Saturday, December 27, 2014

Tasty Stuff I Ate in 2014

I don't post details of every meal I eat, as I don't want to sound too obnoxious about my foodie adventures and don't have pictures of everything I ate.  However, there were a few dishes that really stood out to me this year as delicious.  Unfortunately, I don't have pictures of all of them.  In no particular order, these are dishes/food I found particularly good and tasty that I ate in 2014 that hasn't been mentioned on my blog yet.

1) Beef Tendon Puffs from Alta CA, San Francisco

I don't even know how to describe this.  Deep fried beef tendon, it's puffed up, it's salty goodness.

2) Mapo Tofu from Z&Y Restaurant, San Francisco

After consuming this, I couldn't believe I'd been eating such horrible mapo tofu at other places for so long.  After eating this mapo tofu, I began a half-serious hunt to find the best mapo tofu in the Bay Area.  The mapo tofu at Mission Chinese was the closest competitor, and the one from Yiping in San Ramon was also quite good, but this is still the best mapo tofu I've found.

3) lamb w/ squid ink pasta, yogurt, cumin, harissa from Mission Chinese, San Francisco

Although the tiger salad is perhaps more famous from Mission Chinese, and was good, I thought this was the best dish there.

4) beef grilled in a bed of hay from Saison, San Francisco

I literally put this 1-2 ounce of steak in my mouth and couldn't believe what I was eating.  It was single handedly the greatest piece of steak I'd ever tasted in my life.

5) squid fried rice from Ramen Shop, Oakland

I ate this and thought, "Who would have thought perhaps the best fried rice I've ever eaten in my life would come from a ramen place."

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dinner @ Benu in San Francisco, CA

Benu is a newly minted 3 Michelin star restaurant in San Francisco.  It's head chef, Corey Lee, was once the Chef de cuisine at French Laundry.

Unlike French Laundry, Benu is a completely Asian themed restaurant.  Some online call it "Asian Fusion".  I suppose it's an accurate description, although I'd say that it is far more leaning "Asian" than most "Asian fusion" restaurants.

Dinner was a 15 course tasting discounting the normal extras one might expect.  Here's an overview of the tasting

1) thousand-year-old quail egg, potage, ginger

I didn't know what a potage was, but the waitress said it's basically a tasty soup.  She said Benu thickened the broth using cabbage and (I hope I recalled this correctly) bacon.  This dish was delicious.

2) oyster, pork belly, kimchi

I think this was my favorite course of the night.  The combination of all the flavors and textures in a light flaky skin was perfect.

3) fluke, sesame leaf, daikon

It's sort of hard to see in this picture, but effectively this is a sashimi sandwich w/ fluke & daikon in the middle and sesame leaf as the "bread".  This was really tasty.  I've never had sesame leaf in my life before (atleast I don't recall having it) and in combination with the fluke it gave this really unique and wonderful taste.  Loved it.

Note the little towelette in the upper right of the picture.  That isn't food.

4) smelt, mayonnaise, mustard

This fourth course was for the table.  About 4 little smelt fishes to dip into the mustard/mayonnaise sauce.  The dish was really tasty.

5) monkfish liver, trout roe, perilla

I've had monkfish liver before, but it certainly didn't taste like this.  I jokingly told my dining mates that maybe this was the "foie gras version of monkfish liver".  I don't know what was done to make this far creamier and tastier, but it was delicious with the combination with everything else.

6) lobster coral xiao long bao

Then came one of Benu's signature dishes, lobster coral xiao long bao.  I love xiao long bao (see my "Best of" list).  This xiao long bao is amongst the best I've ever had (it won't go on the list though, as it's not pork based).  I always require my xiao long bao to have a huge ratio of soup to meat and this did not disappoint.  Just super crazy delicious.

7) bread

This was the first bread course.  I can't remember what kind of bread it was.  It was good.  I also thought the butter was crazy pretty with it's honeycomb shape imprinted on it.

8) grilled abalone with chicken liver

I haven't had abalone that many times in my life, so this dish is a little hard for me to judge.  Is abalone normally supposed to be a tad chewy?  I have no idea.  I thought this was a pretty good dish and the chicken liver was quite good.  I'd need to eat more abalone to really judge this.

9) eel, porridge, pine

The next course was three little things.  It may be hard to see in the picture, but the eel was basically on top of a rice risotto/porridge.  Overall super tasty.

I think the second part was a gingko fruit, but I could be wrong about that.

The last was a broth that was infused with the taste of pine.  Holy crap, I've never tasted a broth like that.  The pine really stood out.  It was one of the more amazing dishes of the night.

