Saturday, January 28, 2012

NFL Playoff Picks 2011-2012: Pro Bowl (sport, gambling)

No, I'm not handicapping the Pro Bowl, you degenerate. Go find an alley to shoot some dice.

Monday, January 23, 2012

15 East: My Favorite Meal of 2011 (food)

I've shared so many amazing meals with amazing people this past year that it's hard to pick a favorite. Some of this might be a recency bias, but my meal in December at 15 East was just so incredible and enjoyable from beginning to end that it's my choice for favorite meal of 2011.

I've written about 15 East before, but this meal was a much more complete experience than previous meals. I let the chef do his thing and was wowed all the way through. I went with two foodie friends and the gorgeous photos and videos(!) you'll see here are courtesy of Cheeryvisage.

While we were waiting for our seats, they were nice enough to offer us some complimentary champagne.

15 East - Live Maine Sea Urchin, Clawless Spiny Lobster
A preview of the wonderful bounty from the sea we were about to enjoy.

15 East - Amuse Bouche: Belly Button Mushroom
The meal started off with an amuse of belly button mushroom with chrysanthemum leaf.

15 East - Slow Poached Octopus, Ankimo (Monkfish Liver)
SLOW POACHED OCTOPUS with sea salt, ANKIMO (MONKFISH LIVER) with spicy radish and sake vinaigrette
The first course of the chef's omakase was the signature slow-poached octopus. It had a rich umami flavor and was wonderfully tender. Ankimo is one of my favorite things and this was quite good.

15 East - Octopus
The whole octopus plopped onto the sushi bar as the chef cuts from the tentacles.

15 East - Maine Sea Urchin in shell
MAINE SEA URCHIN IN SHELL Maine uni is actually my least favorite of the unis one usually gets in restaurants, but this one did taste fresher and creamier than normal, although it's unclear whether I'm affected visually by seeing it in the shell.

15 East - Ise Ebi Sashimi
ISE EBI SASHIMI Although this was from San Diego, the chef did say that this was the same clawless spiny lobster variety as the famously expensive Ise ebi.

Just to show how fresh this lobster was. PLEASE DO NOT WATCH IF YOU ARE SQUEAMISH

15 East - Ise Ebi Sashimi
The flesh was delicious and sweet, and the knife work was excellent, with slices of perfect size and texture.

15 East - Sashimi plate
The large fish slices were tasty and the spot prawn was very sweet, but the real winners here for me were the seared gruntfish, which had a lovely smokey flavor from the searing even though it was cold, and the orange clam, which came from one of the largest pieces of such a clam I have seen at a sushi bar.

In fact, here's a video of the clam. The chef does this to kill the clam, and the freshness and tensile strength is apparent as the clam stretches and shrinks back to its original shape.

15 East - Cold Soba
The soba here is lovely, with a simple traditional cold soba preparation. The key here is the salmon roe, which come in fresh and whole and get marinated in house. This makes them less salty and more delicate in texture.

15 East - House marinated Salmon Roe
Some extra salmon roe for us to appreciate them individually. Each egg popped with flavor under the delicate skin.

15 East - Ise Ebi Tempura
ISE EBI TEMPURA with smoked sea salt and sudachi
Well-fried, tender lobster meat, heightened with extra umami from the smoked salt and citrus.

15 East - Sake tasting
We weren't sure on the sake, and they were nice enough to bring a tasting of three for us to choose.

15 East - Urakasumi Hiyaoroshi sake
We ended up with the seasonal URAKASUMI HIYAOROSHI sake, which was the smoothest sake I've ever had. The flavor of sake was clearly there, but without that rice wine burn that I'm not really a fan of.

15 East - Kanpai!
KANPAI! Cheers to the chef!

15 East - Chef Masa at work
His face was covered in that last pic, so here's one of Chef Masato at work.

15 East - Striped Jack

15 East -  Red Sea Bream Snapper
I found this rather unique, as I've not had plum on sushi before, but it works here with the robust fish.

15 East - Seared Golden Eye Snapper
One of my favorite pieces here. The searing definitely makes it, and I prefer it to the kinmedai I had at Masa.

