Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Breeders' Cup 2015 (horseracing, sport, gambling)

Did you know the Breeders' Cup was happening this weekend?

I didn't, until I came across a brief mention of it on one of the sports forums that I read.

After all, American Pharoah turned out to not be the superhorse the media hyped him up to be, and so the mainstream media is off to chase whatever other fad might get them pageviews and clicks. Which is a bit of a shame since the field for this year's Classic is actually relatively weak, and could easily have served as a great coronation for American Pharoah. Regardless, American Pharoah will probably still dominate whatever media coverage remains, even though he shouldn't.

For what will probably be the same price payout, any money you want to bet on American Pharoah to win should be spent on Golden Horn. If American Pharoah were to win the Breeders' Cup Classic and Golden Horn were to have retired after the L'Arc de Triomphe, Golden Horn would still have my vote for horse of the year. That's how much this horse has accomplished this year. After winning the Epsom Derby in June, Golden Horn has taken on Group One horses of all ages, unlike American Pharoah who has yet to run against older horses. Like American Pharoah, Golden Horn also suffered an upset defeat in August. But since then, the horse has already won two more Group One races, including what is arguably Europe's biggest weight-for-age race in the L'Arc de Triomphe.

Of course there are risks. This will be his 8th race of the year, and the last time an Arc winner came to run in the Breeders' Cup, Dylan Thomas disappointed. But given that both American Pharoah and Golden Horn will be heavy odds-on favorites, I'd rather have my money on the truly proven champion.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Eleven Madison Park: Late Summer 2015 Tasting Menu (food)

I write a good amount about Eleven Madison Park. After all, it has been and still is my favorite restaurant in NYC. Does that make my reviews biased? Yes and no. When I go to EMP, I don't necessarily have my "critic's hat" on, trying to analyze every dish. I go in expecting and looking to have a good time. While some may view this as self-fulfilling, I think this is a very important part of making the most of the EMP experience.

Take, for example, Pete Wells' 4 star review of Eleven Madison Park in the New York Times. That was the worst-sounding 4 star review i've ever read. There were clearly many things about EMP's approach that he vehemently disagreed with, from "dopey speeches" and "clunky, humorless history lesson[s]" to "entry-level locavorism" that "only underlines the shallowness of Eleven Madison Park’s approach to it." Yet, the end result was a 4 star review due to the sheer enjoyment being had by everyone around him: "a roomful of people almost goofy with happiness." In his own words: "Under the restaurant’s relentless, skillful campaign to spread joy, I gave in."

That campaign to spread joy was also successful when we dined at Eleven Madison Park earlier this month to celebrate last year's win in our bridge league. A grand time was had by all. I was especially excited to see what was on the late summer menu, as I'd only eaten at EMP during Spring and Winter the past few years. Some of the dishes are now staples of the tasting menu, so please refer to my previous review for photos and comments.

Similar to prior visits.

An interesting and refreshing take on a combination that's not new by any means. The marinade really came through strongly, and cucumber ended up being more of the focus in this dish than the tuna.

The mint provided a nice refreshing touch, allowing the eggplant to work as an early course even though it had a hearty taste.

Similar to the tuna course, the vegetables were the focus of the dish, with the squid providing a nice contrast in flavor and texture.

A delicious tomato salad, simple yet refined.

Absolutely amazing and vastly superior to a previous version of eggs benedict that they did with asparagus. The rich and satisfying nature of eggs benedict comes through without the heaviness of the common brunch version. The presence of corn and caviar provided a great sweet and salty contrast that took the whole thing to another level.

Butters flavored with the fat of our chosen main course proteins. The duck was great but the pork was outrageous and a sign of what was to come later that evening.

I often end up choosing the cold foie gras prep for the sake of completeness and photos, but EMP continues to serve the best hot foie gras prep in New York hands down.

