a name for himself with his restaurant SHO, which got 2 Michelin stars and was one of my favorite fine dining restaurants in NYC even though it was in an awkward downtown location.

I'd read reviews about their lunch and prix fixe, but not much was out there about the tasting menu. We decided to give it a try, and were pleasantly surprised by how good it was, even though we'd already had great experiences at SHO. Honestly, I wish I'd taken notes as the menu descriptions don't do justice to all the elements that were on each plate.

Exceptional - With the increased focus on produce, the tasting menu at Juni had a more cohesive focus and coherent vision of flavors and textures than the menu Hergatt had at SHO. Many of the flavors were familiar and rooted in tradition, but brought to another level as the elements of the plate came together. The way that some elements were too strong on their own yet blended in harmony together as a composed dish reminded me of Corton.

Exquisite - In addition to strong flavors, there were also many delicate accents. I especially liked the way dishes were composed and painted onto the plate. Everything was visually appealing, and I felt that most of the plates presented a nice middle ground in between some dishes at Daniel which can be too cluttered and some dishes at Eleven Madison Park which can have too much negative space on the plate. The portions were also just right, as I'm not a big fan of tasting menus where every "course" is pretty much just one bite.

Expensive - While the price is on par with many of the top tier restaurants in NYC, it's about more than just the nominal cost of the meal. The tasting menu was $180 for 10 courses, but 3 of those courses were desserts, and the featured proteins were scallops, black cod, chicken skin, and lamb neck. There was no foie, no wagyu, no aged beef, not even turbot or squab. So in a way, it's the complete opposite of Brooklyn Fare, where practically every course was filled with expensive ingredients.


The meal began with a choice of regular and olive baguettes. This was pretty much the exact same bread service that EMP had before they began to make their own bread, and I wondered if it was from the same source. I was told that many (including me) who had dined at SHO had asked about the heavenly truffle butter they used to serve there. They don't do that here at Juni, but they do provide a delicious olive tapenade that's been cooked with garlic and chives.

Simple, bright, appetizing flavors. There was a beet tuile with goat cheese, some custard with foam, and pickled mushrooms.

This was both very pretty to look at and very fun to eat. There was a wide variety of tastes and textures. The dressing was fairly light, and helped to enhance the fresh feeling of all the vegetables on the plate. I vaguely remember the server saying that the salad had 30 different vegetables/components.

Many places do raw scallop dishes highlighting the sweetness of the scallops, but I liked how the meatiness of the scallops came through in this dish as well.

We had two supplements worth ($90 each) of white truffle with potato all served on one plate. The creamy and buttery potato puree was a great vessel for the white truffle, but it was the crunchy potato bits that really helped to keep it from being dull and heavy. Chef Hergatt personally came out to shave the truffles onto the dish.

The granola was used really well here for both texture contrast and as a strong enough flavor to stand up to the rich custard and flavorful mushroom foam. Serving it warm helped to enhance the comforting feeling produced by the earthy flavors.

This was a simple yet complex dish. The chive oil, which was plenty strong in itself, surrounded the creamy mustard and toned down its sharpness when eaten with the potatoes, resulting in a feeling of "from the ground" earthiness.

This chicken skin was super crispy, but I wasn't even sure if it was actually chicken skin. It felt more like chicken was cooked down and then made into a lavash. I found the sauce a little too sweet and over-reduced, but I loved the use of cooked azuki beans in a savory presentation, giving off only a slight sweetness and providing a great textural match with the onions.

The blood orange gastrique by itself seemed too sweet, making me wonder why anyone would serve it with a savory dish. Yet when I mixed it with the parsnip puree and put it on top of the fish, it worked beautifully. The sweetness was tempered and enveloped by the smooth parsnip puree, while serving to enhance the sweetness of the black cod. It all came together like one of those "Corton" moments I mentioned earlier. The fish itself was cooked perfectly, crisp on the outside with flaky flesh, and while I'm not big on basil seeds, I didn't mind them here. After we finished, Chef Hergatt came out to ask us how we liked the dish as it was brand new on the menu and we were the first ones to taste it. We told him he had a winner.

The final savory course was much more traditional in flavor, served with a rich, sticky, sweet braising jus. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the vegetable ribbons and purees worked to add in more textural contrasts.

For my friend who didn't care for lamb, they let us substitute a choice from the prix fixe menu.

We added one order of this dessert to share as it looked very interesting and had just been featured in some magazine. It was a stellar combination of sweet and savory. The cheddar tuile was, once again, too salty on its own, but when eaten with the sweet corn ice cream, it created an excellent umami sensation which was balanced by the acidity of the lime.

An interesting "cheese course" that featured sweet and tart flavors with a nice creamy finish.

Another great combination of sweet and tart and earthy, all brought together by the simple vanilla ice cream.

Another interesting combination, especially since each of the individual ingredients has a fairly strong and distinct flavor. I especially liked the very thin sweet potato crisps. Seeing the "Happy Birthday" written on the plate for SC, I actually compared it to an earlier photo from SHO to see if they just happened to use some sort of stencil. I would say that the two "Happy Birthday"s definitely come from different handwriting.

The petit fours selection was also interesting, with my favorite being fig beignets made to look like figs.

Atmosphere: The restaurant is split into two dining rooms, and was perhaps 1/3 full on the Tuesday night we were there. Compared to the red and black design of SHO, the slate-like coloring scheme was much more serene. While some might find it drab, I found it nice and soothing. I do think the room could use a bit more color, and without changing the coloring scheme, I would suggest that perhaps they use some brighter colored flowers for the serving station table that's right in the middle of the dining room.

Service: Service was good but could still be more polished for a restaurant of this ambition. I do like that their servers actually seemed very enthusiastic about the food, unlike the servers at SHO who just felt like generic hotel workers. There was one egregious error where they overcharged us an extra $180 tasting menu, and we almost didn't catch it!

Overall: I can easily see Hergatt reclaiming his two Michelin stars if he stays in the kitchen and continues to update his menu according to the seasons. It's expensive, but the food and presentation are of a very high quality. I also like how the food features inventive combinations while still being rooted in tradition, without the over-reliance on whimsy that I found at Atera.

12 E 31st St
Hotel Chandler, between 5th Ave & Madison Ave
Manhattan, NY 10016

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Underdog of the Week: NFL 2013-2014 Season Week 9 (sport, gambling, NFLUnderdog13)

In this series, I will pick an underdog every week that I think will not only cover the spread, but also have a good chance at winning outright.

Underdog of the Week:
PHI +2
PHI +115 ML

Conventional wisdom has home field advantage worth about 3 points. Home teams that are about even or slightly worse than their opponents will still end up favored in the spread. However, that home field advantage hasn't seem to help those teams during week 9. In the past 5 seasons, home favorites of 3 or fewer points have gone 1-8 both straight up and ATS.

Philadelphia fits the criteria this week, being a small underdog despite scoring ten total points in their last two games combined. However, it's possible the Eagles just play better on the road, having been winless at home so far this season. The return of Nick Foles should help to jump start that offense as well.

Interesting Stat of the Week:
Over the past five seasons, home favorites of 3.5 points were 0-4 ATS and 0-2 SU.

ATS 6-2
ML 3-5 -70