Category: Beer

South Beach Food & Wine Festival February 27-28, 2010

High ticket prices and a schedule conflict kept us from attending last year (lame excuses, to be sure) so we buckled down, watched our pennies for the most part and bought tickets for this year’s event.

SOBE Food & Wine Festival Entrance

Line to Pick up Glass & Bags

We left Fort Lauderdale just after 11 a.m. Saturday and arrived in Miami Beach around noon.  Parking is at a premium during this event, so we spent nearly 30 minutes driving around SoBe, gazing at storefronts, turistas (us included), etc. looking for a decent (if any) parking space.

Waiting in Entrance Line

We ended up parking at a city lot on Lincoln Road, a good three blocks from the Cardozo Hotel, where we were staying.  In previous years we had taken a car service both ways and wish we had done the same this year.  We arrived at the hotel a short time later, stored our bags and headed out across Ocean Drive to the festival’s main entrance, which was located several hundred feet ahead on the beach.  As expected, there was a long line of attendees waiting to get into the event.  The Grand Tasting Tents didn’t open until one, so we figured a few minutes waiting in line under a gray, overcast sky as a brisk and briny exfoliating wind blowing around us

Barilla Tent at Beginning of Festival

wouldn’t hurt.  The sacrifices we Wanderlushes make for a glass of vino.  We remembered one of the first rules of wine tasting: leave the light-colored clothing behind and stick with dark colors, like gray, black…or in the best scenario, wine proof plaid.  Also, it is amazing that some women felt it was incumbent upon them to remain slaves to fashion and wear the latest knee-high, high-heeled shoes or leather and suede boots; designer skirts, blouses.  But on the beach? The sandy beach?  Hello, it’s sand, ladies.  Trekking up and down a beach is a tough enough (especially when tipsy), but high heels only compounds the risk of injury, and worse, a fashion emergency.  Come on.  I love a lady in heels as much as the next guy, but this made no sense to me whatsoever.

After our tickets were scanned, we were each handed a “swag bag” filled with event

Whole Foods Village

View of the Demo Tents and Village

sponsor literature, coupons, etc., along with a beautiful Crystal wine glass.   At the end of the gift back/wine glass distribution desk several associates stood at attention, flanking both sides of the velvet rope entrance, all clutching bottles of French wine, white and red…and most importantly, all eager to pour us a sample of some excellent wines. This was a well-received, classy touch missing from previous events.  Then it was on with the show.

To fully appreciate an event like the SBF&WF one must have a deep appreciation for overindulgence, plain and simple.  This isn’t an insurance seminar or morning Tai Chi in the park.  The SBF&WF is all about food, wine, beer, spirits—and more of it.  Participating vendors offer up patrons small, sample-sized portions (usually), but there’s no law that says you have to stop at just one.  And we didn’t on several occasions.  Event planners are smart, though, in

Whole Foods Cafe

strategically placing barrels brimming with bottled water throughout the site.  Plus, we saw during both days of the event several young men and women walking between tents, offering up cool treats of iced coffee, frozen fruit bars or sodas.  The first year we attended the SBF&WF we acted like, and suffered like, amateur event goers, overindulging in wine, food and spirits, followed by hours (though it seemed like days) of wandering dazed and confused under a hot sun until our tired, overstuffed bodies, bodies which were on the verge of bursting, couldn’t take it anymore.  We learned our lesson well that weekend and applied this knowledge to maintaining a steady, harmonic wine and food buzz at this year’s event.

Getting the lay of the land is simple at the SBF&WF: just head south on the beach,

Ming Tsai Demonstration

stop in any one of the clearly marked tents and sample to your heart’s content.  Several of the smaller tents near the entrance are dedicated to cooking demonstrations, while just further south there are the two Grand tasting tents, the focus of our SBF&WF experience (as well as several thousand of our closest “friends.”)  Recalling past events, we decided to target specific vendors first, followed by others of mild interest and then lastly, those which are desirable, but not a requirement.  There are several hundred vendors spread throughout the tents, both on its periphery and in the center, each of which is about the size of a football field.  That’s roughly a 100-yard, game winning drive of food and wine, minus the Gatorade shower.  Whole Foods Market and the Food Network sponsor the

