Sunday, February 28, 2010

My Favorite Steakhouse Picks Part 2: Keens (food)

I originally discovered Keens because it was close to my old midtown office, but I still go back there every so often because the food consistently satisfies and there's always a seat. The place is huge. A full pub section, a pub/lounge section, the main dining room, an upstairs dining room, and private banquet rooms. The full space seats almost 400 people!

More important than space is the atmosphere. With over 120 years of history, it gives off a great classic, old-old-old-school feel with the dark wood and the paintings and photographs.

A prime example of the historic atmosphere are the ceilings lined with old churchwarden pipes, a flashback to when the place was a pipe club and people kept their favorite pipes at inns.

For a starter I always go with the jumbo lump crab cocktail. I know they probably just took all of it out of a can, but when I'm at a steakhouse, I don't need a lot of fancy cooking.

It's a pretty big portion, and with a squeeze of lemon, some good cocktail sauce, and some drawn butter, it's just simple and delicious.

Here's the signature mutton chop that I get every time. It's a lamb saddle, and not actually mutton, so people who dislike strong gaminess won't be put off. It's big but the pub version (essentially half of this) is nowhere near as satisfying.

The best part of the mutton chop are the crisp, fatty "sideburns". But it also comes with some sauteed escarole so that you get some greens in and not just fat and meat. The container in the upper left contains mint jelly. Another old school accompaniment to lamb that I remember from my childhood but is not seen very often nowadays.

I've heard many raves about the hot fudge sundae, but I usually go with the indian pudding. It's another old school item that's not on many menus anymore, so I tend to get it when I see it. It's essentially a warm molasses cornmeal pudding served with vanilla ice cream. Hard to go wrong with that.

The prices are pretty standard high end steakhouse prices, with the crab cocktail coming in at $19.50 while the mutton chop is $45 and most of their desserts are $10. Again, it's about simple and delicious, and the ability to just show up and get a meal like this in the pub/lounge area helps make Keens great.

Tough bidding sequence hand (bridge)

So here was the hand in question.


you open 1C, lho 1H, partner neg X, rho 3H

What would you do now?

I asked a few people. A world medalist decided to just bid 6S. The player at the other table just bid 4S. A grand life master wanted to bid 4NT blackwood (is it blackwood?), then bid 6S opposite a 1 ace response.

One other possibility was the convoluted auction mentioned in the previous posts. I was pretty sure my partner would read 5D as exclusion keycard for spades, but I also knew that a 1 ace response (5S) would wrong-side the eventual slam. It was just as likely that partner had the ♠A and I should just blast 6S.

After long long thought, I decided to bid exclusion. I figured I could win by staying out of slam when I need to, or if partner had 3+ clubs and we could back into a making 6C, or if partner had a stiff heart which is still not unreasonable given this auction. Partner corrected to 6S, had Axxx xx KJT9x xx, and went down on the heart lead.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Air Travel Roulette (updated)

So I'm trying to book my flight to Reno for the spring bridge nationals. My first choice was to use my credit card miles. So I call them up, and after staying on hold for about half an hour, the journey begins. First, they notify me that ticket redemptions require a 21-day advanced travel booking. So I can't redeem a full ticket, but I can use the points for dollars option. Except that it has to be on the lowest priced fare, which was an early flight out of JFK with two stops in San Fran and LAX travelling on turboprop planes once I was on the west coast.

Full price it is then. Time to do my own search, courtesy of kayak, priceline, the airlines' own websites, etc. Didn't there used to be a good reason to book round trip flights? Besides the convenience of accumulating miles with the same airline, didn't it cost less because they were guaranteeing your purchase of two flights ahead of time? As I look at all the offers around, I don't see round trip bookings any cheaper than two single flight bookings.

Since I no longer have any loyalty to any airline (fck you United for letting my college miles expire with no warning), I am in the process of choosing two separate flights. Seems to me to be the best deal in this age where round trip doesn't seem to be rewarded. It looks like I'll have to get to LaGuardia for a 7am flight into Reno, and it'll cost me a good amount extra on the way back to avoid a redeye. This sucks.

You know how your credit score goes down the more times you pull up your credit report? I wonder if these sites work on a similar model. If you make search requests for the same flight over and over, I wonder if they start charging more because of a "perceived" interest in the route?

UPDATED: Ok, booked my flights. Into Reno on American, one stop in Dallas, both routes jets. $140 including fees. The bad thing is it's a 7am flight out of LaGuardia. Back out on United, one stop in Denver, both jets. $240 including fees. Another 7am flight, this time only getting me into Newark, but at a good enough hour to get back to work the next day. For those who have more experience travelling than I do, how'd I do?

Also, Of the sites that I used (looked on filtering sites like priceline, but booked all through the airlines' own sites), American was the only one that allowed a 24 hour hold on the seat without having to pay immediately. I thought that was good.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My Favorite Steakhouse Picks Part 1 (food)

There are a lot of really good steakhouses in NYC. I have many favorites, because many of these steakhouses tend to each have a different signature cut. Below are some of my favorites listed with the signature cut that I go there for and must-get extras that I've had (I might be missing some stuff though since I can't say I've sampled everything on the menus at these steakhouses). In future parts I'll have photos and more details of the food.

