Sunday, January 30, 2011

Just Another Spectacular Dinner at Eleven Madison Park (food)

I've mentioned many times before that Eleven Madison Park is my favorite restaurant in New York City. In fact, my review of their lunch has been the most popular post on the blog by far. Here is my review of our spectacular dinner there last week, where we went all out by ordering the new tasting menu as well as adding the signature off-menu duck.

In addition to the fabulous food and great service, I really love the dining room here. The large spacious room has beautiful high ceilings, tall windows, and a beautiful view of the park.

Here is a picture of the centerpiece in the middle and the large windows staring out into the snowy night. This was the last picture I took before I was asked not to use flash. For the food pictures the rest of the night, I did what I could, but increased the brightness after the fact for most of them. They might not have come out as clearly as I would have liked, but I hope that the beauty of the food presentations comes through.

I had been looking forward to the meal for so long that I dug right in and forgot to take pictures of the gougeres and the first selection of canapes.

HALIBUT with dashi and seaweed lavash
First came crisp and light lavash flatbread flavored with seaweed accompanied by a cup of dashi with a sprig of herbs and a piece of halibut fume. The smoky fish taste worked well with the umami-filled dashi and did a good job opening up the taste buds for what was to come.

MONKFISH loin with lemon and scallion
This was served on a rice cracker and I really liked how the puffed up texture worked with the texture of the ceviche-style piece of loin.

MONKFISH torchon of liver with apple and curry
The apple was terrific here to balance out the fatty fish liver torchon, but I wasn't sold on the combination of apple and curry.

MIREPOIX carrot celery and onion
This was for my friend DC who couldn't have the fish liver. I think there was some truffle or herb flavor added as well. But seriously, who doesn't love the flavors of a mirepoix?

SEA URCHIN toast with foie gras and lemon
This was absolutely wonderful. The meyer lemon puree and sea urchin worked terrifically together, and provided just enough brininess and acidity to handle the rich chilled foie gras mixture. For those who might be worried that the foie overpowers the sea urchin, I would say that there is a little bit of that, but the sea urchin still comes through.

MANGO pickled with brioche toast
DC said this was good, but I don't think he was swooning like we were over the foie and sea urchin one.

SMOKED STURGEON sabayon with chive oil
I've had this a few times before and it continues to be very good. Just a wonderful combination of the smokiness of the sturgeon, the warmth and earthiness of the chive oil, and the rich yet slightly acidic sabayon. Remember to mix the chive oil at the bottom thoroughly if you get this!

CAVIAR fingerling potato and creme fraiche
A classic combination presented here using a chilled fingerling potato as the vehicle.

BLACK TRUFFLE beignet with black truffle remoulade
Fried dough completely covered with black truffle aroma and taste. Mixing it with the remoulade added a lovely creaminess to round out the bite. Delicious and smart.

A picture of the remoulade, with an additional bit of truffle on top. This was the last of the canape courses, which were served in five waves and consisted of eight individual bites.

LANGOUSTINE ceviche with celery, apple and lime
The lime and celery in the broth allowed the freshness and flavor of the raw langoustine to come out, but it was the cold apple snow which added an extra texture and temperature dimension that made the dish stand out.

RADICCHIO tardivo with buffalo mozzarella and mango
What a beautiful and fresh looking presentation. I didn't have any, but there were certainly no complaints coming from DC.

Bread service remains the same with a baguette and a picholine olive bread.

The wonderful goats' milk butter. Once again we asked for more and polished it off.

CARROT roasted with dates, cumin and wheat berries
I liked how the sweetness of the dates and other components brought out the earthy side of the carrot, which was tender yet firm and not mushy. This was a terrific bridge between the cold refreshing first course and the subsequent savory fish course.

JOHN DORY with pickled daikon radish, dehydrated citrus, and edamame
This lighter, more colorful preparation was for DC due to his dietary restrictions for subsequent courses.

