Category Archives: Gaming


My big birthday weekend started with drinks on Friday night at FriendHouse (the new re-location of FriendHouse that is, in the spot formerly known as Hea). I love their lemon-gin mojitos with Asian plum salt on the rim. A bunch of my friends came out and a good time was had by all. Hing was his usual entertaining self, at one point schooling an uber-polite NYU student in the ways of the Dawg (i.e. being a jerk instead of calling people sir and saying thank you and please). Pure comedy, and loud comedy at that.

It was a fun but relatively mellow night since we needed to get some sleep before our trip to A.C. the next morning. And even though we got up by 8:30 on Saturday, apparently it wasn’t early enough to beat the traffic on the Garden State Parkway. I wonder who the genius was that decided it would be a good idea to do construction on 20 miles of the Parkway in the middle of summer. Fortunately for me, it was my bday and I didn’t have to drive. Kat was an absolute saint, cheerfully doing the whole drive while Ricky was passed out feeling nauseous from the after-effects of FriendHouse.

We finally arrived at our destination, Renault Winery in Egg Harbor. But we weren’t there for the wine, we were there for the golf! Kat had done some research and discovered this course, conveniently just 15 miles from The Borgata. It sounded cool, and it did not disappoint. Really beautiful despite some browned out patches which were to be expected given the heat and lack of rain in the past several weeks. A couple of the holes ran alongside and even through the vineyard! It was a fun course to play and very fair in terms of how penal it was to miss the fairway. While there weren’t many trees, there were thick patches of gnarly grasses which if you hit into, you pretty much have a 50/50 chance of finding and being able to play your way out. The best part in my opinion was the greens, many of which were large, and most of which were multi-tiered. It really forced you to look at the shape of the green before attempting your approach shot or chipping on. I also found the greens to roll perfectly true which made dealing with putting from tier to tier more fun than frustrating. I suppose it helped that I was with some of my closest friends and the weather was perfect, but all told, I’d say it was one of the most enjoyable golf experiences I’ve ever had.

After the round, we rushed right over to The Borgata where we had dinner reservations at Old Homestead. I know I’ve written about it before, but it’s worth restating- I still feel it is one of the best steakhouses around. The steak au poivre is always excellent, and I should know since I’ve probably had it twenty times by now. Twoin ordered the prime rib this time and that was also fantastic. While we’re doling out the superlatives, it should be mentioned that Twoin thought it was the best prime rib he’d ever had and I totally agree. It was about 2 inches thick and had to be about a foot wide, and perfectly medium rare. Juicy and fatty in a good way, with a deliciously salty gentle sear around the outer edge. Man, what a slab of goodness.

After dinner it was blackjack all night and all morning for me. Wild swings in bankroll, but nothing I’m not used to. After riding out a tremendously horrid streak of bad cards, I rode out the storm and managed to go to bed up a few hundred bucks. Then after a little nap, I went back to the tables in the morning to win a bit more. It’s nice to leave The Borgata a winner, especially when they refused to comp me a room on my birthday! But even if I didn’t win money I would still have felt like a winner, thanks to my friends that made the trip to celebrate my birthday. Especially a big thanks to Kat for organizing the whole weekend and for driving through that horrendous traffic jam. It was such a fun time and I can’t wait to play Renault Winery again. Who knew that turning another year older could be so enjoyable?

Breaking Even at Borgata

I had made plans to meet up with Randi for dinner at the Borgata yesterday since she was visiting her family in NJ for the holidays. I decided to make the most of the day by getting up early and driving down in time 11am weekly tourney. It was a $50+$10 with a $50 add-on. Twenty minute blinds, about average for a tourney of this buy-in. I think there was 138 entries and the final 2 tables got paid. It was a pretty uneventful tourney for me personally as I had almost no interesting hands to speak of. Played textbook poker right up until just before the money when I tried to do some stealing from some particularly tight players thinking they would be happy to limp into the money. Unfortunately my plan backfired as one of the players caught a monster and I blew off about $25K in chips in the process. That left me low-medium stacked going into the final two tables and 2nd lowest chip stack going into the final table. With only about a $45 difference between 10th and 9th place, it wasn’t worth waiting around for the shorter stack to bust out so I took my shot with A4 suited three hands before the blinds were about to reach me. I got two callers but the board missed me and I busted out in 10th which paid $250.