Whole Foods Cafe Food

Samosa's, Flank Steak & Cracker w/Creme Fraiche and Caviar

event, along with a myriad of co-sponsors, all of which work in conjunction with local and national wine and spirit vendors; restaurant owners, chefs and cooking personnel—plus, many of the stars from the Food Network’s many hit shows.  Walking around happily

buzzed and satiated, the SBF&WF has a genteel vibe to it.  Everyone is enjoying himself or herself, aromas waft throughout the tent, food and beverages are spilled, but none seem to mind too much.  People are, for the most part, courteous and accommodating during the event.  We didn’t’ witness and rude or inconsiderate patrons cutting in line, though it does happen when people’s inhibitions are lowered and drunk levels are raised.  A funny thing happened while we were waiting for

Chili Burger

Burger & Beer Joint's Chili Burger

chili cheeseburgers at the Beer & Burger Joint set-up.  As we were sitting in line patiently waiting our turn to feast on what turned out to be an incredible sample-sized chiliburger, a tipsy 50ish looking guy attempted to “sidle” into line.  I gave him a stern but polite glance.  These are burgers worth waiting for.  He acknowledged his transgression and apologized immediately.  We both laughed heartily when I told him not to worry…there’s plenty for everyone.

Wines of France Tent

French Wine & Cheese Tent

On Sunday, the final day of the event, we checked out of the hotel around noon and plodded slowly over to the event, which was not surprising given our overindulgence the previous day.  The crowds this day, while still considerable, were less than on Saturday.  We vowed to pace ourselves and maintain control since we’d be driving back to Fort Lauderdale.  It was the same gluttonous routine: eat, drink, repeat.  Sunday’s weather was a sharp contrast to the gray and rainy Saturday.  It was sunny and cool as the temperature hovered somewhere in the upper 60s.  A nice slight breeze

Beach View

View of the Beach from Grand Tasting Tent

was blowing from the north and was fitting for this final day of the event.  I found myself stopping at moments throughout the day just to marvel at this magnificent weather we were fortunate to have.  By the end of the day we had enough energy to attend the show’s big finale demonstration: a “cook off” between Anthony Bourdain and world-renowned chef Eric Ripert.   It wasn’t much of a cook off, as Bourdain humorously admitted, but it was very entertaining to see these two friends take subtle shots at each other during the demonstration.  We especially loved Bourdain’s quip to Robert

Bourdain vs Ripert

Bourdain vs Ripert

Irvine, who along with Guy Fieri acted as judges for the competition, that his show should be called “Dinner Slightly Difficult”.   After the demonstration we ended up buying a copy of Bourdain’s and Ripert’s books to get them signed and have our picture taken with these food celebrities.  Then, as much as we wanted the fun to continue, it was time to go.

We shook the Miami sand out of our Fort Lauderdale shoes, the wine buzz from our heads, then strolled over the dunes and made our way back to the hotel to retrieve our bags.  The final walk back to the car was laborious as we dragged our luggage and hefted our newly acquired swag bags upon our shoulders to make the drive back to reality, both having enjoyed the South Beach Food & Wine Festival again to its utmost degree.   Next time we will opt for the car service and try some of the other events.  Burger Bash, perhaps?  Until next year’s event: Cheers!

Hollywood Vine Tasting

             I found myself bored on a Tuesday evening back in January, so I thought I’d be venturous on a school night (oooh, you’re gonna be in trou-ble!) and head down to Hollywood and attend a free wine tasting at Hollywood Vine, a fine purveyor of wine and beer with extremely reasonable prices both for the wines by the bottle and by the glass.    Add in a good selection of sake, micro-brews and scotch and there is something for almost everyone that enjoys a fine beverage.

            The evenings tasting (which was free, for you budget-conscious types) involved several Italian wines from various regions. While all were intriguing, a few didn’t quite satisfy this Wanderlush’s palate.

            The first Italian vivo I tried was an amazing Tenuta Di Salviano Orvieto Classico Superiore (D.O.C. 2008). This Blanco blend of four varietals struck me as an old world Sauvignon Blanc, which is one of its principal grapes. The citrus and floral notes were most noticeable, but the Chardonnay (20%) softened the edges. The other white varietals also played their part, with Trebbiano Toscano and Grechetto grapes adding to its complexity. This was the only bottle I purchased that night, and at $15.99 a bottle it’s an incredible value.

            Of the reds I tried,  the most memorable was the Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia Di Salvano (2003). This Tuscan red is vibrant in color and taste, with hints of dark fruit, smoke, leather and menthol. It was a complex wine that would pair well with any Italian dishes, cheese, or enjoyed just on its own. My fascination with this wine was quickly doused when I saw its $179 on-line sale-only price tag.

