Oakland & San Francisco eats.

I’ll have my annual re-ranking of the top five farm systems up this week, most likely Tuesday, for Insiders.

I only had two meals on my own during my trip to the Bay Area last week to speak at Google and sign books at Books Inc. in Berkeley (which should still have signed copies available), but both were memorable additions to my ongoing U.S. pizzeria tour. Oakland’s Pizzaiolo is on that list from Food and Wine from a few years ago that continues to inform some of my travels – it’s not a perfect list but I’ve done well by it overall – but the pizza wasn’t even the best thing I ate there.

Pizzaiolo is more than a pizzeria, although those are obviously the star attraction on the menu. It’s really a locavore restaurant that also does pastas, mains, salads, and vegetable-focused sides (contorni), with outstanding, largely local ingredients the common thread among all of them. I met a friend for dinner there and we split two pizzas, a margherita with housemade Italian sausage and a pizza of sweet & hot peppers, black olives, and ricotta salata. The sausage was probably the best element of all of this; the dough itself was good, maybe a grade 55 when comparing it to other Neapolitan pizzerias I’ve tried around the country (a list that has to number around fifty now). The pepper and olive pizza was surprisingly good, less spicy than I feared it would be, more briny and salty from the combination of the olives and the ricotta salata, a pressed, salted, lightly aged cheese made from the whey of sheep’s milk left over from other cheesemaking. But the best thing I ate was actually a salad of mixed chicory leaves (especially radicchio) with figs and hazelnuts; I love radicchio in spite of its bitterness (or perhaps because of it), but this had some of the least bitter chicory leaves I’ve ever tasted, and the sweetness of the black mission figs gave the perfect contrast to just that hint of a bitter note. The menu changes daily, however, and I can see it’s not on the Pizzaiolo menu today.

Una Pizza Napoletana isn’t on that F&W list of the country’s best pizzerias, which is kind of a joke because it’s probably a top five spot for me because of the dough. I’ve never had a pizza with a crust like this – it has the texture of naan, which is an enriched dough from India (usually containing yogurt or other dairy), whereas pizza dough is typically enriched with nothing but maybe a little olive oil. The menu is very short: five different pizza options, no alterations or substitutions allowed, with a few drinks, and one extra pizza (with fresh eggs) on Saturdays. Most of the pizzas use buffalo-milk mozzarella, and only the margherita has tomato sauce. I went with the filetti, which has no sauce but uses fresh cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, garlic, and fresh basil. It’s really the dough that makes this pizza – it’s a traditional, naturally-leavened dough that takes three days to make, resulting in that incomparable texture. The pizzas are on the expensive side at $25 apiece, although I think given the quality of inputs and the time required to make doughs like this, it’s a reasonable price point. You’re buying someone’s skill and time for something you’re never going to make at home.

Una Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco. To die for.

A post shared by Keith Law (@mrkeithlaw) on

My new friends at Google also sent me home with a few gifts, including a bag of coffee from Philz, which a few of you have been telling me to try for years now. I haven’t opened the bag yet (I am a bit obsessive about finishing one bag before opening the next) but will report back when I try it.

Miami eats.

My recap of the 2017 Futures Game is now up for Insiders.

Downtown Miami itself is … not that great, really. The city was badly overmatched by the traffic and crowds in town for the weekend, with cops stationed at many corners but not doing anything to direct traffic or stop the many drivers doing illegal things (right turn from the left lane, blowing through red lights). I ended up spending most of my free time in the artsy Wynwood area, which seems to be the booming neighborhood for food, bars, and culture.

Lung Yai Thai Tapas is not really a tapas place, but it does indeed appear to be a Thai place, and I’d read several glowing reviews before my trip. I also rarely eat Thai food at or near home, since my wife is allergic to shellfish and Thai cuisine has a lot of hidden shellfish (oyster sauce, shrimp paste) in its recipes. Lung Yai’s lunch menu had mostly familiar dishes, so I went with the green papaya salad and with the first dish in the ‘chef’s recommendations’ section, khao soi gai, a northern Thai noodle dish served like a soup, with a coconut milk-curry sauce over boiled egg noodles and chicken, with crispy fried noodles on top. My experience with northern Thai dishes is pretty limited, but the khao soi had a huge umami base with the natural sweetness of the coconut and the flavors of yellow curry without any heat. It’s a tiny spot, with maybe 15 seats around a long counter, in a rundown neighborhood, but the food justified the trip out of my way. I’ve seen comments online that there’s a soup-Nazi atmosphere here, with rules you have to follow, but service was friendly and attentive, and if there were unwritten rules I guess I didn’t break any.

Kyu is an uber-trendy see-and-be-seen sort of restaurant that happens to serve great food, although it certainly wasn’t my sort of scene, and the front of house staff had a little bit of that “we’re doing you a favor by letting you eat here” vibe that drives me up a wall. But the food itself was worth the wait. Their duck breast “burnt ends” is really just a slow-smoked duck breast that develops a bbq char on the outside of the skin and the texture of a high-quality pork chop in the center despite being cooked through (which would ordinarily dry a duck breast out). I think there was five-spice in the rub and/or the sauce it’s served on, which, by the way, is all it’s served on: you get a large duck breast cut into slices and that’s it. I had ordered one side, the grilled baby bok choy with crispy garlic and chiles, which is the best bok choy dish I’ve ever had – garlic and chile are the two main flavor affinities for bok choy anyway, but this version had multiple textures and really crushed the salt-spice component. The garlic was there but didn’t overpower the dish, which I think is often a copout for dark green vegetable preparations. Kyu is particularly well known for their coconut cake, with what I think is a cream cheese-based icing (it was sweet and a little tangy, not just straight sweet), served with a scoop of coconut ice cream, and I can vouch that 1) it was amazing in every aspect and 2) when it showed up there was suddenly a lot of attention from the folks sitting and standing around me.

Panther Coffee is the best-known third-wave roaster in south Florida, maybe in all of Florida, and they do both outstanding espresso and some unique varietals for pour-over preparations. The espresso was bright and balancced with a ton of body, just lacking that sweetness that some of my favorite espressos (Blue Bottle in particular) offer. For a pour-over, I tried a Tanzanian that had a lot of berry and stone fruit notes but not the citrus of a lot of East African beans. Panther also has a big selection of high-quality pastries – I had a croissant, because coffee on an empty stomach is not a pleasant experience for me – from area bakeries, including some donuts that looked like little works of art.