15 East - Chef Masa's chest of various tuna cuts
A look at the chef's box of various cuts of tuna, from lean to fat.

15 East - Lean Tuna
While lean tuna is what one gets when one orders "just" tuna (maguro), I find the akami both here and at Masa to be leaner, redder, and more robust in taste than tuna I've had elsewhere.

15 East - Medium Fatty Tuna
I prefer chutoro to otoro when it comes to sushi, and this was perfect deliciousness suitable for a single bite as the fat melts with each chew.

15 East - Pike Mackerel

15 East - Needle Fish
A very interesting texture as the fish itself is firm yet so thin. Almost like how perfectly cooked shrimp would be.

15 East - Cuttlefish
I'm usually not big on things like octopus and squid, but this was very tender without needing scoring, and brightened up by the citrus.

15 East - Tiny White Shrimp
I first had these at Kurumazushi, and these things are just sooo sweet. Sweeter (not in a cloying way) than any other sweet shrimp.

15 East - Santa Barbara Sea Urchin
Santa Barbara uni is larger and creamier and my favorite of North American uni.

15 East - Hokkaido Sea Urchin
But my favorite in NYC is the Hokkaido uni here, with a dirtier, brinier taste of ocean.

15 East - Santa Barbara and Hokkaido Sea Urchin
A look at his large trays of uni.

15 East - Sea Eel
Warm, rich, and full of fish flavor without too much reliance on the sweeter sauce.

15 East - Egg Custard
Our meal had ended with the anago, but I had to get this egg custard and specifically requested it. A traditional preparation not available everywhere (though they do have it at Yasuda, it's not as good as this version), it's made with egg, minced shrimp, and mountain yam. The key is the technique in cooking both sides, creating a cake that is airy yet more robust than a sponge cake.

15 East - Lobster Miso Soup
One last course made from our lobster. The hot soup was well flavored with miso and the head and tomalley of our lobster.

15 East - Dessert plate
The chef gifted us this assorted dessert plate, and I really enjoyed the soba tea ice cream, which had that rich, slightly bitter flavor, yet rounded out by the creaminess. I think 15 East has some of the best desserts for a Japanese restaurant in NYC.

15 East - Chocolates
We were the last ones in the restaurant, and they sent out some nice chocolates, although these may have been petit fours from Tocqueville next door.

15 East is my favorite Japanese restaurant in NYC. The sushi is first rate, prepared by someone who actually apprenticed his years in Japan. The rice is among the best in NYC (different, but comparable in many ways to Yasuda), and the traditional Japanese cooked items such as tempura and soba are terrific.

I also believe that 15 East offers great value. While the Ise lobster is a more expensive delicacy ($120 per lobster, comprising 3 courses: sashimi, tempura, soup), the base omakase is $140 and well worth it. Most importantly, it fills you up. While many people claim to spend less at some of the top sushi restaurants in NYC, they do not eat like I do, and I've never gotten out of a place like Yasuda satisfied for less than $250.

These weren't actually all the photos from the night, and in fact David Chang was eating there when we walked in. For all the photos, check out Cheeryvisage's photoset.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

NFL Playoff Picks 2011-2012: Conference Round Sunday (sport, gambling)

I was originally hoping Green Bay would win so I could go heavy on San Francisco this week, as I knew Green Bay hadn't played a good defense all season (the best defense they faced was Kansas City, in their only loss). However, the Giants stepped up and won in convincing fashion, helped by 5 turnovers.

Line: NE-7, o/u 50

Just like Green Bay, the Ravens defense hasn't has been tested this season. The best offense they played was San Diego, and the Chargers put up 34 points on them. The Patriots, on the other hand, did at least play the Steelers, Giants, and Jets. In the end, it comes back to matchups, and the strength of Baltimore's defense is stopping the run, which is not a huge part of the Patriots offense. While the Patriots defense isn't great, Baltimore's offense has not been inspiring either. The only way Baltimore wins this game is to shut down the Patriots on offense, and if the Patriots jump out early, I don't see Baltimore catching up.

NE-7, Over 50

6:30PM ET
Line: SF-2, o/u 41.5

As I mentioned before, turnovers are hard to predict, and coming off a week where these two teams forced a total of 9 turnovers, it's hard to figure out what might happen here. It is also hard to use previous results from this season as this Giants team feels almost like a different team. Much of the hype is on the Giants right now, with many believing that the line might move to a pick'em by game time.

