Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Cow Experience at Takashi (food)

It had been quite a while since I last visited Takashi , the West Village yakiniku restaurant focused only on beef. It seemed like as good a time as any to revisit when they recently launched both a cow platter featuring 16 different cuts which they dubbed "the cow experience" and a limited late night weekend ramen.

Doing both the cow platter and the ramen together seemed to me like an outrageous idea perfect for our foodie group, whose last few conquests included all the dim sum at Red Farm UWS and a whole lamb at Resto. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get a ramen reservation, and had to settle for the cow platter along with a la carte additions from the menu. In fact, I had a very unsatisfactory experience dealing with the front of house trying to sort out the ramen situation. If you're not interested, please feel free to skip the rant below and go on to the review of the food.

So it all started about 4 weeks prior to when I wanted to schedule our group dinner. I showed up in person before dinner service figuring that speaking to someone in person would get me all the information I needed. I spoke with the hostess, who basically told me that noone had tried to do both dinner and ramen before, and that she wasn't even sure if they would have to kick us out during service change. She gave me further details about the cow platter (although one bit of information was wrong) and basically told me that the only way to get a ramen reservation was to go through the email process outlined on the website. Not completely satisfied with that response, I tried calling the restaurant a couple of weeks after and asked to speak to the general manager. The girl on the phone (probably the same hostess) suggested that she could answer my questions instead, but in the end basically repeated the same information.

So I accepted that I was going to have to go through the email process. The website said to submit reservation requests after 5pm on the Monday of, so I sent my email in at 5:01pm, explaining that I was trying to combine the cow platter with ramen. I was hopeful but realistic that reservations like these tend to go quickly. What I didn't expect was that I wouldn't get my reservation request rejected until 6pm the next day! I emailed back my frustration at the whole process and how I was now left with a 10:30pm reservation (and a midnight time limit) and I finally got to speak to the general manager on the phone.

It was finally explained to me that the ramen was treated as a separate business and so the hostess wouldn't really know much about it. It was confirmed that they would indeed have to ask us to get up as they changed service. It was also implied that the Friday midnight seating that I was trying for was actually their most popular, whereas I might have still been able to get something on Saturday night. It was too late by then, but I was finally given all the information that would have actually helped me make a reservation if I had been put in touch with someone knowledgeable on the matter to begin with!

In the end, we moved the dinner reservation up to 9:30pm, and confirmed that our whole party of 6 would do the cow platter. But this story doesn't end until I finally got to Takashi and had an exchange that completely epitomized my front of house experience up till then. After confirming that we were here for our reservation, I asked the host, "Is [name of GM] in tonight?" to which he replied, "Yes." And nothing else. ~Awkward silence~ As if I was just doing a survey and had no interest in actually speaking with the guy. Then again, I never did get to speak with the GM in person that night.


THE COW EXPERIENCE (photos courtesy of Katie at www.donuts4dinner.com)
For $30 per person and a minimum of 3 people, the platter comes with 16 different cuts (1 piece per person) arranged on a platter that is the shape of a cow. I don't remember all the cuts, but there was tongue, cheek, shoulder, meat from in between the ribs, oxtail, sweetbreads, heart, liver, skirt steak, short rib, belly, two or three of the cow's four stomachs, and the large intestines. Like all of Takashi's offerings for the grill, you are offered a choice of Takashi's marinade or simple seasoning. Since we had 6 people, we actually had two of these platters, one with the marinade and one without. I don't know if they're willing to do it, but I would highly recommend the marinade for the chewier offal, such as the stomachs and intestines, while the meat and larger organs had cleaner flavors that worked well with simple seasoning.

While the cow platter had 16 cuts, it wasn't quite a complete nose-to-tail cow experience, so we added a few dishes. I will edit the photos back onto this blog post as soon as I have access to them.

The brain cream was very smooth and a bit mild in flavor. It was basically cream cheese with a very faint mineral beefy taste, and went well with the blinis and caviar. I did wish that it was seasoned more. I often find (in this case as well) dishes in restaurants where the chef assumes the caviar will provide enough salt for the dish but it ends up under-seasoned as a whole.

No whole cow (well, bull) experience would be complete without the balls. The garlic shiso butter was delicious, although I would have preferred a hint of brightness (citrus). The texture was like eating grilled scallop coral, although a bit chewier. I enjoyed this dish quite a bit, although some diners in our group took a pass.

No idea what about the sauce was "Hong Kong style", and I frankly didn't care for these. The crawfish flavor was evident but felt dull as opposed to fresh and sweet. Some of the diners in the group loved these, so it could be a matter of taste. I also thought they were very overpriced at $16 for two meatballs/dumplings.