I had drinks on Sunday night with longtime friend Will Leitch, which we realized is probably the longest conversation we’ve ever had in person despite knowing each other for a really long time. (I first met him when he did a reading for his book God Save the Fan in LA, so that had to be the spring of 2008.) We met up at the bar portion of Edge Steak & Bar inside the Four Seasons, which is actually not priced like a Four Seasons hotel restaurant might be and has a great bar menu of small plates as well as an enormous whiskey selection if you’re inclined to that sort of spirit. I tried two dishes – the bay scallop crudo with grapefruit, pomegranate seeds, and cucumbers, which had the perfect acid/sweet ratio; and the tostones with an avocado spread that was kind of a mild guacamole, also very good but on the heavy side. I can also verify that two of their Boulevardier cocktails, in essence a negroni with rye, were enough that I was glad I hadn’t driven to the hotel.

I left first thing Monday morning, but if I’d had one more dinner in Miami I would have tried to get to Niu Kitchen, a tapas place specializing in regional Spanish dishes, with jamón iberico and boquerones on the menu. That’ll have to wait for a scouting trip down there next year.

Louisville eats.

I spent three nights in Louisville late last month for the ACC tournament, which was (mostly) held at the Bats’ AAA stadium right downtown, and I ate like a king for nearly the entire trip – to say nothing of the coffee.

Garage Bar had been on my to-do list for years, since Food and Wine posted a list of the best 48 pizzerias in the United States. (I’ve now been to 29, and one of the others closed shortly after the list was posted.) Garage Bar is, indeed, in a converted garage, and the space is very Brooklyn-hipster, but damn, that’s good pizza. The style is Neapolitan-ish, with a spongy, soft dough, but not the wet centers of true Neapolitan pizzas, although they use the classic ingredients (type 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes) of that style and cook in a brick, wood-fired oven that hits 850 degrees. I tried the Local Mushroom pizza, a tomato-less pie that delivered just what I’d want in a mushroom pizza – big mushroom flavors complemented but not overwhelmed by the flavor of the cheese, here fromage blanc, a soft, fresh cow’s milk cheese where the fermentation is stopped fairly early in the process. I also recommend the Caesar salad, which is lightly dressed, not overly garlicky, topped with fried kale strips and two stripes of white anchovy (the good stuff).

After the last game ended on Friday, I walked over to Milkwood in downtown Louisville, mostly because I just wanted to try one of Edward Lee’s restaurants even though I wasn’t that hungry. The menu is a sort of Korean-southern fusion, but I went traditional with the vegetarian bibimbap, a Korean rice dish served in a smokin’ hot bowl that continues to cook the food at the table. Granted, I could eat plain white rice till the cows come home (and it’s a good thing I don’t because white rice is nutritionally worthless), but I killed this dish despite, as I said, not being very hungry. I even got dessert because the bartender told me the peanut butter ice cream that comes with the chess pie can’t be missed, and he was right – you can keep the pie, just give me the ice cream. (Chess pie is an acquired taste; it’s a southern custard pie that typically contains cornmeal and vinegar in the filling.)

Royals Hot Chicken has only been open for about a year and a half, offering what they call Nashville hot chicken, although their version is a little different – it’s all white meat “jumbo tenders” (each of which is a half breast halved again the long way), available at any spice level you like. I’m generally not a fan of chicken breast meat because it’s so lean and, in most cases, flavorless, but the crust at Royals’ has plenty of flavor, even on the mild setting (I like capsaicin more than it likes me). They have a long list of southern comfort-food sides, but I went with the roasted sweet potato with sorghum butter (the cashier’s rec) and the cucumber salad, both of which were excellent and didn’t make the entire meal into a heavy soporific. Speaking of which, I was surprised how little oil I had on my hands after eating the chicken, which is how it should be but rarely is.

Also in New Lou is Mayan Cafe, and I’m going to tell you up front, get the lima beans. It’s a signature item for them, and they’re damn good, and so popular that the restaurant posted the recipe. I ordered the salbutes, a regional Mexican preparation of a fried (flour) tortilla that puffs up and is topped like a cracker, with toppings that change daily; the chilaquiles; and the “chocolate on chocolate” dessert, which I was told was vegan and still can’t believe given how rich the cake was. I’d probably do something different for an entree, as the chilaquiles, while vegetarian (my goal), weren’t remarkable, but everything else I ate was.

Gralehaus was a recommendation from Stella Parks, aka BraveTart, whose first cookbook, BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts, comes out on August 15th; she lives in Lexington but gave me a short to-do food and coffee list for my trip that also included Quills (see below). Gralehaus is a bed & breakfast with a restaurant and bar that’s open to the public for all three meals, and the menu is influenced by southern comfort food but hardly limited to it (there’s a tofu banh mi on the lunch menu, for crying out loud). I couldn’t pass on the black pepper biscuit with duck sausage gravy, served with a sunny egg and and some duck cracklins; it was … decadent isn’t quite the word, but certainly rich and hearty, although the biscuit itself was on the dry side. They have an excellent coffee program, with beans from several artisanal roasters including Intelligentsia and one from right near me, La Maquina, of West Chester, PA.

Against the Grain is a brewpub attached to the Bats’ stadium, with the brewery on-site, but since it was midday I didn’t drink anything, I just ate, and the food was fine – better than ballpark food, certainly, but not on par with the other meals I ate around Louisville. I had the BBQ pork belly, which was served just as a giant slab of what was essentially bacon, and it was fine, nothing special, probably in need of a first step to tenderize the meat a little more before hitting the smoke. Get the Brussels sprouts side if you do go.

The one bad meal I had was at a place called Toast, which is just a mediocre diner that doesn’t execute particularly well and doesn’t list major ingredients in some dishes on its menu. If there’s cheese on a dish, that has to be listed, as you’d list something like nuts or shellfish. That aside, the food just wasn’t good and the service was indifferent.