10) frog leg, mountain yam, celtuce

I've had frogs legs before, but the frogs legs are always in "drumstick" form.  So when I saw this I was quite surprised.  In addition, I've always had frogs legs in sauteed or fried form.  I'm not sure how they cooked this, but I was shocked frogs legs could taste like this.  If you didn't tell me what this was, I would have said it was a white flaky fish based on the texture.  Very good dish.

11) butterfish, cucumber, kohlrabi, charred scallion

Holy crap, this was amongst the best fish I've ever had in my life.  It was tender and just so tasty.  I have no idea what the white & brown sauce were.  I liked it with just a bit of the sauce, as the brown sauce was a tad heavy.

12) mantou w/ truffle spread

This is technically the second bread course, however I think it could have counted as a course by itself.  It's a Chinese style steamed bun w/ a whole chestnut in the middle and a truffle spread.  I've never tasted anything like this before.  Delicious.

13) roast quail, chard, chestnut, aged tangerine peel

Another delicious dish.  Only thing to note is this is a very western style dish.  Nothing in it felt Asian in anyway.

14) beef braised in pear juice

Not listed on the menu was the fact that there was a yuzu sauce on top and black trumpet mushroom shavings and I don't know what the green is.  The yuzu citrus really brought this out.  The beef was really tender.  Really really good.

15) "shark fin soup", dungeness crab, jinhua ham custard

This is another pretty famous Benu dish, the faux "shark fin" creation.  I have had shark fin soup a long time ago, but I can't remember what it tastes like, so it's hard to judge this faux shark fin.  Overall, a very tasty dish and the broth was delicious.

16) kombucha

Then we got some rice kombucha as a palette cleanser before dessert.  Basically a tasty soda.

17) sake lees sherbet, persimmon, yuzu

This was really good.  You can't tell in the picture but there are yuzu flavored "ice" sprinkled on top and on the side.  With the persimmon, just super tasty all around.

18) fresh and dried yuba, almond, white chocolate

This was the only dish of the night I'd call "interesting".  Effectively, a white chocolate mousse/cream/something wrapped in tofu skin.  Using the yuba to wrap it was very interesting, something I'd never imagine for dessert.  It was still good, but when you were initially trying to dig into the dessert, you were a bit confused b/c ... well, it's tofu skin.

19) mignardise

These were the mignardise at the end.  chocolate w/ some seeds in it, kelp I guess baked w/ what I assume was brown sugar, and pine nut cookies.  The kelp was really interesting.  A dining mate called it "kelp churros".  It was really interesting.  The chocolate w/ the seeds was also really interesting.

Overall, Benu was an incredible meal and probably the best one I've ever had.  Since it's a 3 Michelin star restaurant, immediately people began asking me how it compared to French Laundry.

For me personally, I enjoyed the meal at Benu more than French Laundry.  The reason is for the following reasons.

1) At some fine dining restaurants (especially the fancy "Michelin" style restaurants) part of the fun is eating new and interesting things.  Benu had far more experimental and interesting things to eat, which were also super delicious.  French Laundry is far more classic.  So while everything at French Laundry was delicious, there was a small part of me that thought, "But I've seen/had this before elsewhere ... not as good as this, but elsewhere."  It will be hard to find any of the Benu dishes anywhere else.

2) The amount of food at Benu was more balanced than at French Laundry.  I was so stuffed by the end of my French Laundry meal that I wasn't really able to enjoy a lot of the food by the end.  I began eating it more out of "must eat, I paid a lot of money for this" feeling.  Benu was more balanced with smaller portions.

So overall, I enjoyed the experience at Benu a lot more.  Obviously, this is a lot to do with my personal tastes.  I imagine many people would love French Laundry a lot more.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Wild Baseball Offseason

The 2014 baseball offseason has been quite wild.  There are a number of good, high quality players have been traded this offseason.  Here's a list so far

(Note: I'm updating this list as trades happen.  It keeps on getting more insane.)
  • Cardinals trade Shelby Miller to Braves for Jayson Heyward
  • Tigers, Diamondbacks, and Yankees have three team trade with Didi Gregorius the centerpiece.
  • A's trade Josh Donaldson to Blue Jays for Brett Lawrie and others.
  • A's trade Brandon Moss to Indians.
  • A's trade Jeff Samardzija to Cubs.
  • Arizona trades Miguel Montero to Cubs.
  • Arizona trades Wade Miley to Red Sox.
  • Dodgers trade Dee Gordon and Dan Haren to Marlins.
  • Dodgers trade Matt Kemp to Padres.
  • Angels trade Howie Kendrick to Dodgers.
  • Phillies trade Jimmy Rollins to Dodgers.
  • Reds trade Alfredo Simon to Tigers.
  • Reds trade Mat Latos to Marlins.
  • Tigers trade Rick Porcello to Red Sox for Yoenis Cespedes.
  • Rays trade Wil Myers to Padres 
  • Rays trade Matt Joyce to Angels 
  • Braves trade Justin Upton to Padres 
  • A's trade Derek Norris to Padres
  • Yankees trade Martin Prado to Marlins 
  • Marlins trade Casey McGehee to Giants
  • Phillies trade Marlon Byrd to Reds 
  • Rays trade Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to A's 
  • Braves trade Evan Gattis to Astros
  • A's trade Yunel Escobar to Nationals for Tyler Clippard
  • Astros trade Dexter Fowler to Cubs
  • Brewers trade Yovani Gallardo to Rangers
  • Braves trade Craig Kimbrel to Padres