Peter Luger (Brooklyn. Cab it)

Signature cut: Porterhouse (I prefer the "for two" option)
Extras: creamed spinach, German fried potatoes, slab bacon, tomato and onion, schlag

Keens (36th St, 6th Ave)

Signature cut: Mutton chop, sizzling porterhouse
Extras: jumbo lump crab cocktail, indian pudding, hot fudge sundae

Prime House (27th St, Park Ave South)

Signature cut: 65 day dry aged ribeye
Extras: caesar salad with anchovies, slice of prime (7 layer fudge cake)

Strip House (12th St, University Place)

Signature cut: New York Strip
Extras: goose fat potatoes

Del Frisco's (49th St, 6th Ave)

Signature cut: double eagle strip, bone-in ribeye
Extras: crabcakes

Morton's (46th St, 5th Ave)

Signature cut: double cut filet mignon, double cut prime rib
Extras: shrimp Alexander

Tough bidding sequence continued (bridge)

Didn't get many comments on the bidding sequences, so here's a reminder of the auction:


Assuming you take it as exclusion keycard for spades, you make your response, and partner now bids 6C. So what is that? What should it be?


Monday, February 22, 2010

The fast GIB is still pretty good (bridge)

Playing in one of the robot races, GIB plays a hand that made me take notice.

After an uncontested auction GIB N ends up in 3NT on the ♣Q lead. Can you spot what GIB did that got my attention?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Prix Fixe Lunch at Momofuku Noodle Bar (food)

This was from a short while back. All the photos here are still from the camera on my phone. I originally intended to go there to try the ramen to compare it to the other ramen in NYC. However, the $20 three course prix fixe lunch (which they have regularly, not some restaurant week thing) just looked to be too good of a deal. And it was.

There were choices for each course, but I don't remember what my options were. The meal started with an amuse of golden beet tartar with lime, chervil, and yuzu. Didn't take a picture because it was a small amuse. It was refreshing with a light sourness and good texture.

The first course was a littleneck clam bun. Inside the bun with the two fried littlenecks were spicy mayo, shredded romaine, and cucumber. This was great as the littleneck clams were bursting with flavor.

Chicken noodle soup with hand cut noodles, poached egg, and scallions. The chicken tasted like it was chopped up grilled thigh meat which is good. The broth was ok, but I wish that it had tasted more like chicken soup. It was a little salty. The noodles were nice, but considering that I was originally planning to test out the ramen, they weren't anything special. Solid and filling though.

For dessert, soft serve ice cream. I could choose between banana bread or tea flavor or a combination of both. I went with the combination, and the ice cream came with some almond tea crumble which definitely added to it.

Overall, it was a solid meal where all three courses were good and I left feeling full. Good value for money and I thought the fried littleneck clam bun was inspired.

Tough bidding sequence (bridge)

There are many parts to this problem, so let's start with a simple bidding sequence.


3H is preemptive

1. What is 4D?
2. What is 4NT?
3. What is 5D?

Let's start with 1. Do your negative doubles imply diamonds? Or can the doubler have 4324? If they imply diamonds, does that mean 4D can be bid just competitively with say 2146? I assume that for most players, 4D here is natural and forcing.

2. At least one grand life master thought it was blackwood (RKC). Is this the best use of this bid? Is opener so worried about overcaller bidding 5H that opener can't bid 4H followed by 4NT? I remember discussing this auction a few years back and someone suggested 4NT was minors with an emphasis on clubs (2+ card discrepancy) while 4D would be 1 card discrepancy. Maybe that information is more useful?

3. Here's where the questions about this auction came from. The bid at the table was 5D. So what is 5D? I've heard three different interpretations so far. Exclusion blackwood (RKC), diamond void slam try without being exclusion, and natural. My first response would be to not play this as natural because 4D would be natural and forcing for me. But then I got to thinking, and what if the auction was this:


Well now 4C isn't forcing, so 5C has to be natural, right? So should the two situations be considered similar or different? I still think in either case 4NT as showing a 2 card discrepancy is probably better than using it as RKC.

Thoughts are welcome in the comments section before I move on to the next part of the problems this hand generated.

Monday, February 15, 2010

NBA All Star Weekend (sport, NBA)

Just finished watching the NBA all star weekend festivities that I DVRed.

The Horse contest

I get that the NBA is trying to showcase their younger players. I get that Casspi has a huge following because he's the first NBA player from Israel. However, HORSE is a playground game and I think they need to bring that streetball attitude in terms of their player selection. There was a real lack of trick shots, trash talking, and general bravado and cockiness of wanting to be the winner. Remember that old McDonalds commercial with Bird and Jordan playing HORSE? That's the stuff. Actually, I really like the remake ad that came on during the Superbowl with Howard and LeBron. There were some really great references to the old commercial with the "no jumpshots" replacing "no dunks" and them having no idea who Bird was at the end. Anyway, if they don't find some more charismatic players for this event soon, it's going to die out.

