Saturday, April 30, 2011

2010-2011 NBA Playoffs Round 2 Preview (sport)

The first round of the playoffs was very exciting. There were many close games with crazy finishes. The less talented teams played hard and never gave up. Just a tremendous display of established talent along with up and comers stepping up.

I think I did pretty well with my first round predictions. I correctly predicted the outcome (including how many games the series would go) in 3 of the 8 series. This included the Dallas series, where Portland was getting a lot of hype going into the playoffs.

Chicago vs. Atlanta

Indiana gave Chicago all they could handle, and exposed a clear weakness of the Bulls. They rely too much on Derrick Rose on the offensive end and can easily go through scoring slumps. If Atlanta continues to score the way they did in the Orlando series and Boozer doesn't provide a healthy offensive presence, Atlanta can easily upset them. Even though Chicago has home court advantage, let's not forget that Atlanta is actually the more experienced playoff team. Given the Bulls' inability to really take advantage of Atlanta's lack of interior size, I'm going to pick an upset here. I predict that Atlanta will steal a game on the road by just shooting lights out, and hold court at home where the crowd seems to be quite good this year.

Prediction: Atlanta in 6

Miami vs. Boston

Boston wasn't really tested because of the injuries to the Knicks, but Miami's series against the 76ers did confirm one thing that we've all suspected. Miami has trouble closing out close games. They go back into their isolation mode and have problems scoring. This will be even more of a problem against the solid half court defense of the Celtics. I don't think home court will be a huge factor here, as Boston has the experience of playing well on the road in the postseason while Miami is capable of just going anywhere and blowing the opponents out with sheer explosiveness and talent. In terms of individual performances, if Dwyane Wade has to chase Ray Allen around while on defense, it's unclear how effective he will be on the offensive end. I expect large margins of victory in most of the games, but the really close ones will go to the Celtics.

Prediction: Boston in 6

Oklahoma City vs. Memphis

I think I did pretty well in predicting the Memphis-San Antonio series. I knew that both teams rated to win at home, and Memphis stealing the first game without Manu Ginobili turned out to be the difference. While the Thunder was my pre-playoff pick for overall champion, I think this will probably be their toughest test. Whereas Denver was a good matchup for them because their youth and interior length neutralized much of what makes Denver good, this will be a tough matchup for them offensively. Battier, who was deemed another Kobe stopper not that long ago, will probably be on Durant, while Tony Allen, probably the best perimeter defender in the playoffs, will be on Westbrook. That being said, the inside presence of Perkins, Ibaka, and Collison off the bench will make life much tougher for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Those two will probably still be beasts on the boards, but it'll probably be harder for them to score. I expect a really close, relatively low-scoring (bet the unders) series that will go the distance. I expect Oklahoma City to pull it out, but only because of home court and their playoff experience last year. If Memphis also had a healthy Rudy Gay, I would pick Memphis.

Prediction: Oklahoma City in 7

Los Angeles vs Dallas

As dominant as both teams have been in the regular season the past decade, this is actually the first time the two teams have met in the playoffs in the Nowitzki era. I expect this to be an extremely entertaining series, but I'm really not sure how the matchups will work out. Dallas can spread the floor with shooters to nullify the Lakers' interior presence, but the Mavs don't really have anybody to stop Kobe. My guess is this series will come down to whether Kobe is able to take over games and be the Kobe of old.

Prediction: Los Angeles in 6

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Whole Suckling Pig Dinner at The Chef's Table of The Breslin (food)

I have frequently maintained that this blog is not a food blog, even though the poll results on the right seem to indicate otherwise. I do, however, know some food bloggers, and we, along with some of our non-blogging friends, set out to tackle the whole suckling pig dinner at the Breslin.

The only large format feast I've done before was the fried chicken at Momofuku. Even though that's pretty gluttonous, that meal has nothing on this one. We originally had 10 people, but one had to cancel late, and so the 9 of us attempted to eat food that they had prepared for 10.