This thing was more like a mini meatball than a mini burger. It was so small I was surprised they actually managed to stuff something in it. The flavors weren't bad, but the chocolate bbq sauce, which they poured all over the "burger", muddled the flavors. If the sauce had been applied sparingly to the foie, and allowed the meat to still stand out for contrast, it would have been much better.

This, to me, was by far the best of the small bites/appetizers that we had. The small pieces of sweetbreads had a perfect crunchy chewy creamy texture, while the rice was full of umami from the squid ink. I'd never had squid ink with such short grain rice, but it worked beautifully, all cut with a bit of citrus in the aioli.

This is probably the best cut of meat that they offer at Takashi, and a must get. The only thing is that they cook it and slice it for you at the table as opposed to letting you cook it yourself.

This was a special that night (they only started the night with three or four ribs) and definitely worth getting if it's available. I don't remember the exact cost, but we ended up with a 300g (bone-included) portion that felt reasonably priced. Just like the chuck-flat steak, they cook and chop it up for you at the table. The bourbon was very noticeable in the sauce, and once again I found the sauce ok but not necessary. At least this one wasn't poured all over it like the mini kobe burger.

Although I wasn't thrilled with my reservation experience, I did find service at the table to be quite good. The only issue I had was when we ended up with more calf brain cream than blinis and we asked for two more blinis. They brought them but didn't tell us the supplement cost for them. Not only that, they didn't even itemize them separately on the bill, but instead charged us $30 for the calf's brain cream (it says $28 on the online menu, which I assume is the actual price without extra blini).

It was a good thing that we managed to move up our reservation time a little. Despite the supposed two hour limit, we didn't end up leaving till around 12:30am. I do not recommend going with a group of 6 if you want a full yakiniku experience. You end up with the same grill as you would with 2 or more people, so while 6 people sat comfortably, they weren't all really able to grill their own meat. As far as the cow platter is concerned, it's a great way to try all the cuts they offer without spending too much money. But once you've tried all of them and have your favorites, I would recommend just ordering your favorites on subsequent visits. I found the appetizers/small bites to be very hit or miss, but the good ones were really good.

Overall, I would recommend Takashi to those who want to eat high quality grilled beef offal (either ordered separately or with the cow platter). I would also recommend them if you want high quality local beef for your yakiniku, but it probably works best if you have a small appetite or a big wallet (some of us ended up going to Grom after). By the way, since we left so late, we saw some of the ramen clientele. Most of them seemed to be Asian (Japanese specifically) and fairly chatty with the chef and staff as though they were regulars.

456 Hudson St
Manhattan NY 10014

Sunday, May 18, 2014

2013-2014 NBA Playoffs Conference Finals Preview (sport, gambling)

Even after all the overtime games, game 7s, and controversial endings of the first two rounds, we end up with the top 2 seeds in both conferences.

Oklahoma City Thunder (2) at San Antonio Spurs (1)

It's really hard to predict what will happen in this series with all the recent injuries. Ibaka was key during the regular season series, averaging double digit points, rebounds, and 4 blocks a game. They especially needed his rebounding as the Spurs were the best team in the league in opponent backcourt rebounds, which is one of Westbrook's strengths. While the Collison and Adams duo can probably pick up the slack in rebounding, it'll be hard for them to provide the same rim protection. But that might not even be necessary if Parker is also sidelined, as Mills and Ginobili run the offense very differently with fewer drives to the hoop. The Thunder swept the regular season series, but three of those games came early in the season when San Antonio couldn't beat a single good team, and the last one came on a back-to-back when Ginobili was being rested and key starters had minutes limited. This one is just too hard to predict, but I have a feeling OKC was both physically and emotionally spent in that Clippers series.

Prediction: San Antonio 4-1
Possible bets: Bet San Antonio to win the series. Current price around -220.

Miami Heat (2) at Indiana Pacers (1)

The Heat and Pacers split the regular season series, with both teams winning at home. The one player that stood out the most in those box scores was Roy Hibbert. In Indiana's two wins, he scored 24 and 21 points, while in their two losses, he scored 5 and 6 points. If Hibbert really is going to be the key to Indiana's success, the Pacers are in a lot of trouble. The Heat have clearly been preparing for this, as Chris Bosh took more 3 pointers this year than his five previous seasons combined. Atlanta showed how much Hibbert can really struggle against a three point shooting center, as he didn't have a single good game in that series. Indiana has also lost the first game of each of their playoff series this season, and they can't afford to do that here. I expect Miami to steal one of the first two road games, and then hold court at home.

Prediction: Miami 4-2
Possible bets: Parlay the under with Indiana winning outright in every game at Indiana. Indiana's best chance is to slow the pace down to a defensive, interior struggle where they have the size advantage.

Let's look back and see how my second round predictions went.

