Monday, April 10, 2006

The De Marco's Showdown - New York, NY

My project team members love to eat, and some of them recently started following the world of competitive eating. Competitive eating has exploded in the past few years, and the ultimate competition, the Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest, takes place nearby at Coney Island on July 4th. The winner of the Nathan's hot dog eating contest is awarded the Coveted Yellow International Belt. This prize is akin to the Super Bowl Vince Lombardi trophy and the Master's Golf Tournament green jacket. The competition features the elite eaters in the world including five time winner Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi, Sonya Thomas, Cookie Jarvis, Tim "Eater X" Janus, and Eric Booker.

One day, JM, one of my team members, informed me of a MTV True Life episode that featured competitive eaters. The episode followed three competitive eaters, Takeru Kobayashi, Tim Janus, and a newcomer named Ian "The Invader" Hickman. All three men were impressive, but Takeru Kobayashi raises the bar for all people who think they can eat. In the episode, Kobayashi goes to a restaurant in his hometown of Nagoya, Japan and eats at a restaurant called Yama (translated Mountain in English). And in Japan, it's a tradition for chefs to challenge great eaters to consume large amounts of food. The chef at this restaurant presented Kobayashi with a number of disgusting dishes including an 8 lb bowl of pasta with whole avocados sitting in an inch of oil, hot sauce flavored shaved ice, and pasta with chocolate, bananas, and whipping cream. Kobayashi exceeded the chefs expectations and consumed approximately 22 pounds worth of food.

After watching the show, I suggested that my project team should have our own competitive eating competition. Since a few individuals on the team have certain eating restrictions, we settled on having a competition on who can eat the most pizza. Also, to establish an even playing field, I seeded each of the 8 individuals who were competing, and paired everyone up into teams based on their seedings (#1 seed was paired up with the #8 seed, the #2 seed was paired with the #7 seed, and so on...).

On April 4th, we held the competition at De Marco's, an Italian restaurant just north of Houston Street. The following was the breakdown of the teams:

Team 1
#1 Seed - Big J and #8 Seed - AS

Team 2
#2 Seed - Shin "The Hurricane" Honma (Me) and #7 Seed - SS

Team 3
#3 Seed - OM and #6 Seed - JW

Team 4
#4 Seed - JM and #5 Seed - FK

We ordered a total of six large pizza pies. 3 margherita, 1 sausage and mushroom, 2 mushroom, and 1 De Marco's Special. Everyone started at their own pace, and my team was probably the fastest. After my third slice, I began to slow down, and I kept plugging along until I finished my sixth slice. My partner, SS, quit after his 4th slice and left the competition. Because of my partner's departure, I was at a significant disadvantage because all other teams still had two competitors while I was my team's lone representative. In the end, I came up short, and all of the other teams passed me up, and my team came in last place.

Here was the final score:
Team 1: 13 slices -> Winner
Team 2: 10.5 slices -> Loser
Team 3: 12 slices
Team 4: 11 slices

Because my team lost, SS and I had to sing in front of the rest of the team. It took about 30 minutes for him to get going, but SS sang a rendition of a Backstreet Boys song and I sang a not-so-good rendition of a 98 degrees song. As the winners of the competition, Team 1 will receive official International Federation of Competitive Eating ("IFOCE") t-shirts. Congratulations to them!

Although my team lost, I was impressed that all people who participated in the competition, excluding SS, came to compete. For now, I will continue to capacity train until the next competition. Next time, I will not lose.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que - New York, NY

A few weeks ago, AI took me to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que for V-day. Dinosaur is a restaurant that had been on my list of restaurants to try for quite some time. My first experience with food from this establishment was a little over a year ago at the 2004 Taste of New York event. They had a booth set up where they served miniature pulled pork sandwiches. I love meat, so that sample was enough to encourage me to make the trek up there. Many of you are probably wondering why it took over a year to make the trip to this restaurant. The explanation is quite simple. The restaurant is located at 131st Street and 12th Avenue. That may be only a few miles away from midtown, but by New York standards, 131st street might as well be the other side of the country. AI had heard good things about the restaurant as well, so she decided to surprise me by taking me there.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que was started in 1983 by a group of motorcycle bikers in Syracuse, NY. Over the past 20+ years, they opened up additional restaurants in Rochester, NY and New York, NY. They also sell their own line of bbq sauces, dressings, and other merchandise.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que's menu is quite extensive. The first page begins with a full array of appetizers such as fried green tomatoes, buffalo wings, and spicy shrimp. On the second page, they start their long list of entree items. They have pork ribs, pulled pork, bbq brisket, and bbq chicken. On the third page, they have their two and three meat combination platters and special items such as a rib-eye steak, catfish, and korean style ribs. On the last page, they have a laundry list of bbq sandwiches. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que also has 12 different homemade sides to accompany the entrees.