20 former All Stars have been traded here: Heyward, Moss, Donaldson, Samardzija, Montero, Rollins, Kemp, Gordon, Haren, Kendrick, Simon, Cespedes, Miley, Upton, Norris, Joyce, Prado, Byrd, Zobrist, Clippard, Gallardo, Kimbrel.  That's a ton.

What's interesting is that it isn't only large contracts or players in their free agent walk years being traded.  A number of these players are good players with multiple arbitration years left or multiple good years left on their contracts.

From my count, the players in their free agent walk years: Latos, Porcello, Heyward, Samardzija, Upton, Joyce, Cespedes, Zobrist, Clippard, Fowler (and Rollins, Haren, and Byrd, but they are getting there, may retire soon)

Players with multiple arbitration years left: Donaldson, Miley, Norris, Gregorious, Gordon, Miller, Moss, Lawrie, Gattis

Myers even has non-arbitration years to go.

It's interesting that so many trades went down.  It appears that there was this perfect storm of

A) teams that think they can make a playoff run after missing the playoffs in 2014 (Red Sox, Blue Jays, Cubs, Padres, White Sox)

B) teams that are trying to rebuild for the future (Braves, Diamondbacks, Reds, Phillies, Rays, and I guess the A's?)

C) teams putting together pieces for a better team after a playoff appearance in 2014 (Angels, Dodgers, Cardinals, Tigers, maybe A's?)

that made all of this go down in addition to the mix of normal trades that go on to fill holes (e.g. Yankees)

Monday, December 8, 2014

What are the A's doing this offseason

I'm completely perplexed by what the Oakland A's are doing this offseason.  It makes no sense to me.

1) Sign Billy Butler

The A's DH position was pretty horrendous this past year.  While Billy Butler may not be quite the player he once was, he's still an upgrade.  He was signed to a three year deal for $30 million.  A little pricey by A's standards, but a sign that they still felt they had a 2015 playoff push in them.

2) Trade Josh Donaldson

While most people panned this trade, I thought it wasn't that bad.  Donaldson was one of the best players in baseball the past two years, so the trade didn't make much sense if the A's felt they had a playoff push in them like in 2015.  However, by getting multiple major league players back, the A's felt that the sum of the parts was more than enough to justify the trade.  I can buy that.

3) Trade Brandon Moss

Brandon Moss was an All Star in 2014.  While he wasn't necessarily a spectacular player, he has consistently put up a solid 2ish WAR each of the past three years.  He was traded for a AA minor leaguer who didn't rank high on the prospect charts. However, perhaps the A's felt he was easily replaceable?

4)  Trade Jeff Samardzija

This speaks to a rebuild going on.  Why did they even sign Billy Butler at all??

While I do not consider Samardzija the ace everyone makes him out to be (career high 3.7 WAR in 2014, first time above 3.0), pitching is still hard to find.

5) Trade Derek Norris

With a career high 3.0 WAR in 2014, perhaps another trade-high situation. While Derek Norris didn't project as an extremely high star, good catchers are still hard to find.

After this and the prior trade, I almost have this feeling the A's were going to make a playoff run.  Then changed their mind and decided not to.  Unfortunately they already had to eat the Billy Butler signing.

6) Acquire Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar

Ben Zobrist is one of the best under the radar players in baseball over the last few years.  From 2009-2014 he's averaged a WAR of 6.2 per year.  Granted, he's getting a little older and his WAR the last two years has been 4.8 and 5.0.  Still, that's an All Star quality player.

In addition, Zobrist is in his walk year of his contract.  So this isn't a long term deal.  It speaks to a win now attitude.

7) Trade Yunel Escobar for Tyler Clippard

Clippard is an All Star reliever in his walk year of free agency.  Again, trading a player with multiple years on his contract (Escobar) for a playoff push.

I'm confused.  It appears the A's are trying to make a playoff push and rebuild at the same time.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Josh Donaldson for Brett Lawrie Trade Analysis

Many fans were shocked when they heard the A's had traded Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for Brett Lawrie and a collection of prospects.

