New York Restaurants

This is a long long long awaited long long long post. Epic. Food porn. I hope. I've spent 6 months eating in NYC. Here's the report card. I thought I'd quickly put the restaurants into categories to make it easy (Somewhat similar to Chicago Restaurants):

(Note: I can't afford some of the true top notch places... so there won't be the Alinea (yum yum yum) equivalents such as Per Se, Ko, L'Atelier, etc... and I'll try to include some better pictures from the meals)

Best food, best value for money, you must visit, etc etc
  • $$$: Peter Lugar (Porterhouse for 2; see review)
  • $$: Eleven Madison Park (lunch, lobster, why don't I have a review!?), Jean George (lunch, seafood; see review), Katz Deli (mmm... hot pastrami; see Deli face off 1, 2, and 3), Nobu (Restaurant Week menu, black cod; see review), The Modern (Restaurant Week menu, duck; see review), Cookshop (Calamari, food you shouldn't miss)
  • $: Shake Shack (Burger), Di Fara (Pizza, see review), Bill's Bar (Burger, Milkshake), Artichoke (Pizza), Habana Cafe (Grilled corn)
If you want real steak, you go to Peter Luger
Jean George's lunch is a great deal with top notch seafoodEleven Madison Park served the best lobster I've had all my life
Also on the "the best" list from Eleven Madison Park - Caramel Chocolate Cake
Black Cod Miso, the bread and butter of Nobu (their sushi is good but not worth the price)
The Modern (In MOMA) makes excellent duckDessert was excellent as well
Katz's pastrami sandwich is really one of a kind... tho very expensive for a sandwich!
Cookshop had one of the best calamari I've ever had. It was unassuming at first, but really surprised me when I ate it. Nice little gem hid near High Line Park
Shake Shack has one of the best fast food burgers around the country... better than In 'n Out... tho their Black & White milkshake were suspect twiceNot sure why I have a soft spot for grilled corn from Habana Cafe... mmm... grilled corn
It is a true pleasure to watch Master Dom at work in Di FaraDi Fara pizza - where Italian food conquers TF
If someone else is paying, you're getting some of the best food around
  • Yasuda (Yasuda's station, omakase of course; see review), 15 East (Uni on squid ink pasta needs more uni), Del Frisco's (any cut, really, but with foie gras butter... damn)
Much like watching Di Fara's master do his thing, you have to watch Yasuda do his
Yes, the uni fell off... but it gave me good orgasm
One of the high of high times at Yasuda: Toro
Yes, Yasuda deserves four pictures. Custard sushi was one of its kind: I have never had anything quite like this (and it was very very very good)
15 East is a hidden gem... the uni was way too small on the squid ink pasta, but oh was it so yummy
Good food
  • Priced right: Junior (signature cheesecake), Nook (brunch or lunch), King's Papaya (iconic hot dog), La Esquina (Mexican), Dessert Truck (bye bye, sigh), Gascogne (one of the best creme brulees I've had, simple french), 26 Seats (duck, simple french), Clinton Street (to die for pancakes), 2nd Ave Deli (see review), Num Pang (SE Asia sandwiches, see review), Fivepoints (brunch, food you shouldn't miss), Yakitori Totto (Japanese BBQ, food you shouldn't miss), Tabla (Donut with trio sauce), Momofuku Noodle Bar (Chicken lunch), Hagi (Japanese bar food), Porchetta (Prochetta), Barney Greengrass (Sturgeon scramble... my goodness), Tartine (brunch), Gramercy Tavern (lunch; see review)
  • Over priced: Norma (any sweet brunch dish is super super excellent), Grimaldi (pizza), Isabella (brunch), Fatty Crab (Asian fusion, crab), DBGB (brunch), Babbo (Italian that impressed TF), One if by Land Two if by Sea (Seafood), Sambuca (Tiramisu, best in NY)
Junior cheesecake... it's a landmark, a tourist trap... and it's goodA hot dog is a hot dog... but a Papaya King hot dog... now that's something else. Best bang for the buck meal in the city, perhaps!Gascogne's creme brulee... I almost forgot this gem. Absolutely perfectly done. And the french food (and wait staff) ain't bad either
Clinton Street Baking Company and its Blueberry pancakes have people waiting for hour(s): it's worth the waitThe donut at Tabla was out of this world... and its Asian fusion sandwiches aren't bad eitherChicken lunch at Momofuku may be a difficult reservation to get... but it's worth the trouble if you like moist and flavorful chicken
Hidden gem: porchetta at Porchetta is juicy and the meat is done impecably
Unfortunately, I only went to Gramercy Tavern once - the meatball was excellent
Sweet brunch from Norma's is great and overpriced; stay away from savory stuff
Who can say no to Sambuca's tiramisu?
Decent food
  • Priced right: Smorgas chef (Swedish chain, sure why not), Ipuddo (Ramen, roasted peppers, not worth the 2 hour wait though), Kyotofu (Tofu-based dessert), Won Dee Siam (Thai), Van Leeuwen (Ice cream), Alta (Tapas), Caracas Arepas (S American sandwich), Jewel Bako (Sushi)
  • Over priced: Le Pain Quotidien, Luxee (bye bye), Crumbs (cupcakes), Max Brenner (hot chocolate, dessert), Bubby's (pancake, brunch), Zaitzeff (burger), Ma Pache (Asian fusion)
Ippudo's wait is totally not worth it... but you can get the roasted peppers at the bar (I suggest leaving after you eat them... maybe add the pork bun)

