Tuesday, January 22, 2013

15 East: Live Spiny Lobster is back! (food)

I wrote about the spiny lobster at 15 East back when I crowned that meal my favorite meal of 2011. It's also one of my favorite posts because it has a video clip of the lobster!

A couple of weeks ago I brought a friend to 15 East and forgot that it's that time of the year again. I was a bit hesitant at first because while my friend loves great food, this was his first full-on omakase experience. But my friend was game and I'm glad we decided to get the lobster.

DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNN It looks angry.

Speaking of being game and adventurous, let's not forget the signature slow-cooked octopus in all its glory.

The meal started innocently enough with a kitchen amuse of pickled daikon radish, carrots, and sweet wine vinegar. Just sweet and tart enough to get the taste buds going.

The salmon roe (ikura) here is fresh and lightly marinated with dashi and sake. This means it's way less salty than what you get at many other places while retaining its texture so that you get that burst of flavor with each egg.

OCTOPUS, SHIRAKO, JAPANESE CONCH
Our first full appetizer was a trio featuring the signature super-tender slow poached octopus from Spain, as well as a super meaty Japanese conch with the simmering liquid having all kinds of umami. But the simmered shirako was something that I'd never had before. Speaking of being game and adventurous, shirako is essentially cod sperm. I didn't find it particularly flavorful or unique in texture, but I can cross it off my list of things I haven't eaten before. I did find it amusing that while they were perfectly fine to serve it, the chef and server were relatively shy about saying what it was, using the Japanese term and saying "boy reproductive" when I asked to make sure.

LOBSTER SASHIMI
The lobster sashimi was once again a perfect crisp texture. A ponzu sauce was provided which further accentuated the lobster's sweetness. The lobster sashimi was served alongside the usual plate of sashimi, which that night featured melt-in-your-mouth otoro (fattiest tuna) from Spain, saba (mackerel), shima aji (striped jack), red snapper, mirugai (geoduck), and aoyagi (orange clam). I dove right into the sashimi plate and forgot to take a picture. That was a common occurrence that night.

LOBSTER TEMPURA
I was probably most wowed by this the entire night. The light tempura batter was crispy and covered a perfectly cooked piece of lobster. Enough to give you some chew, but not chewy in any way. The sweet flesh was paired with a lemon butter sauce and the accompanying shishito pepper tempura provided a slight bitterness that balanced everything out.

Then came the sushi. According to my notes, we had shima aji, akamutsu (sea perch), red snapper, kinmedai (golden eye snapper), tuna from two different parts of the fish, bonito, kohada (gizzard shad), aji (horse mackerel), saba (mackerel) served with marinated seaweed, sayori (needlefish), ika (squid), uni (sea urchin) from Santa Barbara and Hokkaido, and anago (sea eel).

This was either the shima aji or the akamutsu, which was my friend's favorite piece.

My favorite piece as always is the lightly seared kinmedai.

Akami, or lean tuna.

A cross-section picture of tuna, which the chef used to show where the next piece of tuna came from.

He pointed near the top of the picture, so I guess this piece was right off the top of the back.

This was the Santa Barbara uni, which was creamy. My favorite is still the Hokkaido uni, which is brinier and tastes more of the ocean. I devoured that without even giving thought to a photo.

The anago is another signature of the restaurant, and is perfectly sweet, savory, and meaty. It just gives you a satiated feeling.

COLD SOBA WITH IKURA
I asked for this because I wanted my friend to experience some good quality soba. We were pretty full at this point. They originally wanted to bring out an even larger portion but we just couldn't.

LOBSTER SOUP
The remaining course was a delicious, flavorful soup made from whatever was left of the lobster.

DESSERT
The dessert had cooked fuji apple, vanilla ice cream, and another fruit that I've forgotten. It was satisfying without being over-indulgent.

While I was a little dissatisfied with the non-food aspects of my experience at Brooklyn Fare, 15 East is just a bloody good time! It's great to have a place serve this quality of food while allowing you to put back half a beer too many. I've seen a couple of rowdier (nothing over the line) customers in the past and it's a good thing the sushi bar is completely separated from the rest of the dining room. This is especially true on the weekend, when his regulars tend to show up.

