The Potlikker Papers.

John T. Edge is the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute at the University of Mississippi that is dedicated to the study and exploration of southern American culinary traditions, a valuable resource that, among other things, works to keep knowledge of the region’s cuisine from dying out in our era of homogenization and processed food. That background gave me a high expectation for his book The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South, but it’s not the book I thought I was getting. It may deliver on the promise of its subtitle, but there’s so much emphasis here on the modern south that the prehistory of it, the hundred-plus years before the civil rights movement that inform so much of southern cuisine even today, gets lost in the shuffle.

Southern cuisine itself is more of a catch-all term than a specific style of cooking – there are multiple regional cuisines from the American south, including two, Creole and Cajun, distinct ones just within the state of Louisiana. White and black southerners bring their own traditions, although many foods associated with white or all southerners likely originated as African-American foods. The culinary appropriations, the origins of what we now consider traditional or classical southern cuisine, the subtitutions out of need that became standard … these are the stories I expected to read and want to hear as someone who likes to eat and cook many dishes that at least have some basis in the rich, vegetable-heavy dishes of the south.

That’s not this book, at least; Edge starts in the 1950s and spends nearly all of the book discussing the evolution of southern cuisine from the 1970s forward, bouncing around celebrity chefs (Emeril gets a lot of page time, as does the late Paul Prudhomme) and artisanal farmers (Glenn Roberts, founder of Anson Mills, is a well-deserved star of that part of the book), but talking less about history and more about modern figures. The best part of The Potlikker Papers by far is the first section, Freedom Struggles (1950s-1970s), which talks about southern food in the context of the civil rights movement – the Montgomery bus boycott, the lunch-counter sit-ins, the importance of individual black chefs like Georgia Gilmore, the way white politicians borrowed or fabricated narratives to suit their policy aims, and more. This is a complete story, probably enough to fill an entire volume – how food enabled African-Americans to fight for equal rights and establish economic independence in a white-dominated society that sought to subjugate them by every available method.

After that section, however, Edge’s narrative falls apart and the book devolves into a series of unconnected profiles and vignettes that were neither engaging nor particularly illustrative of anything about modern southern cooking. A chapter on barbecue, for example, that focuses primarily on North Carolina doesn’t tell me much about Q as a cuisine or the region itself (which has a complicated and recently damaging history with hog farming). The final chapter, on the rising influence of Latin American immigrants and chefs on southern cooking, feels tacked on and cursory. If southern cuisine is one big tradition, Edge doesn’t manage to unify it here, and if it’s merely the phylum for a host of individual orders and families, he doesn’t provide the connective thread beyond mere geography. I had high hopes for The Potlikker Papers, but after the first section on the civil rights era, it told me nothing I didn’t already know.

Next up: I’m about 2/3 through Arthur C. Clarke’s The Fountains of Paradise.

Stick to baseball, 7/1/17.

Couple of Insider posts this week – one with reactions to the initial rosters for the Futures Game and one on top prospects for tomorrow’s international free agent signing period. I also held a Klawchat on Friday afternoon en route to Lakewood from Bristol.

My latest boardgame review for Paste is the two-player game Santorini, which has some light chess/Othello elements to it but is played on a smaller board (5×5) that keeps the games a bit shorter.

Thanks to everyone who’s already bought Smart Baseball; sales spiked this month between Father’s Day and the positive review in the Wall Street Journal. I’ve got book signings coming up:

* Miami, Books and Books, July 8th
* Harrisburg, Midtown Scholar, July 15th
* Berkeley, Books Inc., July 19th
* Chicago, Volumes, July 28th, 7:30 pm
* GenCon (Indianapolis), August 17th-20th

If you’re with an independent bookstore and would like to host a signing, please contact Danielle Bartlett at HarperCollins; we’re trying to accommodate everyone we can within my work schedule.

I also spoke with Sportsnet about the book, anxiety, and the 2017 Blue Jays.

