Friday, December 31, 2010

Bob's Garage - Come for the freakshow, stay for the sandwiches

A few weeks ago, a couple of work guys and I checked out Bob's Garage for lunch off Freeport Road in the nexus between the Waterworks and Blawnox. The one guy was waiting for the other two of us to walk into Bob's Garage (neither of us had been there) just to see the looks on our faces. When we walked in, the guy waiting for us said we had classic "What the f&$*?!" expressions.

If you haven't had the pleasure of going to Bob's Garage, it is currently decorated for Christmas. And by decorated, I mean it looks like Santa Claus exploded inside of the place. Every square inch of the exterior, interior, ceiling, and bar area is covered in some type of Christmas decoration. We asked the bartender how long it took them to do this and he told us it took 4 people, 10 days, working from 2 am to 8 am every night. That's 240 man-hours.

Surprisingly, the food is also halfway decent, too. This post isn't going to go into the culinary delights and ambiance of Bob's Garage. It's just a good place to grab a sandwich (their reubens are fantastic) and enjoy the garish nature of the decorations.

I was telling DB~ about this place and she was curious to check it out. We got some gift cards to Taipei, right down the street from Bob's, so after dinner on Wednesday we popped over to Bob's. She took the picture above and poked her head in as well. She was just as stunned as I was.

I've been driving by this place for years and never knew about it. It has no noticeable sign saying Bob's Garage and is non-descript to begin with. Aside from this time of year. Rumor is that they decorate for St. Patrick's Day and other holidays, but Christmas is definitely their time to shine.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Nakama - no signs of a recession here

Yesterday was DB~'s sister's birthday (happy 24th!) and she wanted to go out with some of her friends and the two of us to Nakama on the South Side. We made reservations for 6 of us at 8 pm (dining fashionably late, thank you) on a bitter cold December night.

We were running late, so we decided to valet the car, which is something I am loathe to do typically. The valet area was so crowded that the police officer on duty for extra security forced me to drop the girls off and circle around the block again. Grrr. After this extra loop, I gave the valet $7 for the privledge of him to hopefully not treat my car like the valets did in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

It had been a long time since I had been to Nakama, probably not since 2007. In my "previous life", this was a spot that my old group of friends and our spouses would go to for dinner semi-frequently, to the point that the co-owner Becky would come over and say hi to us when she saw us. I've since trimmed a huge section of those people, including my ex-wife, out of my life because I didn't like the person I had become. I equate it to the selling off of toxic assets by a bank. I had a little bit of trepidation about going there again, to be quite honest, but since DB~ had never been there I hoped I could "overwrite" my past memories with this night.

When I came in from the valet station, it was jammed solid with people in the bar area and waiting area. The people were spilling over into the raw bar/sushi area, which I'm sure made their dining experience less enjoyable. With the way people are constantly seeking the next hot spot or "it" restaurant, I thought that Nakama may have tailed off in business slightly, especially with the proliferation of teppanyaki-style restaurants in recent years. That's a big fat "wrong" on my part.

We were late for our original 8 pm reservation, so we had to wait until about 8:30 to be seated. The din in the main dining room was just as I remembered it. The clanging of the knives and spatulas. The hum of the overhead fans. The general loud voices of the all the diners. The periodic whoosh from the hibachi being lit up with a burst of flame from the chef, much to the delight of the patrons.

About 85% of the people were very well-dressed. This isn't a suit and tie/evening gown place; it's a place that you wear your clothes from Diesel, Abercrombie and Fitch, Dolce Gabana, or BCBGMaxAzria. Unless you're DBS and DB~ and you're wearing black dress pants and a black blazer from Macy's and gray pants and a shirt from Ann Taylor Loft. Most of the people are trying to be cooler than you -- dark black hipster glasses, sunglasses at night, cocktail napkins that some girls were wearing as outfits, guys with 5 o'clock shadows. I came to realization last night that most of the people probably were eating at Nakama and then heading down the block to the nightclub Diesel, because that's exactly what DB~'s sister and her friends were doing. (We did not accompany them because we are in our mid-30's and by 11 pm at least one of us is always ready for bed. Blah.)

DB~'s sister is the first person to get a repeat mention on the blog (aside from DB~ of course). The last time she was on the blog, it was when we went to Tamari for a sushi-Latin fusion experience. Asian food is not all she eats, I promise! DB~'s sister is a very quiet and reserved person typically, so naturally both DB~ and I were going to try and embarass her as much as possible last night. The first item on the to-do list was to get her to have a fancy drink out of one of their special panda mugs, but they were out of them and brought out a Buddha-looking vessel instead. Good enough. Then we ordered a round of Jager Bombs for the girls and us to put down. I won't ever tell her this verbally, but DB~ beat me by a millisecond in finishing the shot and slamming it on the table. The other 24 year old girls all delicately finished theirs and made faces while doing so, as DB~ and I laughed. At the end of dinner, I quietly mentioned to the server that it was her birthday, so they brought out a gong to set on the table and put a roman candle-sized sparkler in a bowl of ice cream while they sang Happy Birthday to her...of course attracting the attention of a good portion of the restaurant our way. Here's the Buddha-looking vessel her drink was served in:

The food itself was good as usual. You never leave Nakama hungry, that's for sure. All of us had some iteration of steak, shrimp, and/or chicken for our main portion of dinner. None of tried the Kobe Steak for $70 (!!!!). I've always been tempted to try the Chateaubriand, as I've never had it, but I was hesistant if that style of cooking it would present the best flavor of this choicest of beef cuts. At Nakama, and virtually all teppanyaki restaurants, you get an appetizer of either mushrooms or shrimp off the hibachi, a mushroom broth soup (which DB~'s sister wants me to reverse-engineer for her), a ginger dressing salad, either steamed or friend rice, and your main course. Nakama is a great restaurant, but it's not conducive to conversations aside from the people sitting directly next to you because of all the noise I described above.

It was good to go here again; I pretty much resigned myself to that being a part of my old life that I didn't need to revisit. But because both DB~ and her sister are such great and positive people, Nakama got a rebirth in my mind as a great place again. Happy Birthday to you and thanks for letting us be a part of your night with your friends...even if we are "old people".

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Elements - power lunch in the big city

As a lowly engineer, I'm not usually wined and dined. But at least today, my chains were released and a colleague and I were taken to lunch downtown by our IT consultants. The five of us went to Elements, which is the space previously occupied by Palomino.

Elements embraces the earth, wind, and fire aspects of nature as evidenced by their logo. Of course, as a downtown upscale restaurant it has a very urbane and chic interior design. The walls are a sage/taupe mix with pale purple ceilings and recessed lights that have dangling pendants. All of the servers wear black pants and cobalt blue shirts, which would have been an awkward coincidence if I wear my cobalt blue shirt and black pants as I originally anticipated on Wednesday. At the last minute, I switched to a purple shirt. So at least I wouldn't have been accused on slacking on the job as I sat down at the table to eat.

One of my lunch mates had been to Elements before for lunch and heartily endorsed two things: the pumpkin soup and the porchetta panini. I felt I had to get a glimpse of these warlocks myself, so that's what I ordered up.

The pumpkin soup is a pumpkin soup tinged with curry, intermixed with mint leaves with a scoop of crabmeat in the center. It was an intriguing mix of flavors that worked. Slight complaint - the soup came out with not an orangish/brownish tint, but rather a mustard yellow complexion. It was slightly off-putting, but the taste made up for it.

My lunch (pictured below) was the aforementioned porchetta panini, a thinly sliced section of the pork belly and side of pork. A piece of radicchio gives the panini some crunch, but I wished the meat itself had a hint more flavor. I'll leave my initial method of eating the sandwich to one of my lunch mates to explain, but suffice it to say I usually make things harder than they need to be. The sandwich was served with a side of fries that were heavily seasoned with an Old Bay type of mix. The element that was going on inside my mouth when I ate them was "fire", as in my mouth was on fire. Too much seasoning for my liking.

Two other people ordered the eggplant parm manicotti that was topped with a section of salted olives. There was a creamy sauce that it was bedded on, but I'm unsure what it made of. Both of them definitely enjoyed it. Here's a picture of the eggplant parm manicotti.

The highlight of the meal for me was the dessert we ordered (what the heck, it was on our IT consultant's expense account). For the past month, I have had an unsatiated lust for chocolate mousse. Today, for at least one day, I was able to quell the beast inside of me that constantly craves chocolate mousse. It was served as a rectangular shaped piece, alternating with chocolate cake and topped with a crunchy piece of toffee. Absolutely fantastic. Hats of to the pastry chef.

All in all, I recommend Elements highly. I would probably not order the fries again due to the excessive seasoning, but there are a multitude of other choices to choose from. Check it out even if you're not in town to close a huge deal or getting wined/dined by a consultant.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Blue Dust - venture outside the Waterfront

DB~ and I went down to the Waterfront to do a little shopping and take in a movie at Loews Theater (Love and Other Drugs -- pretty good). She asked me to pick where to go for dinner as I was staring at one of my favorite places, P.F. Chang's.

However, with every fiber I resisted the chance to choose Dan Dan Noodles and went with a place that we have been meaning to try for a while now, Blue Dust. It's located on Amity, which is the main road that you use to exit the Waterfront. But instead of going straight on to the Homestead Grays bridge, make the left and go across the railroad tracks. Blue Dust is on your left as soon as you go over the tracks. It's crazy how close it is to the Waterfront. (Note - the picture is a Googled image...our picture was dark, dreary, and slush on the sidewalk. Blah to winter already.)

You know a place is going to be quirky when they list on the door that their hours of operation are 11:37 am to 1:37 am. We were also greeted with a Mad Lib-esque billboard that told us to seat ourselves. We anticipated more of a Mighty Oak Barrel (not as expensive, though) type of restaurant with some tables and a small bar. However, it was actually more of a bar with an equal amount of tables. The bar scene was quite lively, even at 6 pm on a Friday. It was a pretty wide spectrum of ages at the bar and in the restaurant -- every type from post-college hipsters to mid-30's types to those in their 50's. DB~ wondered where all these people lived, as they sure didn't seem like they lived in Homestead. Maybe they were coming/going from the Waterfront like we were, but it seemed like some of them were regulars here.