They were also very friendy and open to my friend who wasn't as experienced in sushi. The chef let us have a look at his knife, which he said cost $2000 (while his senior itamae's knife cost about $1000). That same night, a few enthusiastic regulars even got the chef to make matcha (traditional Japanese green tea from powder)!

The chef getting sufficiently prepared (impaired? lol).

The chef making matcha.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

McDonald's in the news again (food)

So McDonald's was in the news last week as they will begin a test of Mighty Wings in Chicago. The Mighty Wings fried chicken wings concept began at McDonald's in the 90's, but disappeared around 2003 until a recent promotion in Atlanta last year proved to be a success.

While I will sometimes eat my share of McDonald's, I do acknowledge the possible harm that they as a corporation tend to do. I wrote almost three years ago about the sustainability of fish used in McDonald's filet-o-fish. Since then, I've only read worse and worse things about fish factory farming, although not directly related to McDonald's.

Could we be heading that way with chicken wings? Chicken wing prices have already almost doubled in a year, and with already-high demand, I can't see McDonald's venture into this space helping prices any.

While on the subject of McDonald's, their most recent 2 for $3 breakfast promotion is the steak and egg burrito. This leads me to ask a question that seems simple and yet I can't find a definitive answer to it on the internet. What constitutes "steak" and how does it differentiate from "beef" in terms of naming and advertising? Is it specific parts of the cattle? Is it the way it's cut? We have slices of roast beef, and yet cheesesteak is also thinly sliced. Ground meat is hamburger, except when it's salisbury "steak". I wrote about USDA labeling back when the whole Taco Bell seasoned "beef" lawsuit came out a couple of years ago, but the difference between beef and steak just feels like it should have a simple solution, not another case of seeing what you can get away with.

Friday, January 11, 2013

2012-13 NFL Playoffs Divisional Round (sport, gambling)

The divisional round this year features three matchups where the teams have previously faced off in the regular season. In the case of the AFC, both favorites routed the underdogs in fairly recent games, leading to both Denver and New England being 9.5 point favorites.

BAL@DEN

The most obvious thing to consider is what has changed since the two teams last faced each other. Clearly, the Ravens will field a much healthier defense this time around. Last week was the first time this season that they had Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata on the field together. Denver is also stout on defense, having ranked second in the NFL in total defense this season. In their last game, only a big play during soft defense garbage time managed to push the game over. With the most noticeable change being the improvement in Baltimore's defense, I'm going to pick the under.

Pick: Under 46

HOU@NE

On the other hand, it doesn't look like much has changed since these two teams last faced off. New England's offense continues to run smoothly while Schaub has continued his subpar play of late. While the Bengals played pretty good defense, what was most notable in last week's Houston win was their inability to execute in the red zone, going 1 for 4. That just won't cut it against the Patriots, who are all about bend-but-don't-break on defense.

Pick: NE -9.5

Saturday, January 5, 2013

2012-13 NFL Playoffs Wildcard Round (sport, gambling)

I don't really have serious insights on all four games, so I will just discuss the two picks I like, which also happen to follow a similar theme.

CIN@HOU

A classic case of a superior team limping into the playoffs going against a weaker team that seems to be catching fire at the right time. It's not clear which team has an advantage in cases like these, and it appears even Vegas isn't sure, with the line set at that dreaded home team -4.5 spot.

Perhaps more can be gleaned from studying what went well or poorly for the teams during their recent runs. For Cincinnati, their recent string of success has clearly been led by their defense. They have not allowed more than 20 points in any game in the second half of the season, and have limited six of their last eight opponents to 13 points or fewer. Their offense has managed to do just enough to win, but the Red Rocket has thrown only two TD passes in his past three games while the Law Firm is dealing with a sore hamstring.

For Houston, their swoon has coincided with a drop in offensive production, having only managed one offensive TD in their last two games. While many will point to the shootouts against Detroit and Jacksonville, as well as the mauling by the Patriots, the defense has actually not played that badly during this stretch.