It was perfect timing too as I finished the tourney right at 4:30 when Randi was arriving. I checked into my room and when she showed up we headed on over to the Old Homestead for dinner. I of course had the steak au poivre which was as awesome as ever. It is simply amazing how consistent they are in making that dish. The quality of marbled beef. The perfect medium rare. Just the right coarse grind of black pepper. That incredible brandy cream sauce. Damn, that is good eating. I paired it with a 2005 Coppola Director’s Cut since I’m still in my love affair with the Rubicon winery whose membership I just joined. The Director’s Cut is kind of their middle tier in between their diamond-labeled series and their flagship Rubicon wines. The Director’s Cut Zin has nice young fruit flavors, especially cherry, and medium tannins that make it a real pleasure to drink on its own as well as with the steak. Not as big and over blown as other California reds, it’s a lot more food friendly in my opinion.

After dinner, about 7:30p, it was time to hit the blackjack tables. It was busy and the lowest table minimums were $25. Fine for me, but a bit high for Randi, but she was game to try and hang anyway. And all in all, she did fine even if she did end up busting out in the end. She was a reasonably quick study and even got props from others at the table for learning to make the right plays. Too bad she kept busting on correctly taking hits on 12 vs. dealer 2. Poor girl got that dealt to her 6 times in the first 2 shoes. She wasn’t flawless though, but her only gaffe wasn’t related to the cards. One of our dealers was John, a young black guy with a bald head. He was friendly and we were chatting with him the whole shift. A couple hours later, after a break dealer came and dealt for 15 minutes, another dealer named Chad came on to deal next. The thing is, Chad was also a young black guy with a bald head. As Chad stepped up to the table, Randi said “Hey! Look who it is!” Immediately realizing she was clueless that this was a different person, I started loudly saying things like “is this the start of your shift?” and “hey, that’s no way to treat us on your first hand of the night”. I still don’t know if Randi actually picked up on it, and I forgot to tease her about it before she left. Being that Randi is both blonde and Polish, I will have some relentless needling in store for her. But anyway, she lasted for several hours at the $25 blackjack table with a very limited bankroll and she had reason to be pleased with that performance. She then decided to head off to bed and I continued to play.

The swings weren’t that pronounced, but they sure trended against me. I ended up playing until 3:30am or so, probably longer than I should have, but we were having a good time. It was in part because of a friendly dealer, no idiot players at the table, and mainly for me because of the astoundingly attractive young Korean named Kelly that showed up at around midnight, sat on my right, played for about half an hour before busting out, and then came back an hour later, sat on my left, looking equally gorgeous from that angle I might add, and played some more. We were getting along fine despite the language barrier, and maybe a little too fine, because at one point some guy who I assume was her boyfriend, came over to mark his territory. He wasn’t rude or anything, he just kind of snuck up on us and squeezed in between us to grab the cigarettes in front of her and to give her a peck on the cheek. That kind of killed the vibe and coincidentally the momentum of the shoe as well and the dealer started drawing to 21 repeatedly. Oh well. I decided to cut my losses and call it a night, down $700.

Woke up this morning, had some Starbucks with Randi before she headed back to her parents’ place, and then I headed back to the casino to recoup my losses. Took me about two and a half hours, but I finally built my $1400 buy-in to exactly $2100 and then cashed out and hit the road. So basically I finished off the weekend no better off than when I got there- blackjack was a wash, my tourney profit exactly offset my half of the steak dinner, and I never got Kelly’s phone number.


With a free flight on JetBlue I needed to use before it expires and a comp offer from The Wynn for 3 free nights, there was no way I wasn’t going to Vegas this past weekend. A bunch of my co-workers went too, but they were staying over at Planet Hollywood, which I kept calling “Fuh” because their stoopid logo is just a lowercase “ph”. They arrived a day before me and I was staying a day later than them which worked out perfectly for me; a little social time, and a little time to just do my own thang.