And now, the links…

  • Russell Carleton looks at the utility of pickoff throws over at Baseball Prospectus.
  • This isn’t surprising if you follow Zack Greinke at all, but the pitcher told’s Steve Gilbert how he used Statcast data to help turn his 2016 season around.
  • “The Time I Got Recruited to Collude with the Russians.” Long, and you may have seen it, but it seems like more evidence of wrongdoing from the Trump campaign last summer.
  • VICE details a planned (or, really, hypothetical) pay-for-play college basketball league that would focus on the Historically Black Colleges & Universities that have largely missed out on the financial windfall of modern college basketball.
  • The mother of an immune-compromised daughter who was hospitalized recently because she was exposed to chicken pox lashed out at vaccine deniers for putting her daughter’s life at risk. Your decision not to vaccinate your kids isn’t just about your own neglect, but potentially harms other vulnerable people in your community.
  • If you heard that a European Union court ruled against vaccine safety, well, not really.
  • A research paper in the New England Journal of Medicine looks at benefits of increased health insurance coverage under the ACA, including lower costs of reduction in mortality rates compared to other policies. (One of the authors is Dr. Atul Gawande, the author of Being Mortal and The Checklist Manifesto.)
  • Eater has a great profile of gelato maker Meredith Kurtzman, who recently retired after two decades in the NYC food scene, working at restaurants (notably at Mario Batali’s Otto) and earning plaudits from chefs and restaurateurs for her work. It’s a wonderful piece because it doesn’t shy away from the fact that Kurtzman isn’t a very engaging or even likable subject.
  • The NY Times is now charging for access to its cooking site, which … is fine, actually. I know there’s always a backlash when sites charge for content, but if you want good content, you’re going to have to start paying for it somewhere. I subscribe to their main site, the Washington Post, and Fine Cooking magazine, among others. However, charging for recipes is tricky because they can’t be copyrighted – you can copyright text, but not the specifics of a recipe – which makes this a little different than most subscriber walls.
  • The great BBC series Broadchurch just returned on Wednesday for its third and final season, and IndieWire ran a Q&A with star David Tennant that’s more insightful than the standard “actor talks about series he didn’t write but explains everything anyway” sort of piece.
  • The Koch Brothers plan to spend $400 million to help elect conservative Republican candidates in 2018. Repealing Obamacare and reducing taxes on the highest earners are two of their main policy priorities.
  • Daniel Vaughn’s latest list of the top 50 BBQ joints in Texas came out a few weeks ago for Texas Monthly, and if you’re visiting that state, it’s a great resource. (If you live there, well, I’m sorry.)
  • The new Presidential commission on so-called “voter fraud” – which does not actually exist on any significant scale – is really just an attack on voting rights. Even some GOP-led states are declining the requests for state voter information. Delaware hasn’t made any statement yet, but I have reached to the Secretary of State, asking them to refuse to comply.
  • Sen. Al Franken very calmly de-pantsed Energy Secretary Rick Perry on climate change, helped by Perry’s apparent lack of any knowledge on the subject whatsoever.
  • Whole Foods had long contributed to local farmers both in access to markets and in providing low-interest loans to help farmers ramp up operations to serve the chain. Now the farmers worry these programs will end after amazon’s purchase of the retailer.

Stick to baseball, 3/26/17.

My annual column of breakout player picks went up on Thursday for Insiders, and I held a Klawchat that same day. I had one other Insider post since the last roundup, on four prospects I saw in Arizona, one Cub, one Royal, and two Padres.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. The book now has two positive reviews out, one from Kirkus Reviews and one from Publishers Weekly.

Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 8/27/16.

This week, for Insiders, I ranked the MLB players with the best hitting tools, fielding and throwing tools, and pitching tools. I held my weekly Klawchat on Friday.

For Paste, I reviewed the upcoming boardgame Tak, which was designed based on the fictional depiction of the game in Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles novels.

My last run at the helm of the BBTN podcast for this year came on Monday’s show, with guests Jerry Crasnick and Joe Sheehan.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 8/6/16.