The entire interior of Blue Dust has a mural of the Steel Valley at the height of the steel industry done in a faded deep blue paint (blue dust?). It was kind of fun to look at during dinner.

DB~ was pretty much immediately won over by not only half-price tap beers from 5 to 7, but the fact that she could get Hoegarten at half-price to boot. Seeing the tab with Hoegarten at $2.13 was refreshing.

As for the food, the word on the street is that the owner (an older man that we saw circulating) uses all the recipes that his family developed over the years. If so, his family had a very eclectic menu growing up, as there is Italian, Mexican (sort of the speciality), seafood, and barbecue on the docket. DB~ went with Eggplant Parmesan, which she loved. It had a good breading and tasty marinara sauce and was served with a portion of polenta. I chose something called the Homestead Surf and Turf -- half a crab cake sandwich and half a beef brisket sandwich. I found the brisket a little dry and it needed more sauce, but I loved the thought behind it. All sandwiches are served with nacho chips and homemade salsa.

Overall, we liked Blue Dust and would go back. The prices were very affordable for food and awesome during happy hour for beers. Next time you go to the Waterfront, go off the grid and check out Blue Dust. It will be worth the trip.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Amoeba Cities

A megalopolis is defined as a cluster of cities and their metropolitan regions that have 10 million or more people in it. Ground transportation links such as railroads and highway interconnect these cities and commute their commerce. I was surprised to learn that the United States has 13 megalopolises (or megaregions) within its borders or extending in some cases into Canada and Mexico.

Even more surprising is that Pittsburgh is part of the largest megalopolis in North America -- the Great Lakes Megalopolis. The Great Lakes Megalopolis is comprised of:
St. Louis
Kansas City
Grand Rapids

Whew! All told these regions had a 2000 census population of 53.8 million people, with a projected 2025 population of 63.7 million.

Now...I don't know about you, but I don't feel any kinship with my brethern in, say, Grand Rapids. Couldn't tell you much about Milwaukee and have no bond with Dayton. I've been to Akron and it really sucks as a city.

I'm wondering if in our current lifetimes we will ever see two cities actually expand towards each other, like amoebas blindly flailing away in the primordial ooze. Our closest major urban neighbor is Cleveland, which I have been to twice this year already. It has its share of problems, both financial and social, but it has promise as well. Cleveland is virtually Pittsburgh's sister city as it is.
The technology that will foster the amoeba city migration is high-speed rail. Currently it takes a shade over 2 hours and 15 minutes to drive from downtown Pittsburgh to downtown Cleveland (traffic not withstanding). That's at a cruising speed of 75 mph. What if you could get there in half the time on a dedicated high-speed rail line? What would that do for business? Imagine getting up at your usual wake-up time and going to Cleveland for a 9 am meeting. Heck, what would that do for pleasure? A Clevelander could dine at Salt of the Earth at 7 pm and still be comfortably back by the 10 pm news. A Pittsburgh could enjoy Lola and then sit back and be swept back home at 160 mph.

Our world is simply getting smaller. Information is available instantly at our fingertips now. We can Skype in with people anywhere in the world. Sadly, our businesses know no bounds -- products are made and sold everywhere in the world. But our transportation network, at least in the United States, is still modeled from the 1960's gas guzzling era.

High-speed rail came into the national discussion recently when these two forward thinking governor-elects, from Ohio and Wisconsin, turned down $1.2 BILLION dollars to construct high-speed rail lines in their states. These weren't planning studies, either. These were funds to construct high-speed rail linkages between the major cities in these states. Ohio turned down $400 million to link Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus. Wisconsin rejected $810 million to link Madison and Milwaukee. Both were concerned that the operating and maintenance costs would outweigh the revenue received.

While that's valid, it's also short-sighted. Companies and residents alike would flock to the opportunity to have that much freedom to move goods and be transported. It would be a model for the rest of the United States, especially in this era when everyone is trying to prove how green they are compared to the next guy. High-speed rail is king in Europe, where gas prices are nearly double what they are here. But therein lies the problem...we are a nation suckling at the teat of the oil industry, both domestic and foreign sources. Until we wake up and realize what we're doing, we'll never see what we are missing.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bryan Adams, Pittgirl, and one strange night

Periodically, DB~ is able to score some tickets to various Cultural District venues thanks to a connection. Yesterday, she texts me "Want to go see Bryan Adams?" By myself, "no", but I sensed that the answer for "we" was "yes". Besides, I owed her one for dragging her to see Electric Six at Brillobox this time last year.

So we met in town for a great dinner at Six Penn, which I anticipated would be the crux of my post tonight (DB~ had a lobster/crab risotto, I had a Cracklin' Pork Shank that was sublime), but what I thought would be a staid and boring acoustic concert by some Canuck turned out to be an enjoyable night. Especially for the wide spectrum of people that turned out for the show.

As soon as we got to the Byham and arrived at our seats, neither of our rear ends graced the cushion before we got turned to each other and whispered "Hey, that's Pittgirl!" Sure enough, we were sitting 3 rows behind Virginia Montanez and her husband. DB~ was a big fan of Pittgirl until she revealed her identity and then the mystery was all gone for her and she sort of lost interest. She was representin' by wearing a black and yellow scarf. Wiz Khalifa would be proud.

The interesting thing that we noticed is that Pittgirl is hearing impaired. She wears a hearing aid in each ear, but had her hair up in a ponytail tonight, revealing them to us sitting behind her.

I came into this show thinking I didn't know many Bryan Adams songs, and I probably knew only 60%, but he does have a lot of hits that you sort of forget about. But the hooting and hollering ladies in the racuous crowd sure didn't forget about them. I had no idea that even in his early 50's (my guess) that he was still a sex symbol. He has kept himself in remarkably good shape, especially for his age.

This show was on his Bare Bones tour. It was just Bryan, his guitar, and a piano with a player named Gary. And a sound tech, who for the first half of the show was the unofficial 3rd member. I don't know if Bryan Adams is a perfectionist or just fussy, but he switched off his guitar to have it tuned at least 4 times and he asked to have the piano re-tuned 2 times. Normally, this would have ruined the show for me, but during these interludes Bryan would interact with the crowd. At times it seemed like we were at a comedy show. He would humorously stare down people who were late arriving down front, answer people who would incessantly shout out requests, and ask for the house lights to be turned on so he could check out the crowd.

DB~ was sitting next to a lady who would just keep screaming "Puerto Rico Loves You!!!" over and over. DB~ also was grossed out that she smelled like she stepped right out from the Phillip Morris cigarette testing lab to come to the concert.

There was also a very inebriated lady with a white flower in her hair who kept trying to storm the stage and was repeatedly restrained by security. At one point she blurted out "I'm gonna be a grandma!" These were just some of the many oddballs in the crowd that ranged from late teens to early 60's in age. Very eclectic.

I realized as you listen to these songs stripped down that all of Bryan Adams' songs are about 1 on 1 interactions with a girl. All of his lyrics are like the first 5 minutes of conversation that a guy has with his girlfriend at various points in a relationship. In a way, it reminded me of a quote I heard from the lead singer of Semisonic in the late 90's. He said "I write all my lyrics as if I'm whispering them into my wife's ear."

As for the stage, it was also bare bones. There were only a few spotlights on Bryan and his pianist, Gary. At times, there were some footlights that shined up on them, which reminded me of a Norah Jones concert I went to a while ago. It was a very simple, yet elegant setpiece of English lamposts and mellow amber lighting. I felt like she was singing to us from the streets of London.

I imagine that during his heyday Bryan Adams was a chain smoking, womanizing a-hole, but time smoothes out many rough edges. I found him to be without any pretensions and quite engaging. He invited people down from the balcony to the few prime seats empty in front of him. At one point, a wiseacre in the balcony shouted out "Freebird!" so sure enough he and Gary cranked up an impromptu version of the classic, much to the delight of the crowd.

At the end of the night, someone gave him a bouquet of flowers and someone else gave him a Terrible Towel. Frankly, I'm surprised no woman tossed her panties on stage. It was that kind of night.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

DBS' Top 30 2011 Pirate Prospects - #1 to #5

I'm sure that all 6 of you that regularly read this blog are breathlessly awaiting the final 5 prospects, so without further ado...(Again, age is the player's 2011 season age and my projected starting assignment follows)

5. Rudy Owens (23) LHP, AAA -- Does he have a man-perm? Yes. Is he a "soft tossing lefty"? Well, maybe a shade more than that. Ultimately, I think Owens will be a cross between Paul Maholm and Zach Duke, with a touch more velocity. He sits low 90's with his FB and his secondary stuff, including his change, is above average. For that reason and due to his near-major-league-readiness, I've included Rudy Owens in nearly every trade proposal package I've made this offseason. I would love to see him in Pittsburgh, especially after his 150 IP, 124 H, 23 BB, 132 K performance this year, along with a .226 BAA and 1.32 GO/AO ratio, but he may bring us more value in a trade.

4. Tony Sanchez (23) C, AA -- The only thing keeping Sanchez from #2 on this list is his injury-riddled 2010. He got hit in his cake cruncher twice, the second time fractured his jaw and ended his season too early. He also had a severe drop off in throwing performance this year, due to a lingering shoulder injury of some sort. At the plate, he was fantastic again in High A with a .314/.416/.454 (870 OPS) with his great plate discipline (15% BB rate, 20% K rate). But a catcher who can't throw and stay healthy can't play many other positions....

3. Starling Marte (22) OF, AA -- And here's the other poster child for the Training Room Most Valuable Player in 2010. Marte apparently lines his uniform with baseball-attracting magnets, because he has been hit by pitches an abnormally high number of times. It must be that he's crowding the plate or diving in too much. This year he broke his hamate (same as Alvarez and Tabata did in the past) and missed a chunk of the season. A broken hamate saps power numbers. The good news is that Marte hasn't displayed power yet. He did put up a High A line of .319/.387/.460 (847 OPS) with 26 steals in 35 attempts. His defensive reputation is also top-notch, so he's at least working with 4 tools, including the all-important hit tool.