JOHN DORY seared with celery, artichoke, and black truffles
We had this heavier, earthier preparation of the john dory, which was lovely with the firm meaty fish. They replaced the john dory with striped bass and used the same preparation for DC's next course, and he loved it just as much as we did.

VEAL blanquette with winter vegetables and smoked bone marrow
The veal was tasty and the jus was rich, but what really made this dish for me was the wonderful selection of winter vegetables and the smoked bone marrow which added a depth of flavor and a variety of textures to the dish as a whole.

LAMB roasted with vadouvan, lady apples and puntarella
Although I love all the individual components of vadouvan spice, I'm really not a big fan. It worked in this dish because the combination of those spices with garlic, tender lady apples, and the bitterness from the puntarella came together nicely for me. The lamb was cooked perfectly I thought, although I know people who prefer their lamb bloody.

Here was our beautiful roasted duck being brought tableside to be carved. The secret is the dry-aging, which concentrates the flavor and allows the skin to become really crisp during roasting while the fat cooks down.

Here our server expertly carves out the breast. I asked about the other parts of the duck, and our server said that due to the dry aging process, the dark meat parts become very very gamey.

DUCK roasted with kumquats and turnips
Speechlessly wonderful. The kind where everyone just concentrates on the food and stops talking. The kumquats were nice and sweet and provided a good balance, but they weren't really necessary. Just close your eyes and savor the concentrated flavor of the duck with a few sips of lovely red wine. The crispy skin almost becomes overkill. DC compared it to having duck ages ago at La Tour D'Argent.

KIR ROYALE cassis, lemon, champagne
It seems to be a common theme that the predessert here at Eleven Madison Park is based off of familiar drinks. Besides this kir royale, I've had variations of a malted milkshake and strawberries and champagne before. It's a refreshing take, but truly nothing new in terms of flavors.

CHOCOLATE ganache with butternut squash and maple
This was good, and I liked pairing the chocolate ganache ribbons with the butternut sqush sorbet, which I thought was an innovative approach that worked. That being said, I continue to feel that the desserts are the weakest part of the Eleven Madison Park experience. I don't think they need to do the four or five courses of dessert tastings like at other top tier places, but I feel that they're caught in an awkward in-between spot. I've read that they do a terrific souffle, so maybe a solution would be to focus on classic desserts and just excel in the execution.

Mignardises included chocolate covered banana ice cream pops on the right, and something I don't remember on the left, except that I didn't really like it.

There was also peanut brittle and violet macarons. I thought these were fine, but nothing extraordinary, and certainly nothing novel. I thought the mignardises I had on previous visits were much better.

I enjoy good wine and appreciate its flavors as well as how it enhances good food. But I would not call myself a true connoisseur, and so I include pictures of the two wines we had, expertly chosen by DC, which were both splendid and delicious.

In all, it was just another spectacular meal at EMP. The portions are more in line with tasting menu portions I've had at other high end places, whereas the old gourmand menu seemed a little too overindulgent for some. The canapes have improved significantly in my mind compared to when they first rolled out the new menu. At the current price point of $195+t/t per person with a $30 per person supplement for the duck, there is value here, but not the outright bargain the gourmand menu once was. Still, it is roughly three quarters the cost of a meal at Per Se, which I think offers the closest in terms of dining experience.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Momofuku Fried Chicken and some food thoughts (food)

Last week, we went to have some Momofuku fried chicken to celebrate my buddy DGW's 30th birthday. There were four of us, and we managed to polish off everything, but I suspect that we would have still been pleasantly fed if there were six of us. I haven't had this or any other fried chicken in a while, but it's just as good as I remember it.

First come the sauces. Clockwise starting from the bottom are garlic jalapeno, hoisin, Korean hot pepper paste, and scallion sauces. My favorites are still the garlic jalapeno and the scallion oil, and I barely touched the other two sauces.

Next comes the big bowl of fresh veggies and herbs. A crunchy and refreshing addition to the chicken meat as we made our own wraps.

Voila! The big plate consisting of just a bit more than two whole chickens.