Louisville has quite a thriving coffee scene, including Sunergos, a local roaster whose blend won a “best espresso in America” competition in 2014 – and it’s damn good, top five for me easily (Blue Bottle, Intelligentsia, Cartel, Four Barrel), so good I went back and bought a half-pound before leaving for the airport. Their blend is mostly Central and South American beans along with some Indonesian beans as well, and the result is noticeably sweet on its own, and there’s a cocoa undertone that I adore in coffee.

Quills was Stella Parks’ suggestion and they also do a solid espresso, not as bold or sweet as Sunergos’ but creditable, and I loved their space over in the Highlands, within walking distance of Gralehaus and Carmichael’s Bookstore; it was big, bright, and full of people working, chatting, just hanging out, the way a neighborhood coffee house should be. I also tried Press on Market, where I had a light-roast Sumatran bean as a pour-over – notable in and of itself because Indonesian beans are typically roasted until dark – and was surprised to find that the beans had some character beyond the roast. It’s a stone’s throw from the Bats’ stadium if you’re downtown.

Minneapolis eats, 2017.

Minneapolis-St. Paul is a tremendous food town (or two towns, technically), thanks to its proximity to great farms, the efforts of a few high-profile chefs there (notably Andrew Zimmern), and an increasingly diverse population that’s supporting all of these new restaurants. I was only there for about 30 hours around my book signing at Moon Palace Books, but managed to squeeze in a few good meals and some great coffee.

The big meal was after my book signing at Revival, which several readers recommended and my friend Evon, who lives in Minneapolis and took me to nearly all of these spots, loves. It’s unabashed Southern cuisine, just done really well. The fried chicken is outstanding, with a crust that shatters with each bite; it comes in three varieties, plain, Tennessee hot, or “poultrygeist,” a sauce with ghost peppers. They will offer you that ghost pepper sauce on the side; don’t do this. I tasted a single drop, and I could feel the lining of my mouth and esophagus melting everywhere it made contact with the capsaicin. The sides are what you’d expect to find at a good southern restaurant; I’d recommend the mashed potatoes + gravy as well as the collard greens, the latter made with apple cider vinegar and cooked well without being cooked like a British vegetable. The biscuits were a little dense (but perfect for soaking up the ‘liquor’ in the greens); they’re served with sorghum butter, which you could really put on anything. Come to think of it, that would have been great on the fried chicken. Also, don’t miss the banana cream pie for dessert. Revival is so popular they’ve just opened a second location in St. Paul.

Zen Box Izakaya is a new Japanese sake house and ramen shop in the Gateway District in what appears to be a converted industrial or warehouse space, offering some pretty impressive ramen that I would say compares well to what I’ve had on the coasts. The pork ramen’s broth was the standout element, as it should be, but I wish they used better-quality noodles in the dish – these tasted fresh from the box. I also tried the server’s suggestion for a starter, the takoyaki, breaded and fried octopus with Japanese mayo, tonkotsu sauce, and bonito flakes; the flavors worked, but there’s definitely more flour than fish in these bites.

Patisserie 46 is a bakery and coffee shop whose chef was nominated for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Baker in 2015, and while I only had one thing, it was outstanding – a strawberry-rhubarb croissant, which was a classic croissant with layers like mica and a filling like you’d find in a fresh strawberry-rhubarb pie. They use Intelligentsia coffee for their espresso. They do some light breakfast and lunch fare and sell whole bread loaves as well.

A couple of quick hits – I found The Humble Cup just because I was staying at the Courtyard across the street (one of the nicest Courtyards I’ve ever stayed in, BTW) and was pleased to find they offered pour-overs using beans from local roaster True Stone Coffee. I’d skip the baked stuff but this is good coffee done correctly … I’ve mentioned George & the Dragon here before, but ate lunch there before heading to the airport; the food has always been excellent, and the pork banh mi I had this time was no exception, mostly because the pork, from local purveyors Compart Duroc, was so flavorful thanks to the five-spice seasoning. If you go and see the owner, Fred, tell him I sent you (he’s a fan too).

Finally, I ended up eating lunch at an unexpected spot: the boardgame cafe at Fantasy Flight Studios in St. Paul. FFG, now part of the Asmodee group (which also includes Days of Wonder, Z-Man, and Plaid Hat), operates a huge gaming space that has a real restaurant in it preparing most dishes from scratch and offering local craft beers on tap. Kyle Dekker, who runs the space and has been a longtime reader of my baseball work, gave me the tour; among other touches, they operate one fryer just for French fries, ensuring no cross-contamination with gluten or other allergens/problem foods. There’s a boardgame store in front and a huge library in back for folks to hang out and borrow a game (or three) and play while they eat, and both sections include games from other publishers. It’s an incredibly impressive undertaking and Kyle said they can be packed on weekends when the weather isn’t great. I’d be there all the time if I lived in the Twin Cities (which I might if it wasn’t located inside the Arctic Circle).

Sarasota and other Florida eats.

Florida spring training kind of sucks, in my professional opinion, because the sites are so far apart and several are wastelands for decent food. I found a handful of decent spots in my week there this year, along with a lot of mediocrity, but I’ll just focus on the good here, including the fact that Sarasota of all places has a decent little food and coffee scene happening.

Baker & Wife is a farm-to-table type of place in Sarasota, recommended to me by a friend who lives nearby, and I was impressed by both the vegetable dishes and, as you’d expect from the name, the dessert. I went with two starters rather than a main, a salad of roasted yellow beets with goat cheese, pesto, and pine nuts, along with crab cakes with a spicy green papaya slaw; of all of that, the only aspect I didn’t care for was the slaw, which tasted too much of fish sauce. The beets were really spectacular, although I am a fan of roasted beets in any form, but I think they pair so well with goat cheese, any kind of nuts, and the salty, bright punch of the pesto. Dessert, I had the “baker’s bannoffie pie,” and I’ll let the menu describe it: “pecan and graham cracker crust, house made banana & vanilla bean pudding, chocolate chips, caramel, cream.” It was that good and then some. It all worked so well together.

Perq is a new third-wave coffee bar in Sarasota, using beans from various artisan roasters around the country, and offering numerous cold-brew and single-origin espresso options along with the usual. It’s a sizable cafe too, unlike a lot of third-wave spots, and they appear to rotate through various roasters – they had a number of I knew from my travels and when I chatted up one of the baristas, he mentioned several other great roasters they’ve used, like heart, Sightglass, Four barrel, Counter Culture, and more.