TF likes Crumb's Red Velvet... and I think we probably had about 30 cupcakes in 6 months. It's yummy but a little steep at $3.5

I'm a sucker for good brunch
  • Penelope, Prune, Balthazar (Bread basket!), Cafe Orlin, Petite Abeille (waffles look amazing, but the savory stuff is not to be missed), Stanton Social
Stanton Social had some nice little dishes... but very expensive, as are most brunch places in New York (thanks, Sex in the City)
Only if someone pays you (Just take my word for it)
The totally overrate Carnegie Deli... and they dare charge a supplemental charge for shared sandwiches... I feel bad for the tourists. Go to Katz!
AJ Maxwell's "half cheesecake" for our restaurant menu... WTF
Sorry I had to end on a bad note for food, but I feel like you need to know these things. Probably missed quite a few restaurants I've been. Oh well, if I forget, it's probably not that good anyway. Hope you enjoyed this!


Meat on the conveyor belt

I just completed a health check for my next job in China. It has to be done at a designated hospital in Shenzhen, so I had to make quite an effort to go there.

The first visit in the early afternoon was a failure. They only open 8-11am (WTF!?).

So I came 10am the next day. And I now understand why it's only 8-11am. You enter the building, tell them what kind of health check you need. Then:
  • The nurse gives you a form
  • You are directed to a place to have your photo taken
  • You stick the photo on the form and fill in your details
  • Nurse takes the forms, gives you a card, and you enter the "health check area"
Which really is a huge conveyor belt with a lot of people on it. Blood sample, urine sample, x-rays, external check, internal check, ear check, throat check, eye check, height, weight, blood pressure. Bam, I'm done. The whole process took about 30 minutes... and there were hundreds of people on the conveyor belt. Amazing.

Take the X-Ray room for example. I lined up behind a girl. The nurse told her to take her necklace off, tells her to go inside the X-ray room, stands in front of the X-ray. Doctor turns on the machine, and I see her heart pumping and her lungs right on the doctor's screen (I'm still lining up). Doctor looks at it, stamps a "Seems to be no problem" stamp on the girls form, she's out, and it's my turn.

And for once, I know what meat on a conveyor belt feels like: just get this over with quickly and life is good.



Well, it's your typical HK Donnie Yan kung fu movie:
  • Conflicted hero is betrayed by his friend
  • Great evils are also at work
  • Hero finds friends
  • Hero seeks meaning in life
  • Fight
  • Evil loses
The fight scenes are good... but how can the top dog working for the king not be able to beat a woman called 脫脫 (Strip strip... if you will)? Come on, now.

Why blog

Someone told me that blogs are for those who are afraid of being alone, and that through blogging they can at least feel like they are attached to the world.

Perhaps. I blog partly due to self indulgence and partly for vanity. I think my opinions are important, so I blog about them and hope someone notices/agrees/disagrees. haha. Yup. That's about it.