2. Bryan Morris (24) RHP, AAA -- Morris had a huge rebound year after a disasterous 2009 that saw his injured and then suspended for a bad attitude. His 2010 was dominant in High A and then merely very good in Double A. His combined line of 133 IP, 124 H, 38 BB, 124 K's is remarkably similar to Owens and Locke's lines from this year as all three had great control numbers and just under 9 K/9 IP. Morris gets the extra credit for greater velocity and being promoted more aggressively in the past than both Locke and Owens. Remember how Owens was stalled out in Low A for way too long in 2009? And Locke was dominant in High A this year? Morris (and Owens for that matter) may see some time in Pittsburgh this year, especially after the June Super 2 deadline farce.

1. Jameson Taillon (19) RHP, SS/A -- A high school pitcher who hasn't thrown a pitch in anger yet as a Pirate is #1 on this list? Yep, that's what happens when you are this year's "IT" pitcher. Taillon is a 6'7" monster from the Woodlands of Texas (same area as Kyle Drabek) and has the upper 90's heat and present day secondary pitches to enable people to call him a future #1 pitcher and be able to keep a straight face. The interesting thing to watch is where the Pirates place Taillon to start the season. If he is truly on the fastest of fast tracks, they will place him in Low A where he can start in May after one month in extended and still get 22 starts at 5 innings per start to conserve his arm. If he is in State College in mid-June, it will be a little bit of a disappointment. Either way, the Ace of The Future is here in Taillon. Let's hope he delivers.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

DBS' Top 30 2011 Pirate Prospects - #6 to #10

Let's continue marching towards the top of the list. Time to enter the Top 10....

10. Chase d'Arnaud (24) SS/2B, AAA -- I still believe. d'Arnaud had a down season in 2010 with his triple slash line of .247/.331/.377 (708 OPS), but his walk rate was still slightly over 10%. His K rate did increase to just under 20%, though. There were rumors that d'Arnaud was battling pneumonia at the start of the season, but he never used it as an excuse. The bottom line is that he should move up to Triple A in 2011 and hopefully regain his mojo. There are some lingering doubts if he could play shortstop full time in the majors, but it sure would be helpful if he could at least be competent with his batting potential and speed (33 SB/40 ATT).

9. Colton Cain (20) LHP, A -- I love lefties that can gas it in the mid 90's and Cain has that potential. Cain was sidelined at the start of the year recovering from offseason back surgery, but he was ready for a brief GCL stint in June and was then moved to State College for the remainder of the year. His overall line of 48 IP, 35 H, 19 BB, and 47 K's was very positive, as was his .197 BAA. His GO/FO rate of 0.54 was a little disturbing. Cain should move up to Low A West Virginia and be part of a tantalizing rotation of ZVR, Taillon, Cain, and some others from State College (Dodson, Fuesser, Stevenson, Pounders). Cain should be recovered fully from his back injury (he was sitting 89-92 in 2010 on his FB) and be able to incorporate his slider more effectively.

8. Luis Heredia (16) RHP, R -- There are exceptions to every rule and Heredia is proof of that. In the past, I have been very militant against including internationals in the Top 30 polls until they hit the states. But Heredia is such a special talent, as evidenced by his $2.6M bonus (by far the largest international bonus in Pirate history) that the rules must be changed. The rumors are that Heredia already sits 92 with his FB at 16 years old, with plenty of room on his 6'6" (that's huge at 16, especially for a Mexican) and 185 lb frame. He will be right next to Taillon in terms of pitchers to watch this upcoming year. The only reason he's not higher is that he has miles and miles to go until he's close to the majors. But he is 16.

7. Jeff Locke (23) LHP, AA/AAA -- Locke came over in the McLouth trade and may be the Pirates best hope to salvage the trade, as Morton has struggled in the majors and Gorkys Hernandez is struggling to hit in AA. Locke is slightly more than a "soft tossing lefty" as he sits 89-91 with his FB and has a curve and changeup that are at least average. Locke very quietly had a fantastic year over two levels. He always seemed to be in someone's shadow this year...first in Morris's shadow at A+, then Owens's shadow in AA. Locke's combined stat line was 144 IP, 139 H, 26 BB, and 139 K's with a .251 BAA and 1.15 GO/AO rate. As shown above, Locke has fantastic control and enough swing and miss in his arsenal. He may be held back at AA as he had "only" 10 starts there, but realistically the AAA rotation should be his destination.

6. Stetson Allie (20) RHP, SS -- Allie was the 2nd most talked about draft pick by the Pirates in 2010. That happens when you're a high school senior that sits 95 on his FB and hit 100 during the year. Allie will probably be given the State College treatment in 2011, but it would be fantastic if he could open 2011 in Low A. Something to keep in the back of your mind...Allie is an older first year player as his March 13th birthday makes him 1 "year" older than most 2010 HS draftees. My only fear is that Allie is able to harness his fastball and develop some secondary pitches. I have the Ghost of Colt Griffin haunting my prospect dreams.

One list left to go...The Top 5 prospects as rated by me.

Friday, November 26, 2010

DBS' Top 30 2011 Pirate Prospects - #11 - #15

Hopefully the tryptophan from the turkey has worn off from everybody. Let's get back to ranking prospects, this time starting into the top half of the list. As a reminder, the number in parentheses is the player's age during the 2011 season, as of July 1st. The level designation is my projected level that he will start the season at in 2011.

15. Andrew Lambo (22) OF, AA/AAA -- Lambo is the Shiny New Toy in the system, coming over with James McDonald for Octavio Dotel. Some would say that just having McDonald has already made the trade a win for the Pirates, but I would like to see a full season of him. Lambo is the "fallen angel" prospect that Huntington has been trying to scoop up during his tenure (Tabata, Laroche, Alderson, for example). Lambo was rated the Dodgers #1 prospect in 2009 after putting up a .295/.351/.482 (833 OPS) across two levels as a 19-year-old in 2008's season.

But then the trouble started for Lambo. Rumors that he was lazy and had a bad attitude started to surface. His defense was, at best, a secondary concern for him. He was suspended for performance enhancing drugs in May 2010 and while it was not revealed which drug, Lambo was caught in high school smoking marijuana. Even ESPN alluded to marijuana in their report of his suspension. All of these things, plus a drop in on-field performance, allowed him to be available to the Pirates.

Most people are automatically putting Lambo in the Pirates' Top 10. I see a guy confined to LF, even though defensively he should be at 1B (but doesn't have the bat for it) with a bad attitude. I think I will regret having him THIS high come next year.

14. Zack Von Rosenberg (20) RHP, A -- During the Great Pirates Over Slot Draft of 2009, ZVR was the belle of the ball. Signed away from an "iron-clad" LSU committment, ZVR had the frame (6'5") and the ability to add weight (205) to get the projectability tag put on him. He was to have 4 average to plus pitches at his peak, based on his present ability and projection. But a funny thing happened... to date his fastball is still in the mid to high 80's. The Pirates also put all their short-season guys on a strict fastball command program, and in some cases take away their off-speed stuff. This greatly deflates K rates in a person's stats. ZVR was at State College the whole year, which also was disappointing.

He did finish the season extremely strong, especially his last 8 to 10 starts. His overall line of 59 IP, 60 H, 13 BB, 39 K with a 3.20 ERA isn't particularly impressive but it hints at things to come. ZVR should start off the year with Low A West Virginia in what should be a very interesting rotation to watch.

13. Jarek Cunningham (21) 2B, A+ -- Cunningham was drafted in 2008 and put up one of the finest GCL seasons by a HS player in the last 20 years. Then he ripped his ACL and missed all of 2009, on the heels on him having knee surgery in HS (which caused him to drop to the 18th round in 2008). Cunningham came back in 2010 and put together a very solid season...positive for the extra base power, negative for the K/BB rate. He had a .258/.309/.436 (745 OPS) but had 56 extra base hits (37 2B, 7 3B, and 12 HR's), which is just a huge number. Especially for a middle infielder. The downside was his 6% BB rate and 27% K rate. Scouts say that he has trouble with offspeed stuff, but is just murder on a fastball.

As can be said with every prospect, this is an important season. I'm willing to give Cunningham a pass on the K/BB rate due to rust, but it has to improve in 2011. Ultimately, I think he moves to 3B, especially if the bat continues to have thunder in it.

12. Alex Presley (25) OF, AAA/MLB -- Alex Presley, prior to 2010, was an afterthought in the Pirates' system. He was more in danger of being released than in appearing on this list. But after an off-season training with Jim Negrych and getting hitting tips from him, Presley started hitting and never stopped over two levels, earning himself a September cup of coffee with the Pirates.

Presley hit .350/.399/.533 (932 OPS) with Altoona and then upon promotion to AAA hit .294/.349/.460 (809 OPS). His combined counting stats had 28 2B, 13 3B, 12 HR's, and 13 SB's. Presley is most likely a 4th OF at best, but that still has value. Depending on how things go this winter with Huntington's moves, Presley has an outside chance of being on the roster for the Pirates next year to start the season.

11. Justin Wilson (23) LHP, AAA -- Wilson was drafted in 2008 fresh off the heels of a fantastic College World Series. Wilson has all the pitches you need to be successful as a starter, but they all have so much movement that it leads to poor control numbers. This year at AA, Wilson was part of the fantastic rotation with Owens, Locke, and Morris. At times, he was the 4th Musketeer of the group. His overall line of 142 IP, 109 H, 71 BB, and 134 K's shows the best and worst of him. His BB rate of 4.5 BB/9 is unacceptable for a starter in MLB, but the 8.6 K/9 shows he has the swing and miss stuff.

Wilson will probably spend all year at AAA, unlike Owens and Morris who may debut this year, in an effort to determine if he will be a starter or a reliever long-term.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ricotta Gnudi (yeah, I laugh at the pronunciation too)

DB~ and I have been together nearly 2 years, but she still is revealing interesting little facets to me. It's her off-handed manner of these reveals that I find most enjoyable. Not all are earth-shattering; some are rather mundane, like the one a couple of weeks ago we she says unprovoked "I really like the taste of ricotta cheese".

This from a half-Italian that doesn't like red sauce on her pasta (can't trust someone who doesn't like red sauce, right?). Since I love to cook for her, I wanted to find an interesting way to incorporate ricotta cheese into a dish.

Enter the gnudi (pronounced "nude-e").