How many 3 Michelin Star restaurants (or even 2 Michelin Star ones for that matter) encourage you to use your hands in a communal dish? Once again, it's all about a warm, fun, collective dining experience. The seafood is delicious and cooked perfectly, with the crab stuffed tomatoes providing a nice textural component to the dish. While the broth is not served with the dish, you can request it and it's not to be missed if you like tomatoes and seafood.

This was more of an interesting dish than a tasty dish, but a big part of it is that I still don't know how best to describe the flavor of the sunflower and the dish as a whole. It wasn't bad by any means, and how often do you get to say that you ate cooked sunflower?

The duck was excellent as always, but as my friend put it, "The duck was fantastic, but that pork was something special." Grilling over binchotan imparted a fantastic, deep flavor that really highlighted the flavor of the meat, and not just the fat as is often the case.

An ingenious DIY cheese course that showcased why cheese is used as a bridge from savory to sweet. Loved the different ways to go about it, and the choice of cheese was great. Strong for a cow's milk cheese, but milder than goat cheese so it catered to everyone.

Similar to last time, delicious but not particularly memorable.

While I enjoyed the cheesecake, the sorbet, and the vinegar, the dessert felt disjointed. The berries were not really highlighted by the other components while the cheesecake could be enjoyed without the berries. Their desserts have not been particularly novel or daring in combining flavors and textures ever since their previous pastry chef left.

A great way to wrap up the night. Four different chocolate bars are presented, and the game is to figure out the animal milk used to make that chocolate. The foodies/gourmands can take the challenge seriously while more casual diners can just enjoy different chocolates.
SPOILERS: highlight to read: Of the four choices, the cow's milk chocolate and the buffalo milk chocolate should stand out the most, being the most common tasting and the fattiest tasting respectively. Of the remaining two, there was one with a decidedly grassy flavor which I assigned to sheep's milk while the other was mild with a faint tang, which reminded me of goat cheese. However, it turned out that I got those two mixed up.

Similar to prior visits.

Look, if you go to Eleven Madison Park with the mindset of "this is so expensive/this is a 3 Michelin star restaurant, every dish must blow me away", you're missing the point. But if you're going to celebrate something or looking to enjoy the whole experience of a night out, EMP will rarely disappoint.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

2015-2016 NFL Week 2 Daily Fantasy Sleepers (sport, gambling)

Whether it be chalk plays or value plays, there's plenty of advice out there regarding skill position players. So I'll focus on the other positions, the ones that other people believe are mostly random, but in fact weigh in heavily as to who wins in daily fantasy.

As always, if you do decide to give daily fantasy sports a try, please use my referral links below:

Kicker - Dan Bailey (FD $5000)
Even without Dez Bryant, the Cowboys should be able to move the ball with their stacked offensive line, especially against this Eagles defense. Last season, Bailey was significantly better on the road than at home, and I expect that to continue today against Chip Kelly's "bend but don't break" attitude on defense.

Defense - Washington Redskins (DK $2700, FD $4100, Yahoo $11)
It's weird picking the Redskins for anything, let alone against a team that put up over 30 points against the vaunted Seahawks defense. But Washington has a stout rushing defense, and I don't trust the Rams offense on the road. Besides, even in that week 1 upset victory, St Louis turned the ball over 3 times.

Random Sleeper - Chris Johnson (DK $3800, FD $5700, Yahoo $10)
Everyone was targeting Eddie Lacy against the Bears in week 1. This week gives us a super cheap running back against that same defense, who will get a bulk of the work with Ellington out and a rookie backing him up.

Good luck to all!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

First Week of 2015 NFL Daily Fantasy (sport, gambling)

First of all, if any readers haven't signed up for daily fantasy sites yet, please do so through my referral links. By doing so, you support me without losing out on anything for yourself.

Week 1 Performance

I was aiming for the top prizes, so I fielded about 50+ teams (usually various combinations of core players I liked), spearheaded by 4 different quarterbacks. Unfortunately, none of the quarterbacks performed particularly well (Ryan, Cutler, Flacco, Eli). It was actually the peripheral positions that salvaged my week from being a complete loss, with tight end Jason Witten, kicker Brandon McManus, and splitting the defense between the Rams and the Titans. I ended up losing about 60% of my entries, which seemed about right.