Why pick a side in the fight between the irresistible force and immovable object. If you think one or both teams will keep playing as they have in recent games, the under rates to be the play.

Pick: Under 43

SEA@WAS

This case is a little different than the game above, with both teams being red hot, having each won 7 of their last 8. While Seattle's stellar home record and strong defense throughout the season have been key focal points, it's the offense that's made its mark during the Seahawks' recent run. They managed an astounding 150 points spread across three consecutive games, and featured a balanced attack with Wilson throwing 16TDs to 2INTs in his last eight games while Lynch finished the season with four consecutive 100 yard rushing games en route to finishing third in the league in rushing yards.

It's unclear just how healthy RG3 is, but his accuracy throwing the ball, along with his good reading skills in the option, should keep the Redskins offense humming along even if he can't motor down the field himself like he did earlier in the season. During their 7 game win streak, the Redskins have scored less than 27 points only once.

If this game was played in Seattle, I'd give a lot more consideration to the possibility that the Seattle defense can shut down the Redskins' offense. But with the game being played in Washington, I think both teams will continue to focus on what's been working for them.

Pick: Over 46

BONUS
ND vs ALA National Championship Game

I have a lot of friends who like Notre Dame in this matchup, both getting the points and perhaps even pulling off the big upset and winning. Similar to the theme that I used for my picks above, I would suggest focusing on what it is the teams do best, which in this case is defense. If Notre Dame really were to make a game of it, I would think that it'd be because their stellar defense continues to shine. On the other side, it's not too unlikely for the Alabama defense to completely shut down the Notre Dame offense. Seems like there are many ways for this game to play out that will result in a low scoring game.

Pick: Under 40.5

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare: An Extremely Thorough Review (food)

The Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare is an exceedingly hard restaurant to review.

First, it is extremely hard to get a reservation. Part of that is because they only serve 18 covers a night. Another reason is that it is the only restaurant in Brooklyn to receive 3 Michelin Stars. But it goes beyond just the three stars, as this gem from an article about Michelin in the November 2012 issue of Vanity Fair illustrates:
“Devout foodies are quieting their delirium of joy at having scored a reservation—everyone and everything here is living up to the honor of adoring this extraordinary restaurant … Uni with truffle-oil gelĂ©e and brioche expresses the regret that we have but three stars to give.” That’s not a review of Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare—it’s a handjob.
Second, it's just impractical to do a full and fair review when you're not allowed to take photos or notes, as well as not being provided any semblance of a menu. It is well-documented that a note taker has been thrown out of the restaurant before.

But the hardest part is trying to judge the experience as a whole when the individual parts of the experience can be so divergent. I might jump around a bit in the review, but there are many parts to the experience that caught my attention.

Atmosphere

Let's start with what it looks like when you get there. Everything from the counter/table to the barstools have a metallic look while the overall space is well-lit by overhead yellow lights without being too bright. There is a row of copper pots hanging above the kitchen area in the back. If the lights had been white, the whole place would have looked way too surgical. There are 18 seats around the outward-facing semicircular chef's counter, which leads us to...

Comfort

When I went to Brooklyn Fare in its early days, they sat 12 guests in the same space. Now with 18 seats, it will get a little cramped for elbow room if you are a bigger guy and you don't get the "corner" parts of the semicircle. The barstools (which they tell me will be changed soon) themselves are raised to reach the counter. They're sturdy and have backs, but are not cushioned. My guess is it would definitely start to feel uncomfortable if you were dining for 3-4 hours. But that won't be a problem because...

Pacing

There wasn't that much time in between courses. While they never rushed you and wouldn't move on till everyone in the same serving group was finished with their dish, the next dish did come quite swiftly. While it is not comparable to stories about 30 minute meals at Sukiyabashi Jiro, the 24 or so courses finish up in a brisk 2 and a half hours. This is not the type of place where you converse between bites or lie back, sip some wine, and ponder what you just ate. The whole procession is kind of like a machine, which leads us to...