We start with two large platters of Caesar salad with anchovy dressing. A wonderful way to start. The fried herbs on top were crunchy and tasty, the lettuce was fresh and crisp, and the dressing had plenty of flavor. In fact, there was almost too much anchovy flavor in the dressing. I would have preferred more cheese and to have the leaves cut up ahead of time, but those are personal preferences.

The sides were the next things to hit the table, with a large bowl of each side on each end of our long table. These duck fat roasted potatoes were probably the highlight of the sides. Perfectly crispy and full of flavor on the outside, while soft and creamy on the inside.

There was also roasted fennel, which was good but not as spectacular.

The broccoli rabe was also terrific. Deliciously tender and flavorful. Everyone was kind enough to let me take the leftover vegetables and salad home, and they were still just as yummy and satisfying the next day.

The prized whole roasted suckling pig in all its glory. This was served with a red salsa that had a wonderful, slightly smoky tomato flavor, and a chimichurri that was way too herby for me.

As they make the first cut into the beast, smoke comes out. The practiced server skillfully cut up the pig, setting aside the inedible parts and working to give us all a bit of everything in the first serving. Belly (bacon), crispy skin, loin, shoulder, and rump meat.

The skin was crisp, the meat was moist and flavorful. Much of the fat was rendered and did not give off a greasy feeling at all. This was just delicious pork in all its simple glory.

We continued to completely devour the pig, tearing meat from the rump, breaking off the ribs, breaking off the ear, and cutting off the snout. However, it was not until very close to the end that we really dug into the best meat on the pig. What is the best meat on the pig, you may ask? The pork neck, in my opinion. Pork neck meat is something that I've enjoyed very much ever since discovering it in Thai food, and it did not disappoint here. Just a perfect mix of flavor, tender meat, and fat, with a slightly gelatinous texture that I love.

We ate so much of the pig that there wasn't any real meat to take home as leftovers, but that didn't stop us from digging in to dessert as well. The bittersweet chocolate tart was delightfully rich, with a good crust and enhanced by the light sprinkling of salt on top.

The tart also came with some solid vanilla ice cream. By the way, I had seconds of the ice cream and tart.

The cost per person is $65 plus 20% gratuity. I thought it was a very good price for a lot of good, if simple, food. I did eat more than everyone else, however, and we did split a 10-person preparation amongst 9 people. It's also the only way to get a reservation at one of the more popular gastropubs in the city, so it has that going for it as well. In all, I had a wonderful time and think it's a great way for a bunch of food lovers to get together and just pig out.

A large part of what made the meal so enjoyable was the wonderful company at the dinner table. Many thanks to Chubby Chinese Girl for organizing everything. Other blogs that were present included Bionic Bites, Donuts4Dinner, and Gypsy-Addie's Food Diary. All their blogs have been added to my blogroll on the right, and I am looking forward to their takes on the dinner and I expect that they have much better photos than mine. If any other food enthusiasts/bloggers are interested in doing any other large format feasts, feel free to leave a comment.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Fun Little Hand (bridge)

I really don't play much bridge these days. I continue to play for the Harvard Club in the InterClub Bridge League, but the season is wrapping up soon. I also play in an occasional rubber bridge game, and while I'm nowhere near the peak of my powers, I think I still have a little left in the tank.

As dealer, I picked up this hand for the first hand of the Chicago (hand rotated for convenience). With its prime controls and long diamond suit, this hand was too strong to just open 1NT with. So I opened 1 intending to rebid 2NT. The auction continued uncontested and I was declarer in 3NT on the 9 lead.

Even though dummy comes down with a hand that would've forced to game opposite a 1NT opening, some work will be needed to bring the contract home. I wasn't keen on committing to anything, so I ducked the first trick as East played the 10. East continues with the Q as I win in hand and West follows low. Interesting play in the spade suit. It appears that East has started with all three honors, meaning he either has QJT tight, QJT8 and West led the 9 from 9xxx, or QJTxx(x).