I had half a decent meal at Selva, a Peruvian restaurant downtown, where the ceviche was very good and the entree I had was not. The ceviche isn’t truly traditional; they have numerous combinations that include various fruits, acids, and types of fish, and the tuna/watermelon ceviche I got had larger pieces of fish than I’m used to seeing in ceviche. It came with a spicy lime sauce for dipping or pouring to taste, and I would recommend using that if you end up here. But the main course was kind of a mess – a duck breast that was cooked very inconsistently, and served with a risotto that was anything but.

There’s also a tiny Buddy Brew location right near Selva, at the entrance to the parking garage downtown not far from Tamiami Trail. I would go to Perq before this, but Buddy Brew is solid.

Elsewhere in the state, I discovered the brand new Foxtail Coffee in Orlando’s Winter Park neighborhood thanks to a scout’s recommendation, and both times I went there was a line out the door. They had four coffees available from different countries; I tried their espresso one day and an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe pour-over the next, the latter of which came with a roasting demonstration from Iain, one of the owners and a baseball fan as well. It’s right near the old location of the Ravenous Pig, which has moved into the old Cask & Larder space but which I can report is still some of the best food to be had in the Orlando area.

Near the Jupiter complex is a very unassuming little coffee shop and roaster called Oceana, which does a lot of single origins as well but roasts most of them darker than I tend to like. Their pour-over options are the way to go – I had an Ethiopian the first day I was there, and I’ll be honest in that I was so in need of the caffeine I don’t remember much beyond the sheer pleasure of feeling it hit my bloodstream. Pass on the espresso as their extraction rate is way too high and the result is watery.

Merritt Island’s Cuban Island Cafe is worth a stop if you’re in that area, which I’d never visited before; I went for my standard choice, lechon asado, which in this case came with some amazing black beans, one maduro, one tostone, and well over a half-pound of pork.

I’ll also mention Harry’s Pizzeria in Miami, which appeared on a list of the best pizzerias in the U.S. a few years ago that I’ve kept on hand for my travels, hitting more than half of the 48 places they listed. The pizza itself was just average, but I had an escarole salad to start that was tremendous – lemon, anchovies, parmiggiano, and bread crumbs. It hit a little of everything, adding salty, sour, and umami notes to the slight bitterness of the raw greens. They have a few non-pizza options that might be worth trying if I ever go back to have that salad again.

Stick to baseball, 2/18/17.

For Insiders, I ranked the top prospects for 2017 impact, although we later removed Alex Reyes from the list now that he’s out for the year. I held my regular Klawchat on Thursday.

On the boardgame front, I reviewed the light family-friendly game Imhotep for Paste this week; it was one of the runners-up for the Spiel des Jahres last year, losing to Isle of Skye. Last week, over at Vulture, I wrote about some of the best games for couples.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 2/11/17.

No Insider content this week – you’ve had plenty, so don’t get greedy. I did hold a Klawchat on Thursday.

For Paste, I reviewed the asymmetrical two-player game The Blood of an Englishman, which is based on Jack and the Beanstalk. I also returned to Vulture with a post on eight great boardgames for couples, in honor of Valentine’s Day.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

  • Detroit Tigers owner and Little Caesars founder Mike Ilitch passed away yesterday. Here’s a 2016 piece on the hidden cost of cheap pizza, where reducing prices often means taking it out of workers’ pockets.
  • One of the best longreads of the week covered how a Huntington, West Virginia, school official improved school lunches contrary to the meddling efforts of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
  • Another great longread: how a young Wikipedia editor/admin is fighting back against misogynist trolls on the site.
  • Eater has a longread, more a collection of shorter pieces than a single story, on the things people will do to hunt and pick rare mushrooms.
  • As much as I crush the NCAA for some of its policies, they’re leading the fight against anti-LGBT discrimination right now, including a threatened six-year boycott of North Carolina that would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in lost business over that state’s hate bill HB2, which prevents local governments from passing laws or ordinances protecting LGBT citizens from discrimination.
  • There’s a potential famine brewing in sub-Saharan Africa thanks to the spread of the fall armyworm, which is devastating crops in Zimbabwe already and may be present in six other African countries. We can talk about organic agriculture all we want, but if a synthetic pesticide stops this worm, it’ll save millions of lives.
  • Speaking of which, Dr. Paul Offit wrote about how Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring cost millions of lives too, because DDT, while clearly bad for the environment as a broad-use pesticide, is extremely effective at stopping the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria.
  • Betsy DeVos was confirmed this week as Secretary of Education, but let’s recall the damage she did in Michigan with her charter-school endeavors. I’ve said on here before that I favor at least some school choice, but school choice is not a panacea for underperforming public schools, and her appointment is a potential disaster for public education in this country.
  • TIME became (I think) the first major publication to run an editorial arguing that it’s time to impeach President Trump. Meanwhile, good journalism keeps coming from unexpected outlets, like Vogue highlighting five things Trump is doing now but for which he attacked Hillary Clinton during the campaign.
  • Buy stock in telecom giants? The new FCC is going to kill off net neutrality, opening those quasi-monopolies up for greater power to squeeze money from content providers and consumers.
  • Meanwhile, Republicans across the country are fighting to restrict voting rights, moves that are likely to help their candidates in 2018 and beyond. If you live in such a state, make your voice heard now, before it’s silenced.
  • Why did House Republicans block a vote on a resolution stating that the Holocaust targeted Jews? Are they so beholden to party that they wouldn’t even vote on a fact?
  • John Yoo, who was Justice Department official under President George W. Bush and advocated heavy use of executive orders, wrote that President Trump has taken executive power too far. This is like Tony Larussa saying a manager uses too many relievers. And a former National Security Council member also wrote for the New York Times that Steve Bannon shouldn’t be on the NSC.
  • Are Trump’s opponents falling into his ‘trap’ with their outrage? I don’t know that I agree with this National Review piece’s conclusions, but it’s worth considering that there are still many voters who will nod their heads at his populist moves without considering their consequences.
  • Is Trump’s fight against the judiciary his Watergate? I doubt it, although there are some parallels.
  • Marco Rubio has moments where he appears to be one of the few GOP leaders willing to oppose the President or stake out a position near the center, including a little-heard speech he gave this week on the demise of civil disagreements. That’s great, Marco; now vote against your party’s President on something that matters.
  • Meanwhile, the GOP continues to use the term “fake news” to keep up its attacks on respected, objective journalism outlets, such as Alabama representative Mo Brooks calling the Washington Post fact-checkers “fake news” for pointing out that his voter fraud claims were, well, fraudulent.
  • Ah, North Dakota, where two Republican legislators said in session that women should spend Sundays taking care of their husbands. Will they face any electoral consequences for this? I doubt it.
  • Vaccines! There are over 400 mumps cases in Washington State’s outbreak. That’s why Peter Hotez, Ddirector of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, can say that the anti-vaxxers are “winning” in another NYT editorial. (I subscribed to the Times online in the fall, mostly to keep these posts going, because they are producing some tremendous content across the board right now.)
  • If you saw the Daily Mail piece claiming that politicians had been hoodwinked by falsified climate-change data, well, don’t read the Daily Mail, as it’s become an unreliable source on any economic, political, or scientific topic. And the story was utter nonsense.
  • Former Top Chef contestant Mark Simmons of NYC’s Kiwiana made his feelings on the Muslim ban quite clear with a pro-immigration message printed on his restaurant’s receipts.
  • Is artisanal chocolate the next big food trend along the lines of craft beer and coffee? I’m a little skeptical, and this piece glosses over chocolate’s big sourcing issue (there’s a lot of child labor and de facto slavery in the cacao supply chain), but I think there’s a market here for better chocolate that can make consumers feel better about what they’re eating.
  • An Intelligentsia Coffee staffer wrote this informative post on why we steep tea but brew coffee.
  • The British Academy of Film and Television Arts has published research on how to help women and people of color in the film industry, a sort of response to the #OscarsSoWhite criticisms we’ve heard the last few years. (The Oscar nominees are much more diverse this year, quelling such complaints for the moment.) It gets more at the root of the problem than the attacks on the Academy Awards do – you won’t see women nominated for Best Director if women are rarely hired as directors or if their films struggle to find funding or distribution. There were few acclaimed movies in 2016 directed by women; I think the best-reviewed was Certain Women, which received very little distribution at all.
  • Is mining asteroids an essential part of our future? I think it is, in some sense, although I’m surprised this piece doesn’t mention iridium, a critical element in manufacturing electronics; it’s believed most of the iridium on earth came from the meteor or comet that caused the K/T extinction event.
  • Vice’s Noisey asked a person with synaesthesia what several songs “taste” like to him. Synaesthesia is a rare brain function where senses ‘cross;’ Vladimir Nabokov had it. I don’t have this, but I do associate all twelve months with certain colors, because when I was maybe five my mom had a Peanuts calendar hanging in our laundry room where January, May, and September were colored in red; February, June, and October in blue; March, July, and November in green; and April, August, and December in yellow. Those months still have those colors to me today.
  • Humor: This New Yorker fake-dialogue post called “I Work from Home” hit a little close, especially as I’m writing this post at 10:30 am on Saturday while still in my pajamas.

