Saturday, December 20, 2008

SHOwtime is where it's at

As some of you already know, I've taken a break from the trading and the betting recently. I plan to resume trading in '09, but in the meantime I've enjoyed the downtime. One of the things I've been able to do is catch up on missed TV. Knowing that I can access them on-demand, I waited until the whole season to finish before I finally sat down to watch Dexter and Californication. SHOwtime has really replaced HBO as the channel that you really need to pay for and get. There's no more "The Wire" (the complete set is selling on amazon for only about $170), no more "Sex and the City", no more "The Sopranos", and this season's "Entourage" was not good at all. SHOwtime on the other hand, has "Dexter", "Californication", "Weeds", "Inside the NFL" and much more. I really enjoyed this past season of Dexter and Californication, and strongly recommend them to everyone. Both shows also happen to be my favorite type of show, a drama with a healthy dose of comic relief (like House), that has a plot but is mostly about the characters (like House), without going overboard (like the final season of Boston Legal which became just way too silly).

Dexter was also the only show that my old roommate Lena and I watched together, as she was more artsy and has sinced moved to the UK. Can't believe that was only 2 years ago. I feel like I've been in NYC forever but it's only coming up on 3 years.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Boston Market and donating food?

As I went into Boston Market to get some food for my diet (details, posts, and photos later), I noticed that they were still running the $2 whole rotisserie chicken promo (with purchase of family meal). $2 for a whole chicken is a ridiculous deal. But since I'm on a diet I didn't need the extra food. What I really want to do is to be able to buy that chicken for $2 and then donate it. Now, I don't know how much Boston Market makes on a $2 chicken, but I assume that even with really tiny margins it is profitable for them to sell that chicken. So why not give the customers an opportunity to donate that chicken? I'm sure if you arrange it with some soup kitchen/homeless shelter type place there are going to be willing volunteers who would come during off-peak or closing hours to pick up the food. Boston Market would still make money on the chicken (and the meal), and would receive good press for charity work. They would only have to do this during the holiday season. My guess is there's something in the corporate charter or in the law that prevents them from doing this, but it makes sense to me as being beneficial all around.

HKIR Recap (Horseracing)

Another year has passed and the Hong Kong International Races have come and gone. Just a few thoughts on the results.

The Vase
Another close second for Purple Moon while Doctor Dino repeats as the Vase winner. Jaguar Mail ran pretty well and he should improve considerably from having had Kinane ride him hard in a race at this level. Packing Winner got the run of the race up front but considering how he was not anywhere near his peak he will prove to be very dangerous to Viva Pataca in the Champions and Chater again later this season.

The Sprint

While this didn't turn out to be the race of the century I was hoping for, the appearances of Apache Cat and Marchand D'or validated this race as a true global Group 1 sprint. Inspiration, the lowest rated horse in the race, came out of nowhere to take the race as a big underdog. This horse had only won a domestic class 2 earlier in the year and I don't think anyone could have predicted this victory. My pick for the race had been Green Birdie (because a quality miler coming back in distance will usually still beat a quality sprinter), who came through with a solid second placing. Apache Cat's run was hard to decipher because it looked like he ran out of gas but then picked up again towards the finish. Another hometown quinella and while Inspiration won't be crowned world's top sprinter any time soon, Hong Kong's dominance in this event has been quite amazing.

The Mile

A dominant performance by Good Ba Ba with Soumillon running a hell of a race. Knowing Good Ba Ba's tendency to ease up in the lead, he saved him till very late for one huge spurt and got clear separation from the pack in course record time. Again showing Asia's milers as being superior to those in the Western hemisphere, I'm curious how Good Ba Ba will be rated on this performance. Kip Deville did not run up to par as he clearly had trouble negotiating the right-handed turn. I wouldn't be surprised if they ranked Good Ba Ba slightly behind Goldikova, but both have an amazing turn of foot and I personally wouldn't be able to separate the two right now.