Since I will need a heart trick even if I score 4 diamond tricks, I lead a heart towards dummy. West plays the 9 as I play the Q which loses to the A. Back comes the J as I discard a small club and West follows with the 8. With nothing better to do, I play a diamond to the 10, losing to West's Q. West goes into the tank for a little bit, and exits with the Q. I take this in hand to test the diamonds. When I cash a high diamond, East discards a heart!

This was the position with me needing to take 5 of the last 6 tricks. It's pretty clear that East began with 5 spades and 1 diamond. What about his rounded suit holdings? If hearts began 3-3 I have no chance unless he blanked the J for some reason. So did East start with 4 or 5 hearts? Is the J dropping? The heart discard is actually quite telling. One of my favorite BOLS bridge tips is Terence Reese's "The discard tells the story". His main point was that some discards are much easier to make than others. For example, a defender will more readily discard a low card from Axxx or Kxxx than Jxxx. In this case, I reasoned that he was more likely to discard from an original 5 card heart holding because he could retain parity with dummy's holding.

Placing East with all the hearts, I can now count 4 tricks including the heart finesse. If I can score another club trick, I will actually make the contract. So what was the club position? I just could not see a case where West would exit with the Q while holding the J as well. So I played a club to the A, dropping East's J, cashed the 10, and finessed the 10 to make the contract. The full hand and play:

The defense was not optimal, but it often never is at bridge. Strangely enough, at the time that West got in with a diamond, I can always make it by a strip squeeze endplay if I know the exact position of the hand at that point.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Food Nutrition Labels (food)

I understand that there is a lot of "gaming" involved in disclosing information on nutritional information labels. There is no specific definition of what constitutes a serving and the FDA allows advertising claims to be made based on rounding up/down per serving (I mentioned this topic before in this post). But sometimes I come across information on a nutrition label that seems so out of whack I wonder how much we can trust these labels at all.

While at my local Chinese supermarket, I looked at different brands of soy drink. It is not soy milk. As Lewis Black put it, "we all know there's no such thing as soy milk 'cause there's no soy titty, is there?". One container listed the ingredients as "water, soybeans, sugar" while another listed the ingredients as "soybeans, water, cane sugar". Sounds pretty similar so no problem. The calorie and protein numbers are very similar, while one has 15g of sugar per serving versus 17g in the other. Nothing strange so far, until I come to the line about dietary fiber. One container lists 0g per serving while the other lists 4g per serving. 4 grams of fiber! That's a lot of fiber (>10% traditional RDA). So how do two versions of the same product, using the same three principal ingredients, differ by this much on an important macronutrient? Does anyone actually check this stuff?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

2010-2011 NBA Playoffs Round 1 Preview (sport)

After a very entertaining NBA regular season and an NCAA tourney that lacked a lot of scoring and skill, it is now time to watch basketball played at the highest competitive level. Here are my thoughts on the first round matchups.

Chicago vs. Indiana

Besides talent, Indiana will probably be outmatched here on intensity as well. Chicago's interior length will make it difficult for Hansbrough and Hibbert inside, and Indiana does not play enough defense to stop Chicago. However, Indiana can rush the tempo and have the ability to just put up a bunch of points and run away with one, so I predict that Indiana will not get swept in this one.

Prediction: Chicago in 5

Miami vs. Philadelphia

This is a very favorable matchup for Miami. Philadelphia does not have the strong inside scorer that can take advantage of Miami's depleted interior. While Iguodala is a terrific defender, he can only guard one guy at a time, and Philadelphia just has no answer for Miami's big 3. Philadelphia landed in this spot by dropping 5 of their last 6 despite being favored in 5 of those games. If Miami starts out with two big wins, I don't know how the 76ers will find any motivation.

Prediction: Miami in 4

Boston vs. New York

In my opinion this is the closest matchup of all the Eastern Conference first round series. Now that the Celtics don't have Perkins, the Knicks have a chance if they run the offense through Amare with pick and rolls or the high post and Carmelo hits the boards on the weak side. If the Knicks stall on offense by running it through the black hole that is Carmelo, Boston's team defense will swallow them up. I think another interesting matchup will be the point guard play. I think the best thing for the Knicks is to play Fields on Rondo to negate his length, and then put Billups back on him late as he can play off Rondo who is still afraid to either take the jumper or go to the foul line late. I expect home court to be a major factor here, and that experience and chemistry will give Boston a narrow victory at the end.