Josh Donaldson was one of the best players, let alone third basemen, in all of major league baseball the past two years.  He's put up a combined 15.4 WAR over the last two seasons.  He's performed so well he's placed 4th and 8th in MVP voting the past two seasons.  In an era of declining power and offense, he slugged 29 home runs in 2014.

So why did the A's trade him?  After the signing of Brett Butler Billy Butler (heh, I'm showing my age.  Brett Butler's long retired.), it was clear the A's were still trying to win instead of do a full out rebuild.

I believe there is a classic reason, and it's regression to the mean.

Josh Donaldson was a reasonably regarded amateur player, being drafted 48th overall in 2007 by the Cubs.  He was never regarded as a high end prospect, never placing amongst the top 100 prospects in baseball.  His minor league numbers were never that impressive.  In fact, in 2011 he hit a relatively unimpressive .261/.344/.439 in AAA.  It wasn't until 2012 that he started to impress, hitting .335/.402/.598 in AAA.

After that good start in 2012, he was then called up to the majors, as a relatively old 26 year old rookie.  In 2013, a relatively old 27 year old first time full time major leaguer, he puts up a 8.0 WAR and a 4th place MVP finish.  In just his second year in the majors (again, at a relatively old 28), he puts up a 7.4 WAR.

Needless to say, that's an incredible performance for a player just starting in the majors, let alone a player that effectively started in the majors at 27.

So this is the question.  Is Josh Donaldson that good of a player that he can continually put up MVP (or even All Star like) numbers?  Or is Josh Donaldson going to regress towards the mean a bit more.  His defensive prowess is alone good enough to put up a WAR of 2 per year.  If he (hypothetically) averages a WAR of 3.5-4 per year, he's still a very valuable player.  But is it expected that he continually put up a WAR of 5+, 6+ or 7+ a year?

He did decline from 2013 to 2014.  His slash line fell from .301/.384/.499 to .255/.342/.456.  Is this decline something to be continued in the future?

It's not to say that players can't suddenly find that major "spark" that turns their career around, even at a late age.  Many players have done that before.

My guess is that Billy Beane knew the odds were that Donaldson would regress, and when a good trade opportunity presented itself, he was more than willing to take it.  We'll see if he was right.

Update 12/15/15:

Well, it seems Billy Beane gambled wrong.  What did Donaldson do in 2015?

.297/.371/.568, that's a .939 OPS (4th in the AL)

had a career high 8.8 WAR

won the MVP

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Dinner @ Blackbird in Chicago, IL

I ended up in Chicago for an unexpected trip and decided I needed to hit up the Chicago foodie scene while I was in town.  The trip was last minute so I knew that reservations would be hard, but I was able to snag dinner at Blackbird on relatively short notice.  In the last Michelin guide release in Chicago, it was given a Michelin star.  They have an a la carte menu, but I decided to go for the tasting menu.

The tasting menu is made up predominantly of smaller portions of appetizers and entrees from their a la carte menu, however the amuse bouche and an intermezzo towards the end appeared to be unique to the tasting menu.  So if you're looking for something far different than the menu, the tasting menu shouldn't be something you should try.

As an interesting aside, when we got to the restaurant, the hostess gave several of us a black napkin to replace the white napkin on the table.  Others got to keep their white napkin.  We curiously asked the waiter why they did this.  Apparently it's done dependent on the pants the individual is wearing.  They don't want white linen/lint to fall on someone's dark pants and similarly dark linen/lint to fall onto someone's light color pants.  I thought it was interesting.

Anyways, here's a review of the tasting.

1) cinnamon dusted lamb with leek, pickled blueberry, puffed buckwheat, and squash

This might have been my favorite tasting of the night.  It was a mixture of so many flavors and textures (especially the puffed buckwheat) and the lamb was delicious.

2) celery root soup with grilled lobster, preserved lemon, celery, and marigold

I really enjoyed this celery root soup.  My only knock is (what I believe to be) the celery shavings put on top of the lobster.

3) ivory char crudo with smoked char roe, turnip, green grape, pearl onion, and hemp rye

This was an interesting dish, one that all of us were not expecting.  The pearl onions were diced and mixed in with the diced ivory char.  The overall taste was sweet.  Overall, quite nice.  I like it when a restaurant can surprise me with something I've never really had before.

4) oil-poached walleye with parsley root, hazelnut, radish, chickweed, and spicy coppa

This was probably my second favorite dish of the night.  The fish was perfectly cooked and all the sauces matched very well with the fish.