Even though the Giants' running game appears to have come back some, they clearly rely on big plays in the passing game to score. Much of that comes from their receivers making big plays, and I assume the 49ers will game plan for that, especially as New Orleans managed those same big plays at the end of their game last week. If San Francisco manages to limit those big plays, I think they win a tight, low scoring slugfest.

SF-2 (might want to wait till last minute), Under 41.5

Recap of bets I really like:
Like I said, there's too much randomness in the Giants game for my taste. As far as the Patriots game goes, 7 offers a pretty good value considering the line sent out originally was 9. Certainly there's a very good chance that the Patriots just blow the game wide open. In either case, I think if the Patriots do cover, it will be a high scoring game, making the parlay decent value.
2 team parlay:
NE-7 and BAL@NE Over 50

Saturday, January 14, 2012

NFL Playoff Picks 2011-2012: Divisional Round Sunday (sport, gambling)

Going 4-0 on Saturday felt good. Most importantly, I correctly recommended going heavy on the first game, and there was never really any danger of losing both picks in that game.

Line: BAL-7.5, o/u 36.5

This season's Ravens team has been the epitome of playing to the level of your competition. Their 4 losses during the regular season were all to teams without a winning record, while they went 0-4 ATS in games where they were favored by double digits. Is Houston the kind of team that will get Baltimore to play their best? Houston only played two teams this season where they were considered the weaker team. They were at Baltimore and at New Orleans, and lost both games both straight up and ATS. I think this game will come back to coaches and matchups, and Houston's reliance on the running game will match up poorly against Baltimore's second ranked run defense which gave up only 3.54 yards/rush.

As far as the total is concerned, my feeling is that when two of the top four scoring defenses play each other, the line should be 33 or below. So I feel that there is some edge to the under. However, these two defenses were not as dominant as the 49ers and Steelers were this season, and so the edge is not as significant.

BAL-7.5, Under 36.5

4:30PM ET
Line: GB-7.5, o/u 53

The Giants certainly seem to be peaking at the right time, with their defense putting in three consecutive strong performances. But the offenses they played were not as dynamic as the Packers offense, and much of their recent success can be attributed to turnover differential, as they were even before the last few games of the season. Turnovers are hard to predict, but Green Bay has been very good this year at preventing turnovers. This line opened at 9, but has somehow been bought down to 7.5 on the hype of this Giants defense. Green Bay, however, has won every game at home this season by at least 8 points (except for the Detroit game Rodgers sat out). This makes the line very attractive down here at 7.5.

The Giants have had 4 games this season where the total has been 50 or higher. The over came in in 3 of those 4 games, and the only game that went under was when New England had 4 turnovers against the Giants and scored their second lowest offensive total of the year with 20 points.

GB-7.5, Over 53

Recap of bets I really like:
It looks like the Giants will have to rely on turnovers if they're to cover or keep the score low. Otherwise, I see value specifically at 7.5 and predict the Giants will be playing catch-up, which they're very capable of doing to hit the over.
NYG@GB Over 53

NFL Playoff Picks 2011-2012: Divisional Round Saturday (sport, gambling)

Not a bad first weekend in terms of picks, but what was notable in my mind was that the results once again demonstrated the biggest lesson I've learned from making picks as a whole this football season. When I focus on a specific theme supported by stats (even with small sample size), they turn out to be fairly good picks. When I make picks based on a general idea of a team (they are good/bad, they score a lot/very little), it doesn't work out so well. For example, I went 3-1 on my Sunday picks last weekend. Of the three winners, I provided stats that supported a situation-specific theme. For the loser, the Pitt-Den under, my main reasoning was that they tended to be good defensive teams and bad offensive teams. Again, too general. So I'm going to try to keep identifying more specific themes going forward.

4:30PM ET
Line: NO-3.5, o/u 47

The old unstoppable force versus the immovable object. But are they as unstoppable and immovable as they seem? The Saints' offensive production drops off significantly outdoors on the road versus at home. But it's hard to go against a team with such an electric offense, so let's be more specific. During their recent 9 game winning streak, the best defense that the Saints played was Tennessee. They were also favored by 3.5 on the road that game and won 22-17. In fact, the Saints have failed to score more than 26 points on the road if you don't count the first week against Green Bay and their two games against Carolina and Minnesota, two of the worst defenses this year.