Lessons From Week 1

1. The top heavy tournament payouts means that the cash line returns a paltry 150-160% of entry fees rather than a more standard number closer to 2x.

2. DraftKings salaries are generally softer by design. As they continue to focus on a 500k entrant "millionaire maker", the salaries have to be lower than a more properly priced game because they have to increase the number of possible combinations.

3. The toughest salaries are on Yahoo. I don't really trust Yahoo's team, so I'll attribute it to a lack of design. The salaries are priced in a similar fashion to Fanduel's, except you have to fit in an extra flex spot like on DraftKings. Tight ends were also priced much more in line with wide receivers, meaning that you pretty much have to pick at least two underdog/longshot players and have one of them hit to field a competitive team.

4. Look out for second versions of large Fanduel tournaments. Fanduel filled its $5 230k entrant contest by Thursday, and started another one. The second one ended up with only 180k entrants, so if you canceled your entries in the first contest to enter the second contest, you theoretically had a much better chance to win something.

Looking Forward to Week 2

It's a bit too early to really study players, but I do think I will switch back to playing just one team instead of a large number, focusing primarily on cash games (50/50s, double ups) and tossing in the occasional GPP ticket.

Monday Night Effect

Because salaries come out for the subsequent week's games prior to Monday night games, Monday night performances are not factored into those salary calculations. If you end up playing a cash game on DraftKings, you pretty much have to roster Carlos Hyde at $5100. On Fanduel it's a little more debateable at $7100, but he'll likely have a high ownership percentage regardless.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Carbone NYC... the prices... but the food... (food)

Carbone is one of the more divisive restaurants in NYC, with many fans as well as many who proclaim it to be a showy/touristy rip-off. The pricey Italian-American restaurant is almost more famous for its prices than its food, but I did find the food excellent on a recent visit.

So was it worth the hefty price tag? I would say that a lot depends on how well you order and how hungry you are, but there are certainly values on the menu.

These delicious morsels are provided gratis, and certainly help the value proposition. The bread basket contains garlic bread, regular focaccia, and "grandma" bread (focaccia with a light spread of tomato sauce).

We were indulging that night, and this delicious barolo fit the theme nicely.

The huge caesar salad was done in a traditional table-side manner with three anchovy filets on the side. I didn't have any but was told it was very good. The clams and caprese were probably the best values on the entire menu, as they were both delicious and served in sizeable portions. Unlike baked clams I've had at other places, the clams underneath the topping were extremely meaty and juicy, and comparable to something that would be served at a fancy raw bar for $2-3 each as is. The caprese salad just exuded freshness, featuring delicious heirloom tomatoes, aromatic basil, and warm, fresh mozzarella. I could easily see a portion half the size selling for $12 at a "small plates" restaurant, with mozzarella nowhere near as wonderful as the one served here.

The pasta section was probably the most disappointing section of the menu, based on these two dishes and what I read from other reviews. These weren't bad, but at these prices just pale in comparison to the many great pasta dishes found all over the city.

The ribeye Diana was awesome, featuring a perfectly cooked medium rare (closer to rare) ribeye steak in a rich, sticky, sweet and herby reduction. The dover sole, expertly filleted at the table, was served with some pickled peppers that had just the right amount of tart and heat to enhance the flavor of the fish without overpowering it. The problem here, is the price, considering one can get a much bigger steak at many fine steakhouses in NYC for the same price, and that the entire dinner prix-fixe at La Grenouille, including the dover sole supplement, costs $126.

The corn was the single most revelatory dish of the night, as shaved truffle with corn was a pairing that was hard to stop eating by the spoonful. The escarole, on the other hand, epitomized the "we don't need to order this here at these prices" dish.

