Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ramen Burger: More than a Passing Fad (food)

While the cronut ended up getting worldwide media exposure, it wasn't the only combination food fad that people in NYC waited in line for. There was also the ramen burger, which made its debut last fall at Smorgasburg, the Brooklyn Flea food market. While the hours-long lines for it have come and gone, the ramen burger is still available in the city at Ramen.Co, a ramen restaurant in the financial district opened by the creator of the ramen burger. I decided to give it a try with a friend a couple of weeks ago.

The first thing I noticed as I unwrapped my ramen burger was that it looked really small. And yet, I found it perfectly filling for lunch when I was done with it. The burger patty itself was decent. It won't come close to rivaling the many burgers in NYC vying to be the best, but it would beat most fast food and fast casual burgers, and was decently juicy for a relatively thin patty. The secret shoyu sauce was excellent, with a nice viscosity and sweetness, but more importantly, packing an umami punch. Of course the key product innovation here is the ramen bun, and I have to say I thought it worked really well. It managed to hold together as a bun without being hard to bite through. I am a big fan of springy noodles, and this compressed noodle patty somehow managed to convey that same texture as a whole. Altogether, it was a really well-composed dish that clearly had a lot of thought put into it.

My friend enjoyed her shredded beef version, which I guess one would call a sandwich rather than a burger. All the burgers come with very thick crinkle cut potato chips which I enjoyed but my friend thought were too thick. I think it depends whether you prefer crisp or crunch in your chips.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed it. I liked that the ramen/burger combo was more than just a novelty, and I thought the noodle bun worked much better than many rice buns I've had previously at fast food places. It makes me wonder what other bygone food fads I should try once there aren't huge lines for them any more.

100 Maiden Ln/191 Pearl St
Manhattan, NY

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Underdog of the Week: 2014-2015 Season Week 8 (sport, gambling, NFLUnderdog14)

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.

Finally had a winner last week, and the first since week 1. Can't believe we're almost at the half-way point of the season. The NFL season has gone by so quickly, and the NBA is starting in less than a week!

Underdog of the Week:
SD +8.5
SD +320 ML

While I usually wait until the weekend to post my pick, there just weren't any underdogs I liked on Sunday. So I'm picking the Chargers on Thursday night even though I picked them to be upset last week and said that the previous two weeks was a sign that they aren't actually as dominant as some of their wins so far this season may have suggested. At the same time, Denver is rolling again, now that all their receivers are back.

So why do I like the Chargers here? It's not really for football reasons. First off, the spread is too big. Since Manning joined the Broncos, the Chargers have lost to the Broncos by more than 8 points just once, and that was a game when they led 24-0 at the half. Another thing I'm looking at is that the Broncos have both covered the spread and went over the total in their last 3 games. In fact, during Manning's tenure with the Broncos, Denver has done exactly that almost 40% of the time, well above the 25% as expected by random chance. But there is only one game tonight and it is in prime time. This is the first game between contenders on Thursday night football all year. Everyone will be watching this game and casual players love parlaying the favorite and the over. Do you really think Vegas would offer up such an easy layup?

ATS 2-4
ML 2-4 -80

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Delicious Day of Seafood (food)

A couple of weeks ago,I went to see the doctor for the first time this year. Given a clean bill of health, I decided to treat myself to a day of delicious seafood to celebrate.

Within walking distance from my doctor's office, my first stop was Takesushi for lunch. I've written about Takesushi before, and they continue to be great value.

UNI-DON ($17 with miso soup)
$17 is on the high side for a lunch set, even by Manhattan standards. But just look at that bowl of uni! It seemed like there was at least half a tray of uni on there! While they sometimes get Santa Barbara uni which I generally prefer, Takesushi usually gets most of its uni from Maine. Maine uni tends to not be as sweet and creamy as the Santa Barbara version, but has an added depth of umami flavor. This may have been the most uni I've ever eaten in one sitting, and it was glorious!