Service

The service is efficient, led by one server on the outside of the semicircle, and one trapped in the middle of it (think of the chef's counter like a moat). The semicircle is closed in the back to form the table where the chefs do most of their plating. The chefs do all of their cooking behind this, with the kitchen and all large appliances at the rear wall of the restaurant. While this is a "Chef's Table/Counter", you are not served by any of the chefs and there is no interaction with them. Given the no photos, notes, or menu policy, you probably wouldn't get much out of it anyway.

Food

Strangely enough, the no notes policy applies to the kitchen too. Dishes literally change daily, and it's not clear to me that there are actual recipes. I have tremendous respect for this approach, as it significantly increases the workload and strain on the kitchen to deliver top level meals. However, it also means that you are less likely to be served a single dish that a chef has slaved to hone and hone and perfect.

The meal I had consisted of 24 or so courses starting with one bite items like oysters and sashimi/crudo type dishes, progressing to heavier composed dishes, and finishing with one cheese course and two dessert courses. With no photos or notes, I can only give my general thoughts on the ingredients and techniques, and highlight a few memorable dishes.

Ingredients

The quality, variety, and volume of luxury ingredients in the meal as a whole was beyond any other meal I've ever had, and that includes meals at Masa, Robuchon at the Mansion, Eleven Madison Park, Per Se, Le Bernardin, and others.

The starting sashimi/crudo courses featured all kinds of fresh fish, from my favorites kin medai and shima aji to fish that I'd never heard of before. Throughout the night there were generous amounts of golden osetra, Hokkaido uni that was spooned three large tongues to a serving, black and white truffles, lobster, langoustine, a large slab of foie gras, turbot, squab, crabmeat, scallops, and more.

Techniques

In this regard, much of the technique focused on cooking and flavor combinations. Everything was cooked beautifully, with proteins retaining full taste of the ingredient and perfect texture. Sauces in composed dishes all had wonderful depth of flavor. There wasn't much in the way of scientific "molecular gastronomy" methods, which some foodies like to geek out on.

There were a couple of low points, but nothing unforgivable. I found that on some of the sashimi/crudo plates, there was too much citrus or sauce used. This was something that I felt was hurt most by the lack of a recipe/feedback structure. I also found that throughout the meal, espuma (fancy word for foam) and tiny crisp fried strands to provide texture contrasts were used too repetitively. While they were made with different ingredients every time, some variation of foam or crisp fried strands made its way into at least half the courses.

Notable Dishes

Uni with Black Truffle over Brioche
Three large tongues of uni were placed on top of a small disk of brioche and topped with a large slice of black truffle. Think of it like the ricci at Marea brought to another level. Just an amazing combination of earth and sea. It was specifically mentioned that it was Hokkaido uni, although the large size and creaminess reminded me much more of Santa Barbara uni. It also did not taste as briny/ocean-y as the Hokkaido uni I've had at 15 East.

Applewood-smoked Golden Osetra Caviar with creme fraiche and fried egg bits
I love all kinds of roe and caviar, but the smoking and fried egg bits really brought out the flavor and provided a rounded earthiness to the sharp ocean-y taste of the caviar.

Japanese Rice cooked with White Truffles, Mushrooms, Bonito Butter
The bonito butter was crazy good. It imparted a deep rich flavor to the earthy rice dish. This outdistances the uni risotto at Masa by many lengths.

Turbot dish
Squab dish
Both these proteins were just cooked so beautifully. The fish had a supple, meaty texture, while the squab was perfectly medium rare while retaining skin that was as crispy as if it were straight up fried.

Crab dish
What made this dish stand out to me was the presence of finger lime pulp throughout the huge mass of lump crab meat. It was not only refreshing, but provided a wonderful texture contrast. At first I thought it was some sort of roe because it popped and burst into juice when I bit into it.

Lobster, Foie Gras, Langoustine Ravioli
This was all in one dish, and there was one more component that I forgot. It may have been truffles. While the lobster was cooked perfectly and there was an extremely generous slab of foie gras, I just wasn't sure how this dish was supposed to come together as a whole. The langoustine ravioli, while fine, was not memorable and tiny in comparison.