The carrot cake, served with ginger ice cream, was delicious, moist, and extremely well made. However, at this price, I wouldn't go out of my way to order it. The weird shape of the cut may have thrown me off, but I also felt that it was a smaller portion than I was expecting.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

I Told You So (sport, horseracing)

I think this clip completely sums up my thoughts on the Travers Stakes.

"If you want to crown 'em, then crown their ass!"

American Pharoah did win the Triple Crown, and fully deserved all the accolades for that achievement.

"They are who we thought they were!"

But that doesn't mean American Pharoah is one of the best horses ever, or even of this generation, or even of this year. I know it's a bit apples and oranges to compare American dirt racing to European turf racing, but at least Golden Horn has already beaten older horses (several Group 1 winners), and when he was finally upset, that race was pretty stacked.

Of course there are those who want to talk about Frosted pressuring him and maybe even bumping him. But that was my point exactly when I wrote that first American Pharoah piece after the Belmont. He was practically handed that race, as can be seen by comparing the starts of the Belmont and the Travers:

Another sad thing about all this is that there's so little mention of Keen Ice in the post-race media. The horse showed an excellent turn of foot in the final furlong to overtake American Pharoah from a two length deficit. Instead, it continues to be all about American Pharoah. The questions about his racing future, the excuses the ESPN writers continue to make for him (such crap that I refuse to link to it). In my view, this sad media coverage further validates my original point that The Sport of Kings has long been dead in America, and American Pharoah was the final nail in the coffin.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Better, but Still Not Much of a Challenge (horseracing, sport)

I didn't pay any attention to the Haskell. That race was a gimme for American Pharoah, much like my argument that he didn't really face much of a challenge in the Belmont. While this weekend's Travers Stakes at Saratoga will still be against fellow 3 year olds, I'm hoping the "Graveyard of Champions" will provide at least a bit of a challenge. When I wrote my post on American Pharoah a while back, it wasn't to criticize the horse or say that he wasn't an all-time great. My main gripe was with the excessive media fawning over him. He's definitely a great horse, but all the comparisons to the very best horses of all time seemed far-fetched given the competition he'd faced.

I probably won't be convinced until he beats older horses in the Breeders Cup Classic. But even then, it would probably depend on the margin/ease of victory whether I would even think about putting American Pharoah ahead of Frankel or Sea the Stars as the best horse of the past decade (let alone all-time). It doesn't help that Shared Belief sustained an injury earlier in the year, although I'm a bit suprised that the IFHA (International Federation of Horseracing Authorities) has American Pharoah rated 6 pounds higher than Shared Belief.

I'm still hoping American Pharoah routs the rest of his competition all the way through the Breeders Cup Classic to prove me wrong, but I'll definitely have my "I told you so" ready if he doesn't step up to the challenge.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Farewell Meals at 15 East (food)

Masato Shimizu, one of the most talented and well-loved sushi chefs in NYC, recently left New York for personal reasons to go to Bangkok, Thailand. I've always been a big fan of Masa-san, and omakase dinners with him were always among my favorite meals. I look forward to the day when I can eat at the restaurant he'll open up in Bangkok. In the meantime, I want to take the opportunity to highlight a few of my favorite bites from two meals at 15 East during his final farewell month, and celebrate what made Masa-san so special.

There are many talented chefs in NYC. Many of them also act like asshles. Masa-san, on the other hand, was humble, gregarious, funny, and always happy to educate his customers. In addition to this and other laminated diagrams, he was also known for the well-worn mini-encyclopedia of fish that he would pull off his book shelf to explain the more obscure species of fish he would serve.

Engawa refers to sashimi taken from the fin of a flatfish, usually fluke or flounder. It has a unique crunchy texture, which was quite interesting with the sea grapes which also have a unique crunchy texture. The firefly squid were so delicious I asked for seconds. The umami and texture were just like biting into the gooey/chewy deliciousness of shrimp heads, except without having to deal with the shell. As far as I can recall, Masato was also one of the earlier sushi chefs in the city to consistently serve Japanese seafood less well-known in the states, along with uni from Hokkaido and Kyushu.