Overall Series Predictions vs Actual Result:

Prediction Portland 4-2 or San Antonio 4-3, Actual San Antonio 4-1
Prediction Oklahoma City 4-1, Actual Oklahoma City 4-2
Prediction Washington 4-2, Actual Indiana 4-2
Prediction Miami 4-1, Actual Miami 4-1

I went with a couple of underdogs and neither of them panned out. The betting results were even worse as I didn't make a pick in the only series that I predicted correctly.

POR to win the series. Lost.
OKC to win the series and parlay OKC with the over in each individual game. Overall 2-5 and -1.4 units for the series.
Over in every WASvsIND games. 2-4 for the series.

Overall results: 4-10 -4.8 units

Monday, May 12, 2014

TV 1H 2014: Hellos and Goodbyes (tv, entertainment)

As we enter finale week of May sweeps, I want to comment on a couple of new and ending shows from this year. Some of these shows ended a while ago, but the Olympics kind of blurred February sweeps for me.

Thank you and goodbye:

How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM)
At its best, HIMYM was one of the best comedies on TV. Great story-telling through interwoven flashbacks from different points of view, deeper characters than your usual group-of-friends-in-NYC sitcom, continuity through frequent callbacks to earlier plot points, and the occasional just plain awesome outrageous moments such as The Naked Man, Robin Sparkles, and many more. The middle seasons did, however, drag on, and they repeated too many jokes. I was ok with the Barneyisms but got tired of the Canada jokes really quickly.

The final season was kind of in the middle of those two extremes, but overall quite enjoyable. There were glimpses of greatness (eg. How Your Mother Met Me) that reminded me of the earlier seasons, while there were all sorts of callbacks that served as a thank you to fans who stuck with the show to the end.

Of course, no discussion of the final season is complete without talking about the controversial ending. I was ok with the concept of the ending as it neatly wrapped up the narrative. It explained why a story about how Ted met the kids' mother was mostly focused on him and his group of friends. What I thought was unnecessary, was that if this was where the producers were always going with it, why did they have to make the mother so damn loveable? Cristin Milioti absolutely killed it as the mother, and was the best thing about the final season.

That pretty much sums up my view of the series as a whole. If it had been a shorter show, maybe 5-6 seasons of its best stuff, it would have been right up there with the very best sitcoms of all time. Instead, there was just too much that was unnecessary. It was legen- and then they waited too long to make it -dary.

While the usual descriptions of Psych often start with mentions of The Mentalist because of the basis of the plot, the show that it reminds me of most is Castle. It's basically a procedural that revels in its silliness. It's fun, simple, and easy to pick up. Psych took pop culture themed episodes (like Castle's sci-fi, zombie, vampire, etc. episodes) and took them up a notch, doing special Xmas episodes and changing the language of their theme song and opening credits. It was a "let's all have fun together" show, rather than "here's how smart we are, look at all these plot twists and turns", and I will miss it dearly. For now, at least there's still Castle, that is when they're not doing the overly dramatic episodes.

Hello and come again:

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD
This show is, by itself, an excellent, action adventure that reaches across sci-fi, spy thriller, and other genres. But what separates it from other shows that have come before it is how it has been woven together within the bigger Marvel cinematic universe. The constant callbacks to the Marvel movie franchises such as the Avengers, Thor, and Captain America give the story a grander perspective and the viewer a sense that they are watching something that is an integral part of a epic adventure. It also offers a sense of security that the producers know where the story is going and that it will actually come to a satisfying conclusion.

Hi, bye:

Growing up Fisher
I feel that this is the comedy that NBC hoped for when they brought on Michael J Fox. An endearing, feel-good family comedy that features a main character coming to grips with and overcoming his disability, which in this case is blindness. It has some genuinely funny moments, whereas the Michael J Fox show was slow and boring from start to finish, and barely touched on his Parkinson's. It's unclear whether the show's handling of the dad's blindness will continue to be funny for a longer stretch, but for now this is as good of a traditional (one) family comedy as I've seen the past few seasons. It's appalling to me that this is getting cancelled while that unfunny but more heavily marketed comedy About A Boy gets renewed.

I really liked this show, and am sad that it's not returning. Kinnear did a good job playing the biggest degenerate on TV since Greg House. It had its completely outrageous moments, and the courtroom stuff reminded me of Boston Legal. I don't really recall many degenerate gambler lead roles in TV, so it was fun to have an antihero to root for. I think the show might have had a better chance if it had been on the edgier FX instead of Fox.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Only Two Weeks Left for Live Jazz Upstairs at the NoMad (food, entertainment)

One of the great things about the restaurant in the NoMad hotel is how the space is divided into unique rooms (library, bar, atrium, parlor, fireplace) each with its own ambiance and charm. Every Thursday for the past couple of months, they've also managed to transform a meeting room on the second floor of the hotel into a fun venue for drinks, snacks, and live jazz. There are only two weeks left right now to experience live jazz upstairs at the NoMad, but it should return after the summer.