When I landed on Sunday, I checked in and then grabbed a cab to meet my friends over at MGM and NYNY. Wanting a drink but not wanting to pay for one at the bar, I sat down to play some blackjack. Silly me. That bloody mary ended up costing me $500 as I blew through my chips at incredible speed because the dealer refused to bust. Not a good start.

After some walking around with my friends, we decided to split up and meet back at TI that evening to catch the Cirque du Soleil show Mystere. Feeling restless after sitting so long on the flight, I decided to walk all the way back. By the time I got back to the north end of the strip, there was not enough time to put in a meaningful session of blackjack at The Wynn before the show, so I decided to just head directly to TI and see how things have changed over there. Nothing too dramatic, although there was now a Vietnamese pho restaurant sharing the seating space of the coffee shop. I decided to stop and try it. Ordered the Vietnamese egg rolls and a bowl of the beef pho. Pretty run-of-the mill fare. The egg rolls were about as good as you can get from the freezer section at Trader Joe’s, which is still pretty decent, but falls a bit short of what you want from restaurant cuisine. The broth for the pho was terrific; light but flavorful. The beef however was a flavorless disappointment. The slices were stuck together and would shred apart when you tried to separate them. The noodles were ever so slightly overcooked and mushy as well. But you know what? I still enjoyed it all, probably because it was a chilly 40 degrees outside and a bowl of noodle soup was exactly what I needed to warm up.

Mystere was an excellent show. Amazing feats of strength, agility and timing so perfect that if I didn’t see it for myself I wouldn’t have thought they were humanly possible. I had seen Cirque du Soleil shows on PBS before, but this was my first time seeing one in person and it made all the difference hearing the subtle things like the flexing of the equipment with every movement and impact. Very impressive stuff. Can you believe it, all these years of going to Vegas and this was the first time I saw a show!

Back to The Wynn for some more blackjack. And some more losing. Dropped $700 but at least this time it took about 4 hours. I headed up to my room to soak in the awesome tub and watch tv (they have a little flat screen tv in the bathroom wall next to the sink). The Wynn is the only casino where I can lose money but still love being there. Ahhhh…

The next morning I made my way over to Fuh. I must say, they’ve done a good job remodeling the place. Planet Hollywood is the property that used to be the Aladdin, but you’d never know it from the bright, colorful, spacious new interior. They have a daily 10am $50+10 NL tournament so I figured if my friends weren’t awake when I got there, I would enter. Wan and his gf were the only ones up and about when I arrived, so he and I decided to enter the tourney. There were 5 tables, not full, so I’m guessing there were 45 players or so. My table was evenly mixed between super tight and not-so-bright. As luck would have it, one of the super tights became the big stack on my left, so that shut down much of my shenanigans and I could only steal when I happened to catch some playable cards or be lucky enough to see a flop from the big blind against the not-so-brights. Then I had to tighten up even further when I got exposed playing garbage in one hand where I took down a pot hitting a pair of deuces with my 2-3 offsuit. So it was pretty uneventful from there on out, although I made a real boneheaded mistake heading into the first break. I had to piss really badly, so I got up from the table after folding my cards with 19 seconds remaining before the break. I hit the men’s room and then walked around the casino a bit not returning to the table until the start of the next level. It wasn’t until play had started back up that I realized- I had forgotten that there was a $10 add-on in this tourney! Doh! So suddenly I found myself from biggish stacked to average stacked. I just played my cards from there on out, got lucky on an all-in to stay alive, and ended up finishing in 5th place, winning only $151.

We headed over to meet everyone else over at the Venetian for lunch, but when I saw the Krispy Kreme there, I decided Stevie Bag-o-Donuts could not be denied. I killed off 3 donuts and a coffee and was ready to do some more gambling. Jittery and on a sugar high, I managed to drop another $700 before dinner. Doh. But I was definitely feeling no pain because I love the bloody mary’s at Wynn, especially because I ask for extra olives and they have these big plump ones which are soooo good.

In keeping with my junk food day, “dinner” was joining Kin for Monday Night Football and chicken wings over at Scores. Kind of a dull game since it was N.O.vs. Atlanta and I had already cinched high of the week in my fantasy football league. Even duller, they don’t have any dancers working the main room while the football game is on. I tried a couple wings, which were actually outstanding, had a few beers and watched the Saints whoop the Falcons.