Here's the Korean fried chicken half. I think there are better versions of Korean fried chicken in the city, but this was still crunchy and delicious. I personally would have preferred it slightly sweeter.

The southern style fried chicken seasoned with Old Bay is my preferred choice, although it's far from the greasy fried chicken I usually associate with a southern style.

Here's a closeup shot after cutting into the southern fried chicken. I don't know if it comes through in the photo, but the chicken is super juicy. In fact, on the first cut, some juice squirted out from the piece of chicken!

There's been some notable food news of late, including a recent lawsuit filed against Taco Bell for false advertising. The claim is that the Taco Bell "seasoned beef" mixture contains less than 35% beef, and therefore does not meet the minimum requirements set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be labeled as "beef". I remember writing a while back that I was perplexed at why 100% real beef and 100% real cheese were big sell points for McDonalds, and I finally get an answer. Between the binders, extenders, and fillers, 100% beef is apparently a luxury in today's food world. However, my main takeaway from all this was not that Taco Bell was not serving "beef", but that the USDA only requires 40% beef for a mixture to be labeled as "beef". The USDA is pretty ridiculous with regards to labeling. Items can be labeled "fat-free" as long as they have less than .5 grams of fat per serving, and there are no definitive rules for what constitutes a serving. If you're curious, here's the guide to food labeling from the USDA.

Speaking of serving size, Starbucks is now rolling out a 31 oz "Trenta" size for their coffee. To put into perspective, a 7-11 Big Gulp is 32 oz. I just don't get it. I really don't.

Oh, and while Gordon Ramsay's restaurant empire is not in the best shape, he continues to make some very good television. Not the stuff that he makes for Fox, but he recently made a show called "Ramsay's Best Restaurant" which is quite good and is replaying on BBC America. I highly recommend it, although if you're used to tuning in just to watch him yell at people, this isn't the show for you.

Monday, January 24, 2011

2010-2011 NFL Playoffs Conference Round Recap (sport, gambling)

Fading me continues to be a profitable strategy this playoffs. Not only did I do poorly again (1-1 sides, 0-2 o/u), I was also wrong on what I thought was the value pick of the week. In my opinion, this Green Bay love is way overboard at this point, with the line pretty much at Packers -2.5 against the Steelers, having opened at -3 at some books. As much as I'll probably be rooting for the Packers, I just don't see how the Steelers can be almost a FG underdog in this one. But more on that as the Superbowl approaches. Let's recap this past weekend's games first.

GB 21 CHI 14

MVP of the game probably goes to Sam Shields, with two picks and a sack, or to B.J. Raji for his pick six, 2 QB hits, and being the blocking fullback on Rodgers' TD rush. But I want to give kudos here to Tim Masthay, who has my vote for MVP of that game. We all didn't expect much out of the Bears' offense. But their punt return game was supposed to put them in good field position and that never materialized. Masthay put them inside the 20 five times, and kicked a booming 65 yarder as well. Hester only averaged 5 yards per punt return when he did manage to catch and run with it.

Todd Collins was absolutely dreadful. But my vote for LVP of the game still goes to Mike Martz. When the Packers didn't blitz that much and give him shots at the big play downfield, he just didn't know how to call the game. Caleb Hanie actually played pretty well, but I thought the only reason he was able to have success was that with him, they were forced into a much more traditional offense, and ran the ball more. To me, the horrible play calling was summed up by that dreadful 3rd and 3 play on the last drive.

NYJ 19 PIT 24

I have to admit, Sanchez looked really good in the second half of this game. With the running attack shut down (Greene and LdT combined for 68 yards on 18 carries), he led them back into contention in this one. But it just wasn't enough on this day. Honestly, I think the Jets did an amazing job to make it so close at the end. This was just a matchup nightmare for them. The strength of the Jets this postseason has been getting to the QB on defense, and controlling the game through the running game on offense. They did in fact get to Roethlisberger, who had a horrible 35.5 QB rating, but that played right into Pittsburgh's strength, which was the running game and relying on their defense. Like I mentioned when I wrote my preview, running into that Pittsburgh defense is just not a winning tactic, and that proved to be the case here.