5) smoke-brined chicken breast and black truffle-taleggio sausage with carrots, pecans, and dill

Overall a solid dish.  The chicken was good, but the highlight of the dish was the carrots, with three different kinds of carrots in the dish (atleast 3, guess there could have been more).  On the upper right of the picture you can see a black-ish ingredient on the dish.  I couldn't figure out what it was at first, thinking it was maybe a mushroom.  But the texture wasn't there and the flavor was certainly not mushroom.  It ends up it was an heirloom carrot, something I'd never had before.  The carrot flavor wasn't as strong as normal carrots, really interesting.

6) grilled striploin with charred cabbage, fingerling potatoes, boiled peanuts, and basil

This was a real big miss of the evening in my book.  The striploin and charred cabbage were really good by itself, but I'm not a big fan of peanuts.  I really feel the peanut flavored sauce in this dish drowned out everything else.  But that may be due to just my personal taste of peanuts.  If I knew better, I would have eaten the steak and charred cabbage by itself (as well as the potatoes) and pushed the peanuts and peanut sauce to the side.

7) milton creamery 'prairie breeze' cow's milk white cheddar with toasted sourdough crumpet, horseradish butter, quince, and amaranth

This was the cheese course of the evening.  I've never had a cheese course served sort of "on the side" of the dish while everything else (sourdough crumpet, horseradish butter, and quince) were plated in the center.  I really enjoyed all of the flavors mixed together.  Very tasty.

8) amaro and fennel sorbet with pomegranate and thyme tapioca

If you've read any of my blog entrees before, you'll know I love sorbet.  This was an excellent tasting.  Fennel is not a flavor I would have expected to like, but it was good by itself.  Add in the pomegranate and this was very tasty. 

9) bourbon gooey butter cake with whipped goat cheese, caramelized strudel, pumpkin pie, pecans, sorghum

This was the other miss of the night.  It's just my personal taste, but it was way too sweet for me.  I'm not sure how "gooey butter cake" is made, but it probably involved lots and lots of sweets.  The mixture of textures with the whipped goat cheese and caramelized strudel was quite good though.  I'm glad to have tried it, I'll know that it's probably not my cup of tea to order in the future.

10) mignardise - caramel and chocolate truffle

Overall, it was a good tasting, however I think there were too many misses for me.  It's not a knock against Blackbird itself, as they were off due to my personal dislikes and tastes.

I noticed on their website the tasting menu from a few weeks prior was posted.  On that tasting menu, seared sea scallops were served instead of the ivory char, grilled lamb instead of the sirloin, and a grilled pear dessert instead of the gooey butter cake.  Based on the descriptions of those dishes, those probably would have made the tasting a lot better for me given my particular tastes.  This is very likely due to the fact I love scallops, the scallops would have not made it two fish dishes in a row, the lamb wouldn't have had peanuts, and the grilled pear would have likely been way less sweet.

One additional fun fact, in the restrooms at Blackbird, there's a curtain.

It's sort of fun to peek behind the curtain to see what's there.  There's something different in the men's and ladies restrooms.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Dinner @ Cotogna in San Francisco, CA

I recently went to Cotogna in San Francisco, CA.  It's a pretty well known Italian restaurant run by the folks from Quince.  My understanding is the staff at Quince decided they wanted to make Quince a high end fine dining establishment.  So they created Cotogna next to it to "move" a number of their more casual dishes over to it.  Quince apparently achieved its goal, as it eventually got two Michelin stars.  Cotogna did pretty well too, being awarded Bib Gourmand status from Michelin several years in a row.

Normally, I probably wouldn't write a blog post about Cotogna, as I usually reserve my blog for posts for nicer places or places with tasting menus.  However, Sunday is unique at Cotogna.  Instead of their normal a la carte menu, they offer a four course tasting menu for $55 dollars (which they call "Sunday Supper").  I'm the type of person that dislikes ordering off a large menu, so when a restaurant just serves you the food it feel it wants to serve you that day, I think that's a good thing :-)

Before going onto the food below, I will say that for the price, I thought the portions were very generous.  I honestly would have been just as happy with 1/2 the portion that was actually served.  So if you are looking for a lot of food for a good price, I think the Sunday Supper is great.

1) passatelli in brodo

I will admit, this dish doesn't look that appetizing.  It sort of look like Campbells soup, however it was very tasty.  The broth was particularly good.  The waitress said you could think of this like an Italian chicken noodle soup.  The pasta was a pasta that I'd never tried.  According to wikipedia, passatelli is a pasta made of "bread crumbs, eggs, grated parmesan cheese, lemon, and nutmeg".  The pasta was really interesting.

2) tagliatelle con farina di castagne - chestnut tagliatelle with house made ricotta and sage

Another new thing, this was basically a chestnut pasta.  Something different than what I've had before.  Again, quite interesting and tasty.