Seems like it’s been a lot more than a week since my last links post, since I’ve traveled twice in the interim. Here are all of the Insider pieces I wrote in that span, all of which relate to the trade deadline:

How the Yankees’ rebuild gives them a top 3 farm system
The Liriano/Hutchison trade
The Matt Moore trade
The Jay Bruce trade
The Lucroy trade
The Will Smith and Zach Duke trades
The Carlos Beltran trade
The Reddick/Hill trade
The Andrew Miller trade
The Melancon trade

My review of Quadropolis, the fun new city-building game from Days of Wonder, is also up over at Paste. It’s a little more complex than Ticket to Ride (DoW’s biggest title), but my daughter, who’s now 10, loved it. There are many ways to score, so it’s a game of choosing two or three of those paths to focus on rather than trying to do a little of everything.

There was no chat this week due to travel, and I’ll be taking the beginning of this week off to work on my book, returning to ESPN duties on Thursday (and chatting as well).

And now, the links:

  • HTTPS is now now vulnerable to a new exploit. This is kind of a big deal because the “s” is supposed to mean that the connection is secure.
  • The Rio Olympics are probably going to be a disaster, and the IOC is a corrupt mess, but the inclusion of a separate team of athletes who are refugees was one of the IOC’s most noble decisions in ages. One of those ten athletes is a Syrian swimmer who swam for three hours to push her refugee boat to safety, saving the lives of 20 other refugees in the process.
  • This week, vaccines and the Presidential race collided in a big way, as delusional Green Party candidate Jill Stein continued to pander to the anti-vaxer movement with equivocations so broad the Porter in Macbeth thought she was overdoing it. She’s wrong, and so is snopes’ defense of her statements, according to the important pro-science (and anti-pseudoscience) blog Skeptical Raptor.
  • Stein’s moment of science denial means Hillary Clinton is the only one of the four candidates who hasn’t pandered to anti-vaxers. This is important, because if you think people who believe something so monumentally stupid as this anti-vaxer bullshit are a constituency you can and should capture, I’m not voting for you.
  • The Sacramento Bee, a paper in a state where I’d guess Stein has some support, also ran an op ed calling her view disingenuous.
  • On to the election … Meg Whitman, a politically active Republican who ran for governor of California on the GOP ticket, has chosen to support Hillary Clinton with her money and her time, because she views Trump as a dangerous demagogue, comparing him to Hitler and Mussolini and – the part I both liked and agree with – “warned that those who say that ‘it can’t happen here’ are being naïve. I connected the Sinclair Lewis book of that name to Trump back in March.
  • The former head of the CIA quit his job at CBS and endorsed Clinton, explaining why he believes she’s the right choice for our national security in this first-person op ed.
  • In the left-wing British newspaper The Guardian, columnist Nick Cohen writes that the cowardice of other Republicans has allowed Trump to get this far. This isn’t the GOP of Ronald Reagan, nor is it the GOP for whose candidates I have voted dozens of times in federal, state, and local elections since I first gained the vote in 1991.
  • I thought this was the best political-comedy tweet of the week:

  • Let’s move on to food, including this piece from 2015 on how resting the meat improves barbecue, even when the resting time is a few hours.
  • I missed this outstanding piece from the New York Times when it first ran in October, on genetics Ph.D. and wheat breeder Stephen Jones, called Bread is Broken, which explains how our wheat and thus our bread has become so much less nutritious over the last two centuries, and how we might fix it.
  • I’ve saved this recipe for watermelon rind preserves with ginger and lemon to make the next time we buy a whole melon.
  • The nation’s third-largest poultry producer is defying rising concerns and even a CDC warning about prophylactic use of antibiotics in our food chain, even running ads bragging that they still use these drugs. Antibiotic resistance is as real as evolution – the latter causes the former, inevitably – and this is flat-out irresponsible. But I’m glad they’re outing themselves so I can try to avoid their products.
  • Remember when I was horribly sick in January with a fever of 101+ for six straight days? The drug that finally defeated the infection was Levoquin, part of a class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones, but those drugs have some nasty side effects, including tendon damage. WHO considers these antibiotics an essential medicine, one of the most effective drugs against gram-negative bacteria, but more doctors need to reserve them, as my doctor did, until other safer antibiotics have failed.
  • Germany’s Condor Airlines has started a “book on board” program that grants travelers an extra kilogram of weight allowance if they show a sticker from their local bookseller.
  • Jess Luther has done great work on the systemic problem of coddling college athletes who rape women, especially the rampant corruption in Baylor’s football program. Her book on the topic is coming out this fall and here’s her first interview about it.
  • In a related story, the University of Florida appointed a booster of the football program to adjudicate a Title IX hearing on a rape case involving Gator football players.
  • Deadspin reports on the opening hostilies in the battle over the Texas Rangers’ new ballpark boondoggle. The City Council of Arlington approved the stadium proposal 7-0 despite no evidence whatsoever of economic benefit and some early signs of public dissent.
  • ISIS has become a hot-button term in our Presidential election, but that doesn’t change what they are, the evil the Daesh do in Syria and Lebanon, or their attempts to sow terror in Europe. This piece on how they’re kidnapping and training child soldiers will chill your soul.
  • House Speaker Paul Ryan is facing an opponent in the Republican primary for his seat. This wouldn’t be notable except that his opponent wondered aloud why we allow any Muslims to be in our country.

