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