I hear about it as an alternative to gnocchi, which I like but can be a little heavy at times. I looked online for recipes for gnudi and it seemed relatively easy to make. Here's the recipe that I used this past weekend:

15 oz container of ricotta cheese
1 egg
3/4 cup of flour
1/2 cup of parm cheese
Enough chopped spinach to make it look good (very scientific)
1/2 tsp of nutmeg
1/2 tsp of salt
1/2 tsp of pepper

Mix all of these ingredients together in a bowl. Then take small golf ball sized balls out and roll them into a log shape. Alternatively, you can take the whole ball from the mixing bowl and roll it into a huge 1-inch diameter log and chop it into segments.

Regardless, I got about 10-12 logs out of this recipe. Roll them lightly in flour on a board and then drop them into a stockpot of boiling water. Cook them for 4 minutes until they float to the surface. Take them out individually with a slotted spoon.

I served them with a basil-cream sauce:
1 cup of heavy cream
Handful of shredded basil
2 tbsp of flour to thicken
Salt, pepper to taste
1 tsp of garlic

I heated this up on medium heat until the sauce thickened and served it hot over the drained gnudi.

DB~ whipped up a baked brie for us (and we had a somewhat standard bagged salad) to go with the meal. The baked brie was pretty simple to make:
1 sheet of puff pastry, defrosted
1 8 oz wheel of brie
Blackberry jelly

She spread the jelly in the center of the unfolded pastry sheet, in a circle the same size as the diameter of the brie. The brie was place on top of the jelly and baked for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Let it cool for a few minutes to solidify the brie a little bit.

DB~ was awesome in the kitchen this weekend at my family's vacation home. She really put something extra into her kitchen skills. Not sure exactly what, can't put my finger on it, but I just wanted to say thank you.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

DBS' Top 30 2011 Pirate Prospects - #16 to #20

After this post, we'll be halfway through the list. I probably pick this up on Sunday, as DB~ and I are taking a short getaway this weekend.

20. Mel Rojas (21) OF, A -- Rojas was a 2010 draftee that is said to be a complete toolshed, but very raw. He had an atrocious debut at State College this summer with a .207/.309/.250 (559 OPS) line in 164 AB's. Rojas struck out in over 25% of his at-bats. You'll see a lot of other sites that rank Rojas higher, but I'm a 60% performance/40% potential guy. Frankly, I'm surprised I don't have him lower.

19. Jorge Bishop (20) 2B/SS, SS/A -- Bishop is part of Huntington's initial International Draft class in 2008. He was, however, a very unheralded signing of roughly $25K. Bishop in the DSL in 2009 and GCL in 2010 tailed off at the end of each season. Long-term Bishop is a 2B, unless he bulks up too much. His 2010 GCL season line was .257/.305/.421 (726 OPS). He had 4 HR and 12 SB, while striking out less than 20% of the time. At the time of his signing, Bishop was 5'10" and 152 pounds, so hopefully he can grow a couple of inches and pack on some weight, which would help his ability to finish the season out. Bishop's is slightly older than the typical 2008 International, so it would be wise to push him to Low A.

18. Exicardo Cayonez (19) OF, A -- Cayonez is also part of the 2008 International Draft class and was a higher profile signing, as evidenced by his $400,000 bonus. This was the largest International bonus prior to Luis Heredia this year. Cayonez's strongest tool is the "hit" tool. In 2010 in the GCL, Cayonez went .263/.369/.362 (731 OPS) with a 10% BB rate and 20% K rate. The downside is that Cayonez does not have a lot of present power, with no HR and only 13 total XBH in 152 AB's. If Cayonez stays as a corner OF, he will need to develop that tool. As Cayonez's approach is a little more advanced, it would surprise me if he were NOT at Low A West Virginia to start the year.

17. Nick Kingham (19) RHP, SS -- Kingham was part of the 2010 Draft smorgasbord of RHP taken. Kingham has the kind of frame that leaves scouting directors drooling...6'5" and 220 pounds. This allows you to dream that his present-day low 90's FB will get into the mid 90's in a few years. Kingham only had 3 cameo innings at GCL, but Kingham will be placed in the State College tank like all of 2009 pitchers did this year. With the potential glut of pitchers at Low A this year, I expect the Pirates to keep Kingham at State College all year.

16. Eric Avila (21) 3B, A -- Avila was an older arrival to the States from the International side of things, but he had a great 2010 season (albeit as a 20 year old in the GCL). Avila's line of .277/.327/.472 (799 OPS) was highlighted by 7 HR's and 9 SB's, all while playing a competent hot corner. Due to his age, Avila needs to be bumped up to Low A to start 2011.

Halfway through and there's still a lot of interesting names to discuss.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

DBS' Top 30 2011 Pirate Prospects - #21 to #25

Yesterday we kicked this off with prospects numbered 26 to 30. Let's keep this rolling...

25. Nathan Adcock (23) RHP, AA -- Adcock came over with Brett Lorin and Aaron Pribanic in the Clement/Cedeno/Jack Wilson/Ian Snell swap meet. To date, Adcock has been the most successful of the three, although Pribanic seems to be on track to at least be a middle reliever. At this point, Adcock's average stuff (88-90 mph FB, curve, change) is playing well. His age of 23 during the 2011 season is in his favor and he should start off at Altoona. Adcock may be a back-end starter option in 2012/2013. Adcock pitched 141 IP, gave up 131 H, walked 38, and struck out 113. His groundout/airout rate was a healthy 1.42.

24. Josh Harrison (24) 2B/3B, AAA -- Harrison is the lone healthy man standing from the Tom Gorzellany trade. Both Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio are injured and their futures are uncertain with the Pirates. Harrison has turned himself into a viable utility man option with the Pirates. This year in Altoona, Harrison had a line of .300/.345/.398 with 19 steals. Harrison doesn't walk a lot (roughly 6%), but he also doesn't strike out much (10%). I saw him twice in Altoona this year and the ball sounds louder when it comes off his bat than other players. His downside is that his defense is not very smooth, which precludes hopes he could be an everyday player.

23. Brock Holt (23) SS/2B, A+/AA -- Holt exploded out of the gate this year with a line of .351/.410/.438 before ripping his ACL in June. It really put a damper on what was an exciting start for him. Holt was already aggressively placed in High A in 2010, so there is a chance he has to start there in 2011. Hopefully he will get a mid-season promotion to AA.

22. Matt Hague (25) 1B, AAA -- Hague was part of the 2008 draft that netted Alvarez, Chase d'Arnaud, Jordy Mercer, Robbie Grossman, Quinton Miller and others. Hague has very quietly gone about his business and had a line of .295/.375/.442 in Altoona. Hague also has the reputation of being a solid defender at 1B. Hague had a near 1:1 ratio of BB/K (61 BB v. 62 K) this year, but the concern is that he won't have enough power to justify being a full time 1B. Hague had 15 HR's this year and 30 2B's. Perhaps at his best case Hague could be a JT Snow type of player, but is more likely to be a part-time player.

21. Matt Curry (22) 1B, A/A+ -- Curry was a 2010 draftee from TCU. He came out hot at State College, cooling a little at the end of the year, but still had a nice debut of .299/.421/.477 (898 OPS) with 7 HR in 197 AB's. His K/BB rates were great with a 20% BB rate and an acceptable 25% K rate. Curry may combine the best traits of the 1B-men in the system...Hague's patience, Aaron Baker's power, and Calvin Anderson's....well, Curry is pretty good. Unfortunately, he's kind of locked in the totem pole. Hague will be at AAA, Calvin will be at AA, Baker will be at A+. Unless they move one of them to the outfield or skip a level with someone, Curry may be stuck at Low A unless he's too good to keep there all year.

Tomorrow we'll keep on truckin' with #16-#20.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

DBS' Top 30 2011 Pirates Prospects - #26 to #30

It's time for the 2nd annual and hotly-anticipated DBS Top 30 Pirate Prospects for 2011! Contain yourself and maintain professionalism, please.

The requirements to be on the Top 30 list are similar to Baseball America's thresholds for rookie eligibility -- 50 innings pitches and 130 at-bats in the majors.

The age in parentheses is the players 2011-season age (using July 1 as the cutoff) and the level is my projected starting assignment.

30. Quinton Miller (21) RHP, A+ -- Miller was part of Neal Huntington's first draft as GM of the Pirates in 2008. I sometimes refer to Robbie Grossman and Quinton Miller as being an oasis in the desert for Pirate prospectors. For years, Dave Littlefield's drafts consisted of college players of all shapes and sizes. Rarely were high-end high school players, let alone over-slot players, brought into the system. So when Miller, a highly touted North Carolina recruit, was signed there was mass rejoicing.

Things have been slow going at best, teeth-grinding at worst for Miller. He has fought injuries for both of his first 2 full seasons with the Pirates. This year, Miller only pitched 66 innings (primarily at Low A West Virginia), giving up 71 hits, walking 17, and striking out 38. Not only did he not build up his arm any further, but he didn't strike many people out. The good news is that Miller had a 1.64 ground out/air out rate, but he has definitely been eclipsed in the pecking order by 2009 and 2010 draftees.

29. Evan Chambers (22) OF, A+ -- Chambers is perhaps the most puzzling player to rank in all of the Pirates' system. With a shape like Kirby Puckett, but none of his contact skills, Chambers offers a tantalizing mix of speed/power/patience. This year in Low A WV, Chambers put up a triple slash line of .239/.384/.386 (770 OPS) with 12 HR's, 35 SB's and a pile of walks (92 to be exact). Chambers possesses all 5 tools, except the most important one -- the hit tool. There is a school of thought that Chambers desire to display patience gets him into too many 2 strike counts, leading to his high K rate and lowers his batting average. Late in the year, coaches tried to make him more aggressive. Right now he has too many tools to ignore, but 2011 needs to be a turning point for him.

28. Diego Moreno (24) RHP, AA -- Moreno is a pure relief pitching prospect, with no chance of him being a starter. But this has allowed him to be rated as one of the top relief prospects in all of minor league baseball, thanks to his blazing upper 90's fastball, rated anywhere from a 70 to 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale.