Stick to baseball, 5/28/16.

My Mock Draft 2.0 Is now up for Insiders. You can also see my post from Tuesday ranking the top 25 prospects in pro ball. I’ll expand that list to 50 after the Futures Game in July.

I also held my usual Klawchat, this time on Friday morning on a flight from Birmingham to Baltimore.

And now, the links…

Saturday five, 8/29/15.

My main Insider piece this week was on sustainable MLB breakthroughs in 2015. I meant to include Rougned Odor on this list, and somehow just plain forgot him when I sat down to write the piece. Anyway, this is my mea culpa and statement that I believe his improvement at the plate is real, sustainable, and only the beginning for him.

I also covered the Metropolitan Classic high school tournament that’s hosted and organized by the NY Mets, writing about the top 2016 and 2017 draft prospects there.

And now, this week’s links…saturdayfive

  • The nationwide rise in the popularity of authentic barbecue has left black pitmasters behind, even though that style of cooking has roots in African-American culture.
  • An excellent longread from the BBC on the forced repatriation of Chinese sailors in the UK after World War II, with the story of one woman whose biological father was one of those deported.
  • Baseball is on the rise in Uganda, believe it or not. It’s a sport that requires a long gestation period when it manages to take hold in a new region or country, but it seems to be growing well in the small sub-Saharan African nation, where it’s still against the law to be gay.
  • A chemistry decoder to send to that idiot friend from high school who keeps posting FoodBabe links on Facebook.
  • A personal post from a woman whose son nearly died from the flu. It’s just about flu shot season, too.
  • Another sugar (sucrose) substitute, the natural but uncommon sugar allulose, may be moving toward the marketplace, but like sugar alcohols, it passes right through the upper GI tract and can cause some problems further on down the line.
  • Kevin Folta, a scientist at the University of Florida, is under attack by the tin-foil hat crowd because Monsanto provided $25,000 for an educational outreach program, covering his travel costs. The personal nature of the attacks and the ignorance of how corporate funding actually works in academic research result in a deeply disturbing application of the genetic fallacy.
  • Longtime reader Tom Hitchner has a good post up on why teams keep getting sweetheart government-funded stadium deals. It’s happening in Milwaukee, and it’s happening in disgusting fashion in St. Louis, where a law prohibiting such deals was overturned by a judge as “too vague.”
  • TV critic extraordinaire Alan Sepinwall asks if there’s too much good television right now. I say yes, there is, and I have little to no hope of watching most of it.
  • U.S. tennis pro Mardy Fish had to quit the sport due to anxiety, but he’s back, and he’s talking about his affliction.
  • Mental Floss assembled a group of clever airline safety videos from around the world. The two Delta ones are both funny and effective; the first time I saw each this year I had to put down my book to watch them.

Saturday five, 5/9/15.

My ranking of the top 100 draft prospects for 2015 is now up for Insiders, and I held a Klawchat afterwards to answer questions about it. I’ll be at UConn’s game today (Saturday) against Cincinnati to see Ian Happ before I head home for Mother’s Day.

And now, the links…

Saturday five, 4/10/15.

My ranking of the top 50 prospects in this year’s draft class went up on Friday for Insiders; I also had a draft blog post specifically on Nate Kirby and Kyle Funkhouser, and I broke down the Craig Kimbrel/Melvin Upton trade. I held my regular Klawchat on Thursday.