            A more reasonable red was the Chacra Barda Pinot Noir, Argentina, Rio Negro, the lone Argentine wine on the evening’s menu. It has been described as juicy, spicy and aromatic, which I agree. Though light-bodied like its New World counterparts, this Pinot Noir exuded the complexity and velvety notes you’d expect in a Pinot two or even three times its $34.99 price tag.

            Hollywood Vine tastings are relaxed affairs and always well attended. The storeowner was gracious and suggested several wines I’d be interested in that were off the tasting menu. I looked up and down the shelves like a five-year-old at Toys R Us, peering at the labels, checking vintages and such, and ended up buying a bottle of Glory Days Zinfandel (2008, Lodi, CA) that the owner was quite excited about. I can see why: Glory Days is a fruit-forward Zin that attacks the taste buds and leaves you wanting more. And hey, at $12.99 this is another great value to look out for on your next wine outing.

Beer On The Menu: Rankled by Reluctant Restaurants

We like wine with a good meal.   A smart wine pairing can make a good, or even great, meal memorable.   Most restaurants offer a good red and white wine selection to pair with everything from light salads to chicken, seafood and beef dishes.   However, many of these same restaurants, so attentive to the wine tastes of their clientele, overlook the fact that some diners would rather enjoy a good beer with their meal.  With the proliferation of craft brews it would make sense to offer something beyond the usual Bud, Bud Light, Coors, Amstel, Heineken, etc.  If you prefer the familiar and comfortable beer, more power to you.   But if you’re adventurous…a real Wanderlush at heart, then broaden your horizons and seek out these amazing froths.

Which leads me to my next question:  Why haven’t restaurants (some, not all) caught on and catered to the ever-growing market of fine beers and ales and included them on their menu?  Are they afraid people may actually like something beyond the blah, ho-hum domestic swill that’s been literally and figuratively rammed down our throats for so long?  Could it be the cost?  True, many craft brews are above the usual price point of common domestic and imports, but even more are affordable and within our reach, cost wise.

Now if you think a beer with your meal is a little too blue collar or pedestrian, consider the fact that many craft brews are made with the same meticulous effort wine makers put into their products.  There are light bodied Abbey and Belgian style beers; fruit and spice infused beers; stouts, pale ales, lambics, meads (honey beer)—plus a whole host of microbrews that use a galaxy of ingredients to create some very interesting flavor profiles that are pushing the envelope, in terms of taste.  Many of these beers go well with a whole variety of foods and would be a welcome addition to any menu, yet they are often overlooked.

Before heading out my wife and I, as well as our friends, like to look on-line and check out restaurants that carry craft beers we enjoy, or would like to give the old taste test.   Some of the names alone warrant a second look: Arrogant Bastard, Flying Dog… I mean brewers are an odd bunch by their nature, and it is certainly reflected in their beer names and labels.

Back to the food: Just keep in mind that a beer, like a good wine, shouldn’t overpower your meal, and vice versa.  The flavor profiles of the beer and food should be as close to each other as possible—enhancing each other to elicit the good qualities of each.  There are some exceptions to this rule, so experiment and see what tastes good. Let your taste buds be your guide.

Brewed Over Miami

Saturday, August 28, 2009, the Wanderlushes headed south to Miami in search of fine beer and good food.  Now, Miami may not seem like the place you’d expect to find good microbrews, seeing its proclivity for martinis and mojitos, but we were pleasantly surprised.

After a surprisingly stress-free drive down I-95 we stopped in to the Titanic Brewing Company restaurant, which is located in Coral Gables.  Known for their high quality offerings, we plunked down at the Titanic’s polished wood bar (which offers you a front-stool view of the beer tanks behind the bar) and ordered several of their signature beers, mine being the delightful White Star Ale; a pale ale that’s light on bitter, yet still retains a degree of hoppiness.  We noshed on some wings and conch fritters, which both paired well with our ales.

After finishing we decided to consult our friend Mitch’s Garmin GPS device for directions to our next pit stop.  This indispensable little piece of technology was useful in navigating the twists and turns of Miami’s roadways (though the device’s pronunciation of Brickell butchered both the posh avenue and Edie the singer’s name.)