A few days ago, good friend AL forwarded to me a post from his Facebook network about my blog. That's what I'm talking about! Random stranger finding my opinion useful! Thank you, Lawrence Gutman! (To Ernie, Carnegie Deli should not be mentioned in the same sentence as Katz and 2nd Ave Deli. It's not even an argument... told you I blog due to self self self)

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Movies... etc

Crazy Heart (IMDB) - well, the only consolation from the unfortunate Wolfman was that we went for a 2-fer and saw most of Crazy Heart. We didn't finish the movie cus we were too tired and we left at 2am. Basically, it's a Wrestler wanna be with more light hearted moments. Pretty good movie through 1.5 hours.

I didn't finish the movie, so it's hard to recommend it... although I will say this: Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal are perfectly casted while Colin Farrel was horribly casted.

Valentines Day (IMDB) - look at the cast. Gather your breathe. WOW. Julia Roberts, Jennifer Garner, Ashton Kutcher, Jamie Foxx, Anne Hathaway, Jessica (Alba and Biel... WOW WOW WOW), Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Taylor Swift (!?)... damn! Anyway, it's your typical valentines day flick I guess. Funny and witty through out, I enjoyed most of it. The only knock I have is the relationship between Kutcher and Garner - clearly a rebound that is the worst idea. Female audience squealed when the gay couple was revealed. And I loved the Roberts story.

Sure, I'll recommend it for couples. It's not like you can get away from it if your gf asks, right?

Whip It (IMDB) - saw this on the plane. It's a Juno repeat! Cute movie with rebellious teenage daughter has to decide between a passion and her former life. Apparently, Drew Barrymore directed this. Not sure why that would be a selling point. She also played a crazy and violent girl in the movie - fitting. Anyway, Ellen Page does some spectacular work again. Recommended.

Love Happens (IMDB) - hmm... this came out when I was in NYC? I had no idea! It's a story about life and death and how people overcome their griefs. Unfortunately, they wrapped it around a romantic relationship (no sparks between Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Anniston at all) and that just destroys the movie. Plus there are all these subtle and not-so-subtle product placements in the movie, which I greatly resent. I believe in product sponsorship. I don't believe in rubbing that in people's faces. Not recommended.


Robuchon Macao

When mom asked if I wanted to visit Macao's art collection from the Forbidden Palace and also I.M. Pei's new building, I was hesitant. But when she mentioned lunch would be at Joel Robuchon Macao, I immediately said yes! Macao we go... for the only Michelin 3-star restaurant in Macao. (HK has 龍景軒; while I didn't visit 龍景軒, I did visit its ex-chef's installment at Mongkok's 添好運 - see review abt a month ago)

Decor - very formal tho the patrons (namely, me) were more casual. It was homely and each table were flanked by four very lush sofa chairs that were very comfortable. Some tables and built-in sofas that seemed too luxurious and comfy for a restaurant.

Service - attentive but not great. We had to ask for water a few times. In general, they lacked a genuine knowledge about the food and the preparation. Very good at reading off the paper, not so much when asked more about it. And the dessert tray waiter must be a trainee or something. He needed better English, Cantonese, and understanding of the dessert dishes he is presenting.

On to the food:

The bread basket could have easily been the highlight of the lunch. As you can see, there were quite a few to choose from. The bacon bread was quite memorable - with strips of bacon twisting its way up on perfectly baked bread. The cheese bread was also very nicely done. It's hard to find good bread in Hong Kong, and Robuchon really nails it.

Amuse was oyster with vanilla foam. A wonderful start to a meal, mixing freshness with a hint of aroma.

For the appetizer, I ordered the foie gras dish. The curled pieces were all foie gras, so it was a pretty generous portion. I should have written down the different sauces, because they were the key to the dish, complementing the richness of foie gras perfectly. I thought it was a bit too much food though. Eating 5 to 6 pieces of rich foie gras may be luxurious, but certainly not the best to activate the taste buds.

I got the Buta no Kakuni as a main course. It was decent. The pork was done perfectly and the sweetness showed itself quite nicely. The condiments on top, however, missed the mark - the flavors didn't mixed well and I was left with a sour aftertaste. I also tried my brother's lobster with walnut sauce, and it wasn't very good. A bit overcooked and dry, it was no match for ones I've had in New York at Eleven Madison Park.

Dessert was generous - you get to pick four out of this truck. (Not discussed is the not-so-memorable pineapple and the over-the-top chocolate caramel cake)

Everybody agreed that the pistachio cake was the best among all the desserts. Moist, flavorful, and good for pictures. (Not so much about the golden pieces that accompanied most desserts... arg... we're not in China!)