From there I went to meet back up with my friends over at Mandalay. Had some carpaccio and a glass of red wine with them at Wolfgang Puck’s Trattoria del Lupo. Kind of drunk from all the bloody’s at Wynn and beers at Scores, I couldn’t tell you how good the carpaccio really was, but I know I loved it while I was having it. From there we hit hit up some cheesy bar for margheritas before heading over to Rum Jungle. That club was very Vegas; a huge room, chicks dancing in cages and hanging from bars above the room awkwardly doing moves that made it look like the poor man’s Cirque du Soleil. Interesting scene, but totally not for me. We ended up bailing after about an hour and I headed back to the Wynn to pass out.

Woke up early the next day and since I had hardly eaten anything the day before, I decided to grab breakfast at Tableau. Had a terrific dish of braised short ribs over Tableau potatoes topped with poached eggs. Very hearty for a breakfast, and absolutely delicious. The Tableau potatoes are a round hash brown patty, kind of like what a McDonald’s hash brown aspires to be. Crisp on the outside and deliciously potatoey on the inside. With a side of bacon and a glass of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, I was feeling recharged and ready for some more blackjack.

Things started going my way as I recouped over a grand before noon. I decided to take a break and go enter the noon $300+$30 NL tourney. That turned out to be a debacle. On my fourth hand, I was dealt pocket aces with 2 limpers ahead of me. I raise to $200 and get re-raised excitedly by a kid to my left who acts like he can’t believe his good fortune. Everyone folds back to me and I make the obligatory contemplative facial expressions before pushing all-in. The kid stands up, pushes his chips in and gleefully turns over… JJ?! Ok. Flop comes rags. Turn is a blank. River…you guessed it, a Jack. Wonderful. I didn’t even have to say anything as the rest of the table took turns mocking the kid and encouraging him to keep up the great play. Oh well.

In a way, it worked out for me because the quick bust-out allowed me to go back to the blackjack tables. Another several hours and I had won back everything I had lost on the trip, minus the spending cash and the $330 I just blew on that tournament entry. Later that evening, I met up with Kin for dinner at Corsa where he was messing with the manager telling him that I was a food writer for New York magazine. I don’t think he believed him, but we still got great treatment and a comped bottle of wine. We had some awesome goat cheese and eggplant bruschetta, a super thin crust mushroom/truffle flat bread, and two killer pastas, one with a shrimp fra diavolo sauce and the other a rustic short rib rigatoni. We killed off the whole bottle of wine too. And that kind of did me in. I was going to go gamble some more but didn’t want to do it while drunk, so I went upstairs to take a nap. But everything in The Wynn is so elegant and comfortable, I could not get myself out of that luxurious bed to go play anymore, so I decided to just sleep through till morning. A relaxing finish to another enjoyable stay at The Wynn.

A.C. with Co-Workers

I’m part of the Social Committee at work and yesterday we organized a day trip down to Atlantic City. We rented a sweet party bus, loaded it up with beer and snacks around noon, picked up co-workers from the Times Sq. office as well, and made it down to A.C. by about 4p. The best deal we got was from the Taj, giving everyone a $20 voucher for cash, so that’s where we went. Or rather, that’s where we had the bus pull in. We all got off the bus, redeemed our vouchers, and then everyone went their separate ways. I was on the fence about whether to stay at the Taj to play their 4:15p $100+20 NL tourney or head over to the Borgata to play blackjack instead. As you know, I normally play at the Borgata and would only spend time at the dilapidated Taj for poker tourneys. The Taj is just so run-down and depressing, but they do have a busy poker room. But as I hit the men’s room to take a leak, I was reminded why I just couldn’t stay there- the old man in the trucker hat standing at the urinal next to mine, breathing like Darth Vader with his oxygen tank on a little rolling stand next to him. It more than a little disturbing and made me want to get the hell out of there, not just the bathroom (Senator Larry Craig: “I don’t seek activities in bathrooms”), but the whole casino.

