Thursday, January 30, 2014

2013-2014 NFL Season Superbowl Pick (sport, gambling)

This year's Superbowl feels like it's the most talked about one in a long time. It could be because of the big players (Manning) and big personalities (Sherman). It could be because we've already been talking about both teams throughout the season as they are both 1 seeds who have led wire to wire (last 1 seeds to play each other: Colts vs Saints '09). It could be because it's a matchup of the top ranked offense vs the top ranked defense (last time this happened was Bills vs Giants '91). Whatever the reason, there's already plenty out there about this match up, so I'm not going to go into a long and thorough preview.

Seattle to win
Under 47.5

One of the key plays that the Broncos run is a corner timing route where Manning lobs the ball to the outside like an end zone fade. The ball gets there about the same time that the receiver (usually Demaryius Thomas) turns his head. It's been a very successful play for them, usually netting about 15+ yards and moving the chains. From what I've seen, the defensive player almost never turns his head around in time. However, with Seattle's ball-hawking corners, I don't think it'll work. If Seattle can stop this play, many of Denver's drives will be in jeopardy.

Seattle relies on those corners a lot to hold their own in 1-on-1 coverage. It's allowed them to keep an extra defender in run coverage or to spy on running QBs like Kapernick and Newton. To slow Denver's passing game, I wouldn't be surprised if Carroll took that extra defender and used him to doubleteam Welker out of the slot. If Seattle can indeed contain Welker and neutralize that corner route, Denver won't be able to sustain the drives they need to score enough points to win. My guess is this game will play out like Denver's loss at San Diego earlier in the season.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dollarmania at 100 Montaditos (food)

100 Montaditos is a bar/restaurant chain that originated in Spain and recently opened in the West Village. The main draw here are the montaditos, which are mini-sandwiches priced from $1 to $2.5. There are 100 different sandwiches on the menu, but they are mostly simple combinations of a much smaller set of core ingredients. Every Wednesday, they have a Dollarmania promotion where all the sandwiches and appetizers are $1, while domestic beers are $2 and imported beers are $3.

The interior is really nice and it's probably a great place to have a drink and eat some mini-sandwiches while watching the many big screen TVs. The staff is also very nice and friendly. But to get a good feel for the menu, I decided to get 20 or so sandwiches to go. I was there early and it still took a while. I'm not quite sure they are well equipped to handle very large volume. And at these prices, I'm sure they get very busy later on in the evenings.

Overall, I thought the sandwiches were pretty good. The bread had a nice chew and some of the ingredients were quite good. For the price, especially during Dollarmania, it's excellent value. The sandwiches were ok in size, coming in at a little larger than a metro card each.

Their standard sandwich is about the same size as a metro card but about 20-30% longer.

Their chapata bread, which is essentially a ciabatta, is a little smaller.

The order of brava potatoes was huge, and would be a steal even at the regular menu price of $2.

My thoughts on the core ingredients that make up the 100 combinations of sandwiches:

Cheese: Brie, Blue, Manchego, Cheddar, Mozarella
All their cheeses were good, and I particularly liked the brie and the manchego.

Meats: Chorizo, Salami, Grilled Chicken, Ham, Meatballs, BBQ Pork, Serrano Ham, Philly Steak, Turkey, Hot Dog
The Serrano ham really stood out, having real flavor without being too salty. The meatballs came in a marinara sauce and tasted exactly like chef boyardee. All the other meats tasted pretty generic, and the chorizo was disappointingly bland.

Seafood: Shrimps, Smoked Salmon
The shrimps were super tiny as expected, but actually had decent texture. I found the smoked salmon very salty.

Accompaniments: Ali Oli, Brava Sauce, Red Pepper, Strawberry Jam, Crispy Onion
The brava sauce had a nice kick and the ali oli sauce had a good garlicky flavor. The red peppers and crispy onions were tasty, but the portions of each were too small to really have an impact. One of the sandwiches I ordered had the jam but they didn't put any on.

I didn't order any of the dessert sandwiches. If you're only interested in the food and not looking for a good place to have a drink, you can still have a good time ordering the excellent brava potatoes (that come with both sauces for dipping) and anything with Serrano ham or cheese on it. Overall, I'm sure I'll be back to load up on potatoes and sandwiches during Dollarmania, and would definitely stay for a few drinks if I lived in the area.

176 Bleecker St
(between Sullivan St and Mac Dougal St)
Manhattan, NY

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Takesushi Sunnyside: The Best Value for Cheap, High Quality Seafood in New York (food)

It's always hard for a neighborhood restaurant to find the right balance between affordability and ambition. While there are many great places to eat in Queens, most of them tend to be cheap ethnic eateries. A recent meal at Takesushi in Sunnyside offered the best of both worlds, with cheap starting prices and food that went beyond "this is great for being in Queens". In fact, I think Takesushi may offer the best value for cheap, high quality seafood in NYC.

Simple and tasty, I find that eggplant also works well to stimulate the appetite.