The Cup

Mike de Kock does it again, this time with Eagle Mountain. A great ride by Kevin Shea to get in front and put a bit of separation between his horse and the pack. Viva Pataca was completely blocked for a run but at this point how many more excuses can you make for the horse? Just can't seem to win the big one (best win was QEII in '07) against a true overseas field. John Moore has always given me the impression that the one thing he's really wanted to do is to take a Hong Kong horse and win the Cox Plate, but until he delivers a true global G1 win I'm not sure Stanley Ho will let him take the horse over there.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The cost of food

Since I do not hide my love of food, I am often asked why I don't cook for myself. My answer is that it oftens costs more to cook, not even including the implied cost of my time. For the really expensive meals, I'm not going to be able to reproduce the quality of food at home, so I have no hesitations about paying the price. For the cheap everyday meals, here's an example of why I don't cook:

This large bowl of chinese vegetables costs $2.50 from Rice-n-Tea at the Winmark Supermarket on Queens Boulevard (around 80th street). This includes the picking, cleaning, and cooking. How can someone beat that price cooking at home? People usually go to Rice-n-Tea for the 3 choices +rice+soup combo ($4.75, great deal) but I go there to pick up individual dishes as well because they're cheap and probably the best tasting of the combo meal places.

On a related note, there are things that I try my best not to order when I'm at a restaurant because it's more cost-efficient to attempt to reproduce at home. Any grilled or poached fish for example, because I don't need to pay $20 for a $5 piece of fish I can buy from the supermarket. I will frequently order sandwiches however, because they don't sell bread by the slice and I don't have a family of 5 to feed with a loaf of bread.

During a recent birthday dinner for a friend, I was in a conversation where I said that I only eat cheap sushi or expensive sushi. At first people are often appalled that I eat "cheap" sushi, but then I start to provide my reasoning. "Relatively inexpensive" sushi is often no better than "cheap" sushi. The neighborhood Japanese place, often owned and operated by Chinese or Korean people, get their prices from the built-in premium for Japanese food in America. However, a place that is designed to produce and sell larger quantities of sushi at discount prices will often have fresher fish because of the higher turnover. The best example is Chiyoda in midtown (41st street between 5th and Madison Aves). They sell large amounts of Japanese food at reasonable prices for that area. But the sign of a true Japanese company is that after 4pm, they discount the prices of items intended for the lunch rush, by up to 30%. This is the way it should be. In Japan, a supermarket will sell sushi/sashimi, and discount the product 3-4 times over the course of the day. Your "cheap" sushi will only be several hours less fresh than someone else's sushi, but at least you know that they don't keep the product overnight. I'm not sure you can say that about the fish you pay for at that "relatively inexpensive" neighborhood Japanese place.

I think that this concept is also one of the reasons why Walmart is so dominant while almost every other retailer in America sucks (animal) (appendage). It's about reducing excess inventory. Too many places hold inventory for too long until the depreciation really starts eating into the margins. There are numerous (holiday) sales throughout the year, but Walmart is the only one that understands that everyday low prices means things going out the store every day.

Back to the topic of the cost of food, there'd been talk at work about inflation possibilities in the near future and how hard it is to understand the huge drop in food prices over the recent months. My theory is that of the recent months and even in the near future, the shift is not one of total demand but rather the distribution of demand. Economists like to talk in real terms. But for this case, I believe it is correct to look at the nominal numbers. If developing nations used to spending $2/day on food are now spending $4/day on food, that seems like a huge increase. But in comparison, the developed nations are spending $15/day on food and throwing away $5 of it (all numbers are hypothetical). So now with the economic crisis, these developed nations are spending $10/day on food and eating the whole $10 worth. So while it seems like inflation is inevitable as developing countries are spending more and more on food, I think in the near term, the numbers still even out and aren't as drastic as some people think.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Calling a top and a bottom

Because I have to.

