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.

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.