Stick to baseball, 1/28/17.

My ranking of the top 100 prospects went up this week, and my org rankings went up last week, so ESPN set up a landing page that links to all my prospect content. When the individual team top tens and reports go up next week, you’ll be able to reach them from this page as well.

ESPN split my top 100 ranking into five posts this year, twenty prospects per page, so here they are from the top to the bottom:

I held a Klawchat Friday after the whole list was up.

And I even got another boardgame review up, this one of the new edition of the 2000 game Citadels, which is actually designed for 4 to 8 players, with rules variants included for 2 or 3. It’s definitely best with four or more, though.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

DC eats.

Rose’s Luxury is consistently ranked among the best restaurants in the country, so well-regarded that it has spawned a cottage industry of people who will wait in line for you (RL does not take reservations) for a fee. We were very fortunate to have Kent Bonham (of collegesplits.com) local and willing to wait for us to get a table, and his efforts were not in vain as I think we all agreed it was a meal for the ages. Even with all we ordered – probably a little more food than was reasonable, but we wanted to try everything – and some booze, I think we only paid about $80-90 a person, which is very reasonable for the quality and quantity of food we got.

Rose’s menu varies often and comprises mostly small plates, with one or two larger ‘mains’ on it at any one time; with a table of six, we ordered one of everything (except the caviar offering) and got to work. I posted the menu on my Instagram feed (which reposts automatically to my public Facebook page), so I’ll hit the highlights. Their signature dish is the pork sausage salad with lychee, habanero, and peanuts, and it’s one of the most memorable things I’ve ever eaten because there is just so much going on in the dish yet it still manages to work . You’re supposed to just mix it all together, so each bite ends up this little explosion of sweet, spicy, savory, and tart all thrown together; I get the sense that this is supposed to feel like Thai street food, because it’s so bright and messy and satisfying but nothing special to look at. Several people, including Jack (@unsilent) Kogod, specifically said beforehand to get this dish, and they were spot on.

We ordered a second helping of the fried Brussels sprouts with tahini, eel sauce, and bonito; I’m a sucker for fried Brussels sprouts anyway, but this was also bursting with umami from the bonito and benefited from the dairy-like texture of the tahini (made from sesame or benne seeds). I also could have eaten the stuffed dates with walnuts and cultured butter pretty much all night, but again, dates stuffed with walnuts or almonds are one of my favorite things to eat. Raw oysters aren’t for everyone – I’ve long had to fight my Long Island-infused aversion to the things, since growing up there we only heard about pollution and contamination – but Rose’s are marinated in sake and wasabi and served with a little apple granita on top, so the oyster is more the vessel than the star, and that’s absolutely how I like it. I’d compare these favorably to Richard Blais’ “oysters and pearls,” where he serves the oysters with little frozen pearls of horseradish and a yuzu or other citrus vinaigrette on top.

