Wednesday, November 23, 2011

NFL Picks Week 12 2011 (sport, gambling)

Defense may win championships, but many bettors don't realize that defense also covers spreads. Bettors often associate large spreads with dominant offenses, but a dominant defense can often propel a mediocre offense into covering a large spread. This is done not only by shutting down the opponent's offense, but by frequently providing the offense with good field position. Given enough chances with a short field, an NFL offense, no matter how bad, will manage to score.


This is a perfect example of a large spread that scares people away because of the mediocrity of the Jets' offense. But the Jets' defense is second in the league in opponent's QB rating, and should be able to provide good opportunities for their offense. In addition, two previously mentioned themes show up here as well. Buffalo is a significantly worse team on the road while the Jets are significantly better at home. They also played each other recently, with New York winning by double digits at Buffalo. Furthermore, New York has had 10 days to prepare for this game while this will be Buffalo's third consecutive road game. It just feels like Buffalo will be overwhelmed.

Under 38.5

How is it that a matchup between two of the top three defenses by opponents' PPG yields a total in the high 30s? My guess is this is another example of how fantasy football affects people's perspectives. Names like Flacco, Boldin, Gore, and Rice are on many fantasy teams, causing people to overestimate the actual offensive capabilities of their respective teams. I think this line should objectively be in the low to mid 30s, and I expect it to be an enjoyable, hard-fought, defense-dominated game.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

NFL Picks Week 11 2011 (sport, gambling)

Even though I've only been able to make one pick per week in recent weeks, I have been on quite a streak, having picked 6 winners in a row. I mention this since I may as well jinx myself as the only pick I have this week is one that will go against the instincts of most NFL fans and bettors.


The Redskins are reeling. They've lost 5 in a row including one to Carolina. There is no sense of consistency as to who will get the bulk of the work at their main offensive positions. Their defense has been hit with injuries. Dallas has fared better of late. Their 44-point offensive outburst against Buffalo was their best performance in a long time, and there's talk that the NFC East could be theirs for the taking. So why am I going against the "hot" team playing against the "cold" team?

Two of the points I've made in earlier weeks are applicable here. First, Dallas has not done particularly well on the road. They lack the consistency to really be a heavy road favorite. The Redskins play significantly better at home. Second, this is their second game against each other this season. In the first game in Dallas, the Cowboys won on a late field goal. Now they play in Washington, and they have to lay a TD? Sure the teams are different than they were then, but I don't feel that the Cowboys played particularly badly in that game or that the Redskins played particularly well. 7 points is a lot to give on the road. Earlier in the week, and perhaps still at some books, the line was at 7.5.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Full Rundown of Masa 2011 (food)

If you've decided that you're going to go to Masa and spend the money, you might as well go for white truffle season. The basic set omakase is still $450, but there are a couple of white truffle supplements available.

It was not difficult at all to get a reservation. I called one week in advance, and when we arrived for our 8pm reservation, there was no one at the sushi bar, and two two-tops at the tables in addition to our foursome. Everything is just as beautiful and tranquil as I remember from our visit last year. The sanded wood of the tables is just as beautiful as that at the sushi bar. Service was friendly and professional.

Photos are not allowed at Masa. I thought it was about the food or disturbing the guests, so I asked to take photos of the restaurant after our meal was over and we were the last ones there. We were told that the restaurant itself is exactly what the chef does not want people taking photos of. They offered to take one photo of us behind the sushi bar, but that everything else was off limits.

The dinner began as usual with a progression of small courses. When I say "as usual", the dinner really is almost an exact replica of my meal there last year.

Eel and cucumber is a terrific combination, and the vinegary tartness of the sunomono made for a bright and refreshing first course.

Similar to my meal last year, I found the toro to be nice and rich, but nothing was really done to it. The flavor of the dish came from the terrific caviar, of which there was a huge mound on top of the toro. The texture combination of all the components was stellar.

A good combination of textures with fresh raw fugu. Fugu is one of those fish like fluke that chefs seem to love but I personally don't get. Especially as the blowfish they use is of the non-poisonous variety, taking away from what makes fugu exotic.