So with my mind made up, I headed outside to catch the $2 jitney over to the Borgata. Btw, if you’ve never taken the jitney, let me tell you, it’s the only way to roll if you’re just trying to get from one casino to another. They are these little powder blue mini buses that run 24 hrs a day and with so much frequency that you never have to wait more than a few minutes. I think there are like 3 routes or so, but taking it is easy- just ask a casino employee where the closest jitney stop is, and there will be a sign listing all the major casinos along with the number of the correct jitney bus to take to get there. It’s fast and it’s only 2 bucks. Way better than a taxi.

So I got to the Borgata and nestled into a table to play some blackjack. Played for about 3 hours, was up $700, but I was getting hungry and all I could think about was steak at Old Homestead. The shoe was very favorable at that point, my sloppy count had it at +9, so I decided to go for a little excitement and plopped down $500 for one last hand before dinner. Figured I’d finish either up $1200 or up $200, and either way, it would more than pay for dinner. My cards came 16 with a dealer 7 showing. Shit. With the count being what it was, on the one hand it was likely the dealer had a ten in the hole, but on the other hand, it also made my balls shrivel at the thought of making a textbook hit in that spot. Ultimately my lack of balls made me stand pat with my 16. Dealer turned over an 8 to make 15, and the next card was… a deuce. Shit. Oh well, dinner time.

On to the Old Homestead, where everybody is a winner. Since I was dining alone, I asked for and was given a seat at my favorite spot, at the back counter looking into the kitchen. It was not nearly as busy as the last time I was there, which was surprising since it was primetime on a Friday evening. But while the kitchen lacked the entertainment value and energy of a busy dinner service, my steak would ultimately more than made up for it. I kept my ordering simple- a dozen clams on the half shell to start and a steak au poivre medium rare for my entree. Since I had a view of the entire kitchen, I could see the shucker at work to my left. I was a bit aghast to see how he was handling his oysters though- after opening them but before cutting the lower adductor, he rinsed them under a stream of running water! 😮 I had missed seeing him prepare my clams, so I don’t know if he was just doing that because of a gritty batch of oysters, but I admit my clams did arrive looking nicely plump, fresh and still tasted briny and not watered down at all. Despite what I witnessed of the oyster handling, my clams were great.

Then it was time for the steak. I’ve eaten at Old Homestead a lot, and I usually only order one of two things, either the rib eye or the au poivre. It’s always good, but last night, it was exceptional. Remarkable even. Sometimes you get a cut of meat that is so perfect and prepared so flawlessly that you cannot believe what you are eating. That was how I felt. The sirloin was perfectly trimmed, executed to precisely medium rare, and was crusted with exactly the right coarseness of ground peppercorns. The quality of meat at Old Homestead has always been so consistently great that I expect it to be terrific, but the sirloin I had last night was off the charts spectacular. Moist without visually appearing fatty, intensely beefy in flavor, and not even the slightest whisper of toughness or chewiness. I kept thinking to myself, you can have fancier meals in nicer restaurants with more ornate presentations and lavish sauces and whatnot, but here on my plate was a simple, honest steak au poivre and it was simply one of the most perfect and delightful things I have ever eaten. Maybe some extra care had gone into it because the kitchen wasn’t as slammed as they normally are. I don’t know. All I can say is that it was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had. I was truly happy.

It turned out that I had enough points on my Borgata card to cover the dinner (about $90), so I just took out the $20 bill I had gotten from the Taj and left that as my tip. It was time to return to the sobering reality that is the Taj, so I hopped on the jitney and headed back. Our party bus wasn’t scheduled to leave for another 45 minutes and I couldn’t find any of my co-workers when I got there, so I decided to play some blackjack to kill the rest of the time. The result was roughly the same as earlier- I found myself up about $500 when it was time to go so I made a couple of big bets, lost them, and walked away up $150 for the session, $350 for the trip. Pretty tame compared to the swings in past trips, that’s for sure. But regardless I felt like a big winner, mainly because of that steak au poivre.