I happened to have an out-of-town friend visiting that same night, so I took him to Louro in the West Village. Here are some of the highlights:

Louro also has one of the best happy hour deals in the city, with beer, wine, and cocktails at $4,$6, and $8 respectively. Each drink also gets you a plate of petiscos, which are the Portuguese equivalent of tapas. When in season, they also have excellent, meaty oysters at a dollar each.

My friend absolutely loved this dish, especially the delicious dashi that it swam in. The fragrant mushrooms worked well with the subtle yet umami-rich custard and dashi. I'm not really a big chawanmushi guy, but this was excellent.

One of Louro's signature dishes, this hearty plate of pasta has been on the menu since they opened. It was as delicious as it was comforting, with occasional bursts of boar pancetta livening up the rich octopus ragu.

UNI, PORK BELLY (for comparison)
This was an absolutely special dish that currently ranks among my favorites of 2014. I suggest getting everything in one bite to experience the great interaction of textures featuring the crispy sweetbreads, creamy uni, and soft, yet not mushy, squash. The earthiness of the squash provided a great base and brought together all the flavors of this unique rendition of surf and turf. Great uni dishes are not new to Louro, as last year's uni with pork belly was also excellent in combining flavors and textures. This dish, however, featured layering, balancing, and interplay that was far superior, in my mind, to that already excellent dish.

I actually ate even more seafood as we also had Louro's signature piri piri shrimp and the kimchi fried rice featuring calamari, clams, and shrimp, which was just as delicious as it sounds. Louro is one of my favorite restaurants in the city, and one of the places I frequently recommend to people. I've never really written about it on the blog however, as they change the menu so frequently (including a new, unique themed menu EVERY WEEK) that it becomes hard to use one meal as a snapshot for a review.

What a great day! From lunch to dinner, this delicious day of seafood surpassed even my burger-pizza bang-bang in terms of indulgence!

43-46 42nd St
Sunnyside, Queens

142 W 10th St

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Underdog of the Week: 2014-2015 Season Week 7 (sport, gambling, NFLUnderdog14)

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.

Didn't make an underdog pick last week, but not going to compound the problem again by picking two this week. After a long losing streak, let's try to get a winner on the board first.

Underdog of the Week:
KC +4
KC +170 ML

Last season in week 7, I focused on division games as those always provide good motivation for the teams. This week, there are only three division games, and this one seems to be the most competitive. I think the Chargers' narrow win last week's was a sign that they aren't actually as dominant as some of their wins so far this season (over the Jets and Jaguars) may have suggested. Except for their opening week loss to the Titans, the Chiefs have actually played some very competitive games against good teams, and are probably being underrated by the public.

ATS 1-4
ML 1-4 -250

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Chain Restaurant All-You-Can-Eat Wars (food)

There was plenty of attention recently in the media regarding Olive Garden's pasta pass promotion, spawning black market resales and blogs like this one that I'm currently following. Last year, the chain restaurants were fighting for supremacy over 3+ course dinners, with almost every well-known restaurant chain offering some 3+ course meal for under $12.99. This year, they've all upped the ante with the all-you-can-eat wars.

It's not like Olive Garden's never-ending pasta bowl is new, while Red Lobster's unlimited shrimp has also been around for years. But there are several newcomers this year, including Applebee's AYCE cross-cut ribs, TGIF's endless appetizers, and Outback Steakhouse's steak with unlimited shrimp. The last one appealed to me the most, since I was on a low-carb kick and it seemed to be the exact same deal as Red Lobster (which I've done before) except with an added piece of steak.

I generally only eat steak on rare occasions, but when I do, it tends to be a deeply aged cut at a fancy NYC steakhouse. So I wasn't expecting much out of my 5 oz USDA Choice Sirloin. It was actually pretty decent flavor-wise, and didn't really need any additional sauce. I highly recommend cutting the steak into fairly small bites, otherwise you're going to be doing a lot of chewing.