As opposed to last week, which was Ryan vs. Belichick, there was very little mention of a coach's battle, but I think Mike Timlin really deserves to be in that discussion of top coaches in the league. He's not as flashy, but most of what he does is well thought out and he's not just plain and conventional by any means. Besides, when you work for Dr. House in the off-season, you have to be a genius.

Friday, January 21, 2011

2010-2011 NFL Playoffs Conference Round Thoughts (sport, gambling)

There are some really interesting numbers related to this week's 2 vs 6 matchups in both conferences, especially when you consider the Superbowl implications as well. The first thing that caught my eye was reading that if the Jets beat the Steelers this weekend, Mark Sanchez will set the record for most road playoff wins in NFL history by a quarterback. It's quite an amazing statistic, especially since it is only his second season. Some will use it to argue that Sanchez "steps it up" in the postseason, while I will argue that he still sucks, and that it's his team that "steps it up" in the postseason.

With the heavily favored New England Patriots out of the picture, the Superbowl line has moved from AFC-4 to a pick'em. In fact, the Packers are favored to win it all, opening the week at 8-5 and coming down to about 6-5. Here's an interesting article on what the LVSC thinks it might send out for each of the four Superbowl matchups. It was clear from the start of this week that all the love was on Green Bay, and I think the lines were certainly shaded that way to begin with. As the money keeps pouring in on Green Bay from both the public and the sharps, I see very little value there. In fact, I think the value play is to take the AFC right now if you can get it at a pick'em. If we're to believe the LVSC lines, then even if Green Bay wins as expected, you'd be very slightly ahead if the Steelers also won, and slightly behind if the Jets won. As the proposed Jets-Packers line doesn't cross the key number of 3, it's not too much of a loss in value. Whereas if Chicago won, you rate to be ahead by a lot. It feels to me like most people tend to think that it's more likely that the Jets will upset the Steelers than the Bears upsetting the Packers, even though the lines for both games are the same.

GB@CHI Line: GB by 3.5, o/u 43.5

Even though this is a historic football rivalry, these two teams haven't played each other in the playoffs in 60 years. The way their regular season games went, it's almost like they haven't played each other yet this season either. In the first one, Green Bay had 18 penalties for 152 yards, while the Bears had nothing to play for in the second one. During Bill Simmons' podcast this week, he mentioned a theory that sounded really interesting to me. What if Green Bay, like most high powered offenses, is actually a dome team? What if the Green Bay offense doesn't get on a roll in cold and windy Chicago? We certainly saw Seattle's receivers having problems last week. In the end, Green Bay is still only a .500 team on the road, even including their last two wins. In my mind, the value must be on the team that hasn't gotten much respect all year against the public favorite.

Pick: CHI +3.5 (you might even get to see 4 by game time), Over 43.5

NYJ@PIT Line: PIT by 3.5, o/u 38.5

This seems almost like the exact same game as last week's BAL@PIT game. Both the Ravens and the Jets are good defensive teams carrying middling QBs (Flacco is tied with Sanchez in that road playoff wins stat). The Steelers might have had a physically tough game against Baltimore, but they also had a bye week, so that evens out. To me, this game will once again come down to turnovers and QB play. When the Jets won the regular season meeting, it was one of those rare games where the Steelers couldn't generate any turnovers. But the Jets also can't rely as heavily on their running game to keep Sanchez out of trouble like they did the last two weeks with LdT and Greene combining for 35 then 27 rushes in each game. Running over and over against the Pittsburgh defense has been proven to not be a very successful tactic. To me, this is the game where Sanchez really will have to step up, and that means playing at a high level the whole game, not just a good throw here and there while maintaining his 55% completion percentage.