Of the four pasta dishes we ended up with, the simplest one was the best – the hand-cut trenette con cacio e pepe, just a simple, freshly-made ribbon pasta with pecorino Romano, black pepper, and the starchy pasta water to thicken the sauce. It’s peasant food done up Roman style, with an expensive cheese instead of whatever’s on hand, but showcases the pasta beautifully. I thought the pasta in the rigatoni with tomato, eggplant, anchovy, and mint was a shade undercooked – too al dente for me, at least – although the sauce was really bright. We had one member of our party who has celiac disease, and the chefs were incredibly accommodating, making her a faux-risotto with Carolina gold rice and no end of butter to substitute for the pasta courses. There was also a straciatella special that came with long slices of focaccia that had been grilled and smeared with a rich garlic puree, and if you call those “breadsticks” I will come to your house and punch you in the face.

The main course the night we were there was a smoked brisket, served in thick slices, with Texas toast, a fresh horseradish-cream sauce, and a slaw of pickled vegetables, so everyone at the table could just make his/her own mini sandwich from it. I was just about out of gas by this point, so I went sparingly just to say I tasted it, and while the meat itself had a good texture, it was the horseradish sauce that stood out the most, making up for the fact that the beef didn’t have a lot of bark or a ton of smoke flavor to it.

Rose’s alcohol options are also very impressive for a restaurant that’s primarily a restaurant and not a bar that serves food – I know my friends were pleased with whatever wine they got, and I was impressed to see several aged rums, including Ron Zacapa’s Centenario 23, available. I also went back for coffee the next day to Rose’s sibling restaurant, Pineapple & Pearls, located next door. The back of P&P is a $250 a head tasting menu place, but during the morning and early afternoon, they serve third-wave coffee (Lofted for espresso, Parlor for drip) and a few small breakfast and lunch items, including the great breakfast wrap and these great little lemon-thyme shortbread cookies. If we’d been closer I would have gone there every morning. Both halves of P&P are closed on Mondays.

On Tuesday night I headed out with longtime partner in crime Alex Speier to All-Purpose, a pizza, pasta, and small plates place from the folks behind DC’s Red Hen and a recommendation from a reader, Jim H., who gave me tons of recs for my trip. All-Purpose’s menu has a lot of pork on it, but several small plates that focus on vegetables, as well as a couple of mainstay pasta options, six standard pizza configurations, and a chance to make your own pizza as well. We started with … wait for it … the fried Brussels sprouts (hey, they’re really good for you, at least until you fry them), which here come with horseradish cream, togarashi spice, and Parmiggiano-Reggiano, and I could have licked the plate clean if my parents hadn’t raised me correctly. The strange mixture of a Japanese spice mix with some real heat and the umami-rich Italian cheese worked well together, and I couldn’t get over how thoroughly cooked the sprouts were – I’ve had a lot of fried Brussels sprouts that were still a little underdone in the center and retained some bitterness, but these did not.

Kogod tipped me off beforehand that the eggplant parm dish was “the veteran move,” and Alex was game, so we got that as well as the Cosimo pizza, which has roasted mushrooms, taleggio cheese, truffle sauce, but no tomatoes, which I think was a sharp choice because the eggplant parm dish is like a smack in the face of huge tomato flavor. Eggplant is one of those items I would generally just pass over on a menu – I don’t hate it, but it’s always going to be near the bottom of my list of choices. A-P’s version makes the eggplant the structure but not the center of the dish – this is about the tomatoes and cheese, and if you’d given me some crusty bread to make it like an open-faced sandwich I could have just laid down on the floor afterwards and slept like a baby.

The pizza was solid, but a sort of in-between style that had the crispiness of Italian-style pizzas but was probably cooked at a lower temp, so the outside browned evenly rather than getting the puffy crust around the outside with bits of char around it. I prefer thinner crusts, but A-P’s held up well under the heavier toppings of this pizza, and I’m glad we went with a white pizza and went meatless for the whole meal given how much meat I consumed the night before at Rose’s and the next day at lunch (see below).

I probably should have skipped dessert, but A-P does a ‘rainbow cake,’ a larger version of the Italian flag cookies I grew up eating from New York bakeries and have made a number of times around the holidays. The cake was six layers of a sponge cake made with almond paste, dyed to form a pastel version of the Italian flag, with raspberry and apricot jams between the layers and a thin coating of dark chocolate on top. The hardest thing about making the cookies is getting the layers to cook evenly – the outer edge wants to try out before the center is truly cooked – but this was perfect despite the fact that the layers were thicker than you’d find in a cookie.

Across the street from All-Purpose, Smoked & Stacked is the new breakfast and lunch place from Marjorie Meek-Bradley, who appeared on Top Chef Season 13 and made it to the final four, with the menu focused on their house-made pastrami. I don’t particularly care for pastrami; I loathe corned beef, but pastrami is smoked after the same kind of curing process, giving it a different taste and much better texture. S&S’s most basic sandwich is the Messy, which has pastrami, Comte cheese, sauerkraut, and slaw on very good rye bread, and it is indeed messy, as the bread can barely handle all the liquid coming from the fillings. It’s also more than I typically eat for lunch, but I ate the whole thing anyway because the bread was so damn good.

I ate one significant meal at National Harbor, at Edward Lee’s southern restaurant Succotash, which was certainly fine for a meal served to a captive audience but nothing I’d go out of my way to eat. The skillet cornbread was the best thing we ate, a traditional southern (that is, it had no sugar) cornbread served in the cast-iron skillet with sorghum butter. The fried catfish I had was good if a little pedestrian – I’ve had this same dish lots of times before and there was nothing special about this one. They make a good Old-Fashioned, though. These fake shopping villages kind of give me the creeps – it’s like they’re trying to create what’s great about a city and build it from the top down in a remote area, in this case a good 20 minutes outside of DC, rather than stay in the actual city and build it up organically. And the traffic situation down there has apparently just gotten worse now that the MGM Casino opened the day after we all left; the roads in/out of National Harbor are not built to handle volume, and driving within the complex just to get to the hotel where I stayed (the AC) was a complete pain in the ass.

Omaha eats.

My column today for ESPN, expressing my disappointment in the Mets’ decision to sign Jose Reyes, is free for anyone to read.

Omaha treated me very well last week, even with the heat and humidity. I’d heard from a few readers over the years that Omaha is a sneaky-good restaurant town – although the claim that it has the most restaurants per capita in the U.S. appears to be unfounded – and that turned out to be the case. I had four outstanding meals there, great coffee, great cocktails, and even managed to check off two more states on my visit list, leaving me with just one left (Arkansas). It’s an incredibly walkable downtown, something I miss greatly as a resident of the suburbs now, and I feel like I could easily spend a week there without running out of new places to eat.