Moreno started the season in High A and embarrassed the league (38 IP, 14 H, 5 BB, 57 K's, 1.17 ERA) before getting bumped up to AA. He had a setback there and encountered a disciplinary problem that got him sent back briefly to High A Bradenton. Moreno will be sent to Altoona to start 2011 and hopefully get bumped up to AAA by July. Moreno is still a great candidate to be a member of the Pirates' bullpen, but the discipline problem and his age are starting to act against him.

27. Nate Baker (23) LHP, A+/AA -- Baker is one of those guys that is going to have to work for it at every level. He's never going to be aggressively promoted or highly hyped, but if he keeps producing like he did in 2010, he'll find a spot in PNC eventually. Baker had 16 starts in Low A and 9 in High A with very similar results. His overall numbers for the season were 132 IP, 110 H, 37 BB, 94 K's and a 1.14 GO/AO rate with a 3.00 ERA. His arsenal is average stuff across the board, but he has "pitchability". So there's that.

26. Brian Friday (25) 2B/SS, AAA/MLB -- Friday may very well have already debuted with the Pirates if he weren't apparently constructed out of glass. In 2010, Friday again missed significant time and only appeared in 103 games (93 in AAA). He had a fair season of .257/.347/.378 (725 OPS) while having steady, if unspectacular, defense. His upside at this point is a utility infielder, but due to his proximity to making the majors he still gets a spot on my Top 30 for one more year.

The fun will continue tomorrow with #21 to #25.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Anniversary to DBS

One year ago today, this blog launched as a place for me to keep my thoughts in a semi-permanent state. In recent months, I have reviewed some posts to see how my ideas played out and, for the most part, they have held up well.

Not a true post tonight (feeling massively uninspired lately), but just wanted to wish a happy anniversary to my alter ego....Dale Berra's Stash.

More to come soon -- like my Top 30 Pirates Prospects. Always a crowd favorite.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wild Rosemary - save your pennies and go here

Last night, I journeyed to the strange land known as the South Hills of Pittsburgh to meet DB~ for dinner. She selected Wild Rosemary as the place to go for dinner last night. We have talked about going here for a while now and it was well worth the wait.

Wild Rosemary only has 8 to 10 tables tops, so a reservation is a must. They pretty much seat people in flights. We had the 6 pm to 7:30 pm sector. When we left, we were pretty sure the people sitting in their Lexus SUV were waiting for us to go so they could get our table.

Wild Rosemary is an absolute jewel of a restaurant. DB~ described the decor as "shabby chic". It has a refined country feel to it, with its distressed cabinetry painted cornflower blue and the presence of wooden reeds and corn-husk-looking lights in the front windows.

Our experience started with a complimentary starter of pumpkin soup, but it was the vessel that it was served in that won us over. The soup was served in a small, hollowed-out pie pumpkin and the top was cut off on a biased angle. This allowed you to use your spoon to scoop directly out of the pumpkin, rather than having to get it out of the top of the pumpkin. Just take a look at the picture, as I really screwed up that description. (Wow, what a nice looking ring on DB~'s hand!)

For dinner, DB~ went with the Sea Bass that was served in one of the largest soup bowl ever designed. The sea bass was in a risotto salad broth. There were some zucchini slices and tomato chunks intermixed with the risotto salad broth, as well. DB~ felt a little guilty leave a small chunk of the sea bass in her bowl, but it wasn't really enough to take home. Her meal also came with a few leaves of romaine lettuce topped with a ginger/soy dressing.

I wasn't feeling like having seafood last night, which was half of the Wild Rosemary menu last night, so I went boring and got the Strip Steak. DB~ chided me a little bit for my "safe" choice, but when it came to the table it was worth it. The steak, which I ordered medium-well, was done perfectly. I mean...perfectly. I hate cutting into a steak and then my plate looks like the scene of the Tate-Bianca murders. When I cut this steak, it was still juicy and just a hint of pink. The steak had a red wine demi-glaze sauce over top of the well seasoned meat, plus some fire roasted tomatoes.

On my plate, I also had a stacked scalloped potato that was thin slices of the potato with some cheese melted between each layer. I also had a salad on my plate that was called "rocket" on the menu. When we asked what that meant, our server said it was an organic arugula, but we still didn't understand why it was called rocket. Whatever, it was fantastic with the julienned tomatoes and balsamic dressing.

We spoke with one of the owners briefly after our meal (she was the hostess) and she told us that there are 3 women that own the restaurant. In addition to herself, the chef named Gloria and the baker with the blond hair are the other pieces of the triumvirate of ownership. Our table was not next to the window looking into the restaurant, but we could still see in to it. Gloria was working feverishly all night to prepare the delicious dishes.

Wild Rosemary is a locovore restaurant, meaning that they attempt to use only locally produced foods. They thanked a particular farm market on their menu last night, which I can't remember the name of right now.

The only downside is that Wild Rosemary is it's expensive. The entrees ranged from $31 for a roasted chicken dish to $43 for the majority of the dishes. It's not a place that you go every week, but definitely if you have a special occasion or are willing to splurge.

Friday, November 5, 2010

California Pizza Kitchen - I hope this little upstart makes it

Pretty much all the restaurants I've blogged about are local restaurants, maybe a restaurant that has 2 locations tops. Well, I'm not a total chain-snob, as one of my personal favorite restaurants has come to Pittsburgh (finally).

California Pizza Kitchen only seems as if they have a location everywhere but Pittsburgh. The closest they seem to be, before now, was Philly. And everyone knows that unless you have family there, there's no reason to visit Philly.

On a chilly Wednesday night, DB~ and I met at Ross Park Mall (in the site of the old Lens Crafters) to sample the delicious mallside pizzas created here. The decor inside is suburban chic, with good lighting but very clean and neat lines and building materials. The kitchen is wide open so you can watch the food being prepared. I watched the army of people (estimated 15 in the kitchen plus 10 on the floor like servers) scurrying around completing their tasks.

I went with my personal favorite, the California Club. It has chicken chunks and bacon on it, then is topped when it comes out with lettuce dipped in mayo and slices of avacodo and tomato. Here's a picture of my half-eaten pizza. Again, DB~ had to remind me to take pictures. Worst. Food Blogger. Ever.

DB~ went with the Goat Cheese and Roasted Peppers pizza, but it actually has a bunch more veggies on it like eggplant, red and yellow peppers, and carmelized onions. For a borderline vegetarian like DB~, this was a perfect choice. Here's her pizza:

Most of their pizzas can be topped with a protein, like chicken or shrimp, for a extra charge. And also for an extra charge all pizzas can be made on their thin crust, which is almost like a flatbread in crispness.

Another good thing about California Pizza Kitchen is that they have a full bar, so feel free to go get crunked in the middle of shopping for gifts this upcoming holiday season. One of these days I'll have to get something other than a pizza here, as they have a very extensive menu. But for now I'll keep sampling some of the other delicious creations that come in a round shape.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Emptying out the Fridge

I hate throwing food away so on Friday night we pretty much emptied out the fridge on to the countertop to see what we could make. DB~ had to do work on Friday night, so we were eating at home, but I didn't have anything specific in mind.

I knew I wanted to make a pork tenderloin, but wasn't sure what to do with. I had some risotto, but didn't have a good vegetable to toss into it for flavoring. But what I did have was some Kit Kat candy bars, some fresh-frozen blueberries from my neighbor's blueberry bush, and a hankering to incorporate some maple syrup somehow.

What I came up with was a blueberry maple syrup sauce to put over top of a roasted pork tenderloin. First I rolled the tenderloin around in a brown sugar-water mix and then quick seared it in a skillet. I placed it into a baking dish and baked it for 45 minutes.

While that was going, DB~ was in charge of the risotto. She pretty much stared a hole through the saucepan as she concentrated intently on the stirring and preparation of the risotto. We chopped a little red onion to put in it and some Italian seasoning like oregano and garlic salt. I then took the Kit Kat and grated them finely to get the chocolate, but stopped when I heard the wafers start to scrape. DB~ mixed that it right at the end and said, "This looks like Count Chocula cereal."

We started to look up California Pizza Kitchen's menu online. Just in case.

Right before the tenderloin was due to come out, I pureed the blueberries and mixed in some maple syrup. It ended up being a little too pancake-on-Sunday tasting for our liking, but it was still good over the tenderloin. The risotto was very good as well, even if it looked a little strange.

We didn't have to pull the ripcord and go to CPK and we (I) got to empty out the fridge ahead of a new trip to Giant Eagle. Good times all around.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Public Record - peeling back the layers of Pittsburgh's history

The Post-Gazette had an article on Wednesday about a multi-media project called Public Record. It's a book, art exhibition, poetry reading, and iPhone application. It's meant to give us a glimpse back to a time when Pittsburgh was very rough around the edges. A time when it was, if not socially acceptable, at least well overlooked to kill an Irish immigrant that stepped out of line. A time when gambling halls were on every block. It was during this time that current-Point State Park was a massive tenement area.

Some point in the near future, DB~ and I will download the Public Record app and go around town listening to all the oral histories and poetic readings. But it got me thinking about Pittsburgh specifically and cities in general.

When we walk around town on the streets, we may as well be floating above the street. What history is buried 6 inches, 2 feet, 10 feet, or 20 feet below our feet? Who walked on the same street 5 days ago, 5 years, 50 years, 200 years ago? All of the buildings downtown, whether they are an abandoned warehouse in the Strip, a row house in the Hill District, or a non-descript building in the Golden Triangle have a story about previous tenants. Perhaps a misdeed like an unsolved murder of a prostitute or a robbery of a Mob boss.

I found myself walking around the edges of the Strip District tonight. Just feeling the city under my feet as the crisp October air propelled me forward. It was one of those nights that the neon from the Greyhound bus garage cut right through the air. There were pockets of activity, a packed house at Seviche, a handful of people in the dirty old man bars along Penn between the Convention Center and the Strip, a few tables occupied at Sushi Kim, a massive high-faluting event at the Heinz History Center. After I got back in my car, I drove over the recently re-opened Stanwix Street and was looking straight into PNC Park, with that clean pale blue neon staring right back at me.

Is our history recording better or worse nowadays than it was in the 19th century? We have video, Internet, digital camera, and the written word to document our history, but our society is a disposable one. When we're done with a building after only 30 years, we just smash it down and build over top of it. Are we tracking ourselves better or worse now? History is because people have poor memories that fade or misconstrue events over time.