The 3 point shooting contest

Paul Pierce, really? With the highest single score being 20? I remember this contest when there used to be three rounds and guys like Tim Legler, Mark Price, Jason Kapono etc. putting up mid 20s. This needs to go back to featuring more lesser known (practically unknown) players who were just pure shooters. How is Anthony Morrow not in this?

The slam dunk contest

I guess I wasn't disappointed because I had very low expectations going in. They talk about athleticism, and marvel at Nate's jumping ability, but the thing that really gets the crowd going is dunking with authority. What if Dwight Howard's Superman dunk didn't take on the first try? All these finesse dunks that get missed just stop all momentum and hype. They need to bring back some power dunkers.

One of the good things is that it always reminds me to go on Youtube and watch the old dunk contests. I still think that the single best performance was Vince Carter in 2000, while my favorite duel was actually Dwight Howard-Gerald Green in 2007. Howard's dunks won over the crowd very early, and people forget that Green blew out the candle on a cupcake for one dunk and made a between the legs dunk with no sneakers. Two dunks that would have won almost every other dunk contest.

Playing the Slot Machine (bridge)

Played this one during the Saturday pairs. Nothing to discuss of bridge value, but cute. Check out the claim I made at trick 11.

And a beer too!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Upcoming on the blog

It's the year of the Tiger, and with the 30th moon I'll be seeing, I need to get my life in shape. That means working hard at getting fit physically, mentally, at work, etc. I've suffered too long from this deadly affliction and I need to find a cure now.

So there won't be much fancy eating in the near future, although I'll clear out whatever photos from meals are still on the camera. I also just played at a regional in Cromwell, so expect a few bridge posts as well.

I hope everyone has a wonderful year of the tiger and hopefully I'll have some good news to update.

Friday, February 12, 2010

What A Big Weekend

This is probably the biggest weekend I can remember in terms of having different meaningful things associated with it. Valentines' Day, Presidents' Day weekend, Chinese New Year, the winter Olympics, NBA All-Star weekend, and whatever else I may have forgotten.

I will be off to CT to play some bridge and hopefully take my mind off my work struggles for a little bit. So to all, happy vday, pday, cny, enjoy the nba and the olympics.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl Thoughts (sport, entertainment, tv, football)

Well, the team of destiny won. Congratulations to all the Saints fans and the city of New Orleans. Since most of my friends are either Pats or Jets (or Giants) fans, none of them wanted Indy to win. So that's good for them too.

First thought for tonight is that all the commercials were horrible. I think the only really funny one was the Doritos gym ninja. It was just a really bad night of commercials. Does Go Daddy even hire an ad agency? Every commercial is the same thing.

The opening theme song choice of Run This Town was good, thought it was pretty clear as soon as I saw them performing it that Kanye wasn't going to be in it. Carrie Underwood's Star Spangled Banner was very good. She can really belt it. I did not like Queen Latifah's America the Beautiful. Too much changing of the song for my taste. The Who was pretty good overall. I really liked the circular stage with the light show. I was surprised they didn't hire a crowd to run down to the stage this year. Don't know why they didn't do that.

On to the football thoughts. The thing that stood out to me was that this game was so incredibly clean defensively. No defensive penalties that stopped the clock or kept drives alive by giving up automatic first downs.

The Saints still had problems converting on short yardage, with the goal line stop adding to the woes from the Vikings game. At least they can't draw Eagles comparisons because they actually won the big one.

The onside kick was a good call. The fact that this option was always available for Payton made the decision to take the ball first make a lot more sense.

I don't feel that either team's WRs played well. They all caught well-thrown balls, but there were a lot of balls missed and none of them really made any plays.

The 51 yard FG call by Caldwell was horrible. Stover's a quality kicker, but that is not really his range. How many times this season have coaches gone for bad field goals? I think that was a bigger momentum swing because the Colts answered the onside kick with their own drive very quickly.

Caldwell was clearly outcoached in this game. They got an early advantage with the surprise play of Freeney, but the Saints made all the adjustments throughout the game while Indy made none.

The Saints played not to give up the big play on defense, and this worked really well when their offense was able to dominate the time of possession in the second quarter.

Manning lost his cool at the end, which was very different from his aura of invincibility throughout the season. I don't mean the interception, that was just good defensive play jumping that route. They didn't have that swagger in their final drive. The swagger of inevitability of the Colts scoring just wasn't there. It was clearly important to hold on to 3 timeouts throughout that drive to give them an extra chance to come back, but Manning called that timeout, and knew he made a mistake as soon as he did it.

In the end, Indy lived and died with Manning. With his receivers not making big plays, it was too much for him to do. In the end, New Orleans was the better team, and everyone played pretty well, including Brees, Thomas, Bush, Henderson, Colston, etc.