The fugu flesh, when cooked, has an interesting tender texture with a little bit of give. The fry job was perfect and we enjoyed this very much. We were encouraged to use our hands and really get at the flavor in the bones.

The langoustine was simply done with a splash of citrus. It arrived at a perfect, just-cooked temperature, with a wonderful aroma. Again they encouraged us to use our hands, and I really went at getting all the little pieces of meat out of all the claws and legs.

Those of us who could not eat langoustine were served a wonderfully aromatic mushroom risotto featuring three kinds of mushrooms, including matsutake and maitake mushrooms, and a little shaving of white truffle.

This cost $150 per dish compared with $120 when we went last year. We ordered two for the four of us. However, I enjoyed this dish much better this year, as I felt the beef was seasoned a bit more and had a better sear, which both brought out the flavor of the beef, and melded better with the truffle shavings.

The usual hot pot presentation featuring a deep, fragrant broth. We each received two generously-sized slices each of foie gras and kue, an extremely expensive fish also known as kelp bass. The kue had a fresh taste and wonderful texture, with the fattiness encased in the flesh. The foie gras was rich and flavorful, yet in a mild and gentle manner. A perfect example of the harmonized nature of his cuisine.

The sushi courses were served two pieces at a time on a beautiful black rectangular block that they had to carry over from the bar for every course. It was specifically designed to span the two tables of our four-top, while the other two-tops had shorter versions.

SHIMA AJI striped jack
TAI sea bream
TORO tuna
HIRAME fluke
KINMEDAI golden eye snapper
IKA squid
AMAEBI sweet shrimp
AOYAGI orange clam
SUJI grilled toro sinew
AJI horse mackerel
KURUMA EBI cooked tiger prawn
ANAGO sea water eel
UNAGI fresh water eel
UNI Santa Barbara sea urchin
WHITE TRUFFLE sushi rice rolled in white truffle shavings
NEGI TORO toro and scallions

For my friends who couldn't eat some of the pieces, replacement pieces of
MAITAKE mushroom
MATSUTAKE mushroom
AKAMI lean tuna
were served.

This list was the list provided to me by email a week after the meal. I am not exactly sure that those were indeed all the individual pieces we had, but the list seems to be on point for the most part.

Dessert was a light, sweet melon which I didn't eat any of.

At this point, our server came to us to tell us that the chef had white truffle ice cream, at a supplement of $95 each. We ordered three servings (one scoop apiece). The ice cream was tremendously flavorful, with a just-right texture in between hard and soft. This was the "wow" ending that a meal like this needs.

Overall, the sushi was fresh, and I actually thought the rice was better than on our last visit. The quality of the ingredients and flavors are not really up for debate here. The only question is one of value, which was the sole reason for the New York Times downgrade to three stars. To that end, I think it depends what you think you are paying for. The food is top notch, and full of expensive ingredients that command high premiums. But I also believe that people, especially in New York, pay to have such a meal in this private, serene setting. If you need this privacy in addition to enjoying a top quality meal, then it is worth it by all means. For me, I don't feel that I need all these expensive ingredients crammed into just one meal, and would prefer some more new dishes in the menu at these prices.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When Whimsical Presentations Go Too Far (food)

I'm all for whimsical food presentations, such as WD50's Everything Bagel. But I think the following dish went a little too far. Shared by my friend AF on Facebook, this dish was served from the kitchen of "Demon Chef" Alvin Leung in Hong Kong. Chef Leung was featured in Anthony Bourdain's Hong Kong episode of No Reservations.

The name of this masterpiece of a dish is "After Sex on the Beach". Pretty self-explanatory.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

NFL Picks Week 10 2011 (sport, gambling)

I mentioned last week that as the weather gets colder, hard hitting defenses are more likely to prevail. Another advantage that I feel gets amplified as the weather gets colder is home field advantage. It gets harder to travel and it gets harder to fight through the noise and get up from the hits.

On a completely random note, I continue to see those Buffalo Wild Wings commercials where they send the game into overtime. I'm surprised I haven't seen a spoof where everyone at the bar and BWLD (stock ticker) management get arrested in some sort of huge gambling ring.

