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Posted by on Mar 8, 2013 in Blog, General Poker, Restaurant Reviews | 1 comment

Thought, Laughter, and Tears: My Dinner with T.K. (and Jimmy V.)

T. K. Krauss

 

There are few people in the casino business I love and admire more than Mr. T.K. Krauss.

This longtime Atlantic City poker executive is a fountain of fascinating stories and useful information, especially when it comes to the East Coast poker scene.  If passion came in bottles, “T.K.” would be the Coca-Cola of poker.

T.K. has just taken over as the new Director of Poker Operations for the Atlantic Club.  Previously known as the Atlantic City Hilton, this outdated and long-neglected property located at the southern tip of the famed Boardwalk has long been the city’s stepchild casino.

Things are about to change — big time. 

Now, the Atlantic Club is at a pivotal moment — not just here in New Jersey — but in the history of U.S. gambling.  The casino-hotel is close to being taken over by PokerStars.com — the world’s largest online poker website.  If successful, PokerStars.com could gain a critical foothold inside what’s now the first state with a substantial population base to approve online poker.  In short, this beachhead marks the start of a coming battle front between powerhouse U.S.-based casino operators and the online giant based on the Isle of Man that could very well turn into high-tech trench warfare.

Given the gravity of what’s at stake, T.K. is the ideal peacemaker– a beloved Gen. Omar Bradley figure in the grand theater of what could become online poker’s World War 2.

I’ve known T.K. for 20 years.  From his earliest days walking the floor at the Taj Majal, to the Tournament Director position at the Atlantic City Tropicana, to the Head of Operations at the Hollywood Casino in Indiana, T.K. has made a powerful impression on everyone privileged to know him inside this business.  He’s run big-time tournaments, he’s brought World Poker Tour events to the Midwest, and now he’s quite possibly on the cutting edge of the next big thing — engineering the freight train that could help Atlantic City come roaring back from the dead.

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Posted by on Mar 7, 2013 in Blog, Personal, Restaurant Reviews | 7 comments

Guess Who’s (Not) Coming to Dinner?

 

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When someone with impeccable taste in food and dining invites me to dinner, I usually accept.

However, after a recent debacle, I’ll have to re-think this policy.

This “friend” invited me to dinner at a restaurant I knew to be fantastic, but which I hadn’t visited in years.  He casually mentioned to me that some his other “friends” would also be there.  Fine.

I showed up on time.  My next vision was right out of a horror movie.  I was astounded to walk in and see twenty strangers sitting at the table.  Strangers!  His friends!

Aside from my host who issued the invite, I didn’t know a single soul.  Worse, everyone was already sitting at the table and had jockeyed for ideal seating positions.  All that were left were the shitty seats.  Sort of like being last one to board the plane and having to sit in the middle seat next to the bathroom.

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Posted by on Feb 25, 2013 in Blog, Music and Concert Reviews, Restaurant Reviews | 4 comments

How to Avoid a Shitty Restaurant (Redux)

 

Writer’s Note:  This is a follow up to the February 22nd column, HOW TO AVOID A SHITTY RESTAURANT.

 

After getting burned by the lousy barbeque joint, the following night I head over to the Thai place just across the street.

Good food.  Excellent service.  Very affordable.  Just like every other Thai restaurant on the planet.  I have this conspiracy theory that the food in every Thai restaurant actually comes out of one giant kitchen somewhere over in China (hell, everything’s made in China).  I also think the staff are robots.  I always seem to get the same 25-year-old skinny waitress with a flower in her hair and perfect skin who speaks broken English and never gets the “spice scale” right when I order a “4.”

However, no one warned me about the vault of horror that I’d experience towards the tail end of my dinner.  No one dared to inform me of the musical trigger of indigestion following my main course.  Like a random act of terror, it just happened.  Like an explosion out of nowhere.  And I couldn’t do goddamned thing to get out of the way.

Question:  What’s the most nauseating thing you can think of while dining inside a restaurant?  Seeing a bug scurrying across the floor?  Hair in your food?  A karaoke machine?  No, much worse than that.

Think real torture.

Think “Guantanamo Bay” kind of torture.

Well by now, you’ve probably figured it out.

I’m talking — Asian guy singing “You Light Up My Life.”

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Posted by on Feb 22, 2013 in Blog, Rants and Raves, Restaurant Reviews | 13 comments

How to Avoid a Shitty Restaurant

 

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Nolan during happier times, at Cannes France in 2012

 

I just got fucked again.

Third time this week.

I made another bad restaurant choice.

You’ve got to understand.  Eating is the incomparable highlight of my day.  When I’m out on the road working, I get to carve out one peaceful hour of perfection when everything is right with my universe.  I temporarily forget all my troubles and devour whatever I want to eat and drink.  I anticipate dinner the same way a sex-starved sailor waits for shore leave.