The 49ers have the best defense in the league and are probably the healthiest team in the playoffs right now. But they've only played a top 10 defense three times this season, and none with the consistent explosiveness of the big 3 offenses (GB, NO, NE). So what to make of this game? The thing that seems to get forgotten in the analysis is the San Francisco offense. They ranked 11th during the regular season, and in fact, averaged more points at home (27.6) than the Saints averaged on the road (27.2). It seems to me that considering all the factors, the 49ers are comparable to the Saints, and certainly not a team that should be getting 3.5 points at home. What is probably more interesting is that they might take care of business not by completely shutting down New Orleans, but by scoring more.

SF+3.5, Over 47

Line: NE-13.5, o/u 50.5

The key to this game will be passing. Over their last ten games, New England has failed to cover every time their net differential per pass play has been below +1 yard (0-5 ATS, 5-0 ATS when differential greater than +1 yard per play). Even though Denver is mostly known as a running team, they've actually had a positive net differential per pass play in 5 of their last 10 games, going 4-1 ATS in those 5 (and 2-3 ATS otherwise).

Clearly, the key for Denver has been the big pass play (hence greater yard per pass differential) off play action, as evidenced by last week's win against Pittsburgh. Given what happened in that game for all to see, it will probably be much harder for Denver to repeat that performance. The Patriots might give up a few more first downs, but as long as they can stop the big play, I doubt Denver can keep up. But Denver will try though, and Denver has actually gone over every time (5-0) their o/u line was higher than 43.

NE-13.5, Over 50.5

Recap of bets that I really like:
I started off looking at this weekend's games really liking the 49ers +3.5. I still like that bet, but the over seems an even better bet. No matter how much confidence Harbaugh has in his defense, I doubt he is so arrogant that he expects to shut down New Orleans and win with a conservative offensive gameplan. In fact, I think taking both bets makes a nice semi-hedged pair. It's hard for me to imagine an outcome where the Saints win in a low scoring affair. Given the likely key stat for whether the Patriots will cover, I think it's more likely that the Patriots will gameplan correctly after seeing Denver's win last week. As far as the total goes, Denver has gone over all their higher totals. The only cause for hesitation would be that the 50.5 line is 3.5 points higher than their previous highest line this season.
NO@SF SF+3.5
NO@SF Over 47 heavy on both as a pair bet
DEN@NE NE-13.5
DEN@NE Over 50.5

Saturday, January 7, 2012

NFL Playoff Picks 2011-2012: First Round Sunday (sport, gambling)

Even though the Lions-Saints game turned into the shootout everyone expected, you would have still made money betting the unders and hedging. So I would dare to say that the first day of playoff picks went well. Now onto Sunday's games.

Line: NYG-3, o/u 47.5

How do you pick this game when Atlanta is extremely consistent and the Giants are extremely inconsistent? It's too hard to figure out what will happen in the game, so let's just use some small sample regular season stats to help. Atlanta has only beaten one team with a winning record during the regular season. While the Giants have had some surprising losses against noticeably weaker teams, they have managed to beat teams that are on par with them. Except for their week 1 loss to Washington, the Giants have covered every spread this season that was 3 or less. So I'm going with the Giants on this one. As far as the total goes, the Giants have gone over totals over 50 while under totals in the high 40s. What that probably suggests is that the Giants can keep up against a high octane throwing offense, but won't press the issue otherwise. Since Atlanta is not an offensive juggernaut, I think the under is the play here.

NYG-3, Under 47.5

4:30PM ET
Line: PIT-9, o/u 33.5

Is the Tebow magic over? Another game that's hard to predict because Pittsburgh is ravaged by injuries while Denver, even during their streak of wins, did not really prove that they were an effective football team. Again, let's go with some regular season trends. Pittsburgh plays much better at home, and even though they are an elite team, they had three road games where they were favored by a TD or more and failed to cover all three of those games. Denver's season has basically revolved around keeping games close, and I don't see this hurt Steelers team getting enough separation. The total is low because Pittsburgh has the best scoring defense in the NFL and both teams have had trouble scoring. Since their bye week, the Steelers have managed just 29 points in three road games. If the Steelers can't get any separation, I don't think Denver will open up their defense until they have to.