3) anatra alla romagnola - duck w/ cabbage, onions agro dolce & potatoes cooked in the coals

I should mention the above was a serving of duck for two people, as it was shared between me and my date.  I was bit disappointed in this main course.  The duck breast was a chewy for my taste.  It appeared the duck breast was cooked a tad rare.  I'm not sure if this is normal and how duck will be when rare, but I wasn't particularly fond of it.  However, flavor wise the duck was tasty.  Off to the left was a small sauce, perhaps cranberry or similar berry-like sauce?  That was quite good, as were the onions and potatoes.

4) gelato di parmigiano reggiano

My date and I were originally trying to figure out what this gelato's flavor was.  When we asked the waitress, she said parmesan cheese.  Not what you'd typically think of for gelato, it was tasty and different.

So overall, a good dining experience.  I wouldn't say that it was a delicious meal, as too many things were presented to me that were quite different and unfamiliar to me.  However, I really enjoyed many of the different types of pasta and flavors presented that you normally won't see at an Italian restaurant.

Update:  I went to Cotogna again.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Shelby Miller for Jason Heyward Trade Analysis

A huge trade was announced today as the Cardinals traded Shelby Miller and a minor leaguer to the Braves for Jason Heyward and a relief pitcher.

This is a really interesting trade on several fronts.

First, it suggests the Braves are in a bit of a re-building mode.  After finishing the season 17 games behind the Nationals and 9 behind a wild card spot, there was no need to be in a win now mode.

For the Cardinals, it is an indication they may be in a win now mode.  Heyward is a free agent after 2015 and there is a strong belief he will be too expensive for the Cardinals to sign.  In order to get him, they had to give up a good young pitcher in Shelby Miller who has 4 years of control left.

So why trade Miller?  I believe there are several reasons.  Having John Lackey for one more year certainly is one reason.  But another major factor is that Miller really regressed in his second season with the Cardinals.  From his rookie year to sophomore year, his strikeout rate fell from 0.97 to 0.69 per inning.  His FIP also went up from 3.67 to 4.55.  I think there was a decent chance the Cardinals just decided to move on from Miller and believe his peak wasn't going to be as good as they hoped for.

However, I think there may be one other major reason.

In 2011 the Cardinals were criticized when they traded Colby Rasmus for players for a playoff run.  Most notably this was for Edwin Jackson and Octavio Dotel.  I absolutely hated the trade.  In 2010 Rasmus looked like he would be a superstar, hitting .276/.361/.498 with 23 home runs at the age of 23.  He was a highly skilled center field player with a high ceiling and 3 more years of control for several mid-tier players for a playoff run.

Why did the Cardinals do it?  GM John Mozeliak said one of the major reasons they did it was because they knew their playoff window was small.  With Albert Pujols about to become a free agent (and unlikely to return), Lance Berkman & Chris Carpenter unknowns for returning (although they both did return), the Cardinals felt they had to make a run.  Well, we know how 2011 worked out for the Cardinals ... really well.

I think there's a chance the Cardinals felt the same way this time.  Matt Holliday had one of his worst seasons in 2014.  He may simply be declining and his best years are behind him.  Yadier Molina was injured part of the season and his overall offense was down too.  His OPS was below 0.800 for the first time since 2010.  His best years may also be behind him.  Jhonny Peralta had a great year in 2014, but how many elite years does he have left in him?

With the death of Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals do not appear to have any superstar prospects to carry the organization for years out.  Players like Matt Adams and Kolten Wong may become quite good, but unlikely to be able to carry an organization.  Michael Wacha could have been in that category until his injury, so now he's a bit more of an unknown.  The Cardinals have solid prospects like Stephen Piscotty, but no one with a high ceiling like Taveras.

So with all the factors above and John Lackey's one year contract, I think the Cardinals may have realized 2015 may be their small window of a chance to win it all before a small rebuild would have to occur.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Dinner @ All Spice in San Mateo, CA

I recently went to All Spice in San Mateo, CA for dinner.  It's a 1 Michelin Starred restaurant offering an Indian fusion a la carte menu.

1) amuse bouche - Eggplant soup with eggplant chip

The soup was tasty.  At first, I thought there was something missing from this dish, only realizing later that it was in my head.  I love baingan bartha, so I think I was initially thinking of that kind of flavor, only afterwards realizing that it was soup and not eggplant itself, hah!

2) Maple and smoked chili pork belly - Hazelnut pink lady apple, green garbanzo succotash, red onion marmalade, thyme chiffon cake

We ordered the pork belly appetizer, which was delicious.  Everything about this dish was great.  The pork belly was very soft and all the accompaniments were awesome.