Tonight started out with such promise.  I received an enthusiastic restaurant recommendation from a trusted source on a rotisserie chicken place — not that I’m into that kind of thing.  But the way the food and preparation was described sounded too good to pass up.  You get an entire marinated chicken, with two fresh sides, and a drink for $13.95.  I spent the last 20 hours dreaming about that chicken place like it was a hot piece of ass.

Then, I managed to get lost.

Of course, I forgot to write down either (1) the NAME of the place, or (2) the ADDRESS.  I don’t know why those two insignificant details would be important when visiting a strange city, and all.  Anyway, already buckled in the car and starving I decided to “wing it” and ended up screaming at crawling traffic while I must have done 35 U-turns looking for what turned out to be the lost restaurant of Atlantis.

Fuck this!

Unable to find the chicken shack, I contemplated three options.  Now, you have to understand what exactly I’ve eaten these last eight nights here in South Florida.  Four meals were at “Stresa,” a marvelous little Italian restaurant where (at age 51) I’m the youngest patron in the dining room by twenty years.  Then, there was Da Vinci’s down in Boca Raton (another outstanding favorite) — which means five dinners out of eight were authentic Italian.  One night I skipped dinner altogether.  The two others were Thai and Mexican.

So, Italian was out — at least for tonight.

While looping around lost and it now in the dark of night, I passed by another Thai restaurant that looked mighty tempting from the street.  The good thing about Thai places are — (1) the service is always excellent, (2) the restaurants are always clean, (3) the food is always at least decent, (4) it’s not expensive.

Why I didn’t listen to my inner voice and opt for the “sure thing” of Thai is something I now deeply regret.  Then again, I wouldn’t be sitting here some 90 minutes later fuming at what I just experienced, which would leave you now reading some tiresome political essay of mine.

My other option was a high-dollar steakhouse or another place called “Park Avenue Barbeque.”  I quickly crossed off the fancy steakhouse, figuring I didn’t want to blow $75 eating all by myself.

Barbeque it was.

Naturally, I didn’t listen to any of my gut instincts.  From the moment I wheeled into the parking lot, everything about this place screamed “RUN AWAY!”

Listen up.  I’m going to share a little secret with you that will serve you well for the rest of your life.  The topic:  Good Restaurants.  You want to know the first thing to look for when entering a strange restaurant?  No, it’s not the food.  You look at the people.

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Posted by on Jan 19, 2013 in Blog, Restaurant Reviews | 0 comments

My Visit to Freddy Deeb’s Restaurant

Fattoush Restaurant

 

A year ago, when I first heard poker pro Freddy Deeb had opened up his own restaurant, I knew a culinary pilgrimage was in my immediate future.

Freddy’s passion for everything he does is obvious — whether it’s poker playing, running a business, or simply hanging out and telling a story.  Anyone who has spent any time at all with this dynamo of a man who was born in Lebanon and who came to the United States to realize his very personal manifestation of the American dream knows the show’s always on when Freddy’s on the room, and the spotlight’s usually on him.

Freddy is best known for his accomplishments at the poker table, which are extensive.  What many may not know is his lifelong devotion to family, adoration of fine food, pride in his cultural heritage, and willingness to invest his own poker winnings collectively in all of these passions to ultimately achieve happiness.

Last January, Freddy invited me to visit his new restaurant which had just opened up in the Clearmont section of Los Angeles.  I normally pass on such invitations for many reasons.  But my love for Lebanese food and insatiable curiosity as to how one of the world’s most engaging poker players would perform playing the unexpected role of restaurateur got the best of me.  And so, my wife and I made our first visit to Fattoush Mediterranean Cuisine early last year.

No surprise, the food was fantastic.  And Freddy and his family’s hospitality was even more so.  They had no idea that I would ultimately be writing about my experience.  Indeed, neither did I (this blog started seven months later).  We were treated like royalty.  I’d like to think we were special, but there’s a better explanation.  Natural hospitality is a unique cultural trait of many people who come from the Middle East.  They’re eager to share their rich culture with visitors, even strangers.  Although I was already a devout convert to Lebanese cuisine, I was just as happy to act the fool that memorable afternoon, just so long as Freddy and his family kept bringing out a ceaseless parade of tasty dishes.

A restaurant review under these circumstances wouldn’t carry much credibility.  After all, we were treated extra special that day.  Certainly, “regular” customers aren’t treated with such care and kindness.  Would they?

And so, I made it a mission exactly a year later to pay another visit to Freddy’s restaurant.  This time, I came in and dined alone.  I arrived unannounced.  Tempting as it might be to speed dial Freddy for a free meal, I wanted to enjoy the feast and was happy to pay for that privilege.

And so, on Tuesday, January 15, 2013 I walked into Fattoush Mediterranean Cuisine and took a seat.

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