A regular meeting room gets done up simply but effectively.

The complimentary bowl of nuts is perfect for drinks, the best being the round ones with a crispy coating, described to me as like "those Japanese snacks".

As there isn't a full kitchen or bar to work with on the second floor, only a limited number of drinks and snacks are available, with about 5 of each to choose from. The fruits de mer platter is not available due to the temperature constraint. The menu has changed as the spring season has settled in, but the silky smooth chicken liver mousse and the beef tartare with a nice kick to it were excellent snacks to enjoy with a couple of drinks.

If you are lucky enough to snag a reservation, you can in theory have the table until they are finished for the night. The band plays throughout the night, but most of their guests tend to settle in for about an hour or two, usually as a pre- or post-dinner kind of thing.

Monday, May 5, 2014

2013-2014 NBA Playoffs Round 2 Preview (sport, gambling)

What a ridiculously entertaining first round of playoffs it has been. Hopefully that continues.

Portland Trailblazers (5) at San Antonio Spurs (1)

Both teams feature pretty much the same types of players at all five starting positions. A driving point guard who can spot up from anywhere. A sizable shooting guard capable of getting hot and making a lot of threes. A lengthy small forward who can do everything including shooting threes and playing great defense. An all star power forward and an active, hustling center. Portland's individual stars are slightly better though, as both Lillard and Aldridge have better range than their respective counterparts. The Spurs, however, have the best bench in the playoffs, and it will come down to how far Portland can ride their starting five. With four of their five starters averaging 40 minutes a game in the first round, Portland's best chance is to win 3 of the first 4 games and make it a short series.

Prediction: Portland 4-2 or San Antonio 4-3
Possible bets: Bet Portland to win the series. Great odds at around +300.

Los Angeles Clippers (3) at Oklahoma City Thunder (2)

I thought the Clippers would show some signs of an improved defense in the first round against the Warriors, but that wasn't the case. Couple that with Chris Paul, their best individual defender, playing hurt, and I don't see how this series will be particularly competitive. Memphis was able to slow down the Thunder with their grit and grind approach and a resurgent Tony Allen defensive performance on Durant. If this ends up being a nightly race to get to 110 points first, I don't see how the Clippers can keep up with the Thunder.

Prediction: Oklahoma City 4-1
Possible bets: Bet Oklahoma City to win the series. Good odds at around -200. Also parlay OKC spread with the over every game. If the Clippers can't get their defense to come together, the Thunder will win games very easily.

Washington Wizards (5) at Indiana Pacers (1)

This is another nightmare matchup for the top seeded Pacers. Even though Gortat and Nene aren't three point shooters, almost every player in the Wizards' top 7 (inc. Booker and Webster) can shoot to some extent, and that should create enough spacing to render Hibbert ineffective once again. The Wizards' backcourt is even better than the Hawks' one, which Indiana had plenty of trouble dealing with.

Prediction: Washington 4-2
Possible bets: Bet the over in every game.

Brooklyn Nets (6) at Miami Heat (2)

It's hard to gauge how well the Heat are playing as Charlotte was not very competitive with their best player hurt. The Heat kind of just let Lebron do his thing, and there was only one game (game 3) when Miami's aggressive trapping scheme in the backcourt really seemed to have its act together. But I don't think the Heat will need to be anywhere near their best to dispose of this Brooklyn team, one of the few remaining playoff teams who really can't take advantage of Miami's weak interior presence.

Prediction: Miami Heat 4-1
Possible bets: Nothing really jumps out at me.

While we're at it, let's see how my first round predictions for the Eastern and Western conferences went.

Overall Series Predictions vs Actual Result:

Prediction Indiana 4-1, Actual Oklahoma City 4-3
Prediction Miami 4-0, Actual Miami 4-0
Prediction Toronto 4-1, Actual Brooklyn 4-3
Prediction Chicago 4-3, Actual Washington 4-1
Prediction San Antonio 4-0, Actual San Antonio 4-3
Prediction Oklahoma City 4-2, Actual Oklahoma City 4-3
Prediction Los Angeles 4-0, Actual Los Angeles 4-3
Prediction Portland 4-2, Actual Portland 4-2

Under in the first ATL@IND games, then over in the next IND@ATL games. 1-3 for the series.
Under in every BKNvsTOR game went 3-3-1, while Toronto to win the series was a loss. 3-4 for the series.
Taking the underdog every WASvsCHI game worked out really well, winning 4 of 5 for +4.9 units.
Over in every DALvsSAS game. 5-2 for the series.
Under in every GSWvsLAC game. 2-5 for the series.

While I correctly predicted the PORvsHOU result, I was also right that it was too close of a series and that the odds on Portland didn't represent much value.

Overall results: 15-15 +.9 unit.