Katsuo is also known by its more common name, bonito. Yes, the same bonito that gets shaven into flakes for use in Japanese dashi soup stock or wriggling on top of fried tofu. While katsuo as sashimi is often served tataki style (seared), this was fresh and the flesh was more moist and had a springier texture without the searing. The spanish mackerel was smoked for two hours over cherry wood, and was probably the best bite I've had all year. In fact, with its luscious mouthfeel and richeness of flavor, it might be the best smoked fish I've ever had, including the smoked sturgeon at Eleven Madison Park. Masa-san told me that he picked up these two things from a 1-Michelin star and a 2-Michelin star sushi restaurant while in Japan.

While I've extolled the virtues of dining at the sushi bar at 15 East with Masato, that doesn't mean that I'll stop going to 15 East now that he's left. Two of the more underrated aspects of dining at 15 East that don't get enough mention are the excellent service and tasty desserts. The front of house is absolutely first rate, with well trained staff and a knowledgeable sommelier. Meanwhile, the desserts are wonderful and refined. The mineoka tofu is not actually tofu but rather a rich milk pudding with a deep flavor, the simplicity of which contrasted well with the more complex flavor combination in the mochi.

The thing that I found most amazing during these two meals at 15 East was not the food, but the emotion of it all. Most of the sushi bar customers were regulars, and there were toasts, hugs, and amazing stories. One guy told me about his first date with his now wife back when Masa was at Jewel Bako. Another guy and his buddy once ate at the sushi bar at 15 East every week for about 30 weeks. One guy had the facade of the 15 East restaurant decorated onto his groom's cake for his wedding. Just a wonderful influence that went beyond his skills as a chef.

I truly wish him the best in the next leg of his life's journey. But until I get to eat at his next restaurant in Bangkok sometime in the future, I'm glad that I have this blog so that I can relive some of those joyous meals he's served me.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Catch Up (Entertainment, Food, Gambling, Sport, Rambling)

It's been a while since I last wrote a post, so I figured I'd give an update on what I've been doing.

New Hobbies

Watching fighting games
Even though I don't play any of them, I do find them very entertaining to watch, especially the high level contests. So lately I've not only caught up on past matches through Youtube, I'll actually watch live streaming on Twitch as well. This all culminated in me watching the live stream of an entire weekend's worth of EVO, which is the biggest fighting game tournament in the world, held every year in Las Vegas. It was a ridiculous display of skill and drama, packed with excitement, and honestly more entertaining for me than the NBA finals. My favorite games to watch are Ultra Street Fighter IV (where the biggest prize money is) and Mortal Kombat X (which is only a few months old but has a huge following). I really think the fighting game scene is going to blow up big time, and some would say it already has considering there were 250k concurrent live viewers at the championship's peak, even though the prize pools were below $100k, compared to League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients which boast multi-million dollar prize pools.

Daily fantasy sports
I've always played a good deal of daily fantasy sports, but the past month or so I've really been into the day-to-day grind of the MLB season. I'm mostly trying to develop a model for it and plan to play strictly off the model. It hasn't been going well financially, but it's still pretty fun. It's kind of developed into a daily routine now where I download some data into Google Docs, then read it into R to do my analysis. The model has shown a lot of promise, but it hasn't won consistently, so I'm thinking of moving on to NFL analysis very soon in anticipation of the new season starting.

Older Hobbies

I haven't really been out to many restaurants. I haven't really exercised in the past half year due to a calf injury, and have ballooned in weight so I'm trying to get back in shape starting with my diet. I did have an excellent dinner at EMP a while back, but none of the main "story" dishes were new so I didn't write up the meal. I also had a couple of stellar meals at 15 East, but as beloved chef Masato Shimizu is leaving the country, there's no hurry to write a post on it as the reader won't be able to enjoy the experience as well.

I'd been playing in a couple of regular home games, but now that summer is here, everyone's enjoying the outdoors instead. I also haven't followed the poker scene at all, except for coming across a couple of WSOP headlines.