I actually liked the Napolean even better. Nice and light and a perfect ending after the heavier pork entre. The crust: easily cut but did not crumble too easily. The fillings: flavorful without being overwhelming. There was a slight toasted honey taste as well that I couldn't really place but certainly remembered.

All in all, it was a decent meal that unfortunately didn't meet all my lofty expectations. Dishes were all decent. However, ultimately, the sequence and entrees were so-so and the service was definitely not up-to-par. You expect more from servers at these top restaurants. At $495 (USD 65), it's quite steep for a 3 course meal. Nonetheless, at least I can now take Robuchon off the list of places I need to eat at!


The Wolfman

(IMDB) Thumbs down, way down. I know you get paid handsomely, but Sir Hopkins and Benicio Del Toro should be really choosing the right scripts for themselves. Do you think they look at the finish product and say, no way, I shouldn't be associated with this movie? Well, I think Hollywood should start including this clause in actor contracts:
  • After the final touch up, the 5 highest paid actors and actresses in the movie should watch the movie once, consider its impact on his or her career, and then have the option to pull himself or herself from the movie. Insurance will cover part of this cost for the producers
Then maybe they'll cast the folks more appropriately.

Not recommended, especially those with a faint heart.

Wing Squad

Well well... Superbowl means the return of the Wing Squad! After I thought WS died along with my move to Chicago in 2006, it came back in 2007 ("SuperBore"), 2008 (Another WS outside of Boston), 2009 (I watched the whole damn thing in Chinese).

This year, it's actually the 10th Wing Squad (WSX) gathering. And we're doing it in Boston, where it all began at Tufts.

The site of WSI, II, III, IV, V, and VI - The Summit. Good times.
WSX would not be complete with homage to the Jumbo
The Great and Only Wing Works, where mutation and hair happen
Yup, these are the wings
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Anyway, despite an expected poor showing from SG, the Wing Squad prevailed once again. And the Peyton Manning face made a dramatic return to sports. So it's good times all around and hoping for a successful WSXI.


Google Buzz vs. The World

I get what Google is trying to do with the Buzz. It's basically offering Facebook's status update plus Twitter plus notifications from various applications (e.g. Blogspot, Youtube, Picasa, Flikr, etc).

Remember Google Wave? It failed miserably not because of the technology - it was a far better version of MSN and Group emails - but because of the lack of platform to promote it. You needed a wave account and nobody felt it was necessary (i.e. Necessary = Facebook) to register. Also, it was a bit ahead of its time.

This time, they wised up. In order to reach the most users in the shortest amount of time for Buzz, they've leveraged their one and only platform - Gmail - to reach them. Within minutes, I suddenly had 50 "followers"... and I automatically "followed" another 50. That's a great start.

Now to the function... it seems more like twitter than Facebook (even though I don't use Twitter), or maybe just Facebook's status update. It links to several other apps (e.g. for me, blogspot and Picasa are important) for automatic updates, and my "followers" (That sounds nice) can comment on the updates, either my own post or automatic. Sounds convenient to me! I'm sold so far. If enough people are sold too, Buzz is good to go.

Which brings me to a BIG BIG problem: um... it's not really a breakthrough... just makes me have to do two status updates every time - Buzz and Facebook. So, let me ask the ultimate question: when MSN tookover ICQ, it was because MSN offered a service that was better. When Facebook destroyed Friendster, it was because Facebook had a better interface. What about Buzz is better than Facebook/Twitter? Anything? More convenient notifications?

Me thinks not much yet. And until the Google team figures out a better product and not just a copy, two things will happen:
  1. Advanced Google users will probably use Buzz along with Facebook and Twitter
  2. Not so advanced will not
Meanwhile, I'll Buzz for now.


Brief conclusions

Well, I've talked about crazy interviews (first step and second step) and crazy mobile plans (first step and second step). Apparently, I'm the only one who is crazy:
  • Interview: I have a verbal offer - though HR is really evasive on what it actually is. Apparently, Bill Gates didn't notice that I WTFed him in my blog. Decisions, decisions, soon.
  • Mobile: I hawked a Google G1 from my friend. It's a thing of beauty even though I am 1 year behind in the technology. It syncs with everything (emails, contacts, calenders... that's all I ask!) and has a keyboard, exactly what I need...
I just have 2 extra BB phones and 1 extra BB plan now. LOL. Anyone?