DEN+9, Under 33.5

Recap of bets I really like:
There really isn't any. The Giants have been one of the hardest teams to bet on this season. I do think there's some +EV to combining bets for my view of what will likely happen in the Steelers-Broncos game.
2 team parlay:
DEN+9 and PIT@DEN Under 33

NFL Playoff Picks 2011-2012: First Round Saturday (sport, gambling)

For the playoffs, I will make picks on all the sides and totals, but will also recap at the end of the post all the bets where I think an edge actually exists. As I often say, the advantage of the player is that while the bookmakers have to handicap all the games, the player can pick and choose his/her bets.

First, something I found interesting from week 17. Five AFC teams needed to win (and maybe have something good happen as well) to make the playoffs. Of those five, only one team won, the Titans, and they didn't make the playoffs.

Bill Belichick often talks about preparing for only the upcoming opponent. Well, most coaches aren't as good as Belichick. During the regular season, most coaches have enough trouble worrying about general execution and keeping their jobs, let alone executing for a specific opponent. Now that they're in the playoffs, though, they can really focus. My main point is that with all else being equal, the coaches matter much more in the playoffs than in a regular season game.

4:30PM ET
Line: HOU-4, o/u 38

For all the talk about the first playoff game for Cincinnati's rookie QB and young receiving corps, at least Marvin Lewis has playoff experience. This will be the first playoff game for Gary Kubiak as a head coach, and I think it matters. Houston has limped into the playoffs after suffering a rash of injuries. While it is possible that those who could heal have healed for them, they are certainly not the team that we saw earlier in the season. The return of Andre Johnson will be big even if he's not at full health. The question will be whether he can stretch the defense, and I think the Bengals need to test him early. If they figure out they can single cover him for the most part, they can focus on the run game and the tight end and the Texans will have a tough go of it. On the other side of the ball, of the last 10 weeks of the season, Houston has given up its most points on defense in the last 3 weeks. It's unclear whether they are indeed tiring and getting worse or whether they have been playing possum the last three weeks and have been in fact trying to rest and heal. With so many unknowns, it's hard to pick a side, so if I had to choose, I would just take the points. On the totals side, I think the line is set correctly given both defenses (very good, would've been great if Houston didn't have the injuries). However, both teams have lots of playmakers and aren't very ball-control based offenses. In fact, I see both sides aggressively going for the big play on both offense and defense, and the result will be an easy over.

CIN+4, Over 38

Line: NO-10.5, o/u 59.5

Yes, that totals line of 59.5 is the highest that's ever been sent out for an NFL game (I remember a 58 once between the Colts-Chiefs of the early/mid 2000's), and everyone expects a shootout with two high powered offenses playing at night in a dome. But here's what I'm thinking. Sean Payton probably thinks his team will win in a shootout. But Sean Payton knows his team will win if the game is slower. They know they'll be able to score. But if they take away the big play and make Detroit put together drives to score, that puts a lot less pressure on their team. I think Sean Payton is both good enough and aggressive enough as a coach to shift gears in this manner. If New Orleans does use this strategy, I don't see how Detroit can stay close. And I certainly don't think it will go over if the Saints are focused on the win and not on helping Brees set records. Another point of interest is that the first 15 plays for the Saints are scripted, so we will know early if this is indeed what they do.

NO-10.5, Under 59.5

Recap of bets that I really like:
I do like the over in the CIN@HOU game, but think that there's too much randomness to pick a side. I really like the under in the DET@NO, especially as more and more public money will come in on the over, but what I would really want is to take a 1Q under as those first 15 plays are scripted, and any gameplan is most likely to stay intact in the first quarter. Also, Detroit has been known this season for making big comebacks. So if the first half total is low, I would easily hedge at halftime in the hopes of middling both bets.
CIN@HOU Over 38
DET@NO Under 59.5, to be hedged at the half
DET@NO 1Q Under, don't know line yet