My latest boardgame review for Paste covers the excellent baseball-themed deckbuilder Baseball Highlights: 2045, which is currently $32 over at amazon. My daughter, who doesn’t have much interest in the actual baseball thing, even asked me last night if we could play it again this weekend.

Amazon is having a huge sale on strategy games today in honor of International Tabletop Day, with almost half off Splendor, 7 Wonders, Five Tribes, and King of Tokyo.

And now, the links:

  • A repost from my social media accounts this week: Why the “Food Babe” is full of shit. The shame is that she could marshal her small group of followers to make meaningful changes to our food supply, like pressuring vendors to stop buying meat from animals raised with antibiotics, but instead propagates ignorance and anti-science sentiment.
  • More on the FraudBabe: A post from September on the harm such pseudoscience quacks can cause in their followers. And followers they are, much like those of a cult leader.
  • One baseball link, from my colleague Stephania Bell: What we’ve missed about Tommy John surgery, with a focus on why some pitchers require a second transplant surgery soon after their first one.
  • Longread of the week: Vanity Fair delves into the deterioration of NBC’s news department that culminated in the Brian Williams debacle. Shorter version: This was the end of a long decline.
  • The health of our bodies is related to the health of the trillions of bacteria that live in our GI tracts; one gene in the mother may affect the composition of bacteria in a newborn’s gut.
  • Children with maple syrup urine disease, an organic acidemia similar to the one my daughter and I have (3-MCC), can only be cured via a liver transplant. Now their discarded livers can be transplanted into other patients who might not qualify for a liver from a “healthy” (meaning dead but not diseased) donor.
  • This excerpt from Masha Gessen’s The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy on the death of one of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s friends at the hands of the FBI poses some uncomfortable questions about the nature of policing in an endless war against terror.
  • Cops are much more likely to stop black drivers than white drivers for investigatory (that is, non-safety) reasons. And that’s how you get situations like the murder of Walter Scott. (Confession: When I saw #WalterScott trending, I started thinking of Waverley jokes or something I could tweet in Scott’s variety of the Scottish dialect, only to discover what the trend was about and stop myself from being horribly insensitive.)
  • Daniel Vaughn, aka @BBQSnob aka Texas Monthly‘s barbecue writer/editor, went to Phoenix’s Little Miss BBQ and loved it. I feel validated by this. I like the slaw more than he did, and I’ve had better sausage there than he got, but otherwise we’re on the same page.
  • Vice has some ominous news for almost everyone on the Internet: Your porn is watching you, or, more specifically, it would be rather easy for someone to reveal any online porn viewer’s habits if they were to compromise any major site’s server logs. There’s some skepticism, but I think the larger point about our lack of privacy online (porn or not-porn) is valid.

Austin eats.

Getting to Austin even for just a couple of days was a huge treat for me, as it’s one of the country’s great food (and cultural) centers, yet my travels have rarely taken me there, since UT has produced just one pick in the top five rounds since 2011, and the high school talent in the area has been relatively weak. I think I made the most of my time there, hitting the country’s best barbecue joint, the restaurant run by one of the most dominant Top Chef competitors ever, and a fantastic third-wave/direct-trade coffee roaster all in one twelve-hour stretch.

Franklin BBQ has earned vast acclaim as the country’s best barbecue joint, first coming to my attention in 2011 when Bon Appetit gave it that title, although BBQ guru Daniel Vaughn was a few months ahead of BA. Vaughn, who tweets as @BBQSnob, still rates it as the best Q in Texas (which, by his definition, makes it the best Q in the country).

Franklin’s brisket is the best I’ve ever had, in every aspect. It’s salty, smoky, peppery, and most importantly, fatty, so it’s moist throughout and each bite just melts when it gets the heat of your mouth to break it down. I’ve had very little brisket that’s even close to Franklin’s – Little Miss in Phoenix and 4 Rivers in Orlando are the only two that might come close – but this is on its own level. There’s plenty of bark on each slice, and a thin but clear layer of fat underneath it, but the fact that the meat itself was still so moist was the great separator. Once smoked brisket dries out, you might as well skip the meat and go for tofu. Franklin’s brisket was perfectly moist and yet still hot when it was cut.