Desert Golf and Dining

Got a chance to play TPC Scottsdale and Talking Stick North this weekend. The trip was originally intended as a second pilgrimage to Pizzeria Bianco, but sadly we discovered they were closed for summer vacation. Instead of scrapping everything altogether, Mat, Tom and I decided to salvage the trip by turning it into an impromptu celebration of Mat’s last weekend as a single man. I don’t go quite so far as to call it a bachelor party since we didn’t hit any strip clubs or anything like that. Excessive drinking, dehydration, overeating and well, old age in general kept that from happening. But I must say, it was still a good time, even if it was very low key.

TPC’s Stadium Course was in nice shape considering the 100+ degree weather they’d been having. Only the slightest hints of burnt grass here and there, and the newly sodded fairways produced some strange divot action. But the greens rolled really true; some of the staightest, purest rolling greens I’ve ever seen. Too bad my putting couldn’t save me from my horrendous iron play. As for the temperature, it was close to 100 but actually pretty comfortable the whole time with a nice breeze especially when driving along in the golf cart. Too comfortable in fact, and the result was that dehydration snuck up on me. I never felt uncomfortable during the round, but immediately after getting back into the car, I started feeling queasy and I realized I still didn’t have to pee even though I drank about 6 gatorade bottles full of water. Thankfully I made it to our next destination, a Mexican restaurant, without hurling.

Abuelo’s is apparently a chain restaurant, but it was highly recommended by the guy who cleaned our clubs after our round. It’s always good to ask the locals where to eat. God, I hope that doesn’t make me sound like Rachel Ray. But don’t worry, we weren’t trying to dine on $30 a day. Although everything on the menu was in fact really inexpensive. I went for the Grande Combination which turned out to be enormous. It’s not often that a Grande is really grande. And it’s not often that a chain restaurant puts out straightforward honest food with flavors this good. There was one beef hard taco, three enchiladas (beef, cheese, sour cream chicken), a big ol’ chile relleno, and my favorite thing on the plate, a tamale. Every item, and I mean everything including the refried beans and the little mound of guacamole garnish, had delicious, well rounded flavors. The corn meal in the tamale was the perfect texture, not too gluey nor grainy, and had the most pleasant sweet corn aftertaste. The chile relleno was a beauty too, smoky and with a fire perfectly mellowed by the cheese inside. Really an excellent meal.

The next day we played a Troon course called Talking Stick North. This course was in even better condition than TPC. It was kind of a links style layout, but with big waste areas too. But once again, my game wasn’t up for the challenge, this time my wedges and chipping failing me miserably. You know it’s a great course when you can’t break 100 on it but still feel like you loved it.

For lunch, we ate at a place called Bloom located in a little strip mall nearby. They had an interesting menu so we walked in and found ourselves in a dining room full of older women. It made me wonder if Bloom might be a secret code word in the middle-aged lesbian community or something. In any event, we sat down and ordered. They had a pretty big wine selection, but after a round of golf I didn’t want anything too big, so I ordered a glass of Paul Chamblain champagne. For my app I ordered the smoked salmon on potato galette with creme fraiche. It was almost exactly like the potato pancakes I made at one of Sterl’s first dinner parties way back in the day. It’s kind of classic catering fare, which reminded me of the most recent episode of Top Chef where Hung was scolded for making a canape popular since the 70’s. And as I ate it, I agreed completely with Hung- we ate it back then, we eat it now and we’ll be eating it 30 years from now. Why? Because it tastes fantastic and it looks good too. Bloom’s version was served with a little salad which I took note of because it was not listed on the menu as part of the dish yet it was lavishly accented with white truffle oil. Sure the truffle oil thing is played out these days, but when you’re gonna give it to me all stealthy like that, I am definitely going to appreciate it more.

For my entree I had the meat loaf. Don’t ask me why. I know it was the end of summer and 100 degrees outside and I know that I was holding a glass of champagne, but still, that’s what I wanted so that’s what I had. And you know what? It was great. Moist, rich but not cloying and correctly dressed with just a dab of ketchup underneath. It was served with a buttery mashed potato and perfectly cooked thin green beans. I finished everything except for 3 green beans, you know, to leave something on my plate so I wouldn’t feel like too much of a pig. 🙂

So all that, half a giant bottle of jack and a quick $200 hit and run at Casino Arizona and that was our trip. Pretty mellow, but good times indeed.