3) Wagyu beef strip steak - Farro risotto, parsnip chip, wild mushrooms, nasturtium, chestnut-walnut cream

I was disappointed in this dish.  While the beef was very tender and soft, it didn't have the flavor I was expecting.  Perhaps it was a tad under seasoned?  Or perhaps my expectations for beef have been wildly thrown off course after eating at Alexander's Steakhouse?  This was not listed on the menu with a grade, so it's possible it was just not a high grade wagyu and I was unreasonably judging it.

4) Chocolate terrarium - Pink peppercorn chocolate mousse layered with almond-chocolate soil, passion fruit curd, dark chocolate chips and white chocolate

This was delicious.  It was chocolatey, and crunchy, and sweet.  Wonderful.

Overall, it was a good dinner, but the main course brought down the entire meal a bit.  When I go back, I might try a seafood entree instead, as others online have said they are excellent.

Friday, October 31, 2014

What makes someone a legend in sports?

In the wake of Madison Bumgarner's legendary 2014 post season, this gif went around the web (original link)

It actually got me thinking about the question of what makes a player legendary and memorable.

Obviously, Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw's careers are far from over.  But when you look at their careers so far, what you see is.

Madison Bumgarner, 2 time All Star, 3 time World Series champion, 1 time NLCS MVP, 1 time World Series MVP

Clayton Kershaw, 4 time All star, 2 3 time Cy Young winner, and possibly 1 time MVP after 2014.

So who will be more remembered assuming nothing particular special happens to both players for the rest of their careers?

So what makes a legend?  I think it's a combination of many things, such as:
  • Are you a Hall of Famer?
  • Are you an award winner?  Multiple time award winner?
  • Do you hold any records?
  • Do you have any defining career moments? (e.g. perfect game, no hitters)
  • Do you have any defining career totals? (e.g. 3000 hits, 300 wins, etc.)
  • Do you have any post season accomplishments?
Without multiple of these, it's hard for people to remember you over time.

Lets take the example of Bob Gibson.
  • Hall of Famer
  • 2 x Cy Young winner
  • MVP winner
  • Legendary World Series Performance - 1967, 3-0, 3 CG, 1.00 ERA
  • World Series Records - 1968, 17K in one game
  • Legendary / Record Holding Regular Season - 1968 w/ 1.12 ERA
  • 1 career no hitter
My subjective belief is Gibson is known most for that 1.12 ERA in 1968 and the dual Cy Young/MVP award that year.  It's just brought up way to many times in discussions and conversation.  But the combination of all of the above keeps him known in the public eye and remembered for a long time.  Gibson only lacks a few of the "defining" career totals, such as 300 wins.

As a comparison, take Jack Morris, who even has more career wins than Bob Gibson.  With only his World Series legend in 1991, it's not quite enough to keep him well known in the public eye beyond the most serious baseball fans.

So I was trying to think of a pitcher who was a Hall of Famer but didn't quite have all of the other accomplishments such as Bob Gibson, so perhaps wasn't quite as well known in the public.  It didn't take me long when I looked at recent Hall of Fame inductions ... Bert Blyleven.
  • Hall of Famer
  • No Cy Young Awards, no MVP
  • Only 2 All Star appearances
  • Didn't crack 300 win barrier
  • Good post season performances, but nothing particularly legendary
  • 1 career no-hitter

So who will be more of the legend by the time their career is over?  Bumgarner or Kershaw?  We'll wait and see.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Madison Bumgarner 2014 World Series Performance Comparison

Madison Bumgarner's World Series performance in 2014 was epic.

2-0, 1 SV, 0.43 ERA, 21 IP, 17K, 1BB

Included in that was a 5 inning save in game 7 on 2 days rest.

There are two other World Series performances in my life that I recall being as epic, one was Orel Hershiser's in 1988.

2-0, 1.00 ERA, 18 IP, 17K, 6BB

Not quite as epic as Bumgarner's.  Of course, with the Dodgers beating up the A's in just 5 games, there was no opportunity for Orel to have heroics later in the series.

The performance I most compare Bumgarner's to was the duel performance of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson in 2001.

Curt Schilling, 1-0, 1.69 ERA, 21.2 IP, 26K, 2BB

Randy Johnson, 3-0, 1.04 ERA, 17.1 IP, 19K, 3BB

From the absolute numbers, it looks like Bumgarner has the edge on both of these guys, but I think some of it has to be looked at relative to the era.

In 2001, Schilling and Johnson were pitching against the New York Yankees in the World Series.  It was the 5th World Series the Yankees had been to in 6 years and they were looking for their 5th World Series title in their late 1990s/early 2000s dynasty.

In addition, this was around the peak of the steroids era in baseball.  The 2014 Royals scored 651 runs, good for 9th amongst American League teams.  They hit 95 home runs, good for dead last in Major League baseball.