Calling a bottom to the hemmoraging of money I'm doing going in to trade every day. After having lost almost 50% of my year since Nov 1, I'm giving it two more days. If I don't see any improvement, I'm calling it a (unsuccessful) year. There's got to be more flow and speculators back into the market in January. Right now it's just orders coming in through programs, everyone backs away, and with no speculators to fight with, it's just too easy to get caught in the current with noone pushing back.

Calling a top to my weight. As I approach 250lbs, a cholesterol level of 200 and BP of 145/90 while on medication, I realize I've got to put a stop to this. This will include diet, exercise, and a supplement or two. The Chinese detox pills are going to suck cause they're going to make me go to the bathroom like 5 times a day, but at this point, I don't really have any other choices. What I really need is a muse. Even though I had no shot with her, Jesse got me to go to the gym. Now she won't even take my calls or IMs. I need some inspiration.

O Ya in Boston

O Ya is famous for being named Frank Bruni's #1 most intriguing new restaurant outside of New York:

It is also very expensive, especially by Boston standards (I spent about $230 on just food costs, although I ate about 1.5 people's worth) and I doubt you can really get out of there for less than $130.

The menu is extensive, focusing mostly on their versions of sushi (two pieces per order) and sashimi (three pieces per order), but also features cooked foods like kurobuta pork, wagyu beef, poulet rouge chicken, and other goodies. The tasting menu consists of one piece each of 15 different items on the menu, but I chose to order a la carte. I will list everything in as close an order as I can remember to being served the dishes.

Shima Aji and Uni with ceviche vinaigrette and cilantro (sashimi)

The ceviche style clearly comes through with a heavy citrus flavor and a little kick. Nice start to the meal and a good mix of textures and flavors, although the uni was noticeable but not as strong as bursting with freshness as I would have liked.

Hamachi belly with yuzu soy marinated sea urchin (sushi)

I love hamachi belly but neither ingredient seemed to stand out like I'm used to. I was hoping for the strong uni and hamachi flavors to clash and create fireworks but it was disappointingly bland for what it was.

Wild bluefin toro 2 ways: spicy mentaiko mayo and republic of georgia herb sauce (sushi)

My waiter recommended the one with the herb sauce but I ended up asking him for one piece of each combined into one order. He was right. The mayo didn't really do anything for the fish but the earthy herb sauce had such great presence on top of the fatty fish.

Fried Kumamoto Oyster with yuzu kosho aioli, squid ink bubbles (sushi)

A tasty mixture of flavors and textures, with a nice touch provided by the squid ink. However, this was my first inkling that their sushi rice is not top notch.

Kin Medai with white soy ginger, myoga, lemon oil (sashimi)

The lemon oil is too strong and comes out first.

Chilled Homemade Soba Noodles with Santa Barbara sea urchin, nori, fresh wasabi, and scallions

This was nice and tasty but nothing special and certainly not something I needed to taste here at these prices for such a small portion. The noodles seemed a little thinner than normal soba noodles, but did have flavor and bite.

Yuzu Brined Ballotine of Chicken Wing with napa cabbage and shiitake stuffing, and homemade kimchee

This sounded wonderful but they must have put too much of the toasted sesame seeds since that was mostly what I tasted. I couldn't decipher all the other flavors that went into it and this turned into an unfortunately expensive piece of sesame chicken.

Silken Tofu Tempura with wild hedgehog mushrooms and shoyu broth

This dish was unfortunate for my wallet. It was in the truffle and eggs portion of the menu despite not having any truffles or eggs. It used to have truffles but they removed it from the dish but didn't reduce the price. An unfortunately expensive piece of agedashi tofu (not really, as you can taste the tempura batter, but you get the idea). The shoyu broth was nice although too sweet to just drink up. So I ordered a side of rice (they only had sushi rice) to go with it. A closer inspection of the sushi rice in this manner did lead me to believe that it was not top notch, and had a tendency to mush more than say the rice at Yasuda's. However, the vinegary rice with the sweet shoyu broth turned into a very interesting and tasty mix.