Pick: PIT-3.5, Under 38.5

Monday, January 17, 2011

2010-2011 NFL Playoffs Round 2 Recap (sport, gambling)

Wow. It's hard to imagine someone being more wrong than I was this past weekend, having gone 1-7 (0-4 sides, 1-3 o/u). Then again, I'm sure it's pretty rare for the 2-seed to be playing the 6-seed in both conference finals. The AFC was definitely favored to win the Superbowl throughout the season, but with the heavily favored Pats gone and both the Bears' and the Packers' offenses looking unstoppable, I'm imagining a very competitive Superbowl.

BAL 24 PIT 31

A hard fought game where somehow 55 points were scored with less than 400 combined offensive yards. I did say turnovers were going to be the key to this game, and that was indeed the case. Baltimore had a good lead to start the second half, but turnovers caused the momentum of the game to completely flip around. In the end, both teams were pretty even and Roethlisberger showed once again that he comes through in the playoffs.

GB 48 ATL 21

Not much to be said here as I was just completely, utterly wrong about this one. The playoffs in any sport are often a matter of which team peaks at the right time, and Green Bay certainly looks like they're at the top of their game and getting better. Just a dominating performance on both sides of the ball. They are now the favorite to win the Superbowl, according to the oddsmakers.

SEA 24 CHI 35

Seattle almost came back with a back door cover in this one, which leads me to wonder what could have been. From my point of view, Hasselbeck played another terrific game, but they couldn't get the big plays like they did last week. During the cold and snow early in the game, his receivers kept dropping passes and having passes just bounce right off of them. Chicago pretty much had a handle on the game throughout, but they just didn't play at a high enough level for my taste. While Cutler had a nice QB rating with the 3 TDs and no INTs, he still only completed 53.6% of his passes.

NYJ 28 NEP 21

The Jets' upset of the Patriots came through a complete team effort on all sides of the ball. New England had almost twice as many first downs, held the ball almost 9 more minutes, and produced more offensive yards. It's not like they had multiple turnovers either, with just the one interception that actually didn't lead to any points. So what happened? Great defense that gameplanned perfectly for the Patriots' offense. Brady was pressured a lot, with 5 sacks and multiple hurries, including the one that led to the interception. But what I consider to be the most telling stat of the game was red zone efficiency. I was correct that Sanchez wasn't going to be very good at sustaining drives and converting third downs. He certainly threw a number of passes that just sailed past open receivers. But he came through in the red zone, converting for three TDs, including another impressive back of the endzone playoff catch by Holmes. It just felt to me like the Jets played with more passion and executed better. I did predict that there would be a fake punt/FG, I just didn't expect it to come from the Patriots!

There was a small thing that bugged me while watching the game. At the end, when Greene scored the decisive TD with just under two minutes left, he celebrated by taking a nap. Of course this leads to Jim Nantz saying, "I've never understood the absurdity of all the self-aggrandizing and now you're going to cost your team 15 yards on the kick and you're going to give Brady and his unit a chance to do something." Nantz, get over yourself. This wasn't "self-aggrandizing". This wasn't about him. This was about a long, tough, week finally being over. This was about all the trash talking and beating a hated division rival in the playoffs. This was about Rex Ryan limping down the sidelines to celebrate with his team. Let them have their moment, and stop YOUR self-aggrandizing, Jim Nantz.

Friday, January 14, 2011

2010-2011 NFL Playoffs Round 2 Thoughts (sport, gambling)

They call this round the Divisional Playoffs because it's expected that the winners of each division will play each other in this round. Instead, we have the intra-divisional playoffs in the AFC, with two sets of division rivals going at it. Personally, I love it. There's already been a lot of trash talking to fuel these teams' hatred for one other. But more importantly, it means that the teams have to go all out to find an edge, and not just use their vanilla schemes and plays. I expect some very exciting football from the AFC matchups.

BAL@PIT Line: PIT by 3 with added vig or 3.5 depending on the book, o/u 37

It's a good thing for both these teams that they are playing the first game of the weekend. I'm definitely one of those who believe that these two teams pound the stuffing out of each other every time they meet up, and it's a good advantage for whoever their opponents are the following week. There's been much talk about how weak the Pittsburgh offensive line has been, and it is indeed a very bad matchup against a Ravens defense that gets to the QB not by speed, but by strength and wearing down the opponent's O-line. The most important stat in this game will be turnovers. The Steelers won 7 of their last 9 games, but in their two losses, they were not able to force any turnovers, while they caused at least two turnovers in every one of those wins. I'd be all over the Ravens to win outright if it wasn't for the fact that Flacco had two fumbles against a weaker Kansas City defense last week.