Bread
There is no bread service at Brooklyn Fare. During one of the courses, a slice of bread was offered on the table. When I asked to learn more about the bread, the server said that it's just bread from the market and they only provide it in case I wanted to mop up some of the extra sauce from that specific course.

Cheese Course
Ume-Shiso in sorbet form
Dessert
The cheese course used a raw cow milk's cheese and was one of the best cheese courses I've ever had, in terms of a composed dish that featured the cheese. The first dessert was simple yet astounding. A shiso sorbet was paired with a plum wine sauce that gave you everything that you could ask for in the combination while taming and balancing the individual components, which is very difficult, especially for shiso. The final dessert was more traditional, featuring chocolate and nut flavors. I think it may have been some variation of a napoleon. I thought this was a brilliant conclusion to the meal. They already swung for the fences and connected with the ume-shiso dessert, and now, all that's left is to leave the guest with a feeling of being satiated, which this traditional final dessert does.

Ratings and Value

This meal was definitely worth 3 New York Michelin Stars, especially if Michelin NY holds true to its statement that it only grades on food. It is extremely difficult to have 24 courses where the highs are so high and the lows are relatively minor and forgivable. That being said, I don't think that The Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare would receive three European Michelin Stars given the traditional rating methods and my experience with the service and atmosphere.

Value is a very subjective concept, but let's start with the price. At $225+t/t, you're looking at $290 all-in without wine. That puts it on par with the price at Per Se, so let's use them for comparison. You are still getting tremendous value for food at Brooklyn Fare. While you will certainly get some luxury ingredients at Per Se, the caviar, foie gras, truffles, and more that were offered at Brooklyn Fare would come with rather large supplement fees at Per Se.

However, at Per Se, you are getting 3+ hours at a comfortable table with majestic views from its position atop the Time Warner Center. You can rest, recover, drink and talk to your heart's content, and then finish your night half into a food coma and ready for a blissful sleep. When you finish at Brooklyn Fare, you leave to find yourself still in a random, not particularly well-lit part of Brooklyn, at a relatively early hour. While I had no intentions of disrespecting any of the great food I had just eaten, I could have just as easily eaten a taco or two by the time I got home.

Everyone values these things differently. I believe it is more important to know what you're getting so that you can make the right decision for yourself. That being said, my personal preference is for Cesar (the chef) to partner up with someone with a great front of house background and really open a full luxury restaurant with a superb wine program. Charge the going European 3 Star rate of 300 Euro if you have to. It's not like he doesn't value the little details of luxury, as evidenced by the gorgeous and likely very expensive plates and dishes that he serves his food in.

One More Thing
This was my last impression of The Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, so I'll leave it with the reader as well. As my guest and I were leaving and standing at the door, Cesar was there as well. He did not look at us and did not engage us in any conversation. There was no "Thank you for coming", "Did you enjoy the food", "How was your meal", or even "Goodbye". None of it. I get it if he was behind the counter cooking food for the next set of guests, but he was just standing there in front of us as we put our coats on and got ready to go out the door. It was almost as if he was waiting for us to thank him for the most extraordinary meal ever. Sorry, but I don't give handjobs.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy 2013

And so begins another year!

One of my new year's resolutions is to write more blog posts and update the blog more consistently. I'm aiming for at least 4 posts a month, preferably spaced out to once a week. Writing is a good outlet for me and I do want to pick it back up. However, I don't eat out that often, so don't go expecting one food post a week. The NFL playoffs should keep me busy for a while, but when they're done I'll probably focus my sport/gambling posts on my bread-and-butter, the NBA. I'll also probably write more TV/entertainment posts, as we enter the spring season and some of my favorite TV shows like Justified and Archer are back. I might even write about anime, now that I've started watching a bunch of them again.

Then again, the blog's name is Ramblings and Gamblings, so feel free to leave comments suggesting things you want me to write and ramble on about. Wishing everyone a happy 2013. Cheers!