AI and I skipped the appetizer, and we ordered the Sweetheart Deal for two. The Sweetheart Deal for two is 2 pieces of honey hush cornbread, 4 sides, and a full rack of ribs. For our sides, we ordered mac & cheese, Syracuse style salt potatoes, fresh cut fries, and bbq beans. Within 5 minutes, our order arrived, and my mouth immediately started to water. The meat was very moist and falling off the bone. The ribs were very flavorful, but I did prefer using the bbq sauces at the table. Each table had four or five different types of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que sauces. I tried using a different sauce on each rib I ate, and by doing so, it made each bite a little different. The sides were a little above average with the exception of the mac & cheese. Although I don't like mac & cheese very much, the mac & cheese at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que has a unique taste to it because they put seasoning on top of it. I'm not sure what was in the seasoning, but it gave the mac & cheese a bit of extra kick.

I was very happy with our trip to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. Friends of mine say that I should also try Rub and Blue Smoke. Hopefully, I can hit those up relatively soon.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Bouchon Bakery is coming

Bouchon Bakery is finally opening their doors on March 6, 2006 in the Time Warner Center. The highly anticipated French boulangerie was originally supposed to open in late 2005, but like many other grand openings, it was postponed. I expect them to serve various breads, pastries, and cookies of the highest quality. In addition, I wasn't aware of this until recently, but they also plan on serving sandwiches, salads, soups, and even hand-made chocolates. They've made me wait quite a long time for this one. Anything affiliated with Thomas Keller is a winner, so Bouchon Bakery shouldn't be an exception. Expect to see me in line on March 6th.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Arthur Avenue - Bronx, NY

First of all, I apologize to any readers I may have out there. I'm sure very few people frequent this site, but for those of you who do, I'm sorry. My job has consumed most of my life the past 4 or 5 months, and I've had very little time to write about my favorite subject. Now, I'm back and I have no excuses. I took off a week from work to get my life organized, and I wanted to use some of my spare time exploring some special little places that are not as well known in the New York metro area.

One of the first places I wanted to explore was Little Italy in the Bronx which is also known as Arthur Avenue or the "Real Little Italy." The Arthur Avenue neighborhood has been home to a vibrant community of Italian-Americans for over a hundred years. Today, this area continues to thrive as locals buy fresh bread, meat, cheese, pasta, and Italian desserts. Arthur Avenue is also home to a number of authentic Italian restaurants.

I first heard about this place from a first year associate I had working for me a few months ago. He had lived near Arthur Avenue, and told me about the good cheap food. The first year associate also briefed me on the area and let me know that it isn't located in the best part of town, so I may not feel safe walking around. He also told me that the only way I would fit in is if I walked around with dry cleaning because people would think that I was one of the local shop owners. Regardless of his warning, from the day he told me about this place, I've been trying to find time to get out there.

After riding the PATH, the NY subway, and a bus for over an hour I arrived at Arthur Avenue. The first place I stumbled upon was Gino's Pastry Shop. It's a quaint little pastry shop that sells a variety of Italian desserts including Italian cookies, biscotti, and cannolis. I selected 3 small pieces of regular biscotti, 3 small pieces of chocolate biscotti, and an eclair. Everything was priced by the pound, and it came out to $2.50. It was a nice bargain to start the afternoon.

I hadn't eaten since breakfast, so I was quite hungry. I found a little marketplace on the street that had vendors that sold cigars, fruits and vegetables, meat, bread, and pasta. The marketplace also had a cafe called Cafe Al Mercato. I was quite hungry, so I ordered a bowl of gnocchi bolognese and a large Sicilian slice of pizza. Although the gnocchi appeared to be from a package, it was prepared very nicely. The texture was not too soft and not too chewy, and the sauce had a very nice tang to it. The pizza was also nice and crispy and not soggy. And like many other times, my eyes were bigger than my stomach, so I was unable to finish everything. Afterwards, I walked around the marketplace, and I noticed that the produce was inexpensive, and the price of the pasta and sauces were reasonable considering that most of it was imported from Italy.

After leaving the marketplace, I stopped by Madonia Brothers Bakery. I observed a woman filling cannolis, and there were a few people in line purchasing them. I'm not a huge cannoli fan, but I decided to purchase half a dozen to bring home. One interesting observation at this shop was that the workers appeared to be Russian. I have nothing against Russians nor do I know much about their culture, but I'm pretty sure that they're not known for their cannolis. (Side note-> They didn't taste that good.)

My last stop was Borgatti's Ravioli and Egg Noodle Shop. Although very small, this shop supplies pasta to many of the local Arthur Avenue restaurants. It is also ranked #1 on Zagat's 2005 NYC Gourmet Marketplace Best Buys. This place gets very long lines on the weekends, so I was fortunate to be there during the week. Although they sold many different kinds of fresh pasta, I decided on the ravioli. I bought 100 raviolis for $10.50! That means that it only costs 10.5 cents per ravioli. Now, that's a bargain. :) As soon as I got home, I boiled some of the ravioli, and all I have to say is that I was not disappointed.

My vacation has started off great. I went off the beaten path, and I discovered some good food. It is a bit far from where I live, but it is worth making at least one trip out there, and it is far superior to the Little Italy in Manhattan. The area was not as shady as described to me, but I would recommend going before sunset. So, for those of you who want to eat cheap authentic Italian food, I recommend making the trip out to Arthur Avenue. Buon Appetito.