In 2001, the Yankees scored 804 runs.  Good for only 5th place in the American League in 2001.  By comparison, the Anaheim Angels lead the American League in runs in 2014 with only 773 runs.  That Yankees team also blasted 203 home runs.

It could just be me, but I think holding that Yankees offense to so little in that era was a little more special in my eyes.  Especially when you add in the fact that Randy Johnson won his third game on ZERO days rest.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dinner @ Commis in Oakland, CA

I recently had the opportunity to have dinner @ Commis in Oakland, CA.  It currently has a 1 Michelin star rating.  They only offer a single tasting menu.  The waiter did say alternate courses were available for those with allergies or are vegetarian.   Here was the dinner.

1) caramelized onion financier w/ bee pollen, buckwheat oyster cracker with lovage and herbs

First the amuse course, which was two small hors 'doeuvre tastings.  The oyster cracker was particularly tasty.  I didn't know what lovage was, but it was a herb of some sort.

Then we got two sashimi like courses.

2) black bream with radish and salsify, potato water with kaffir lime

This was really good.  I had never heard of "potato water", which I later learned is basically potato broth.  Combined with the fish it was a really interesting and good flavor.

3) brined scallop with kohlrabi and frozen sorrel

The scallops were delicious and a little sweet.  I didn't like it with the frozen sorrel though.  I've never had a dish with something "ice" like in the dish, and I felt that it was just too cold for my taste buds.  The "ice" like texture didn't match texture wise with the scallops either.

4) autumn carrots & parsnips, dried apricots steeped with marigold petals

When we got this dish, there was a part of me that thought, "Huh? Carrots?".  Not exactly the fanciest ingredient for a 1 Michelin star tatsing menu.  But it ended up being delicious.

5) smoked trout roe with herbal yogurt, malt vinegar with warm jerusalem artichoke

I think this was the best dish of the night.  The contrasting textures of roe, (what I assume to be) potato chips (not listed in the description), and the yogurt/artichoke/malt vinegar broth/soup was really tasty.

6) red snapper, fennel and cabbage, pear juice with lemon verbena, duck fat

This dish would have been delicious, but the snapper was cooked in a way I've never seen before.  Basically half of it was cooked and the other half was raw.  For me, it didn't quite work out.  I think it'd be better if it was one or the other.  The broth and cabbage were really good though.

7) tisane of button mushrooms

If you've read my blog before, you know I hate mushrooms.  However, this was pretty tasty.  I primarily hate the texture of mushrooms, having only the flavor in this tea/broth was good.

8) grilled guinea hen w/ marjoram, toasted millet and lamb's quarters greens

I had never had guinea hen before, so this was new.  Nothing to say other than it was good.

9) sweet onion pie w/ goat and sheep's milke cheese

My assumption was this was another palate cleanser, quite tasty.

10) asian pear sorbet w/ almonds and honey cream

I'm a big fan of sorbet and asian pear sorbet was something I'd never had before.  Delicious.

11) namelaka of roasted pumpkin with white chocolate, walnut, and sweet milk

An interesting dessert, using pumpkin for the flavoring.  It was good, although somewhat of a let down after the sorbet before it.  I thought it was interesting the ice cream was just "sweet milk" flavored, not a stronger flavor.  I guess a stronger flavor would have knocked out the pumpkin.  I had to look up what "namelaka" was, but it's a technique used to create a creamy dessert.

12) mignardise

And these were the mignardise that followed.

Overall, a wonderful meal.  There were a lot of new and interesting things here.  A few were hits and some were misses, but I can accept that as part of the tasting.  I remember at Saison in San Francisco, one course was amberjack sashimi.  I disliked that course at Saison.  While I'm not a huge fan of sashimi, what I was disappointed about with that course was that it was only sashmi.  I really liked the sea bream course at the beginning with potato water, that extra bit added something different and interesting to the meal.

The portions were a tad tiny.  If the bread had not been brought out, I'm pretty sure I would have left the restaurant not-full.  I left the restaurant satisfied.  I don't need a ton of food to feel full, so please take this with a grain of salt depending on the amount of food you're looking for in a meal like this.

I've asked this question on Quora before but I always wonder how restaurants count courses.  On Commis's website, they say they serve an 8 course menu.  When we arrived at the restaurant the waiter said that it was a 7 course tasting menu for the evening.

However, as you count up the plates above, it's clearly 12 tastings of food.  I assume the financier/oyster cracker, tisane, onion pie, and mignardise are not counted in the courses.  However, that left me confused as to what other dish was not considered a course.  Perhaps the sorbet was supposed to be a palate cleanser too?  Or perhaps our waiter just misspoke.