Pick: BAL+3/3.5 (no idea how this line will move over the weekend), Under 37

GB@ATL Line: ATL by 2.5, o/u 43.5

Speaking of vanilla schemes and plays, that's pretty much what one expects from Atlanta. You know what's coming, but can you stop it? I think Atlanta's run game will take control against the Packers' weaker run defense. Some would argue, however, that Green Bay's offense is good enough to win the game just on their side of the ball. While Rodgers looked sensational last week, I think a large part of that was the unexpected rushing performance of James Starks. I don't think that will happen against this Atlanta run defense, and if they make Green Bay a one-dimensional offense, it could be a frustrating day for Rodgers. Another interesting thing to note is that all the teams in this playoff round come from the North or the East Coast. The only real warm weather team is the Falcons, and they play in a dome so they won't have to worry about this crazy weather we've been having. That might end up being more of an advantage than even their 7-1 home record would indicate.

Pick: ATL-2.5, Under 43.5

SEA@CHI Line: CHI by 10, o/u 41

A matchup of two of the most underrated teams of the season. I think one of the reasons for that was because both teams excelled in a part of the game that isn't taken into account in fantasy football, that is, special teams. Between Hester and Washington, it's probably a push in terms of who has the upper hand, but I do expect both teams to frequently begin their drives with good field position. The key player in this game will be Matt Forte. Chicago doesn't really have any notable top talent receivers, and Cutler is still prone to making mistakes. Forte, on the other hand, has been the most consistent part of that offense, quietly racking up 1000+ yards rushing and 500+ yards receiving. In Seattle's win over Chicago earlier in the season, they limited him to 11 rushing yards.

Pick: SEA+10, Over 41

NYJ@NEP Line: NEP by 8.5, o/u 44

I'm not going to even begin to guess each coach's game plan. I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the game. I do think that Ryan will go for at least one fake punt or fake FG or surprise onside kick, though. New England has been dominant all year, with only two losses and two other games that one would call close (Green Bay and Indy). In those four games, the Patriots' opponents managed more first downs than they did and controlled the time of possession. That is the only real way to beat the Patriots, and the Jets showed some of that last week by running the ball a lot and winning the time of possession battle against the Colts. I just don't think they'll be able to do that in the cold and snow of Foxboro, and I certainly don't trust Sanchez to convert third downs in those conditions. If the Patriots ever get out to a lead that gets Ryan to go away from the running game, it'll be over very quickly.

Pick: NEP-8.5, Under 44

Monday, January 10, 2011

2010-2011 NFL Playoffs Round 1 Recap (sport, gambling)

Even though my picks against the spread didn't perform well (2-2 sides, 1-3 o/u), it felt like I did a good job describing how the games were going to go and what they would come down to. The running game certainly was the deciding factor in most of the games.

NO 36 SEA 41

Although I was one of the few who gave Seattle a live chance to win the game outright, I did not expect them to win in the manner that they did. I thought they would try to slow the game down, but instead they threw it over the top and scored on some big plays. The running game did matter, with Marshawn Lynch's magnificent run proving to be the difference, as well as the Saints' inability to convert a 3rd and inches. It was a fun game to watch and that Seattle crowd really brought it I thought.

NYJ 17 IND 16

The running game really came through here for the Jets, as both Tomlinson and Greene had more than 15 carries each, and Sanchez continues to underperform once it gets late into the season. Although there was less overall scoring than I had predicted, the game did play out the way I thought it would, with a back and forth struggle that came down to the wire. However, Peyton Manning had TWO chances and came up short on both. With less than 5 minutes to go, they had to settle for a 50 yard FG, which is really at the edge of Vinatieri's range. Then, even after getting the ball back, they couldn't sustain a drive enough to eat up the clock. Could it be that Peyton Manning is on the decline and we haven't been able to admit it yet? While his team was riddled with injuries, he did have his worst interception numbers and quarterback rating since 2002. He's 34, and has played in every game of his career. I doubt that he's going to be able to perform at such a high level for much longer.