Prediction: Boston in 7

Orlando vs. Atlanta

I feel that this series is the most likely to be a sweep despite it being a 4 vs 5 matchup. Dwight Howard will wreak havoc against the undersized Atlanta interior while Orlando's lengthy swing men will negate Atlanta's ability to shoot over opponents. Throw in Atlanta's historically horrible home court support, and this one could be over quickly.

Prediction: Orlando in 4

San Antonio vs. Memphis

A lot will depend on how serious Ginobili's injury is. If Ginobili is out this may very well be an upset. San Antonio is an old team that is not particularly deep. Memphis has a lot of young players and pesky players that they can throw at this Spurs team. DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter will have to step up as Duncan will have his hands full dealing with either Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph, who is an absolute beast down low. Both teams play extremely well at home and I can see them holding court throughout.

Prediction: San Antonio in 7

Los Angeles vs. New Orleans

This is a very good matchup for LA. While the seriousness of Bynum's injury may play a role in later rounds, New Orleans' loss of David West was a much bigger blow. Chris Paul can dominate a game, but he doesn't really take over games, and when any pass he makes goes into the forest that is Gasol, Odom, Artest, and maybe Bynum, points will be tough to come by.

Prediction: LA in 4

Dallas vs. Portland

Dallas was one of my favorite teams midway through the second half of the regular season because they're such a deep team. They have legit players two-deep at every position. Matching them up with the team most decimated by injuries seems totally unfair. Portland plays well as a team and Aldridge has been a beast, but I just don't think they can match the firepower that Dallas has in a long series.

Prediction: Dallas in 6

Oklahoma City vs. Denver

A really unlucky matchup for Denver, a team that's been playing some of the best basketball in the league since the Carmelo trade. A lot of the things that work well for Denver involve hustle, scrappy defense, and utilizing their speed and depth. Unfortunately, those things work less well against a team of young, fit players entering their prime. Denver would probably have had a realistic shot at an upset against any of the higher seeds, who all have significantly older teams. The Perkins/Sefolosha combo should easily hold against Denver's inside offense, while Durant and Westbrook really aren't going to be stopped.

Prediction: OKC in 5

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Truly Epic Meal: Five Star Fish Dinner at Corton (food)

My previous experience with a one-night-only special chef guest stint was an absolutely incredible dinner with Pascal Barbot at Momofuku Ko. This time around, I was just as lucky in getting to experience an epic "Five Star Fish Dinner" at Corton.

The name of this dinner came from the two collaborating chefs, who have 5 Michelin stars between them. The guest chef was Laurent Gras, formerly of L2O in Chicago, which earned three Michelin stars as a seafood-only restaurant under his reign. Chef Paul Liebrandt is the current chef-owner of Corton, which has two Michelin stars for his modern French menu.

We were each welcomed with a glass of champagne upon our arrival. As I had been running late, they were very generous in refilling my friends' glasses of champagne twice before I got there. In fact, they were quite generous with the champagne pours the entire night, as our 7-course dinner came with champagne pairings courtesy of Louis Roederer. The price tag of $195+t/t for 7 courses with champagne pairings was a very good deal, which became an absolute steal as the night went on.

BLOOD ORANGE GELEE AND CRACKER WITH COD AND MANDARIN CREAM Our first set of amuse featured this interestingly presented duo of lightly sweet bites.


The many earthy flavors managed to come together quite delicately.

BLACK OLIVE POTATO CROQUETTE The lightly fried exterior gave way to a delightful hot liquid center.

WHITE ASPARAGUS ROYALE WITH BLACK GARLIC GELEE AND PARMESAN ESPUMA Served in an egg shell, this was a wonderful combination of flavors, showcasing chef Liebrandt's use of black garlic and foam.