We decided to head to the Yardhouse,  a chain restaurant located in Coral Gables that serves generous portions of delicious American cuisine with a menu that boasts over 100 domestic and imported beers.  Tables were at a premium even during that early-dinner, late afternoon hour…so we sat at the bar and ordered several appetizers and four beers, mine being the Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale on draft.  This microbrew, which Kim and I discovered for the first time during a visit to San Diego, is easily one of the most incredible microbrews in this country.  The Bastard has a nutty, almost chocolaty taste…and packs a bit of kick in alcohol content.  By this time a comfortable buzz was overtaking the four of us.  Or, in the words of a wise woman from Dover, Delaware, it was “getting dark.”  Literally.

After finishing our food and beer we headed to Gordon Biersch Restaurant and Brewery, another chain brewpub located on one of Miami’s most famous and historic roads, Brickell Avenue.  Gordon Biersch is located on the first floor of a modern office building and is comfortable and inviting, with plenty of televisions for watching sports and patio tables located outside.  Still full from all the apps we enjoyed earlier, food was definitely out of the question, although looking back it might have been a good idea to pack our bellies like hibernating beasts before quaffing the delicious 18-ounce pours of GB’s own draft beers, all of which are brewed on the premises.  I was a bit surprised that the restaurant wasn’t crowded, though Miami is like Las Vegas in that people usually don’t rise until 10 p.m. and don’t get their drink on until midnight or later.

Our third leg of the Wanderlush journey was the Abbey Brewing Company, in Miami Beach.  Now this bar, with a respectable beer menu, is almost a throwback to a bygone era.  It’s a beer-soaked anomaly in this chic and glitzy town.  It pulls no punches and offers up a fantastic array of some of the best domestic and imported craft brews you’ll find.  The establishment is small, at best, and boasts only a few booths and small, lacquered wood bar.  The wall décor is spare, and alcohol related, except for the stained glass window that proudly displays the bar’s name.  It is so local, even locals don’t know about it.  This is the kind of place you could expect to find the next Ernest Hemingway or Charles Bukowski sitting at the bar drinking a pint or two while discussing the death of literature in our time.  Yes, the floor is sticky.  Yes, that is cigarette smoke you smell coming from the next booth over.  Yes, that man at the bar with the yogurt-colored skin, five o’clock shadow and BO is staring at you.  Not because he doesn’t like you or your friends; no he and the rest of his bar mates are quiet drinkers who speak quietly and frown upon happy folks who stumble into this dimly lit den of desperation.  There was a jukebox (or was it XM Satellite radio?) belting out Lynyrd Skynyrd’s greatest hits.  Jen, our fellow Wanderlush, asked the barkeep if he could make a black-and-tan type of beverage using two different ales from the menu.  The bartender stopped, thought for a moment, and then told Jen that he could possibly make something like that but he would have to charge for both of the ales used in the process.  Jen decided to stick with one beer.  All of our beers were quite drinkable, and despite the saloon doors for the men’s bathroom and the otherwise indifferent stares from some of the patrons, we all enjoyed Abbey Brewing Company quite a bit.

Our last stop (thank God) was the Abraxas Lounge, which is also Miami Beach.  Relying on our sexy-voiced and reliable travel guide, Garmin, we navigated our way toward the beach in search of Abraxas Lounge, which was featuring several Stone 13th Anniversary Ales during this particular Saturday night.  However, on the way to the bar we were thwarted somewhat by heavy road construction taking place on the streets leading to and from the bar.  Kim called and a pleasant young girl told us there was a paid parking lot just a few blocks away.  Upon finding the parking garage we were greeted at the ticket dispenser by a heavy-set security guard who whisked the ticket from us, wrote something indecipherable on it and told us to place the ticket on the dash.  We followed the instructions and parked our car in a garage that had more dust on the ground than Pompeii after Vesuvius erupted.  Several cars were caked in it.  One unfortunate car had “graffiti” etched into the dust telling the owner to “wash me” and other vulgar expressions of derision.  After walking two blocks (and kicking off a lot of dust from our shoes) we made it to the Abraxas Lounge.  Classic rock music was playing as we headed to the bar to order drinks from the young bartender who earlier had helped us with directions to the bar.  Since there were several Stone Anniversary beers we all wanted to try (and since a palpable buzz hung over us all at this point) we split our orders into two beers each and sampled the fine Stone brews sip by delicious sip.  If you have an opportunity to sample the Anniversary ales, or any Stone Ales for that matter, I highly recommend finding it…even if it takes you on a long Wanderlush to new and different places.

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