Monday, October 10, 2005

In-n-Out Burger Unwrapped

I'm in Southern California this week, so I decided to dedicate a post to a Californian favorite, In-n-Out Burger. It's a chain fast food restaurant, but the ingredients they use are more fresh and are of higher quality than your average McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's.

In-n-Out's burgers are made from fresh, 100% pure beef that are free of additives, fillers, and preservatives. Their butchers carefully hand-cut and grind the beef in their own facility at which point the patties are shipped directly to their stores in refrigerated trucks. In-n-Out uses fresh produce and real American cheese, and all of their burgers are always fresh off the grill. In addition, their french fries are cooked in 100% cholesterol-free vegetable oil and are made fresh with real potatoes in the restaurant. Their shakes are also made from real ice cream.

Their standard burger comes with a 100% pure beef patty, hand-leaf lettuce, tomato, sauce, onions, and freshly baked bread.

When you walk into an In-n-Out, you'll see a very simple menu which consists of a hamburger, cheeseburger, double-double (2 patties of meat and cheese), fries, and shakes (chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry) and other beverages. Although the menu is simple, most regulars know that In-n-out has a secret menu. I did a little bit of research, and I've compiled what I believe to be an all-inclusive list of items that are included in this secret menu. See the secret additions below:

Animal Style (My personal favorite) - Burger comes with mustard, sauteed onions, pickles, extra sauce

Any combination of burger patties and cheese slices (e.g. 4x4, 5x5, 6x6) - I've heard people getting 10x10's, but that's getting a bit ridiculous. I've never eaten a burger larger than a double-double.

Protein Burger - Lettuce in lieu of bun

Grilled Cheese - cheeseburger without the beef patty

Wish Burger - no meat. I don't know why anyone would eat this.

Well done Fries - Crispy and brown.

Neopolitan Shake - a blend of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. I'm assuming you can select any two to blend as well.

For all of you native Californians, this is nothing new. For those of you who have learned something by reading this post, I encourage you to go try something out. I've been meaning to go grab a burger before leaving town, but I've been too busy. Hopefully, I'll be able to pick one up before I leave town.

If any of you think I've missed anything up above, let me know.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Charlie Trotter - Update

A few months ago, I posted about Charlie Trotter and Bouchon Bakery which were set to open this fall in the Time Warner Center. I decided that I wanted to celebrate my recent promotion by trying out Charlie Trotter, but it looks like it's not going to happen. A few minutes ago, I got off the phone with the concierge at the Time Warner Center, and they informed me that Trotter is pulling the plug on his new venture. You can read more about it in an article published earlier this week in the NY Times.

Sigh....I suppose I'm going to have to identify a new place.

And for those of you who are curious, Bouchon Bakery is scheduled to open, but they have not announced a date.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Bolo - New York, NY

This past weekend, my friend War and I celebrated his birthday by checking out Iron Chef Bobby Flay’s restaurant, Bolo. Bolo is a modern contemporary Spanish restaurant located in the Flatiron district of New York City. After eating at Mesa Grill and watching numerous episodes of Iron Chef America, I wanted to see if Flay’s Spanish cuisine reigns supreme.

We began our meal by ordering four dishes of tapas:

- Raw tuna, cucumber, mint salad

- Lamb tenderloin with arugula and oven dried tomatoes

- Spanish tortilla with green romesco

- Spanish rice cake w/ shrimp

Prior to making our order, the server mentioned the tapas come in bite size pieces. After a few minutes, our tapas arrived. Although the server warned us, I was a little surprised with the size of the portions. The tuna was cut as thin as paper, the lamb was barely larger than a kernel of popcorn, and the tortilla and Spanish rice cake weren’t much bigger.

For our entrée, War and I both ordered the shellfish and chicken paella with saffron rice, chorizo and green peas. After our not so satisfying appetizer plate, I was a bit concerned about the portion size of our entrée. That was quickly put to rest once they served the paella. It was huge. The paella was served with a lobster tail, crab claw, shrimp, scallops, and chicken. The paella was very flavorful and very good.

I think War and I could have stopped after the paella, but I felt like trying at least one of the interesting items on their dessert menu. A unique aspect of Bolo’s dessert menu are their dessert tapas. War decided on the soft chocolate cake with passionfruit curd and caramelized bananas, mascarpone crepe gratin with grapefruit, and whipped caramel ganache with cocoa nib lace cookie. I was turned off by our tapas appetizer, so I decided to order a full size dessert. My selection was a frozen dark chocolate mousse with shattered caramel and citrus milk chocolate sauce. I didn’t try all of War’s desserts, but I did have a taste of his whipped caramel ganache. The ganache had small speckles of salt laying on top. Typically, a ganache is extremely rich and sweet, but War’s selection had an interesting contrast of sweet and salty. The contrast was a bit too strong for our palettes. My frozen dark chocolate mousse was very rich, and was an excellent selection along with my cappuccino.

All in all, I thought it was a good meal. I do prefer Mario Batali’s restaurants over Flay’s, but he does offer a little bit of a different niche in fine dining. My next Food Network restaurant stop will have to be at Morimoto, but that will have to wait until I can make a trip down to Philadelphia.