Bread service consisted of slices of country bread, picholine olive and rosemary rolls, and baguettes smoked with eucalyptus. All the breads had good strong flavors, but my favorite was the baguette, which was perfect for soaking up the sauces from our dishes.

Salt, cow's milk butter, and seaweed butter. The butters were fine, but I did not detect a notable flavor in the seaweed butter.

Our first pairing was a Louis Roederer Brut 2000 (magnum).

TAI SNAPPER WITH CRISPY SKIN, RED MISO, PICKLED RADISHES This was beautifully presented on a block of ice. The red miso flavor was really nice, with a hint of smokiness that matched well with the fish and the pickled radishes. The flesh was quite robust and provided a satisfying mouthful of food. The skin was crisp and melted in my mouth, but did not provide a lot of flavor.

Our next pairing was a Louis Roederer Brut 2003. It was mentioned that there was no Cristal that year, and that some of those grapes made it into this Brut.


Another beautiful presentation. The flavors were strong all around, but complemented the rainbow trout which held up to the strong flavors.

The fish practically melted in my mouth, and the combined textures were wonderful.

Our first taste of Cristal was the Cristal 1993 (magnum). This went very well with the stronger flavors of our next course.


The variety of treasures from the sea provided an array of beautiful colors and great texture contrasts.

The star of this dish, however, was the broth. From a terrific dashi base, the smoked halibut added a rich smokiness to the broth that highlighted the sweetness of the accompanying seafood.

Our next pairing was a Cristal 1997 (magnum).


The firm monkfish meat served as a wonderful vehicle for the other strong flavors in this dish.

The red wine essence was another great sauce, and was vital here as the sweetness was needed to cut the heavier flavors. They provided an ample amount of the sauce, which I happily mopped up with a smoked baguette.

Somehow I didn't take a picture of the final savory course pairing, which was a Cristal 2004.


The salmon was incredibly cooked, soft yet slightly flaky, and bursting with flavor. The pepper puree coating provided a great texture complement and resulted in a bite with a terrific mouthfeel.

The color of the sauce on the white plate helped to highlight the beautiful bright colors on the plate. With a additional touch of pepper flavor, this was another delicious sauce that I happily soaked up with bread.

Our pairing for the first sweet course was a Louis Roederer Rose 2006.


At first, when I tasted the components separately, I thought the orchid ice cream was too floral. However, once I combined everything into one bite, the flavors were absolutely magical together. Furthermore, the ice cream, meringue, crunch, and jelled fruit was a wonderful combination of textures.

Our final pairing of the night was a Louis Roederer extra dry.


A wonderful arrangement of common dessert flavors. The salt and saffron drew out the flavor of the chocolate while the matcha, mango, and vanilla was a great progression of sweetness in one bite.

MIGNARDISES The petit fours began with currant and passionfruit gelees.

Followed by honey bourbon truffles.

Cocktail-inspired macarons with sidecar and mojito flavors.

Chocolates filled with salted caramel, dark chocolate ganache, meyer lemon, and espresso. They were very nice and brought us extras of the ones we wanted.

Some financiers for us to take home.

In all, it was a truly epic meal. Even at the best restaurants I've been to, I would consider a meal amazing if all the dishes were good, but a few were spectacular. In this case, every dish was spectacular, from the egg shell amuse all the way through dessert. The fact that the champagne kept coming and that the cost was extremely reasonable made it even more special.

Both chefs were gracious and humble when we thanked them for the wonderful meal. While I know that the meal was a collaboration, I am very excited to revisit Corton on its own. In fact, my friend SC, felt that chef Liebrandt has improved upon his previous mentor Pierre Gagniere.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Food in NYC is often about hype (food)

In NYC, food, like many other things, is often about good PR, hype, and trendiness. Two of the most popular food trends right now are food trucks and Korean tacos. So obviously, a food truck selling Korean tacos gets a lot of hype. So I was in the city with a friend and we decided to try the Kimchi Taco Truck. Our verdict? All hype.

KIMCHI ARANCINI These tiny rice balls were 3 for $3. The panko coating was fried well, but there was no real substance taste-wise. You had to dip it into the red pepper paste to really get anything out of it.

