Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Significant Implication of Belichick's 4th Down Call (sport)

Over the years, Bill Belichick has gone for many 4th downs with the game on the line, so it isn't that big a surprise that there hasn't been a ton of media coverage about his call to go for it on 4th and 1 with 6 minutes to go in the game. It wasn't a clear cut decision by any means, and there were certainly plenty of arguments both in support of and against his decision. In fact, I'm pretty sure that both Andy Reid and Mike McCarthy would have kicked the field goal in that same situation, given their play-calling history. But I do think the decision itself has a pretty significant implication that's hasn't been broadly discussed.

Down 8 points with 6 minutes to go in the game, the Patriots had 4th and 1 at the Denver 16 yard line. I'm sure there are plenty of people who, probably in hindsight, thought that it was a terrible decision to go for it, so let's look at the reasons to kick the field goal. First of all, even with a touchdown, the Patriots would still need a 2 point conversion just to tie the game. A field goal would remove the need for a 2 point conversion if the Patriots scored a subsequent touchdown after stopping Denver. Secondly, the Patriots defense had been doing a very good job stopping Denver, having only given up one field goal in the second half up to that point. While it was unlikely the Patriots would be able to march down the field two more times (as actually happened) for two more field goals to win the game, it was certainly not unlikely for them to get the ball back with the chance to win it with a touchdown.

So why didn't they kick the field goal? Well, the Denver defense had been smothering them all game, and their receiving corps was looking a little banged up. Let's assume that they stop Denver after kicking the field goal. Where would they start the next drive? Best guess for average field position would probably be around their own 30 yard line. Given how hard it had been to score against the Denver defense up to that point, was it really more likely that they could orchestrate a 70 yard touchdown drive versus making a 4th and 1 while already in the red zone? In terms of playing to one's strengths, New England was one of the 5 best teams in the league at red zone conversion rate this season. And even if they missed the two point conversion, one of their other strengths was Gostkowski's leg as he was 4-5 from 50+ during the season, including a long of 57.

I also want to point out that I found it hilarious that Phil Simms, one of the absolute worst and most conservative NFL analysts on TV, agreed with the decision to go for it. I firmly believe that had it been a different coach and not Belichick making the decision, Simms would have mentioned how he would have chosen to kick the field goal instead.

So what is this "significant implication" that I'm getting at? Well, I truly believe that Belichick's decision to go for it was based on not believing they could march down the field again and score a touchdown if they kicked the field goal there. Yes, they were clearly not at full health and Denver's defense was spectacular, but this would mark the FIRST time in the Belichick/Brady era that he doubted his OFFENSE. Think about all those other 4th downs they've attempted over the years. It was usually because he was confident in his offense converting for a first down, or because he was not confident enough in his defense that he could afford to give the ball to the other team. I think this speaks volumes regarding the end of the Patriots dynasty, even with Brady still on contract through the 2017 season.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Quick Trip To Boston (food, travel)

Wanted to highlight a few things from a quick one day trip to Boston a couple of weeks back.

First, I booked my hotel through Hotwire. For $210 total (including all taxes and fees) for a Thursday night in early November, I ended up at the Westin Copley Place. This was quite a deal for any upscale hotel, but even more so when you consider the Westin's prime Back Bay location, connected to the Copley Square Mall and steps from Newbury Street.


I also ended up in a room that was easily large enough to sleep 4+ people, and included a large sofa as well as a full dining table.


Not only was the room super spacious, check out the tremendous view from the two windows!

AL'S STATE STREET CAFE
Next was a quick lunch, as I reminisced about where I used to work a decade ago. There are now 4 Al's across greater Boston, but nothing has changed in the 10 years since I last went to the one on State Street, except for an increase in prices. The subs are still big and delicious, with my go-to being chicken salad with lettuce, tomato, and hots. The sub pictured cost $9 + tax.


NEPTUNE OYSTER
Finally, it was time to try a New England classic.
One of the most popular raw bar/restaurants in Boston, this 40-seat eatery had me wait half an hour for one seat at 3:45pm in the afternoon! But it was definitely worth the wait as I got my hands on both versions of their lobster roll. While the first bite of the buttery hot lobster roll was amazing, I actually preferred the cold prep, as it felt less dense and heavy by the end of the meal. This is quite important considering each lobster roll ($29+t/t) had a full 7 ounces of meat and comes with a large mound of fries!

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.

CHEDDAR - SAVORY BLACK AND WHITE COOKIE WITH APPLE
Similar to prior visits.

TUNA - MARINATED, WITH CUCUMBER
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.

EGGPLANT - SLOW-COOKED, WITH SHELLING BEANS AND MINT
The mint provided a nice refreshing touch, allowing the eggplant to work as an early course even though it had a hearty taste.

SQUID - POACHED, WITH PEPPERS AND ARTICHOKES
Similar to the tuna course, the vegetables were the focus of the dish, with the squid providing a nice contrast in flavor and texture.

TOMATO - SALAD WITH BASIL AND RED ONION
A delicious tomato salad, simple yet refined.


CAVIAR - BENEDICT WITH EGG, CORN, AND HAM
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.


FLAVORED BUTTER - HOUSE MADE BREAD
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.


FOIE GRAS - SEARED WITH PLUM AND THYME
FOIE GRAS - MARINATED, WITH PEACHES AND GINGER
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.


LOBSTER - BOIL WITH CLAMS, SHRIMP, AND BEANS
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.


SUNFLOWER - BRAISED, WITH GREEN TOMATO AND SUNFLOWER SPROUTS
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?


PORK - GRILLED WITH WATERMELON RADISH AND ONION FLOWERS
DUCK - ROASTED WITH LAVENDER AND HONEY
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.


FARMER'S CHEESE - SUNDAE WITH HONEY, GRAPE, SORREL, AND OATS
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.

WHEY - SORBET WITH CARAMELIZED MILK AND YOGURT
Similar to last time, delicious but not particularly memorable.

BERRY - CHEESECAKE WITH WHITE CURRANT SORBET AND RASPBERRY VINEGAR
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.


CHOCOLATE - "NAME THAT MILK"
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.

PRETZEL - CHOCOLATE COVERED WITH SEA SALT
SWEET BLACK AND WHITE COOKIE
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:
Fanduel
DraftKings


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.
Fanduel
DraftKings

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.


PARMESAN MARINATED IN CHIANTI
BREAD BASKET
CAULIFLOWER GIARDINIERA
SOPRESSATA
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).

2009 BAROLO FALLETTO GIACOSA
We were indulging that night, and this delicious barolo fit the theme nicely.


BAKED CLAMS ($21)
CAPRESE ($19)
CAESAR ALLA ZZ ($21)
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.


SPAGHETTI POMODORO ($25)
SPICY RIGATONI VODKA ($27)
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.


RIBEYE DIANA ($54)
DOUBLE LAMB CHOPS ($82 M/P)
DOVER SOLE PICCATA ($95 M/P)
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.


CORN TARTUFATO ($15)
CREAMED ESCAROLE ($15)
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.

CARROT CAKE ($15)
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.

MASATO EDUCATING THE DINER ON CUTS OF TUNA
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.


MARBLE SOLE ENGAWA WITH SEA GRAPES AND LIVER SAUCE
FIREFLY SQUID
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.


SPRING KATSUO WITH GINGER AND SCALLION
SMOKED SPANISH MACKEREL
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.

MINEOKA TOFU WITH BROWN SUGAR REDUCTION AND MOCHI WITH STRAWBERRY, AZUKI, AND SHISO
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.