I absolutely adore monkfish liver, so I usually order it whenever I see it on a menu. While the portion was very sizeable and the flavors were fine, I found the texture a bit too cold and firm for my taste. It could be because they were sliced pretty thick.

I don't know if it comes across in the photo, but this piece of tuna belly was huge. This was quite something for $10, as I would imagine the same slab of tuna belly served with a couple of sides could easily go for over $30 in Manhattan. The flesh tasted great and was very fatty, keeping it soft and moist even though the piece of fish was cooked through. The fish was perfectly grilled with a simple soy-based sauce, while the skin was very crunchy. The fish seemed very fresh, as the crunchy skin had a fairly restrained fishy flavor. To me that says a lot, as I find that no matter how fresh the fish is, skin from a very fatty, oily fish tends to have a very pronounced fishy flavor when cooked.

Another $10 dish, this whole fish was expertly fried in fresh oil, with a delicate crunch that worked well with the soft flesh. The special dipping sauce served with this had a nice little spicy kick to it which was great.

I don't know how much of a difference it makes, but most of the fugu served in NYC is the farm-raised, non-toxic version. I've never been particularly impressed by it, even when I had it at Masa, the most expensive restaurant in NYC. For $15, the fugu set here consists of a sizeable plate of sashimi and three nice pieces of fugu tempura. The fugu sashimi had a texture similar to that of fluke sashimi, while the tempura was again expertly fried, highlighting the meaty flesh.

Much of chef/proprietor Robin Kawada's expertise lies in the sourcing of the fish, so we decided to go with the sashimi instead of the sushi. In the end, this is a neighborhood restaurant and not a destination sushi-ya like 15 East where I would eat sushi one piece at a time and admire the chef's intricate knife skills and rice.

Takesushi offers two versions of omakase sashimi, with the regular priced at $38 each and one featuring specialty items priced at $59. The premium omakase sashimi that night had Santa Barbara uni (sea urchin), Kumamoto oysters, ika (squid), kanpachi (amberjack), mirugai (geoduck/giant clam), aoyagi (round clam), tai (sea bream), and bluefin chutoro (medium-fatty tuna). Everything was great although the squid was rather plain. The uni was really sweet and creamy, and the clams had great texture.

Even though we didn't have sushi, I highly recommend sitting at the sushi bar. Chef Robin is very friendly, and with over 40 years of experience in seafood wholesaling, he has plenty of great stories. One other special that I saw the chef making but that we didn't order was the Maine lobster special. For $25, there was a whole tail sliced and served raw for sashimi as well as two pieces of sushi featuring one cooked claw each and two pieces of tomalley gunkan maki. I don't think he was making money on this special, especially since lobster prices go up as the weather gets colder. However, he told me that he was just happy people were ordering the lobster special. He said that when he first opened in the neighborhood, people were only ordering maki rolls for the first few weeks. To me, that raising of food culture and appreciation in the area is the hallmark of a truly great neighborhood restaurant.

There are now more and more places in NYC with affordable quality omakase sushi, but it is hard to get full at the base price. At Takesushi, there is both quality and quantity, and the presence of excellent cooked seafood differentiates it from many of those sushi restaurants. While prices will change due to market availability, I think Takesushi will continue to be the best value for quality seafood in New York with a cheap entry price.

43-46 42nd St
Sunnyside, Queens

Monday, January 13, 2014

Reviewing All the Dim Sum at Red Farm UWS (food)

For the last big foodie group dinner of 2013 (the previous one was at Resto), we decided to go to the newly opened upper west side location of Red Farm. Even though a couple of critics have gushed over the entrees, I wanted to focus on the dim sum since I was so fond of Joe Ng's work at (now closed) Chinatown Brasserie. But it wasn't enough for us to just have a meal at Red Farm, so we decided to try EVERY SINGLE PIECE of dim sum on the menu.

There were a couple of food bloggers in attendance, including Katie from (her blog post with prettier pictures here). The dim sum was usually 4 to an order, but they had no problem adding individual pieces at a pro-rated price. There's a lot of dim sum to cover, so let's go through them before I offer my final thoughts.

Much like how I remembered them from Chinatown Brasserie, Joe Ng's dim sum here at Red Farm is beautiful and exquisite. The vegetables had a nice crunch but there wasn't really enough for their flavors to stand out.

The exterior was lovely with a shattering crisp, while the pastrami tasted good without any oily mouth feel that most generic egg rolls tend to have.

The addition of peanuts inside the dumplings was really interesting and enhanced the already crunchy texture of the vegetables.

I'm not big on mangoes, but the sauce was good and the wontons were fried nicely. Still not a combination that I would have thought of or am particularly eager to try again, though.

This was the closest thing to a pure har gow on the menu and the best showcase of Ng's skills. The skin was delicate and the shrimp filling had good flavor and snap to its texture. While I really liked the dim sum at Hakkasan, I found the individual pieces too big and preferred the smaller, more delicate pieces at Red Farm.