Will someone be walking on top of our memories, misdeeds, and miscreants 100 years from now wondering about us?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Siba - an Italian villa in the heart of white bread suburbia

Last Friday, DB~ and I didn't have any specific plans. My friends were doing their own thing, as were DB~'s. Her sister was busy going to the 6 pm on a Friday, somehow....and her aunt wasn't available.

We wanted to go out, but didn't feel like going "out out" to the big City of Pittsburgh. I suggested Siba in Seven Fields, just outside of Cranberry off of Route 228. It had been a long time since I had been there, but I remembered that the interior decor was gorgeous and the menu was Mediterranean-inspired.

We got out there around 7'ish and the wait was about 45 minutes. No stop to the bar. I was feeling Republican that night, so I went with a semi-classy 7 and 7 (Seagram's whisky and 7 up) and DB~ went with the semi-classy Stoli and Sprite cocktail. Keep in mind that the top scale of the "classy drink" scale is Embury.

We had our cocktail and people-watched for nearly an hour. Still no buzz on our beeper, so DB~ went to the hostess table. Apparently, they buzzed us 20 minutes ago, but our beeper never went off...even with it laying on the bar in front of me. No matter. All parties were very apologetic and we were no worse for the wear.

Apparently at some point, Siba switched from "Mediterranean-inspired" to Tuscan Villa and Wine Bar. When they first opened in 2004, they had as many Greek influences as they did Italian, but now it is almost all Italian. Which is fine.

Siba gives all tables a small basket of crusty Italian bread, but they do a twist on the standard olive oil and balsamic vinegar mix. This one was an oil with pureed roasted red peppers. It sort of grew on us....we weren't wild about it at first, but it wasn't bad.

For dinner, DB~ selected the Pecan Crusted Mahi Mahi. In the similar vein of her tentativeness with the soft shell crab at Springfield Grille, I knew that something was awry. There were some hesitant explorations and probings with the fork. Of course the first time I asked what was wrong, the answer was "Everything's fine." The second time revealed that she did not think it was done enough in the middle for her liking.

On my end, I went with the applewood Bacon, Spinach, and Chicken flatbread pizza. It came in 9 teasingly-sized pieces, but I was only able to finish 6. This made for a nice start to a lunch later that weekend. The spinach wasn't too creamy and the bacon and chicken had great flavors.

Overall, it felt at times like all of Treesdale came to Siba for dinner that night, but it's not an overwhelmingly stuffy crowd. The restaurant is worth checking out, especially if you are in that zone of the region.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cartscalators - Where carts go to heaven

Recently, DB~'s brother moved to Cleveland after being transferred for his job. We decided to shoot over on Saturday to spend the day with him and help him get settled in to his sweet downtown loft apartment.

I have very few true regrets in life, but one of them may be not ever having lived in another city. I think it would be exciting to have to learn the ins and outs of a new city -- the good and bad places to eat, the good bars to check out, finding all the fun festivals in town, and getting engrossed in the problems of another city. At this point, I'm pretty set up in my life here and can't pick up and move. So I'm going to live vicariously through DB~'s brother.

When DB~ and I went down to Cleveland in April, we did a tour of some Triple D restaurants featured on the show (Momocho and Melt). Unfortunately, Momocho isn't open for lunch so we took her brother to the newly opened 2nd store of Melt, on the east side of Cleveland by John Carroll University and Case Western University. It was an orgy of tastes crammed in between 2 thick slices of bread. I had the Parmageddon -- 2 pierogies, cheddar, sour kraut; DB~ had the Northcoast -- crab cakes, spinach, cream cheese; DB~'s brother had the Parma Italy -- grilled chicken, marinana sauce, mozzarella. And all of these come with fries and slaw (the slaw isn't that great).

But the most fascinating part of the trip...not the trip to Melt, the tour of the Warehouse District, going to Crate and Barrel and the rest of Legacy Village....was our trip to Target in University Heights. Because it was there that the 3 of us stood transfixed like drooling idiots as we watched The Cartscalators. This was a 2 story Target and if you wanted to take your cart between levels, you had to set it on The Cartscalator. These little teeth-gears caught the cart and allowed it to ride up its on little ramp while you rode next to it.



We stood there for 10 minutes watching people, taking pictures, posing with our carts, and getting in people's ways. Apparently these are popular all around the rest of the country, but Pittsburgh is not up on this trend.

DB~ and I are crossing our fingers for the first Cartscalator to make it here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A great draft class (2005) versus a bad one (2004)

Earlier this season, I examined the highly touted 2005 draft class using WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and determined that, yes, the hype was real. This is a very strong class with a combined 134.1 Wins Above Replacement to this point.

The top 5 contributors to this total are Hall of Fame-path-Ryan Zimmerman (26.4), team leader Troy Tulowitzki (17.8), iron gloved Ryan Braun (16.5), Matt Garza (9.9), and Mike Pelfrey (8.0). All of those guys were college players so they had a 2-3 year headstart on the high school outfielders like Jay Bruce (7.8), Justin Upton (7.7), Andrew McCutchen (6.7), and Colby Rasmus (5.8).

Cutch-22, with his 6.7 WAR, currently ranks 10th in this class -- right behind Ricky Romero from the Blue Jays with his 6.8.

By comparison, let's take a look at the draft class one year before this one, the 2004 class. The 2004 class at the time was said to not be deep, plus it was peppered with some high-salary-demand guys like Stephen Drew and Jered Weaver who dropped in the draft.

Nevertheless, the 2004 class has to date only compiled an 85.8 WAR, even with a one year jump on the 2005 class. Furthermore, two players (Justin Verlander with 25.3 and Jered Weaver with 18.8) have compiled nearly 50% of the WAR in this class. To show the weakness of the class, take a look at Neil Walker who had a great season with the stick and a not-so-great one with the glove. His 1.9 WAR this year and his -0.3 WAR in 2009 gives him 1.6 WAR for his career. That puts Walker in 11th place. Keep in mind that Cutch-22 is in 10th with his 6.7 WAR -- in this class he would be 4th!

Something to keep in mind, regarding the relative strengths of a draft class from year to year, as we move into the 2011 draft which is said to have one of the strongest 1st rounds in years.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Iovino's -- I, uh, would go back here

Sometimes when you're dressed up, you want to go out and show everyone how good you look. On Thursday, I gave a presentation at a conference so a rarity occured...I was wearing a full suit. My suit was so fine, I made Sinatra look line a hobo.

DB~ called me up and said "Let's go out for dinner tonight." We agreed to meet in Mt. Lebanon at a restaurant that DB~ had been to before, but I had not, Iovino's on Beverly Road.

When I go out to restaurants, I try to get a dish that I either can't make myself or have never had before. I was debating between two dishes, one was a fairly straight-forward lamb ragu over papardelle (a style of noodle that I'm into recently -- a stronger noodle meant for heavier sauces) and the other was a bronzini dish with fried polenta.

I like to think that I'm well-versed in the ways of food and cuisine, but this trip to Iovino's made me realize how much more I have to learn and taste. I ordered the bronzini thinking it was a type of sauce served over the fried polenta, wilted arugula, tomato vodka sauce, and kalamata olive/red pepper relish. And then my dish came out to the table.

My dish is the darkened picture shown above. I was semi-stunned to see these criss-crossed, fish-smelling pieces resting on the bed of polenta triangelse and arugula. I poked it, prodded it, and cut a small biopsy piece for a taste. It tasted very similar to swordfish. DB~ pulled out the ever-present iPhone and Googled "bronzini". It turns out that bronzini is a Mediterranean seabass. It's a long, narrow silvery fish. I have never seen this at Wholey's or any other large fish market, so Iovino's may have had to special order the bronzini.

The bronzini itself was great, but the polenta was out of this world. It had a wide variety of spices and was tastefully crispy on the outside, but soft inside. I could have had a whole meal of just the polenta.

DB~'s meal was an Indian-flavored salmon with a red curry and coconut sauce surrounding it, served on a bed of basmati rice. Here's a picture of it:

The takeaway from this post should be how great and underrated of an area Mt. Lebanon is for eating. I've done posts on Kous Kous Cafe, Bistro 19, and now Iovino's. DB~ and I also went to Il Pizziaolo on Washington Road. It's worth crossing a river or two to check out any of these great restaurants in Mt. Lebo.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The 2010 MLB season by WAR

Earlier this year, I looked at how predicitive/descriptive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) did as a metric for an entire team, as it related to their win/loss records. During that post, I found that 14 of the 30 teams were within +/- of 4 wins of their final total. That's a margin of error of around 2.5% over 162 games.

I thought I would do the same exercise for this recently completed season.

On you can find WAR by a whole team for both batting and pitching. So I went through and added each team's batting WAR to its pitching WAR and then added in the baseline 48 wins to find what WAR predicted each team to finish. Listed below are the results, with each team's actual wins listed first and their WAR win total calculated (baseline + bat + pitch, in that order). The number in parentheses after the WAR total is the difference between the two.