At Franklin BBQ with @lanaberry

A photo posted by Keith Law (@mrkeithlaw) on

Lana Berry (@Lana) was my dining buddy for the day, so we split an enormous platter of more food than we asked for – we had the “Last Man Standing” paper from our two-hour wait in line, signifying that we were the last people guaranteed to get served, which somehow ended up with us getting a lot more food than we ordered – including four different meats. The sausage, made to pitmaster Aaron Franklin’s recipe by an outside vendor, was suffused with smoke flavor, deep pink throughout, seasoned with some black pepper but not so much spice that it overwhelmed the smoke. The gigantic pork spare ribs – seriously, those had to be some mutant hogs – are more aggressively seasoned with salt and black pepper, and the meat still had some tooth to it even though it slid right off the bones. Lana and I agreed that the turkey was the meat to skip on the tray – it can’t hold up against everything else we tried. (Franklin also serves pulled pork, but it was gone before we reached the counter.)

The sides are all strong, although I can’t say I’d go wait two hours for any of them. I thought the potato salad was the best of the three, as it was lightly sauced with a mustard/mayo combination, and the potatoes still had some tooth to them. The beans aren’t the sickly-sweet BBQ beans I’m used to seeing at Q joints; they’re served with chunks of meat in a spicy broth, a much better match for salty smoked meat … but my subconscious kept looking for rice to go with it. The cole slaw was freshly made and crunchy, probably best served in the “Tipsy Texan” sandwich that puts the slaw right with the brisket. And then there are desserts, four different options of single-serving pies, including a banana bourbon pie in a vanilla wafer crust and a Texas pecan tart in a true shortbread-style tart crust, both excellent although I’d favor the pecan tart even though I’m not normally a fan of pecan pies (they’re usually too sweet).

Lana got in line for us both around 10:15 am on a cool but sunny Thursday morning, and we waited over two hours to get our food, so you need to line up pretty early even on a weekday. My suggestion would be to go with friends and share a lot of brisket with a few sausage links and some pork ribs as your main sides, with some potato salad just to pretend there’s a vegetable involved.

After a hard afternoon of watching Kyler Murray DH for Allen HS in 40-degree weather, Lana and I went for an epic meal at Qui, the ~40-seat restaurant run by Top Chef Season 9 winner Paul Qui. (Sarah Grueneberg, the runner-up to Qui that season, is opening her first restaurant, Monteverde, in Chicago this summer.) Qui, pronounced “key,” has just two menu options, an omnivore’s tasting menu for $65, and a vegetarian one for $55, each of which has seven listed courses and can come with wine pairings for another $45 or so. We both did the omnivore’s menu (without booze), and it was among the best meals I’ve ever had anywhere, and might have been the best value when you consider the quality of the inputs and the execution.

The first course was a gazpacho with cured curls of foie gras, PX sherry gelee, chunks of diced pear (I think), and house-made marcona almond milk as the liquid, an outstanding combination of flavors and textures when you got every element in one spoonful, particularly as the finely shaved foie melted into the almond milk to provide a huge hit of umami without the slight yet distinctive liver flavor of foie. (I say this as someone who’s never quite warmed to foie gras the way most food lovers have.) The second course was a finely diced bluefin tuna tartare with cucumber curls, smoked trout roe, and beef bone marrow, where the cucumber surrounded the roe and sat on the tuna to resemble a cross-cut bone with marrow in it, with the actual marrow served on the side like a condiment to the main dish – although bluefin tuna is so luxurious that it needs little but salt to bring out its flavor. That was my least favorite dish of the night, which isn’t a criticism considering how good the rest of the courses were.

Third was the fried chicken you may have heard Lana raving about – it was marinated in a Thai-style green curry, sliced very thinly, and came to the table smoking hot, served on a smoked oyster aioli with dots of egg yolk and a sprinkle of sal de gusano, a blend of sea salt and dried, toasted, ground agave (maguey) worms. It was like no fried chicken I’ve ever had before, tasting very little of chicken and more of all of the potent seasonings around it, with grade-80 crunch to the breading and a bright, herbaceous, lightly spicy kick from the curry paste.