Hamachi with viet mignonette, thai basil, and shallots

At this point I asked the waiter what dish would the chef absolutely say that I must have before leaving. This was the chosen dish and my waiter was right yet again. Just a perfect mix of textures and flavors. It really felt like 3(flavors)x3(textures)=9 different things going on in my mouth.

Grilled Sashimi of Chanterelle and Shiitake Mushrooms with rosemary garlic oil, sesame froth, homemade soy, and sesame brittle

This was a very satisfying dish that certainly seemed to get the most out of its ingredients. I think I would have preferred it if it was served hotter. While I liked this dish, it was not my favorite as opposed to Bruni.

Foie Gras with balsamic chocolate kabayaki, raisin cocoa pulp, and a sip of aged sake (sushi)

This was wonderful and a great way to end the night. The foie melted in my mouth and the sip of sake went wonderfully with it. I thought it was interesting that this was served as sushi and not sashimi, but it worked.

The place itself is in a little nook and my cabdriver hadn't even heard of the street that it's on. The door is also not immediately noticeable from the outside. Once inside, it's mostly dark except for lighting right above the sushi bar and the light from the kitchen, as the kitchen door is pretty much kept open all night. While there weren't many diners and the place isn't big, most people came in groups and it was a chatty atmosphere. I sat at the counter which was lined with stools. I recommended to the chef/owner afterwards that he needs to change them and hopefully he will listen. When you want your customers to sit for more than an hour enjoying food, you need to offer them back support. There was a nice waft of truffle throughout the night. After it was all over, I went back outside, walked about half a block, and realized I was standing right in front of the South Station bus terminal. Right in front of where I've taken many many Greyhound and LuckyStar buses (I do not use Fung Wah) back to NYC. I had no idea the restaurant was right there. I will definitely be back with a better idea of what to order (they had a slab of bluefin otoro that looked amazing).

Early meal and late meal

I am not a big fan of brunch even when I do manage to wake up early on a weekend. Anyone who's read Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential knows that he does not like that meal either. Also, you know if you're going to any good restaurant you're getting the B-squad if you're lucky in terms of people in the kitchen.

However, I had already played a full session of bridge on Saturday and when the break came shortly after 1pm, I just wanted some food. I went to Brasserie Jo's, a nice place in the Colonnade Hotel (which I think also has rental residences now) that I was introduced to at the last Boston nationals (9 years ago!!!) It's a great place and is exactly what a brasserie should be. Relaxed and with big portions. I ordered the pate maison and a croque madame with mushrooms. The portions were huge (I probably ordered plenty for two normal people) and as artery clogging as you would expect. I've never been big on sweet carbs (pancakes, waffles, etc.) so I would definitely recommend this place as a good brunch spot in Boston.

Since my stay on Sunday was a last minute thing, I had no dinner plans for Sunday night. I decided to catch the second half of the Sunday night football game at the Beantown pub, about a block or so away from my hotel. The place is nice with decent food and a huge spot in the back with about 6 pool tables. What I didn't understand was that this place didn't do takeout or delivery. The place was within walking distance to at least two expensive hotels and I'm sure they'd have plenty of business from people who didn't want to order room service.

Two dinners at Craigie on Main

While up in Boston I managed to go twice to Craigie on Main in Central Square for two excellent meals. Craigie on Main used to be the Craigie Street Bistrot and only recently moved to the much bigger space on Main Street. In fact, they had only been open a week when my friend and I went there on Wednesday. We both had the 10 course tasting menu, and I went back by myself on Friday to try eating at the bar. They change their menu every day (not dramatically day to day I think) and so I will just describe the dishes that I remember I really liked.

House-cured Greek Sardines with Banyuls reduction and fennel salad

I love sardines and actually had this both nights. I actually think the tasting menu portion was just right and the regular appetizer portion was too much. A great way to start a meal.

