Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Wishing everyone a happy and successful 2012.

No NFL picks this week, but I will discuss all the playoff games and lines in more detail like I did last year. I will also offer my thoughts on the belated NBA season. All that coming up, including... a post of my favorite meal of 2011!

Dining at the bar at Eleven Madison Park (food)

I haven't eaten in the main dining room at Eleven Madison Park since it got its third Michelin Star. Reservations have been harder to come by since the prestigious announcement, and it's hard to plan an expensive dinner with people so far in advance. However, I have eaten at the bar a couple of times, and the food is still wonderful.

The bar is busy all the time, but they do a good job of finding seats for diners among the people just grabbing a drink or waiting for their table in the dining room. Both times they told me it was going to be about 15 minutes and I didn't have to wait more than that, unlike many places in NYC. It's louder and more lively than the main dining room, but still very comfortable.

There are four appetizer choices ranging from $22-28, and four entrees in the $36-38 range, not including white truffle options. These prices are about right for high end restaurants in NYC, although the portion sizes are smaller here than at some other places.

There's no selection of canapes, but there is bread service, with a delicious goat's milk butter, a creamy salted cow's milk butter, and salt.

The bread is terrific. The inside is flaky, fluffy, and buttery, while the outside has a delicate, soft crust. It's quite rich by itself, and doesn't even really need butter.

The terrine was rich and smooth, with a wonderful smell of truffle and a hint of smokiness. The flavors were concentrated and earthy, including the vegetables and potato nubbins. While foie is often served with some sweet or sour component to cut the richness, it wasn't evident here and I don't think it's necessary. That being said, the dish is a bit "busier" as a whole than I'm used to eating here.

While wine pairings are normal and EMP even does beer pairings, I decided to step up the difficulty by asking for a cocktail to go with the dish. While more flavors can be combined in a cocktail, skill is also needed to temper the higher alcohol content with the food. This one I had was called the "Repossession" (I think, I could be wrong), and while I forget the ingredients, it worked beautifully with the foie dish. It had nuances of umami and smokiness that enhanced those essences from the dish itself, while the citrus base was complementary and helped to cut the richness as mentioned above.

♫ "Reunited, and it feels so good." ♫
I used to eat this dish a lot back when they were doing their two course lunch. It is a comforting, delicious combination of sweetness from the crab with the brightness of the lemon and the sharpness of the black pepper. The texture of the tagliolini leans more toward the texture I associate with noodles rather than pasta, and appeals to me greatly.

I had this entree a while back and don't recall the exact description. Everything was cooked perfectly and the flavors settled into a warm, comforting harmony with earthy, autumnal overtones.

In fact, I hadn't been to EMP in a while and the moment I started eating this dish, the flavors started to come back like memories and I could easily say, "Yes, this is Daniel Humm's food at EMP. These are the flavors, essences, and combinations that epitomize his cooking."

The bar at EMP allows customers to enjoy some of the restaurant's characteristic dishes in a slightly livelier atmosphere and without having to make a reservation well in advance. However, considering the lack of canapes and the (expensive, but reasonable) $60 price for an appetizer and an entree, it makes me appreciate even more the value of the $125 prix fixe in the main dining room.

Friday, December 23, 2011

NFL Picks Week 16 2011 (sport, gambling)

In the NBA, where an 82-game season forces many players and teams to be on autopilot some nights, motivation can play a significant role. But in the NFL, every game is crucial in the short 16-game season. Therefore I don't buy into the theory that teams will play significantly better when they are facing must-win games for playoff positioning late in the season. To me, it is important to focus on the dominant statistical themes that have worked well throughout the season, and not get caught up in the playoff push or draft tank.


A game that features a number of previous themes:
1. The divide between the best teams and the worst teams is just too large.
2. A dominant defense will very easily help a mediocre offense cover a large spread.
3. Home-road splits matter. Baltimore is undefeated at home while Cleveland has only one win on the road.
4. This is the second meeting between these two teams this season, with Baltimore winning 24-10 at Cleveland a few weeks ago. There is no reason to believe the Ravens will win by a smaller margin now that they get to play at home.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

NFL Picks Week 15 2011 (sport, gambling)

I remember back in the 2008 MLB season, I went over 65% on over a hundred bets. A large part of the system was fairly simple. Whenever both pitchers in a game were on a roll with great numbers in their last three outings, I played the under. Many of the lines were in the 8-8.5 range, and maybe a rare 7-7.5 when two dominant aces faced off against each other.

The following season, the books adjusted accordingly, and I broke even before realizing the edge had gone. Many of the lines felt like they had shifted down about half a point. In the last couple of years especially, it's felt like more and more lines in the 6-7.5 range have been sent out when aces faced each other.

Under 38.5

Pretty much the exact same play as SF@BAL three weeks ago. To me, this bet feels much like those 2008 baseball bets. Two dominant defenses (1st and 2nd in PPG) are going against each other, with San Francisco giving up 14 ppg and Pittsburgh giving up 15.2 ppg. The 38.5 line is just like those 8-8.5 lines I used to get in 2008. I really believe that the proper line when two dominant defenses like these play each other should be in the low to mid 30s. Perhaps we all need to get in on this before the books make adjustments next year.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

NFL Picks Week 14 2011 (sport, gambling)


Even though the Jets defense hasn't been playing up to their reputation, they should have no problem handling Tyler Palko and the struggling Kansas City offense. The Jets play much better at home than on the road, and they pretty much need to win out to have a shot at the playoff. They're plenty motivated and the offense has played much better of late.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Takashi: For The Timid and Adventurous Alike (food)

A few months ago, before it was featured on Anthony Bourdain's new show "The Layover", a couple of friends and I went to Takashi in the West Village. We chose Takashi because we wanted something that was not only good, but somewhat interesting. Takashi is indeed a very interesting place. They specialize in yakiniku, the Japanese take on Korean barbecue. You grill the meats yourself on a grill built into the table. What separates Takashi from other places, however, is the quality of its beef and the variety of offal it offers on the menu.