Unlike Red Lobster's 5 different shrimp preparations, there were only 2 choices at Outback, fried or cooked in garlic herb butter. The fried version came with a choice of buffalo or cocktail sauce to dip them in, both of which were perfectly adequate. This was fine for me since I usually ended up just ordering the fried or scampi preparations when I did unlimited shrimp at Red Lobster anyway. The shrimp were tiny as expected, but seemed to be slightly larger on average than the ones I'd had at Red Lobster. My server also outperformed my expectations, making the experience much better as a whole and worth repeating. All too often when there's value in a food deal the service is compromised. That wasn't the case here.

Will we see another theme for chain restaurants to compete over next year? Or have they reached the zero lower bound in that they can't offer any deal better than AYCE? Who will emerge victorious in this race to the bottom? I haven't tried the other ones yet, but Outback currently has my vote.

Outback Steakhouse
88-01 Queens Blvd (inside a mall with Target, Best Buy, Red Lobster, etc.)
Elmhurst, Queens

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

American Classics Bang-Bang on Prince Street (food)

Josh Ozersky recently wrote an article for Esquire proclaiming the burger at Raoul's restaurant on Prince Street to be the best burger in America. I had to try it out for myself, and while I wouldn't go that far, it was a pretty great burger.

The burger arrived with a cone of fries and a dish of traditional French peppercorn sauce. The burger is only available at the bar, and the girls sitting next to us also came just for the burger. I don't know if the price has gone up since the article came out, but they continue to only make a limited number of them, regularly selling out within the first hour of the bar opening for dinner service.

The burger is greater than the sum of its parts, but the parts by themselves are pretty great too. The challah bun is robust, and the patty has a great crust and a nice sweetness to it. The mayonnaise, cheese, and watercress all add flavor, as opposed to iceberg lettuce mostly used for its crunch or processed American cheese mostly used because it melts well. I highly recommend opening up the burger and making sure that the cornichons are evenly spread. It is important to try to incorporate them into every bite as they balance out the richness of the burger and sauces, elevating the whole thing. I also found it extremely satisfying to dip the burger into the sauce and then taking a big bite, but that's just personal preference.

Do not underestimate the fries, as there are a lot of them. While I enjoyed dipping them in the peppercorn sauce, I think next time I'm going to ask for some ketchup to cut the richness.

Raoul's has been around for about 40 years, and eating an excellent version of a classic American food in a classic NYC establishment usually makes for a great night. But my friend and I decided to take it a step further, and finished our American classics bang-bang a few blocks east of Raoul's at Prince Street Pizza. What's a bang-bang, you might ask? Originating from an episode of Louis CK's show Louie, "It's where we go have a whole meal at one place, and then go right to another place and have another one. Bang-bang."

Prince Street Pizza boasts an even more impressive history, as it is on the site of the original Ray's pizza, the one that spawned a gazillion variations all across New York.

What really sets the square slice here apart from the others in the city is the crust. It is surprisingly light with a good chew, whereas many square slices, even good ones, often tend to be too bready or hard. If you request it extra crispy, you'll get a wonderful array of textures in each bite. The other components are also very good, including a fra diavolo sauce that has actual flavor, with just a hint of sweetness. It wasn't as spicy as I would like, but there was good spice on the pieces of crisped up pepperoni, with each of the tiny disks carrying a little pool of oil.

Both the burger and the pizza are well deserving of all the praise they get, but there's something magical about eating two great versions of American classics all on the same street across Manhattan in one night.

Raoul’s Restaurant
180 Prince St between Thompson St & Sullivan St
Prince Street Pizza
27 Prince St between Mott St & Elizabeth St

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Underdog of the Week: 2014-2015 Season Week 5 (sport, gambling, NFLUnderdog14)

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.

Last week I picked against the Colts and that didn't end well. Hopefully it goes better this week. After a tough week 1 loss to the Bengals, a team that in retrospect might be the best in the NFL, the Ravens have pulled off three straight wins. Even with another incredible showing, the Colts are still 2-2 with only wins against the Jaguars and the Charlie Whitehurst-led Titans. It wouldn't surprise me if this game came down to one of those Andrew Luck come from behind drives that he's so good at, but even then the Ravens should still cover.

Underdog of the Week:
BAL +3.5

ATS 1-3
ML 1-3 -150