BAL 30 KC 7

The writing was on the wall by halftime. Despite a long run for a TD off a turnover at midfield and a goal line stand, Kansas City still found themselves down at the half. So when Baltimore got the lead to double digits and the Chiefs felt they had to throw it, it became a blowout quick as Cassell threw three interceptions.

GB 21 PHI 16

This game lived up to the expectations of a McCarthy-Reid chess match. A back and forth game where neither team really felt like they were going for the win. There were a few interesting calls there in the 4th quarter. First was early in the 4th quarter, where Reid went for the FG down 11 instead of going for it on 4th and 1. The obvious excuse is that it cuts it down to one possession. But even if they managed to keep Green Bay from scoring again, which they did, they still need a 2 pt conversion to tie the game, and that's one play for two yards, as opposed to a play for one yard. Next was going for it on 4th and goal from the Green Bay 1 with 4 minutes left to play. This was a really close decision for me. I think if it was 3 yards or more, you have to kick it. My reasoning is that if you don't get points from this possession, the game is over. Green Bay can kill clock, take a safety, and still be up 2 possessions without giving up too much in field position. This was a situation where you needed to make it a one possession game because of how little time there was left. I'm also interested in the play calling in Green Bay's last possession. It seems normal to run it twice to kill clock, then see how far the third down is and decide to go for the kill or not. I just feel that there's a really good surprise factor in going for the throw on one of the first two downs, with bigger upside. Perhaps a team with a better short passing game like the Patriots would do something like that.

Friday, January 7, 2011

2010-2011 NFL Playoffs Round 1 Thoughts (sport, gambling)

It's a passing league. There's no doubt about it. But lost in the record passing numbers, hits on defenseless receivers over the middle, and quarterback love, is the acknowledgement of how important solid running backs are to those high powered offenses. I'm not even talking about the studs like MJD, where Jacksonville completely fell apart after he was sidelined by injury. I'm talking about how last year's high powered offenses, like the Saints and the Packers, couldn't repeat their performances once their main running backs went down. Or how about seeing the difference that Joseph Addai makes to the Colts offense. Brady might have everybody's attention with that consecutive throws without an interception record, but a large part of what makes that offense so dominant is BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Did you know that The Lawfirm hasn't had a fumble all year? Or his whole NFL career for that matter? Or even during his two seasons at Ole Miss? How invaluable is that?!

As we enter the playoffs, the running game is even more important, and I think needs to be the focal point for analyzing this first round's slate of games.

NOS@SEA Line: NOS by 10, o/u 44

There is no doubt that the Saints are more talented than the Seahawks. But with the running back injuries, this game is far from a gimme for the Saints. If the Saints feel that they constantly have to throw the ball, it actually plays into Seattle's hands. The passing game in the NFL is filled with so many routes that require such precise timing and communication, one small miscommunication or misread can easily lead to a pick six. The biggest edge Seattle has in this game is the 12th man, and if the Saints rely on constantly throwing the ball, they open themselves up to more opportunities for turning the ball over. The Saints are still a deserved favorite, and I do see Seattle needing two turnovers and at least one big run back from Leon Washington to have a shot. But it certainly wouldn't surprise me if those things happened.

Pick: SEA+10 (you might be able to get 10.5 by game time), Under 44

NYJ@IND Line: IND by 2.5, o/u 44.5

The return of Joseph Addai means a lot to that Colts offense, and more so to this specific matchup. Rex Ryan has a horrible record against Peyton Manning. Something like 1-7, with the one win being the game where Indy pulled their starters halfway through. One of the reasons for this is that Ryan loves to blitz, and Manning handles the blitz probably better than any quarterback in the league. What Addai gives to Manning is the ability to have his full arsenal of plays to call at the line to keep the defense honest, as well as someone who actually knows what he's doing blocking in the spread offense. I expect it to be a close, back and forth game, in which case I'm always going to be taking Peyton Manning at home at night, especially when I don't even have to give 3 points.