Salad of House-Smoked Sablefish with local beets, potatoes, mizuna, and a dijon-miso vinaigrette

I absolutely love smoked sablefish and am ashamed to say that I only discovered it about a couple of years ago and still haven't tried any from the famed New York Jewish places. This was a wonderful dish with delicate flavors and a great contrast in textures. I'm not a beets fan in general but this really worked.

Tahini-marinated dayboat sea scallop with wellfleet and razor clams, whelks, barley cous cous, green olive puree

A perfectly cooked scallop (one in the tasting, I saw someone order it as a main and had 3 scallops) but what really makes the dish is the bed of clams, whelks, and barley cous cous that it rested on. Great combination of earth and sea that I really enjoyed.

Red Chile and Sesame marinated Kampachi Kama (collar)

This was a double wow dish. Just ridiculously tasty. The description is pretty much self-explanatory.

Fricasee of Country sausage, duck tongue confit, and cocks' combs with farm fresh egg, fresh mushrooms, and celery root puree

What part of that doesn't sound wonderful? I love it when there is an egg dish on a tasting menu and I have yet to be disappointed with one. Everything tasted great separately and was even better when mixed together with the broken egg yolk over it all.

Lamb 3 ways

I had this as an entree when I went to sit at the bar. I can't recall the specifics, but there was meat (either breast or loin), belly, and tongue. Superb. And the pieces weren't precut into small chunks like at some restaurants, and I rarely see lamb belly on a western menu. Makes me have a craving for Chinese style lamb belly (brisket) hot pot.

Other dishes were pretty good in general. When I sat at the bar, there was a guy raving about the burger, and saying that he'd eaten all the fancy-pants burgers in NYC and this was better. I'm not sure about a grass-fed burger, but I do know that I went to Irving Mill a couple of days ago to try their burger and it was indeed as wonderful as all the hype on serious eats and from Bruni.

There is a big open kitchen in the middle of the new restaurant, including a small bar area with 3-4 seats with a frontrow view of the action. To specifically request those seats, you ask to be ringside when making your reservation. It seemed to be a pretty efficient kitchen as the place was getting full, with head chef Tony Maws barking and expediting and a separate guy in charge of wiping the plates as they go out. He did not seem as friendly to me as other chefs I've encountered, but that could have been the pressure from the new venture.

Week in Boston

Was away up in Boston during the week of Thanksgiving. This coincided with the Fall North American Bridge Championships (referred to as nationals) and so I got to see a lot of old friends from bridge as well. I got two invites for Thanksgiving dinner but decided to just hide out in my hotel room eating Chinese food all day (my hotel was walking distance to chinatown).

My hotel was nice. Booking through hotwire, I ended up with a standard room at the Boston Omni Parker, which was literally two blocks away from the Boston trading office. I never knew that highly rated hotel chains had rooms for one, but that's what I got. The maximum bed size in the room was a double bed, but other than that, everything was fine and there was room for a desk, chair, and an armchair. As it began to rain on Sunday, I decided to avoid the other holiday commuters and stay an extra night on Sunday. Again I booked through hotwire, which doesn't give you the hotel name, but I figured out the hotel and didn't even have to move to another room for my extra day.

I didn't play much bridge, deciding that if I played the main events my trip would be hectic and rushed. That was probably a good thing, since I didn't really play well and on Friday played the worst single day of bridge I can remember in over 5 years. I was in and out of it the whole entire day. I would be fully concentrated for 8 tricks, and then completely lose my mind at trick 9. A while back I remember joking to my friend that I might have ADHD, and he said that was unlikely since I could play 2 to 3 sessions of solid bridge in a day for a few days at a time. My experience Friday makes me wonder about that all over.

Since bridge was not the main reason I went up to Boston, I managed to have a nice and relaxing time anyway. I ate at a couple great places and I should be posting about them shortly.