TB 96 (48 + 27.3 bat + 16.3 pitch) = 91.6 (+4.4 wins)
NYY 95 (48 + 35.5 + 12.1) = 95.6 (-0.6 wins)
BOS 89 (48+ 29.2 + 19.3) = 96.5 (-7.5 wins)
TOR 85 (48 + 25.3 + 16.8) = 90.1 (-5.1 wins)
BAL 66 (48 + 10.8 + 8.9) = 67.7 (-1.7 wins)

MIN 94 (48+ 31.4 + 18.5) = 97.9 (-3.9 wins)
CHW 88 (48+ 18.8 + 24.5) = 91.3 (-3.3 wins)
DET 81 (48+ 25.5 + 16.4) = 89.9 (-8.9 wins)
CLE 69 (48+ 10.3+ 9.0) = 67.3 (+1.7 wins)
KC 67 (48+ 14.5+ 11.5) = 74.0 (-7 wins)

TEX 90 (48+ 25.1 + 18.0) = 91.1 (-1.1 wins)
OAK 81 (48+ 22.0 + 13.8) = 83.8 (-2.8 wins)
LAA 80 (48+ 13.0+ 16.3) = 77.3 (+2.7 wins)
SEA 61 (48+ 5.3 + 13.9) = 67.2 (-6.2 wins)

PHI 97 (48+ 23.0 + 19.4) = 90.4 (+6.6 wins)
ATL 91 (48+ 22.2 + 20.9) = 91.1 (-0.1 wins)
FLA 80 (48 + 18.2 + 17.1) = 83.3 (-3.3 wins)
NYM 79 (48+ 15.8 + 14.5) = 78.3 (+0.7 wins)
WAS 69 (48+ 17.2 + 13.6) = 78.8 (-9.8 wins)

CIN 91 (48 + 32.9 + 16.4) = 97.3 (-6.3 wins)
STL 86 (48 + 22.2 + 16.3) = 86.5 (-0.5 wins)
MIL 77 (48 + 29.6 + 10.9) = 88.5 (-11.5 wins)
HOU 76 (48 + 8.3 + 16.5) = 72.8 (+3.2 wins)
CHC 75 (48 + 14.8 + 17.4) = 80.2 (-5.2 wins)
PIT 57 (48 + 3.4 + 6.7) = 58.1 (-1.1 wins)

SF 92 (48+ 25.6 + 21.6) = 95.2 (-3.2 wins)
SD 90 (48 + 24.4 + 15.6) = 88.0 (+2.o wins)
COL 83 (48 + 20.0 + 24.1 ) = 92.1 (-9.1 wins)
LAD 80 (48 + 13.3 + 18.0) = 79.3 (+0.7 wins)
ARI 65 (48 + 24.7 + 7.8) = 80.5 (-15.5 wins)

Whew...number crunchy!
This year, WAR got 18 of 30 teams within +/-4 wins of their actual totals, which I consider to be impressive.

The 3 teams that WAR was off by the most (ARI, MIL, WAS) were all slanted more towards the batting in their components. I have always had more faith in WAR from a batting standpoint than a pitching standpoint, so I wonder if there is something lodged inside of these stats to uncover.

WAR is not perfect, by any means, but it is the best available metric that we have at this time.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Looking back on Cutch-22's "down" season

In 2009, Andrew McCutchen (otherwise referred to by a loyal following of one person as "Cutch-22") debuted for the Pirates and put forth a triple slash line of .286/.365/.471 (batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage) for an OPS of 836. Within that line were 26 doubles, 9 triples, 12 home runs, 54 runs batted in and 22 steals. That was accomplished in 108 games.

Needless to say, some people had their expectation meters set to "blast off" for McCutchen in 2010. Even as one of his biggest supporters, I was expecting more modest gains as I mentioned in the 2010 Predictions Post. I was merely thinking that he would consolidate his gains in 2010 and increase his numbers proportionally over a full season.

There is a somewhat significantly-sized undercurrent out there that 2010 was a disappointing season from Andrew McCutchen. Here is his final line over 154 games:
.286/.365/.449 (814 OPS)

Look familiar? It should, as it's the same batting average and on-base percentage as 2009, with only a slightly lower slugging percentage. In fact if you extrapolate his 2009 numbers to 154 games, here's what they would be...
26 2B's turns into 37 doubles (he had 35 in 2010)
9 3B's turns into 13 triples (he had 5 in 2010)
12 HR's turns into 17 homers (he had 16 in 2010)
22 SB's turns into 31 steals (he had 33 in 2010)

So as you can pretty easily see, the drop in slugging percentage in due in large part to his lesser amount of triples in 2010 versus 2009. I always have considered triples to be as much a measure of luck as skill, as most are the result of a misplayed ball, a bad route, or a weird bounce.

Some of the perception that Cutch-22 had a down year may be due to the fact that he suffered through two rough months in July and August. In July, he hit .254/.303/.358 (661 OPS) and in August he hit .226/.317/.415 (732 OPS). In truth, he needed a red hot September of .324/.411/.519 (930 OPS) to achieve the numbers that he did.

So what happened in the summer time? Was it due to a bad lunch meeting that he had?

In July, McCutchen sprained the AC joint of his shoulder blade while diving for a catch. Naturally, he said that he was fine after taking a few games off, but it was evident that he was playing hurt. To add injury to more injury, on August 3rd as he was just getting back on track, Mike Leake tattooed the back of his neck with a wild pitch. Those two occurences took a toll on Cutch-22 that he did not recover from until his scorching September.

If McCutchen were not hurt, which granted is a big qualifier for any player in any year, it is well within reason that he would have had a 20 HR/40 SB season. Do you know how many players in MLB had that kind of year in 2010?


BJ Upton (18 HR/42 SB) and Carl Crawford (19 HR/47 SB) came the closest. And keep in mind that Carl Crawford is who McCutchen is starting to draw the closest comparisons to around the league. The last Pirate to have a 20 HR/40 SB season was one Barry Lamar Bonds, so that should put a finer point on how difficult it truly is to do.

Here's something else to consider. Around the league in 2010, the average numbers for a leadoff hitter (where he will probably be in 2011 most of the time) were .264/.329/.382 (711 OPS). McCutchen was well above the norm in all of these categories. For all CF's, the average numbers were .261/.326/.405 (731 OPS). Again, Cutch-22 was well above the average for all of these categories.

I feel fairly comfortable that we have now established Cutch-22's baseline season in 2010. I only expect better things in 2011, especially since more pieces have been added around him in the lineup. He doesn't have to feel pressured to win every game on his own. Walker, Tabata, and Alvarez all did that themselves this year, too.

When the high school outfielder draft class of 2005 was working their way through the minors, chats on Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus would always ask the moderator to rank the long-term futures of Justin Upton, Cameron Maybin, Jay Bruce, Colby Rasmus, and Andrew McCutchen. Pretty much every time, the list would look like: Upton, Bruce, Maybin, McCutchen, Rasmus (sometimes Rasmus and McCutchen would flip flop positions). I always contended that McCutchen would be the steady and consistent player, while the others (due to their higher K rates) would have higher peaks but lower lows, too. At this point, especially after Upton's down year, I would not feel uncomfortable ranking them Upton, McCutchen, Rasmus, Bruce, and Maybin maybe being a bust.

The one facet of his game that I would like McCutchen to improve in is his defense. He has been poorly rated by Ultimate Zone Rating statistically and his rainbows throws and shaky routes don't pass my eye test. I think a good offseason with a coach can remedy most of those problems.

Andrew McCutchen is without a doubt the top reason for me to look forward to April 2011 and the start of a new Pirates season. I am a complete masochist.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Reviewing my 2010 pre-season Pirate predictions

In an effort to provide an internal audit of my posts, I thought I would go back and re-visit my 2010 Pre-Season Pirates Predictions post.
Listed below is the original prediction and comment in italics, with my new thoughts in bold.

1. The Pirates will win 76 games -- OK, I've covered this one in my WAR-based analysis of the team. Give me a +/- of 2 wins on this one. I think the makings of a winning team will start to materialize this season.
When I said +/- 2 wins, I really meant to say +/- 20 wins. Yeah. That's it. The "what the heck went wrong" with the 2010 Pirates will be coming shortly as its own post.

2. Robbie Grossman's LH-hitting struggles will continue and he will give up switch hitting -- As a RH hitter his OPS was 897 and his K-rate was 24%. As a LH hitter his OPS was 679 and his K-rate was 40%. I think if the trend continues up to mid-season, he will abandon switch-hitting.
This is a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that Grossman's K rate as a LH hitter dropped to 25%. The bad news is that his OPS stayed at 668. The even worse news is that as a RH hitter his OPS dropped to 746 this year and his isolated power was bad from both sides (.114 and .095, respectively). So Grossman still has a sizeable platoon split, but that the switch-hitting experiment will continue.

3. Quincy Latimore will continue to show that he is not a prospect -- Admittedly, I seem to have an ax to grind with Latimore. I think it's just that people want so badly for him to be a prospect when in reality he is not even close. His K/BB rate last year was 25%/5% with a .251 BA, 3 steals, and poor defense as a LF. The BB rate will not play as he continues to move up. He is already low on the defensive spectrum. He doesn't make great contact and he's not fast on the bases. Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
Latimore put together a .266/.323/.444 line in 2010 for a 767 OPS. This constitutes a career high in OPS for Frederick Quincy Latimore. Most of this was built off of an insane August that had a 942 OPS, which was far and away the outlier to his monthly numbers. But he had one last year too in July and numbers count no matter when you put them up.
Latimore had 30 BB and 136 K's in 518 AB's for a 6% BB rate and a 27% K rate. His 2011 in AA will be very telling.

4. Pedro Alvarez will hit .260 with 20 HR's but a 30% K rate in the majors -- Pedro will show us enough to warrant setting the Excitement Meter to 10 in 2011. Cutch-22 spoiled us last year with an electric debut. I think Pedro will be more of a rookie with his struggles, but ready to explode in 2011.
Pedro had a very herky-jerky debut. He was ice cold in June (411 OPS), took off in July (especially after the All Star Break, had a 855 OPS), came back down in August (735 OPS), and then terrorized pitchers with a 932 OPS in September and giving us all a glimpse of what could be in store in 2011.
Pedro hit .256/.326/.461 (787 OPS) with 16 HR's and a 34.3% K rate. Not bad on the estimates all the way around. His struggles against lefties were a little disconcerting at times.

5. Andrew McCutchen will more or less consolidate his gains in 2010 -- I'm not saying he'll have a Sophomore Slump, but rather he will put a similar line to his .286/.365/.471 2009 season. His counting stats will increase proportionally, not exponentially as some are hoping/predicting.
Cutch-22 will get his own follow-up post about his 2010 season, but here was his final line for 2010:
Seriously. His BA and OBP were exactly the same as 2009. That about as close to "he will put up a similar line" as you can get. He hit 16 HR's and stole 33 bases which were a mild disappointment for how he started the season, but fairly close to proportions from 2009 (His rough proportional totals would have been 17 HR's and 31 SB's). I think we have established Cutch-22's baseline.