This was a great dish, but it wasn't really dim sum even with the presence of dumplings. In fact, I thought the dumplings were more of an afterthought as the curry sauce with onions, scallions, and vegetables was really delicious.

There was actual lobster meat and the cheese was mild in the form of a cheese sauce. In terms of lobster in small tube form, the ones at Betony were far superior at a comparable price.

This was an interesting combination, as the crab provided a nice sweetness to contrast the richer duck flavor. The crispy fried exterior helped bring it all together, and the presentation was excellent, with the pointy shell end of a crab claw being used as the tail of a stingray.

More shrimp dumplings in cute form, but the highlight may have been the "pac man" made of fried sweet potato stood in place by some guacamole. It was a good way to switch things up.

I think the inside was pork belly, which did not really work in this type of bun. I would have preferred the more traditional, greasier style, with a thicker, crunchier crust. They were also really tiny.

These are some of the best soup dumplings in NYC. This was the closest I've seen in NYC to the delicate thin skin at Din Tai Fung. The soup was rich in porcine flavor without being greasy, and had a noticeable crab flavor.

These did indeed arrive on a skewer, although I don't know what purpose it served. This was the only item on the menu that were essentially shumai, and it was good version with a springy texture to the meat mixture and whole shrimp.

The dumpling had good lamb flavor and was pan fried well. The broth itself was a decent miso soup, but I didn't quite feel that putting them together enhanced anything.

These were good, and my main takeaway was that jalapenos are a great pepper to use for stuffed pepper dim sum.

This was the best bite of the night. The duck breast was tasty, and the grilled lychee provided a good foil for the richness while not being too sweet. As one whole bite, the mixture of meat and juice from the grilled lychee was perfect, enhanced by the crunch of the lotus chip.

Even though we ordered seconds of certain dumplings, we still needed rice to have any chance of being full. This was overall very tasty, and the assortment of textures from the vegetables was very pleasing. However, it felt more like vegetables over fried rice rather than vegetable fried rice.

The server upsold this chocolate pudding with a hard sell. While it was a good pudding, it wasn't anything special or must-have.

The dim sum here are some of the best in NYC. They are delicate and well-made, and come thoughtfully with a wide variety of sauces. However, the only feeling I got out of my meal at Red Farm was that it was expensive. Much of that feeling wasn't actually in regard to the food, although the sizing was a bit precious. It was the fact that we had to sit at a communal table and felt rushed the whole time. Servers would come around to remove plates very frequently. What's the point of having a unique sauce for each dim sum (some of which were truly excellent, such as the curry sauce with the five flavor chicken dumplings) if a server keeps rushing over to take the plate away before it's empty? I could understand it if I was in Chinatown paying half the price.

Contrast that with Hakkasan, a Chinese restaurant that has continually been criticized for being too expensive. The prices are actually comparable if you don't order the most expensive items, but you get to sit very comfortably in a beautiful space with excellent service. I get the idea of paying a premium for that entire experience at Hakkasan, while I find it hard to justify the Red Farm prices, even without including the server upselling us $8 pudding. So while I've rediscovered Joe Ng's excellent dim sum here, it just makes me miss Chinatown Brasserie, which was the best of both worlds, even more.

Red Farm
2170 Broadway (between 77th St & 76th St)
Manhattan, NY

Monday, January 6, 2014

Another Year for the Blog (rambling)

As we enter 2014, I look back and feel that I had a pretty good year with the blog. I set out a goal to write a post every week, and I was pretty successful for the most part, with 70 total posts. There were a couple of slow months (March and August) when I only wrote 3 posts for the month, but I never felt like there was a really long break between posts. The majority of blog posts that I wrote were about food and sports, but I'll be looking to add a little more variety in 2014.

Before finally moving on to 2014 (although we're already a week in), let's look back at 2013.

I've been very fortunate when it comes to food throughout my life, and 2013 was another great gustatory year, even as I lost 30 pounds. Some meals really stood out to me, and I added a new feature on the blog with "My Favorite Recent Meals" to showcase them. My favorite meal of the year was my first meal of two at Eleven Madison Park, which was so epic I had to split it into two blog posts (part 1 and 2).

I started a new feature called NFL Underdog '13, where I focused on picking just one underdog each week during the 2013-2014 NFL season. I thought it was pretty successful (final results: 10-7ATS, 6-11SU +25), and I'm looking forward to doing it again next season. It's also given me some ideas for new features for this year's NBA and MLB seasons, so I might end up writing much more about sports this coming year.

This has been a great year for television, with great shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Dr. Who, and The Walking Dead being a part of mainstream pop culture. I continue to watch a lot of TV, but haven't really blogged about it this past year. I did blog a couple of anime recommendations, as I've really gotten into anime this past year. There are some really great stories being told in that medium, and I would like to share some more of them with readers.

I wish everyone a great 2014 and I'm looking forward to writing and sharing even more!