I’ll start with the best lunch I had in Omaha, at Kitchen Table, a recommendation from one of you via Twitter. The co-owner responded with a tweet saying they’d love to have me drop by, and I discovered after I arrived that it’s because the chef/co-owner, Colin, is a big baseball nut and Red Sox fan. Their slogan is “Slow food, fast,” as the menu includes sandwiches, salads, and small plates that either can be cooked quickly or assembled from components that are slow-cooked ahead of time. I went with what is apparently their most popular sandwich, The Whole Bird, a seared chicken breast on toasted, house-made levain bread, with confit chicken-leg salad, crispy chicken skin, a fried egg, and mixed greens, a great mixture of flavors and textures that elevated the chicken breast (which never has much taste in my opinion no matter how it’s prepared) with the sauce from the over-medium egg, the saltiness and crunch of the skin, and a hint of bitterness from the greens. It didn’t hurt that the bread was so good either.

I ended up with two sides, their ‘little salad,’ which is mixed bitter greens (definitely kale and arugula, and I believe mustard greens among them?) with sprouted beans on top and a red wine vinaigrette; and their deviled eggs, a gift from the kitchen that I would never have ordered on my own. The egg yolks were incredibly smooth, seasoned with dill and smoked Spanish paprika, with just enough salt – I’m pretty demanding about eggs being properly salted, because as much as I love eggs, without salt you might as well send them down the disposal. Kitchen Table also serves their own popcorn on the tray with your order and I may also have eaten all of that too. (I didn’t finish everything on the tray, but the salad and sandwich together would have been a pretty filling meal even without the eggs.)

I got more recommendations for one of Kitchen Table’s neighbors, Block 16, than I did for KT, but there was no comparison between my experiences – KT was much better. Block 16’s menu is heavy, full of over-the-top combinations of burgers and sauces and fried things, and I didn’t think any of it worked that well. I chose the Croque Garçon burger, which Alton Brown tabbed as one of his five favorite burgers in the country, with ham, cheese, a fried egg, and truffle mayo, on a ciabatta roll. I hate to disagree with AB, but I can’t see it: The burger was overly salty, and if the meat was any good I couldn’t taste it under all of the toppings. (It probably wasn’t, or I might still have figured it out.) Their seasoned fries were just ordinary; Block 16 is known for a side called “duck duck goose fries” that involves duck confit, cheese, mayo, and crispy duck skin, but that just sounded too heavy and messy to even think about eating. Given the hype and the line out the door, this just didn’t measure up.

Every dinner I had in Omaha was outstanding, so I’ll go in chronological order. First was The Boiler Room, a recommendation from Sarah, our on-site makeup artist and, as I learned, food stylist too. Named for its space, the former boiler room for the 120-year-old building in which it’s located, The Boiler Room’s menu is small and very locally-driven, with six starters and six entrees the night I was there. The braised and smoked pork belly is served with mustard seeds, orange supremes, and a kohlrabi puree, but it’s the preparation of the meat itself that stands out here – I’m not sure I’ve ever had pork belly prepared anything like this, and I mean that in a good way. Pork belly has layers of fat and connective tissue between the highly flavorful meat layers, but this broad slice – like an inch-thick lardon – was meatier with very little of the less-pleasant bits in between, yet without becoming dry from the slow cooking. It may be the result of keeping the belly away from much direct heat that might toughen the meat layers, but anyway, it was superb, especially with multiple acidic elements on the plate for balance.

For the main course, I ordered the grilled hamachi steak, primarily because I wanted to try what it came with – herbed Parisian gnocchi with English peas and rock shrimp. Indeed, the gnocchi were the star; not only was the texture perfect, light but not toothless, but they had huge flavors, with at least thyme and tarragon but probably more herbs I couldn’t pick out. The fish itself was cooked to my idea of perfection, but I think that’s a bit more cooked in the center than many folks would like for a tuna steak. (I am not a fan of seared tuna preparations, where the center is cold.) I also loved the broth underneath the fish, light enough to work as a sauce for the fish while carrying some of the herbs from the gnocchi with it. Seafood in the heartland doesn’t sound like a great idea but this dish absolutely worked.

Dessert was an apricot-cherry cobbler with a shortbread topping, pistachios, and vanilla ice cream, and was also incredible – the topping was like a warm biscuit, and the fruit was tart, so the sweetness of the crust and the ice cream worked to balance it out, instead of the sweet-sweet-sweet approach of a lot of pies served a la mode. The Boiler Room also has an impressive cocktail menu and list of liquors to be served on their own, not just whiskeys but rums, tequilas, and cordials. I had something with two rums in it and I forget what else because I also had some Kirk & Sweeney’s 12-year after that. It had been a long day and I’m not sorry.

Moving along … The Grey Plume is located a bit west of the market district, and chef Clayton Chapman was a semifinalist for a Beard Award in 2015, so it was well worth the short drive. (I rented a car in Omaha, largely because I’m naked without one, but you could easily stay downtown and do without one.) The space and décor all say fine-dining, but the food itself is farm-to-table at heart, perhaps with more emphasis on presentation than you’d find at typical restaurants serving this type and caliber of food. For my starter, I went with the pork belly Dutch baby – a savory version of the eggy pancake, filled with caramelized onions, served with grapefruit supremes, orange puree, and cinnamon ‘snow.’

Pork belly Dutch baby at @thegreyplume in Omaha

A photo posted by Keith Law (@mrkeithlaw) on

The pancake and onions were my favorite aspect of the dish, although they needed something like the pork belly’s fattiness to balance it out – I just thought the combination was so clever, like a twist on the Italian chickpea crepe called a socca, but one where the onions get thoroughly caramelized first rather than merely browned in cooking. Also, as is probably clear, I’m a big fan of pork belly served with some sort of citrus element alongside it.