I've kept up with bridge even less, to the extent that I didn't even know when and where this summer's nationals were being held. I continue to play in the interclub bridge league, but that's been on hiatus for the summer and won't resume till September.

My DVR continues to be full, and I still watch a good amount of anime (3-5 per season last few seasons), but it feels like there's just too much entertainment media (much of it good) out there nowadays. And I don't even have a Netflix subscription!

So that's a pretty good snapshot of how things have been. I believe that I will have a couple of food posts up soon when I get around to it, and this NFL season perhaps I'll start writing some daily fantasy posts instead of the previous gambling posts. Enjoy the summer, everyone!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

American Pharoah: The Triple Crown Winner of the Millennial Generation (sport, gambling, rambling)

The Sport of Kings has long been dead in America, and American Pharoah was the final nail in the coffin.

I can't wait to bet against American Pharoah when he races against older competition. I hope he really is a great horse and can prove me wrong, but he certainly hasn't yet earned all the respect and hype he appears to be getting. In a lot of ways, American Pharoah's Triple Crown victory reflects many of the negative things that older generations tend to associate with millennials.

We can start with the things that don't even have to do with horse racing. Like the horse's name, crowd-sourced from an online contest and misspelling the word "pharaoh". Or how, one of the most successful stables of the past decade has a 23 year old, who just recently graduated from NYU, as its racing manager. Oh wait, Justin Zayat just happens to be the owner's son.

But it's the actual horse racing aspect of it that makes a true fan cringe. I did tell people before the race that American Pharoah had the best chance of any Triple Crown contender I'd seen in the 21st century. But that wasn't because I thought he was a special horse. Rather, it was because the field was small, weak, and had no true stayers or rabbits (pace setters). As much as the Belmont is about backing up to race three times in 5 weeks, it is also about getting a full mile and a half. A true stayer, even if a little less talented, would make a would-be Triple Crown winner earn his victory. A good example of this was Birdstone's upset of Smarty Jones in 2004. And yet, even without a perfect start, American Pharoah managed to grab the rail and a cushy lead when the only other frontrunner in the race, Materiality, "decided" not to contest the lead. I knew it was already over at that point. This triple crown was nothing more than a participation trophy, and there wasn't even a cash bonus for winning it (there hasn't been for the last 10 years).

As I mentioned above, American Pharoah may still end up being a special racehorse and earn my respect. But the media can't wait that long. In an era when notable celebrities are famous for being famous rather than being talented, and where we can't determine real news from Onion headlines, the fluff pieces hit ESPN almost immediately.

There was this one, which proclaimed American Pharaoh as "a horse so perfect" without actually going into much detail about what distinguished him from previous Triple Crown contenders. The article mentioned also-rans like Funny Cide and War Emblem. Well how about Sunday Silence? Was he not a worthy, special horse? Probably one of the greatest sires ever behind only Northern Dancer, Danehill, and Sadler's Wells, Sunday Silence beat Easy Goer in the first two legs of the Triple Crown before losing to him at the Belmont. He would get his revenge by winning the Breeders Cup Classic, a race billed as the "race of the decade" as Easy Goer had one of the greatest 3-year-old campaigns ever. That was one of the greatest times in American horse racing, with a whole host of top jockeys including Jerry Bailey, Gary Stevens, Chris McCarron, Pat Day, Pat Valenzuela, and more. Nowadays, a 50 year old Gary Stevens (yes, the same one!) can come back and still be a dominant force on the scene.

Although, according to this writer, horse racing in America doesn't need saving as it has record crowds and gigantic TV ratings. But how many of those attendees actually know anything about horse racing or its history? How many of those attendees will place another horse racing bet in their life? How many of those who watched the Belmont will watch the Travers or the Haskell? American Pharoah is the Millennial generation's Triple Crown winner. Not a crowning of talent, fortitude, or competitive achievement, but rather a spectacle we can cheer on to keep the party going. The Sport of Kings has long been dead in America, and American Pharaoh was the final nail in the coffin.