The fourth course was the stunner – yellowtail seared tableside on binchōtan wood, served with a midorizu (Japanese green vinegar, made with rice wine vinegar and grated cucumber) and edible flower dressing. The server said the yellowtail was “cured,” but I think she meant lightly aged as the fish had no discernible seasoning; it was simple, incredibly high-quality fish, which just kissed the coals briefly on one side to get a touch of char and ash and then moved directly to the dressing. The presentation is amazing – there’s something unreal about seeing a miniature grill with glowing logs arrive at your table, then to have your fish cooked on it for a few seconds – and the results kept the flavor of the fish at the front, using the acidity of the dressing to accentuate that flavor. As much as my cynical side tried to tell me that the binchōtan was for show, the fish benefited greatly from the smoky (yet smokeless, as the wood used for this type of grill lets off virtually no smoke at all) notes added by the dusting of ash on each slide. If you enjoy food as experience, this was your course.

Somewhere in here we received a “gift from the kitchen,” an unlisted course that I think everybody gets, a “broken rice porridge” (that is, congee, or jok) with egg yolk and little cubes of crispy pork, which I think was cheek, as well as black vinegar. It’s apparently comfort food in southeast Asia, but on a very cold night in south Texas it hit the spot with its temperature and the sweet-savory hits from the pork. The fifth course was maitake mushrooms coated in a pork blood sauce with red onions, pickled garlic, seared Brussels sprout halves, and henbit, an edible weed native to Europe, highly savory but a little overshadowed by the slightly metallic taste of the blood (and I do like some blood dishes, like black pudding). Next up was the final savory course, the ‘burnt ends’ of braised Wagyu short ribs served in a kimchi broth with bits of kimchi, nori (toasted seaweed), leek, and turnip; as a person who’s never met a decent short rib he didn’t like, I was shocked to find the best part of the dish was the kimchi broth, which did more than just complement the beef but brought out its meatier notes with a combination of sour and umami flavors.

The dessert course had a quenelle of goat milk ice cream served over a coffee-cashew semifreddo (like a frozen mousse) with a thin layer of chocolate genoise underneath, with a huckleberry compote and bits of shaved chocolate over the top. Lana was considering asking the server to send about six more to the table. The most impressive aspect of the dish was the way nearly all of the elements worked together to create the sense of other flavors that weren’t on the dish – for example, a stronger cocoa flavor than you should have gotten from the minimal chocolate involved, or the peanut butter-and-jelly nod of the huckleberry with the nutty semifreddo.

That was a $100 or so meal in a larger city, and Qui could probably charge more and still get it in a wealthy mid-sized city like Austin; I’m glad he doesn’t, as it makes the meal accessible to a few more folks than it otherwise would be, even though $65 is still out of the price range for many folks. It’s an amazing value for a splurge meal that is as much an experience as an a culinary tour de force.

Cuveé Coffee is a third-wave, direct-trade roaster that serves several outlets around Austin and also operates its own coffee shop on 6th just east of downtown and down the street from Qui; they offer two espressos each day, their Meritage blend and a rotating single-origin offering, as well as various pour-over options, teas, and pastries. I tried espressos from both their Meritage and their Laguna Las Ranas beans from El Salvador, each very different from the other but both superb, lightly roasted to preserve the distinct characteristics of the beans. I preferred the Laguna because it was more idiosyncratic, but that’s just a matter of personal taste – I like single origins because they’re always a little different. The peculiar bit was the tag in front of the espresso machine making the Laguna, which identified one of the coffee’s notes as “kale.” I like kale, but I don’t think that’s a flavor I want in my coffee, nor did I get that from the beans at all.

I went to College Station and Bryan the next day and only had one meal while out there, at Fargo’s Pit BBQ, another recommendation from Daniel Vaughn. I recommend the smoked chicken, which changed my sense of what smoked chicken could even taste like, taking on a flavor profile more like game meats and less like boring old chicken (that’s from the dark meat). The brisket was moist and tender but had little flavor from the rub or smoke, while the baked beans were solid, sweet but not saccharine. It’s worth a stop if you’re in the area, but I wouldn’t drive to Bryan from Austin or Houston just to try it.