I didn’t want to have meat upon meat, so I went with the house-made agnolotti with chevre, pickled ramps, spring radishes, and asparagus. The agnolotti were strong, with good tooth to the pasta, but the accompaniments didn’t work on their own or with the pasta. That type of dumpling – that’s really what agnolotti is, just another shape like ravioli or tortellini – needs something more with it, whether it’s brown butter, a light broth, perhaps in this case taking the asparagus and blending it for a sauce, but something to complement the tangy flavor of the goat cheese and also allow the diner to get several components into one bite. That didn’t work here, especially not with the pickled ramps, which were huge (I’ve never seen ramp bulbs that size before) and overpowering.

And then, the dessert, the best single thing I ate in Omaha: A brioche donut, fried in duck fat, sprinkled with sugar, served with soft house-made vanilla ice cream and brown-butter crumbs. Words fail me. I ate the whole thing and I would do it again.

This, my friends, is a brioche donut … fried in duck fat. @thegreyplume

A photo posted by Keith Law (@mrkeithlaw) on

After all of the gluttony of my first 48 hours in Omaha, I wanted something lighter and went to Modern Love, a vegan restaurant a bit south of downtown. I’m obviously an omnivore, but I eat a lot of plants, and while I’m at home I seldom eat meat before dinner, sometimes not at all – but I’m rarely vegan, since I eat yogurt for lunch almost every day. (I’ve tried alternative yogurts but those are a bridge too far.) My colleague Adnan Virk joined me for the most surprising meal of the trip; everything we ate was savory and filling in ways you wouldn’t expect from food without meat, egg, or dairy.

We split a starter, Modern Love’s twist on deviled eggs, using chickpeas whipped with olive oil, stuffed into hollowed-out cucumber “cups” with pea tendrils on top. No one’s confusing the cukes for hard-boiled egg whites, but the filling itself was like a brighter hummus and it was easy to draw a parallel to deviled eggs beyond the visual, since the garbanzos and the olive oil gave the center plenty of fat.

For the main, I ordered the “mac and shews,” their version of a mac and cheese dish, using cashew-milk cheese for the sauce around the elbow-shaped pasta. The pasta was a little soft – the menu says it’s gluten-free, which is probably the reason – but the flavor was outstanding, slightly nutty, coating the pasta like any good sauce should. I was unaware that you could melt nut cheese to create anything this silky. The dish comes with roasted cauliflower in a BBQ sauce, garlicky kale leaves, spiced pecans, and cornmeal crusted tofu wedges. The last element didn’t add much, but the cauliflower and kale especially worked well to play off the smooth, mild flavor of the pasta. Adnan raved about the pesto gnocchi with asparagus, which looked from my spying of various dishes like the largest entree if you’re concerned about sating your appetite here.

Then the dessert, also Instagram-worthy: blueberry crisp with maple-walnut ice cream (made with cashew milk), toasted almonds, and coconut “whip.” This was also gluten-free, although you’d never have guessed that while eating it.

The highest praise I can give this is that you probably wouldn’t have blinked if I gave you this dessert and told you it was blueberry crisp with maple-walnut ice cream, omitting the parts about it being gluten-free and vegan. The blueberries themselves tasted like they were just picked, the crisp was chewy and lightly spiced, the ice cream itself had amazing mouth-feel for something without butterfat. The meal as a whole was incredibly satisfying without any of the things that I’d normally consider essential for satisfaction.

I tried three coffee places during the trip, two in Omaha and one in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The better place in Omaha was Archetype Coffee, in the Blackstone District, a local roaster with many single-origin options and one of the best espressos I’ve ever had – bright without being tart, naturally sweet, with good body. Their espresso blend is 60% Brazilian Nossa and 40% Ethiopian Cochere, and they had a few single-origin beans available as pour-over options and in bags. Their coffee was much better than what I had at Beansmith, located in the Old Market area downtown, where I tried a pour-over Kenyan that was very thin and a little papery, a good sign that the beans were old and/or the roast too light.

The coffee spot in Council Bluffs, drips, is actually an art gallery and vinyl record shop that happens to offer pour-overs of Dark Matter, a coffee roaster from Chicago. They had at least seven options available the day I was there, and the employee who served me spent some time describing the different coffees and notes to me. It’s across the street from a Con-Agra facility, if you happen to be in the area, although I can’t imagine what else would bring you to Council Bluffs.

Omaha’s even hip enough to have a real tea salon, The Tea Smith, with two locations, one in the Old Market area. I went just once, meeting Royals Review contributor and longtime friend Minda Haas Kuhlman there, because nothing suits a humid 90 degree tea like a cup of smoking hot sencha. The Tea Smith has a ridiculous selection of teas available hot or iced and in bulk, and I’d probably be there all the time if I lived nearby because I actually drink more tea than coffee even though I talk more about the latter.

I ate one breakfast out in Omaha, at Culprit Cafe, which is a bit more bakeshop than breakfast spot. I tried their most substantial option, the galette, a savory tart with braised beef cheeks, a poached egg, gruyère, caramelized onions, and a brown butter hollandaise – really a variation on a Benedict served on a pie crust. It was just too heavy for me, but I rarely eat big, heavy breakfasts like this – especially not with beef. The tart crust itself was amazing, though, so if you want coffee and a pastry, this is probably an ideal spot.

In the non-food department, Omaha has an amazing boardgame cafe close to the Archetype location called Spielbound, with food and drink options as well as a selection of what had to be 200+ boardgames, mostly Euros but with a good selection of family and trivia games too. They offer memberships and $5 one-day passes to use games from their libraries, which, given the list prices of many Eurogames, is a pretty good deal to try some out. I browsed for a while and learned that the classic game St. Petersburg was reissued by Z-Man Games within the last two years.

I also spent about an hour persuing the stacks at Jackson Street Booksellers in the Old Market, although I had pretty limited success in finding books to buy. Their selection of old, used, and out-of-print books is enormous, but perhaps even more eclectic and less organized than most large used bookshops I’ve visited; it’s quite possible they had more titles I wanted, but their system of filing them on the shelves is inscrutable and nobody offered to help in the hour I was there. I did walk out with Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, Philip José Farmer’s Hugo winner To Your Scattered Bodies Go, a Graham Greene short story collection, and a French version of Le Petit Prince for my daughter.

Had I had one more meal in town I would have tried The Local for their selection of over a hundred local craft beers. Oh, and no, I wasn’t interested in Runza or Zesto’s or Sullivan’s. I won’t judge you if you want to eat at places like those, but I do try to aim a little higher when it comes to feeding myself.