Pick: IND-2.5 (you might want to lock this in before the weekend), Over 44.5

BAL@KC Line: BAL by 3, o/u 40.5

A tough game because of the intangibles involved. Just how good is Baltimore? I think they've played one of the toughest schedule all year, having played their own division, the AFC East, and the NFC South. However, they never really dominated any of their games, with many of their games decided by one possession and often coming down to the wire. That's dangerous against this Kansas City team that needs to stay in games so that they can continue to run the ball and set up the big play to Bowe. If this game does stay close, wouldn't you want the team that has a decided home field advantage and getting points? The best play might be to wait and see how the first half plays out.

Pick: KC+3 (I think the public is on BAL while the sharps are on KC), Under 40.5

GB@PHI Line: PHI by 2.5, o/u 46

Another very tough game, as I have both teams pretty even in general. To me, the line for this game is representative of each team's momentum going into the playoffs, The Packers are coming into this with their playoff-clinching win against the Bears, a close loss to the Patriots and a dominating win against the Giants. The Eagles, on the other hand, lost their last two, were pretty much out of it against the Giants, and barely beat the Cowboys. Add to that the wear and tear of Vick's first full season back, and the Eagles definitely look like they peaked too early. I expect a high scoring back and forth game, but unless the Eagles can get a timely turnover or two, I think the Packers have too much in their favor to be getting points. I think an interesting betting prop here is which coach will make more dumb decisions, Reid or McCarthy?

Pick: GB+2.5, o/u 46 (I expect the public to chase this up as gametime approaches)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Do you get better value with more expensive ingredients? (food, economics)

As I was looking back on my New Year Michelin restaurants countdown, I pondered the wide range of costs across the featured meals, especially the prohibitively more expensive Masa. Kajitsu seemed the cheapest in comparison to all the others, and I attributed that to their base ingredient costs being lower as they did not use any meat or fish. The meal at WD-50 also did not really feature very expensive ingredients, but the higher cost seemed justified by the use of techniques exclusive to the restaurant and its chefs. Masa, on the other hand, while definitely showcasing some technique, felt like much of it was based off of expensive ingredients such as white truffles and fish flown in from Japan.

My first thought was that restaurants make money off of food and wine markups. So it seemed to me that Masa, where I felt we were really paying for ingredients, offered the worst value in that the money was going to the part of the equation where the restaurant makes the most money. Thinking about it a little more, I don't think that's right. The difference lies in the fact that cheap food is in fact really cheap. Because of mass production, many basic meat and vegetable ingredients are so cheap that it allows regular restaurants to have markups that are many multiples of the ingredient cost. I don't think that a markup of an expensive ingredient can reach as high a multiple. For example, just recently, a bluefin tuna sold for a record 32.49 million yen (just shy of USD$400,000) at auction. I wonder how they will recoup their investment, let alone make money.

Of course a restaurant may sell one rare item, such as the aforementioned bluefin tuna, at cost in the hopes of creating business by generating more wine sales or just increasing publicity. However, a restaurant takes much more risk when dealing with rare, expensive ingredients. As I mentioned while discussing fresh fish in Hong Kong, there's often no second chance when cooking with these ingredients. You can't just refire a dish because you overcooked it or undercooked it.

Now, value is in the eye of the buyer, and of course the difference in cost between a meal at Masa and a meal at your local sushi joint will vary in significance for different people. But, ceteris paribus, is there a reasonable argument that there is actually more value to be had at expensive restaurants serving expensive, rare, perishable ingredients?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy 2011!

We are officially into 2011 and I've made a couple of small changes to the blog. On the right you will notice two new sections. One is a poll and the other shows the three most popular posts within the few months. All comments and suggestions are welcome.