TRIO OF TACOS Korean BBQ beef, braised pork, pulled chicken. There's salsa, there are scallion bits, but where's the kimchi? There was very little kimchi in everything we had, which confused me as I wouldn't have thought kimchi to be very expensive. The lack of kimchi revealed the real weakness, which was that the meat did not have much flavor in it.

TOFU EDAMAME FALAFEL This actually had the most flavor, with the "signature Asian spices" being very pronounced. It's not a taste for everyone though, and the spices definitely cover up any flavor the base ingredients might have had. Fried well though.

SPICY PORK KIMCHEESESTEAK This had the best flavor of anything we ordered, although it still didn't manage to be spicy.

There's a decent amount of meat here for $7, and this is honestly the only thing we would order if we had to eat from this truck again.

The prices are good for midtown Manhattan, although I don't know if that makes it worth the wait. If you really want tacos with flavor and a Korean twist, I recommend getting tacos from a real Mexican taco truck, buying some kimchi (it's not that expensive), and making your own "Korean" taco.

The next place I want to talk about is Red Rooster in Harlem. This place has had tremendous buzz and hype, with reservations filling up early, a two star rating in the NYT, and Obama holding a DNC fundraiser there just this past week. My friend TF lives nearby and managed to snag the tough reservation, so 4 of us decided to give it a try and share a bunch of things on the menu. Our verdict? Not all hype, but not particularly impressive either.

Decent, crusty, bread with a chickpea dip.

RED GRITS WITH SHRIMP, CHORIZO, PEPPERS This was a solid side with a good amount of shrimp and chorizo. I enjoyed it.

PULLED PORK WITH RAINBOW SLAW AND LEMON AIOLI The pulled pork was not particularly special, but it was tender and tasty and the slaw and aioli matched it well.

CORN BREAD WITH HONEY BUTTER AND TOMATO JAM The corn bread was moist and the honey butter was delicious.

CORN TACOS AND TOSTADAS WITH CEVICHE YELLOWTAIL, SALMON, AND AVOCADO Honestly, I didn't even know until I reviewed the menu to write this that there was seafood in this. The corn, onion, and avocado flavors were quite strong in the bite I had.

CHICKEN AND EGG WITH SPICY SAUCE AND SEARED LIVER A nicely cooked egg oozing yolk over chicken, bread, and a small lobe of seared liver. Can't really go wrong with this one.

FRIED YARD BIRD WITH WHITE MACE GRAVY, HOT SAUCE, AND SHAKE The chicken was definitely moist, but the skin was not particularly crispy, and there wasn't that much flavor going on. The greens underneath were nice though.

MAC AND CHEESE (GOUDA, NY CHEDDAR, COMTE) AND GREENS I liked the contrast of the greens with the rich mac and cheese. The mac was good and creamy, but there are a lot of places in NYC with very good specialty mac and cheese.

BRAISED OXTAIL WITH MOTHER'S MILK STOUT AND PLANTAINS This was good, but not particularly novel in my view. I liked the presence of both plantains and plantain chips as texture contrasts.

SWEET POTATO DOUGHNUTS WITH CINNAMON SUGAR These were nice and light, and I liked the accompanying lemon sorbet.

BLACK AND WHITE MUD WITH CHOCOLATE COOKIE CRUST This had a good contrast of textures and flavors.

SPICED CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH BRANDY CHERRY ICE CREAM The spice in the cake was evident, and my friend SM really liked the brandy cherry ice cream.

MALTED FROSTY Not on the online menu, this was essentially a frosty with some crunchy malted bits on top. Was this significantly better than a Wendy's frosty? I wouldn't say so.

In all, the food was good. The bill was very reasonable (<$50pp with tax and tip, no drinks). It's a really nice neighborhood restaurant that any neighborhood would be happy to have. I understand that its location is a big part of the good PR and hype, and I understand that people want it to do well and attract people. I also want to see it succeed. However, the chef is not doing anything particularly exciting or impressive, and I wouldn't say that it's a destination restaurant worth travelling a long distance for.