One thing to note. They do not take reservations for groups smaller than 4 people. They also called to confirm my reservation 3 hours before my scheduled time, which I feel is a rather useless endeavor. I originally made a reservation for 4 people, but one of them ended up not being able to make it. So I gave them a courtesy call just before we headed out to let them know we would only be 3, and the person on the phone tried to cancel my reservation because we no longer had four people. After explaining to them, rather forcefully, my views on such a policy, they acquiesced and honored our reservation.

Once we got there, everything was fine. The food was very good, and definitely interesting. They offered a choice of simple seasonings or a marinated preparation for each menu choice, and we deferred to their recommendations.

A simple selection of banchan featuring cabbage, soybeans, and kimchi. These were quite good and we asked for seconds. They actually cost $2 each, which I didn't find out till the bill arrived.

NAMAGIMO (ultra-fresh liver with sesame oil and roasted rock salt)

We started with a couple of selections from the raw part of their menu. The liver definitely had a mineral tang to it, and it became more evident in the aftertaste on the way down. I imagine that some of the aftertaste was already muted by how fresh this raw liver was. The texture was similar to that of fluke sashimi.

NIKU-UNI (chuck flap topped with sea urchin and fresh wasabi)
We had been looking forward to this interesting combination, but were very disappointed. The piece of raw beef, while looking well-marbled, was devoid of flavor, and the shiso leaf pretty much dominated everything. I would think that this would have been much better if the beef was given a quick sear and if we had only eaten half or less of the shiso leaf.

This was a tasty combination of rendered fat with a noticeable but not overpowering hint of truffle oil. The crostini and greens provided a nice crunchy texture and balance to the warm and satisfying richness.

As we move onto the main grilled meat courses, please note that this dinner was a while ago, and I'm not completely sure if my description matches the photographed meat.

TAN-SAKI, TAN-SUJI, & TAN-MOTO (the tongue experience)
The tongue experience featured the front of the tongue, the back of the tongue, and the underlying connective sinew. I found most of the flavors to be similar, and felt that texture was the only real noticeable difference between the parts. As it turns out, the three of us each preferred a different part of the tongue.

Oxtails are usually slow-cooked to break them down. They sliced the pieces pretty thin, but the meat was still rather tough, and it felt like I was gnawing at the bone part of grilled galbi (Korean barbecue shortrib).

As can be seen here, there's really not much meat. I did not feel that this was the best way to enjoy oxtail.

This was one of their specials of the night, and the only cut we strongly considered ordering seconds of.

They would not let us cook this piece ourselves, and one of the servers grilled it for us at the table.

This was probably one of the best pieces of US Kobe beef I've ever had. Well marbled with flavor and slowly melting with every bite. Sliced and pulled off the grill to each of our preferred doneness.

The belly was as rich with fat and flavor as expected.

It was, however, much tougher than say, pork belly, and offered quite a good chew. Probably one of the reasons they had to score the flesh.

TSURAMI (cheek)
After having eaten so much beef at this point, it was hard to detect any subtle nuances between cuts. All I can say is that this was very beefy, and the thin slices were a welcome relief from the bigger chunks we'd been eating till that point.

SHIBIRE (sweetbreads)
These were absolutely wonderful on the grill. A nicely charred surface gave way to soft, creamy innards. The cleanness of the flavor highlighted the freshness of the ingredient.

MINO (first stomach)
Not the typical stomach one associates with tripe, the flesh charred into a somewhat hard exterior and was very, very chewy. Honestly, that's all I can remember about this cut. Lots of chewing.

Home-made Madagascar vanilla softserve ice cream with azuki beans and green tea syrup. This was good, but it felt out of place for the meal. It wasn't rich and indulgently satisfying like all the previous courses of meat, but it wasn't a light ending that counteracted all that unctuousness either.

I'm pretty sure we also ordered the fourth stomach and the between-the-rib meat as well. But I have no recollection or photographs of those cuts. Honestly, after a few courses of meat, it all begins to blur together. Which is kind of the point. Takashi is a great place where both timid and adventurous eaters can come together, fall into a blissful meat coma, and marvel at the interesting cuts of offal on offer.

NFL Picks Week 13 2011 (sport, gambling)

It's always easiest to focus on what you do well. That leads some teams to be quite one-dimensional in their game plan. A team that is one-dimensional is actually more reliable to wager on or against than a team that is extremely good or bad, but more well-rounded.

Under 37.5

Denver's offense is not necessarily one-dimensional by choice. Tebow will sometimes just miss an open receiver. Minnesota's defense, however, has been fairly strong against the run, allowing only 3.67 yards per carry. Minnesota's offense has also been fairly one-dimensional, with a strong running game averaging 4.98 yards per carry. However, Adrian Peterson is out, and Christian Ponder has not really shown much. Add to that Denver's strong defensive performance in recent weeks, and I expect there to be a lot of punts in this game. Denver's substantial improvement on defense has coincided with Elvis Dumervil's 6 sacks in the last 4 games. This is a guy who had 17 sacks two years ago before he got injured, but someone whom many may have already forgotten.


This line might even move past the big 14 number if Bradford is indeed not playing. As I had mentioned earlier in the season, the gap between the best and the worst teams is just too big. Even though the 49ers didn't get much offense going against the Ravens last week, San Francisco has the best defense in the league, and I still believe that great defenses help mediocre offenses cover big spreads.