Under 41

Combine Baltimore's hard hitting defense with Seattle's deafening home field advantage, and I predict a lot of punts. Then again, there could also be a lot of turnovers, but I think that this will be a tight, low scoring game.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

NFL Picks Week 9 2011 (sport, gambling)

As the weather gets colder, defense becomes even more important. Not just any defense, but real hard hitting defenses. As some offenses start to play more conservatively, defenses will be worn down even more. Defenses that succeeded early in the season by gambling on interceptions will probably regress as the end of the season approaches.

Under 37.5

These two teams have conservative, mediocre at best offenses. They also happen to have two of the best defenses this season. Normally two defenses that hold opponents to such low averages (15.3 OPPG for SF, 19.9 OPPG for WAS) would end up with a line below 35. However, because they are not big name teams, people don't associate them with dominant defenses like Pittsburgh and Baltimore. And that is where the value lies.

A Tale of Two White Truffle Dinners (food)

It was the best of times, it was... that's about it. Really hard to go wrong with two different white truffle tasting dinners that each cost less than the average white truffle shavings supplement at most good restaurants in Manhattan.

The first dinner was Trufflepalooza at Locanda Verde. A one night only event featuring a three course white truffle menu for $49.99. It was my first time at Andrew Carmellini's popular TriBeCa Italian eatery.

The service:
When I first called to make a reservation, I inquired about whether we would be able to order off the regular menu. I was skeptical whether a three course dinner light on meat protein would be sufficient, and was surprised when the answer I got back was "no". When we actually got to the restaurant, we found out we could actually order off the regular menu. Unfortunately, they were still not particularly flexible when it came to ordering. We had 3 people, and two of the regular menu items we wanted had two portions to an order. They refused to make a third portion of either even though we offered to pay for the extra. In the end we just ordered one of each and found our own way to share.

Also after getting to the restaurant, we had to wait about 20 minutes for our 10:30pm reservation. One other misstep was that by the time we had finished our late dinner, they had thrown out all the hard copies of the truffle menu. As for the rest of the service, it was fine. Water was replenished, but it was not always easy to get our server's attention. I thought the runners did a very good job though.

The ambiance:
It was dark and loud, with a busy, trendy vibe. Perfect for that neighborhood. Not perfect for me when I'm there for a special dinner after having not eaten anything for 10 hours. It was noisier than what I would normally consider a good buzz for a restaurant. I was beginning to worry about whether the food would really be excellent, or more like "pretty good for the scene", like at John Dory.

Truffled focaccia. Warm and full of truffle flavor. The aroma was delightful. We had seconds.

BLUE CRAB CROSTINI WITH JALAPENO AND TOMATO The first of our regular menu items, and one of their signatures. Notice how it was cut in two but they wouldn't cut it into thirds? This was bursting with fresh crab flavor and the jalapeno added a very nice kick. A lovely starter of harmonized concentrated flavors.

LAMB MEATBALL SLIDERS WITH CAPRINO AND CUCUMBER The second of our regular menu items, this had wonderful concentrated lamb flavor. It may be too much for some, as it borders on gaminess and funk. The goat cheese enhanced it with another powerful flavor while the cucumber provided a nice, relaxing contrast. Another lovely starter of harmonized deep flavors.

FEATHER RIDGE FARM EGG WITH POLENTA AND PORCINI RAGU I'm able to provide full descriptions of our truffle menu because my friend TF was smart enough to photograph the menu. Silly me, relying on the restaurant. Notice the generous amount of white truffle shavings for this first course.

Of course, the breaking of the egg. To me, any egg dish needs to both showcase the richness of the yolk and focus on a strong texture profile. That was definitely accomplished here with the slight crunch of the frisee, the creaminess of the polenta, the ragu, and the well-cooked egg providing a wonderful array of textures.

CARNE CRUDA PIEDMONTESE WITH HAZELNUTS, CELERY, AND FETT'UNTA The other choice for the first course was a tartare. I did not find it particularly appealing as I'm more a fan of the traditional French version. I also did not feel that the truffle enhanced it in any way. I did not try any of the fett'unta (garlic bread).