6. Tony Sanchez will put up a season in 2010 that will make Ryan Doumit expendable -- I think Sanchez ends 2010 in Altoona and has a season significant enough to warrant Huntington trading Doumit in the 2010 offseason. Jaramillo will hold the fort in 2011 until Sanchez is ready to come up.
This one was looking like another good prediction until Brad Holt parked a fastball into Sanchez's cake-cruncher in June. He was out the rest of the season. His offense was just as good as last year up to that point, but his defense suffered from a lingering shoulder injury, causing Sanchez to only throw out 15% of baserunners. He will need all of 2011 in the minors, hopefully split between AA and AAA.

7. Zach Von Rosenburg will fail to live up to the lofty expectations in 2010 -- It actually semi-pained me to type that, but I think his present stuff (high 80's FB, shaky secondary stuff) will get him lit up in full-season ball in 2010. He was always more of a projection than a present-day stud, so I think folks will see sub-par numbers and write him off. Similar to Quinton Miller last year.
ZVR spent the whole season in State College, which was a mild disappointment in and of itself. He also started the season off slowly with some less than stellar numbers until his last 10 starts. ZVR put up a 2.11 ERA in 47 IP, giving up 42 hits, allowing 10 BB, and striking out 35. The fastball is still in the high 80's though, and his stuff was not swing and miss this year. His season was better than Quinton Miller's 2009, but there is still something that needs to shine with ZVR.

8. Diego Moreno and Brock Holt are going to have breakout seasons in 2010 -- Holt seems like a slightly lesser version of Chase D'arnaud to me and you saw how his 2009 season went. I think Moreno is going to be a fast-mover this year and put himself in the prime discussion for a bullpen spot in 2011.
This was a spot-on prediction, too, but with some qualifiers. Moreno humiliated High-A hitters and was moved up to Altoona where he had success as well. However, he was disciplined for behavioral problems and demoted for a short time back to High-A. He wound up back with Altoona by the end, though. He is now said to be the best reliever in minor league baseball by Baseball America.
Holt got off to a scorching .351/.410/.438 (848 OPS) in Bradenton until he ripped his ACL in June. He should be back and fine in 2011 and hopefully will see Altoona sooner rather than later.

9. John Russell and Neil Huntington both get extensions -- I think NH deserves 3 more years to see his work through. It usually takes 3-4 years to see a draft class come up to the surface so he needs AT LEAST 2011 to see his 2008 class, right? Plus, I have agreed with the concepts of his trades, if not all the pieces received. As for Russell, I'm not thrilled about this part of the prediction, but I think they will give him 2 years (2011/2012) to actually have some impact players to work with and make a go of it. 2 more years of wanting to use a defribrulator on him during his press conferences.
I got this one right too, but again there were qualifiers. The Pirates actually secretly extended both Russell and Huntington in October of 2009 for the 2011 season and never told the media or the public. Then, Russell went and dropped a 105 loss season on Pittsburgh and was fired this week.
Huntington will (theoretically) go into 2011 GM'ing for his job and a future longer extension.

10. Nutting brings in a minor partner to the ownership group -- Unless his will is made of complete iron, I think Nutting hears the natives beating the drums. He will try to appease them by finding a partner willing to infuse a small percentage of cash into the enterprise. It will be a local businessman, not Lemieux/Burkle, that has been out of the public's radar screen.
This was the boldest of my 10 predictions and did not happen. However, I have recently said that this offseason is an Inflection Point for the future of this franchise and Nutting's financial committment is at the forefront.

All in all, not too bad on the predictions, aside from the most important one about the win total!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The tastiest MOB you'll ever meet

Two nights ago, DB~ and I took her mom out to dinner, as DB~'s dad was out of town. For some reason, DB~'s sister did not join us (it was a "school night", I guess), so it was just the three of us.

With fall in the air, there is no better place than the Mighty Oak Barrel (MOB) in Oakmont. As I mentioned in my post about Embury, there are some times of the year that are better than others to go to certain places. Fall at the MOB is that time of the year.

The Mighty Oak Barrel is a hidden gem of a restaurant. It's a very small (10 tables at most) place owned by two women. The block building at the end of 3rd Street is utterly non-descript, but once inside you are greeted by a dim yet warmly lit restaurant.

We lucked out as Thursday was the debut of the fall menu at MOB. DB~ went with a blue crab ravioli in lemon butter sauce (eschewing the butternut squash ravioli, strangely enough, as she is in full pumpkin/squash lust mode right now). I went with a thyme-brined pork chop served over creamed cabbage with bacon and apples. It had a side of butternut squash and, in a slight misstep in my opinion, a mix of yellow zucchini and snap peas. The zucchini and snap peas, as summer vegetables, detracted from the fall atmosphere of my meal, in my opinion.

But the star of the show was the dish ordered by DB~'s mom. She ordered by the braised short ribs stew with root vegetables. I was debating between ordering this and my pork chop dish, so when the server set it down in front of DB~'s mom, I instantly had buyer's remorse. The aroma and mix of flavors in this dish were mouth-watering. The owner was kind enough to come over and tell us about the preparation of the dish, as she was getting feedback on the new dishes. The root vegetables (carrot, parsnip, turnip) were roasted in the oven and then carmelized. They were added to the short rib stew, which had as a base a reduced red-wine sauce. Some peas, I believe, were also mingling in the dish. The entire dish was topped with a sprinkle of blue cheese chunks.

I ate all of my dish, but DB~'s mom couldn't finish all of hers. After trying to convince her she should take it for lunch on Friday (secretly hoping she would say no), I finished the remaining half that was left. This dish instantly occupied a spot in my Top 5 Favorite Meals of All Time.

If you have never been to the Mighty Oak Barrel, you must check it out. It is worth the trip to Oakmont, where you can also sample the delights of the Oakmont Bakery if you time it right.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

DFC - Dale Fried Chicken

My go-to food late at night has always been breaded chicken tenders. Lately, I've been developing this strange habit of either eating or seeing a food and wanting to make it for myself. These two factoids collided over the weekend with me eating a very substandard chicken sandwich in Shadyside at Cappy's and then watching a soul food diner segment on Diners, Drive-In's, and Dives.

So on Tuesday night I decided it was time to make my own Fried Chicken Tenders.

1/2 lb chicken tenderloins
All purpose flour
Luzienne's Cajun Seasoning (cayenne, paprika, salt, pepper, garlic)
Panko bread crumbs
1 egg

You could use a chicken breast, but you probably want to slice it into strips for easier frying later in the recipe.

First I added some Cajun seasoning to the flour in my shallow wide dish until the flour went just off-color. Very scientific, I know. Then I rolled the chicken tenderloins around in the egg and dredged them in the seasoned flour.

I then ran them through the egg a second time and dredged then in the Panko bread crumbs. Panko bread crumbs are a lighter bread crumb used in Asian cuisine, especially during tempura frying.

After the chickens were breaded, I poured some vegetable oil into a skillet and made it about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep in oil. I heated the oil to medium-high heat until it just started to ripple under the surface. I added the breaded chicken to the hot oil and fried them on each side for about 2-3 minutes until golden brown.

I put the chicken in a dish with some paper towels to take off the excess oil and lightly salted and peppered them. I served this with a yellow rice and some boiled sugar peas. The chicken was crunchy on the outside and moist inside, probably because of the double breading.

I miss the classic Damon's chicken tender meal with honey mustard. I can't believe Damon's screwed up that franchise as badly as they did. When I used to be a real night owl, especially after a good night of drinking, some breaded chicken tenders always hit the matter what shanty restaurant we ended up at.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Kayaking the Rivers Three

"The sea was angry that day, my friend. Like an old man sending soup back in a deli." -- George Costanza

What a great way to incorporate one of the 5 best lines from Seinfeld into a blog post. Even if I was on a river (or three).

I took the day off work today and headed down to Kayak Pittsburgh underneath the Clemente Bridge. DB~ and I had 2 Groupons (each good for 1 hour of kayaking) that needed to be used by the end of October. But they weren't good on the weekends anymore, so that kind of ruled out DB~. I politely asked if I could use both Groupons myself and get 2 free hours -- I caught the two hippies on a mellow buzz apparently, because they went for it. I was ready to bribe them, if necessary.

My goal today was to kayak on a piece of all 3 rivers. Once I pushed off from Kayak Pittsburgh on the Allegheny, I paddled down towards the Carnegie Science Center on the Ohio River. I stopped in front of the submarine docked outside the Science Center (the Requin, I think) and took this shot:

I floated a little towards the Rivers Casino. There were no semi-strange Beatles cover bands performing in full costume this afternoon. Just a few gamblers with broken dreams eating lunch outside. Wondering how the dealer was showing 16 and hit his 21 to beat the 20 on blackjack. Or why the player at poker stuck in the pot all the way to the river to hit his inside straight.

I took this shot while near the Casino looking up the West End Valley. Have you ever tried to take Route 60 through the West End Valley towards Robinson Township? It's like in the Family Circus when Jeffy has to get his mom a cup of sugar from next door, but ends up taking the most circuituous route possible.

I turned around and headed straight for the Point, being careful to not get broadsided by a speedboat, jet skier, or Gateway Clipper paddlewheeler. This is when things got a little edgy. It was pretty windy today and the rivers were not kind to me. There were whitecaps and actual waves rolling on the river. At one point on the Mon, I was going a good 2 feet up in the air riding the crest and trough of these waves. My kayak got perpendicular to the river at one point and some water from a wave crashed into the kayak, soaking me pretty good.

But it was an adventure. I did my good deed for the day while I was out. I picked up about 7 plastic bottles and jugs that were floating in the rivers and put them in a trash can when I got back. Recycling them would have earned me two gold stars, but I'll settle for one.

When I was walking back to my car in the West Robinson Garage, I passed by one Mr. John Russell reporting for work. He was resplendent in an electric blue workout shirt and black shorts. He was walking stiff-legged, so Russeltron 3000 must need his joints oiled and servos lubed, I guess.

I also stopped to watch some construction workers next to the Garage. They were pouring a low slump, stiff concrete for the new subway stairs and pedestals. This is the Subway extension stop as part of the North Shore Connector project.

It was good to have an off day and no better way to spend it than kayaking on a sunny, if windy, day. Of course it probably wasn't as good as the two dudes parked next to me in the Garage in a Dodge Ram. As I was walking towards my car, their truck looked like they were filming a Cheech and Chong movie in the cab. The sweet smell of burning hippie lettuce wafted through the air. I guess we all spend our Fridays in different ways.