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Monday, May 20, 2013

Guest Blogging: Kevin Chen

Below is the second guest post by my great friend Kevin Chen.

MJ vs. Kobe

By Kevin Chen

Seeing excerpts from Phil Jackson’s new book about how Michael Jordan is superior to Kobe Bryant has prompted me to write about a topic that has fascinated me for some time – the debate over who’s the greatest of all time. I have a lot of thoughts on how that title should be determined in general in any sport, but for now, let’s stick with the issue at hand – Michael vs. Kobe. And my assertion is this: if Kobe had been thinking with his very intelligent head rather than with his super-sized ego, he would have realized that best chance he had to surpass Jordan was to convince Shaquille O’Neil to stay with the Lakers, not to push him out the door. This is what Kobe should have realized: in order to surpass MJ, he had to win not just six championships, but MORE THAN six championships, to have a legitimate claim. AND, he had a much better chance of winning seven or more championships with Shaq than without Shaq.

Let’s look at the first argument – why does Kobe need more than six rings? Because the first three championships that Kobe won need to be significantly discounted because he was clearly not the best player, either in stats or in reality, on his own team during those championship runs; Shaq was. Shaq was the Finals MVP for all three of Kobe’s first three championships, just like MJ was the Finals MVP for all six of his championships. Magic Johnson is considered a greater player than Scottie Pippen even though Magic has five rings to Scottie’s six because for most or all of his championship runs, Magic was the best player on his team and Scottie was a very important second-best player on his team.

Certainly this is the very reason Kobe decided that Shaq had to go – because Kobe realized that in order to reach Jordan’s level, he had to win championships on a team where he clearly was the best player. Kobe recently reiterated as much – with comments like “You can’t expect Michael to play his entire career with Wilt” when asked why he didn’t want to stay together with Shaq. However, what he failed to realize was that, even if Shaq had stayed, Kobe STILL would have been able to win championships with himself as the clear best player on the Lakers because Shaq was on the downside of his career while Kobe was just coming into his peak; just because Shaq was staying did not mean that Kobe had to continue to play second fiddle. In fact, the pendulum was already swinging in the last two years that Kobe and Shaq played together, 2002-2003 and 2003-2004. And, even though Shaq was on the downside, he clearly was still a dominant center and likely would be for at least three or four years – look at what happened after he joined the Heat, when he played a very important second fiddle to D-Wade and helped D-Wade win his first championship. Kobe’s big miscalculation was that he thought he would continue to be second best to Shaq if Shaq stayed; given their age difference and where the two were at their respective careers at that time, that simply wasn’t going to happen (again, see what happened between D-Wade and Shaq in Miami).

If Kobe had Shaq’s help for the subsequent four or so seasons, the two of them together would have given the Lakers the best chance to win multiple championships during that stretch – in fact they probably would’ve been favored to win every year during that period. And, that would have given the Lakers’ management enough time to determine how to retool to keep the Lakers competitive later down the road (like 2009-2013), with Kobe still in his prime and Shaq slipping into retirement. All this would have been given Kobe the best chance of winning seven or more rings. It doesn’t mean it definitely would’ve happened, but it would’ve given him a better chance than what he decided to do: get rid of Shaq. Kobe should have realized that, with Shaq gone, the Lakers likely would not win championships for the subsequent three or four years, and because of this required retooling period, he was unlikely to have time to get to seven or more championships in his career. His best chance of surpassing MJ was with Shaq, and because of miscalculated ego, he let that opportunity slip away.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Ducky Restaurant

Last fall, Benoît Monier, the sommelier at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Taipei, said to me, "A few of our former employees went out on their own and opened a restaurant. You should try it sometime." He handed me a business card for the restaurant, which is named Ducky 大嗑西式餐館. He proceeded to tell me that the restaurant is not fancy and the young proprietors did everything themselves with a limited budget to setup the restaurant, including the design and construction of the space. 

Since last fall, I have frequented Ducky several times for lunches with friends and dinner with the family. In short, I really like the restaurant. I recommended Ducky to my picky and hard-to-please friends and so far they all seem to enjoy their meals there as well.

The fact that Ducky is good is probably no surprise. As the writer Anthony Bourdain once said something to the effect that if you spend two years working for Joël Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, or Thomas Keller, you never need a resume again. The three proprietors of Ducky worked for over two years at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Taipei, two as members of the front of house and one as a cook.

The food at Ducky is done with care and executed well. There are certainly traces of Robuchon's dishes, such as the pan-fried amadai fillet with crispy skin and scales. The risotto is always cooked nicely with good flavors and served all'onda. The pasta dishes are also nice, my kids really enjoyed the ones with tomato sauce. My kids also enjoyed the french fries that come with the steak or can be ordered separately. The braised beef cheeks is fork tender and delicious. The portion at Ducky is generous and the pricing is very reasonable.  The appetizers are mostly under NT$200 and the main courses, including pasta, range from mid NT$300 to less than NT$600.

So what is there not to like? In terms of food, not much. It would be nice to be served some bread at the start of the meal; I know bread is actually not an easy thing to do well. The only dish I am not really crazy about is the steak. Ducky serves a U.S. Choice eight-ounce sirloin. The meat is cooked to the right temperature but the meat itself is so-so. I realize if a better quality of beef is used, the price will have to be much higher than the current NT$580; I would be willing to pay more. Actually is there really a need for steak to be on the menu? Why not have more pork (belly, knuckle, and shoulder) on the regular menu? Why not have cheaper cuts of meats that require more techniques, which the kitchen certainly is capable of doing? I also wish the restaurant has a larger selection of desserts. Putting some more bistro classics like profiteroles, lemon tart, bread pudding, or even just some ice cream on the menu would be nice.

The service at Ducky is good. My only complaint is the lack of large napkins. The restaurant provides a thin stack of small paper napkins, similar to a Chinese restaurant. I always ended up using several of them. Why not just provide a large paper napkin for each person that can be placed on the customer's laps? I don't believe the cost will be too different.

Since I am an architect I will express some opinions on the design of the space. I don't really like the use of wood paneling on some parts of the wall. The overhead shelving supported by diagonal kickers underneath is not necessary and look too haphazardly put together. The tables for four are a little too small for comfort. The chairs, while not uncomfortable, seem too heavy looking. Overall, the interior doesn't match the refinement that the kitchen is striving for on the plates. I know the budget was limited. However, just like a good cook can transform cheap ingredients into a great dish, sometimes good design can be done with limited funds. I suggest if a renovation is ever in the cards, please seek professional help. Maybe some designers are happy to barter design for food.

I always enjoy eating at Ducky. While at the restaurant, it is not unusual to run into the current staff of L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Taipei having a meal there with their friends on their days off. Ducky has been open for less than a year and I am sure they are still looking to improve the restaurant. The restaurant is a little out of the way for me, which is the only reason I am not there more often.