MY GRANDMOTHER'S RAVIOLI Another signature dish we ordered off the regular menu. Unfortunately, they brought this out to us at the same time as all of our second courses. Since nothing was served particularly hot, something was bound to get cold. The thin skin on the ravioli was nice, but the filling of a beef, pork, and veal mixture did not stand out to me. I also found the sauce slightly too acidic.

PAPPARDELLE VERDE WITH WHITE BOLOGNESE It was originally supposed to be duck agnolotti with artichokes sugo and parmigiano reggiano, but they ran out. This can be ordered off the regular menu (without truffles), and it definitely was enhanced by the truffles. The pasta was excellent and I enjoyed the hearty bolognese sauce. It might have affected my view of the grandmother ravioli.

FONDUTA RAVIOLI WITH CHESTNUTS AND LEEKS The other option for the second course was absolutely wonderful. A traditional preparation of pasta and truffle cheese sauce was enhanced in both flavor and texture by earthy chestnuts and leeks. Home run.

TRUFFLE-HONEY CAKE WITH WHIPPED RICOTTA AND CHAMOMILE GRANITA A sizeable dessert to finish off the meal. I liked the subtle flavor of the cake quite a lot. The combination of cake, ricotta, and chamomile granita went together very well, offering a delightful contrast of temperatures and textures.

WHITE TRUFFLE RISOTTO DOLCE WITH PEAR SORBETTO I did not really try the other dessert option as I'm not really a big fan of risotto or rice pudding.

The second dinner was at Sapori D'Ishcia in Woodside, Queens. They hold their 2011 Truffle Festival from late October until they run out, offering a different four-course white truffle tasting dinner for $60 every Tuesday night. I read somewhere that the owner's father is actually from Piedmont and gets their truffles himself. It was also my first time at this restaurant.

The service:
Pleasant, efficient, and unobtrusive. Although it wouldn't surprise me if this may depend specifically on your server. Note that they only have bottled water, and at the end of the meal, they offered a 10% discount if we paid in cash.

The ambiance:
A pleasant surprise considering it is kind of in the middle of nowhere in a quiet warehouse area in Woodside. It had the feel of a cozy old-school Italian eatery. It was dark, but the restaurant had a nice buzz. At the back wall of the restaurant, they have shelves and a freezer section with retail food items as they are still very much a food market storefront, although I assume that has taken a backseat to the restaurant in recent years.

Bread and olive oil. Plain and simple.

RICOTTINA DI BUFALA, SPEK ALTO ADIGE D.O.P., SMOKED PROSCIUTTO, PEASANT BREAD The first thing that hit me when the dish came was the smell of truffle oil. There were real white truffle shavings, which I felt had a slightly different aroma than the most powerful smell of the dish. Regardless, it was a wonderful dish. The smokiness of the prosciutto paired with the creamy cheese, enhanced by the aroma of truffles. The inclusion of greens and bread helped to round out the spectrum of textures in each bite.

HOMEMADE PORCINI SCENTED FETTUCINE, WHITE TRUFFLE CREAM SAUCE The pasta was absolutely delicious. Perfect texture. Wonderful cream sauce that brought out the truffle aroma and the accent of porcini.

PAN SEARED VEAL MEDALLIONS, RUSTIC POTATO TORTINA, BARBARESCO RED WINE REDUCTION Beautifully cooked, sizeable portions of veal were enhanced by the presence of white truffles. The potato and vegetables were a nice touch to a well composed main course.

VALROHNA COCAO DUSTED CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE, MASCARPONE WHITE CHOCOLATE CHIP GELATO, DRIZZLED WITH WHITE TRUFFLE HONEY I enjoyed the gelato a lot, with that subtle sweet hint of truffle honey. I just wished there was more of it.

The comparison:
Like I wrote at the beginning, you really can't go wrong with either one. The truffle shavings at Locanda Verde were more generous, but it was a more complete meal with bigger portions at Sapori D'Ischia. Also, their truffles have to last for a while longer. Which is another bonus for them in that theirs is still going on, while Trufflepalooza was a one night event.