Category: Spirits

Sugarcane, Miami—April 28, 2012

In the “here today, gone tomorrow” world of South Florida eateries it’s easy to adopt a jaded attitude toward the maverick chef who dips his toe into the cold, unknown waters of self-ownership – only to see it go bust in less than a year, or even a few months.

Tim Balloo, executive chef, along with the developers behind Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill (creators of Sushi Samba), not only had the ambition to establish a tapas/small plate style restaurant in Miami, they’ve seen their brainchild grow into one of the most popular award-winning establishments around. And with good reason: Sugarcane’s décor and ambiance are chic and hip, but the food and drinks are the real stars.

Beef Tartare

Beef Tartare

But as successful as Sugarcane is, a laid-back eatery of this type could easily morph into “the place”—a hodgepodge of Ed Hardy T-shirted, Axe Body Spray-saturated tools sipping on martinis, checking out the eye candy – you know, the type of place you tend to swear off forever.

Not Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill. This trendy, hip eatery clustered in Miami’s Midtown area has maintained its cool vibe, never compromising its menu to appeal to the latest gastronomic fads or flavor-of-the-month in the culinary world. They have stayed loyal to what works, creating  small plate items that are the talk of the town.

Scallop Crudo

Scallop Crudo

This particular evening Saturday we were joined by our friends Hugo, his wife Dolly, along with Joel and his wife Analena. Hugo was celebrating a belated birthday and was anxious to try Sugarcane.

Keep in mind that Sugarcane gets crowded on the weekends. This Saturday was no exception. We were seated outside in a long picnic-style wooden table that sat under a large awning. There was a threat of rain (which we experienced later in the night), and it was windy, but this didn’t deter us from enjoying a beautiful South Florida evening.

To get things started we ordered from Sugarcane’s drink menu, which has enough choices to satisfy everyone, from the casual to the more sophisticated drinker. Our choices included the Rum Sazerac (amazingly strong but smooth), Mojitos,  a Blackberry Toast (bourbon & blackberries) and the Hemingway (Zafra 21 year Panama rum, lime juice and egg whites) all of which were enjoyed. It was a bit of a wait for the drinks given how crowded the restaurant was inside and out, but they were well worth it.

Duck & Waffles

Duck & Waffles

When it was time to order plates our server suggested ordering a few plates at a time rather than all at once. Logistically this is a good idea since it would be a nightmare for any server to carry dozens of small plates at a time to a table, plus it gives patrons a chance to savor each delicious item, then order more if desired.

Among the standout items:

  • Steak Tartare (topped with a raw quail egg)
  • Scallop Crudo (apple, black truffle, lime and jalapeno)
  • Goat Cheese Croquettes
  • Duck & Waffles (served with maple syrup and topped with a fried duck egg)
  • Pork Belly (prepared over a Robata Grill, served with mustard seed slaw

From our table on the patio we watched amazed as Sugarcane had a steady stream of patrons coming in up until the time we left, which was about 11:30pm.  One thing of note is as crowded as Sugarcane was, we never felt rushed to finish.  Our server was extremely accommodating and friendly.  There was a delay between some of our courses, but we attributed that to the kitchen rather than the server.  It was a beautiful night in Miami and no one, including us, was in a rush for the evening to end.

Lola’s On Harrison—April 14, 2012

Lola's on Harrison

Lola's on Harrison

Hollywood…Florida, is a town that, in the interest of fine dining, is not going to be outdone by its more well-heeled neighbors Fort Lauderdale to the north and Miami to the south.

Lola’s On Harrison (2032 Harrison Street, Hollywood, FL) is the type of restaurant that you’d expect to see nestled amongst the numerous chic South Beach eateries, or in Fort Lauderdale’s case, beautifully situated on the Intracoastal Waterway.

Chef/owner Michael Wagner, however, seems to prefer the “quiet bustle” of Hollywood, setting up shop along Harrison Street, much to the delight of locals looking for a fine dining experience in the downtown area.

We decided to head to Lola’s for a 9 p.m. dinner this particular Saturday. A pleasant young hostess greeted us at the door, but told us our table wouldn’t be available for a few minutes. She suggested we wait at the bar and enjoy pre-dinner cocktails. The drink menu at Lola’s has an amazing array of choices to suit whatever strikes the fancy, including an eclectic who’s who of craft beers in the bottle. Not wanting to fill up on beer, we all decided to keep things light and order cocktails.  All were delicious and refreshing.

The food at Lola’s is simply incredible. Chef Michael Wagner is well known for putting his own fun, creative spin on traditional dinner plate items. We skipped appetizers and ordered entrees straight away (though looking at some of the apps on the menu, I was temptingly close to ordering one or two—especially the half portion of the “Falling Off The Bone Beef Short rib).

At last we were ready to order. Kim ordered the Milk Fed Veal Chop “Oscar,” which the chef prepared medium rare. A good choice. The veal was tender, and the sweet super lump crab meat and garlic roasted asparagus (covered lightly with an herb Hollandaise) made a fine accompaniment. I ordered the Grilled Rainbow Trout, but was told by our server a short time later that the kitchen had run out of the trout. Not troubled, I ordered the Chicken Breast Milanese, which I was quite happy with as a substitute. The chicken breast was prepared with a basil cracker crust, then topped with a light spring leaf salad; tomatoes and mozzarella cheese cubes are playfully arranged along the perimeter of the plate and drizzled with a whole grain mustard vinaigrette. Jen ordered the Grilled Skirt Steak, which also included parmesan potatoes au gratin and caramelized brussels sprouts (substituted for the sauteed broccolini without issue).  Every restaurant has its signature dish, the one food item that sets them apart, and Lola’s is no exception. Chef Wagner has taken BBQ Beef Ribs to a whole new level. His center cut ribs are not only slow roasted; they’re slathered in his secret recipe Coca Cola BBQ sauce. The contrast of tangy and sweet can’t be understated. The ribs also come with large buttermilk onion rings and herb creamed corn (both delicious), but it’s the ribs that steal the show. At one point Mitch picked up one of the large ribs on his plate and the meat—without sounding too cliché—fell right off the bone. Satisfied and full, we skipped dessert and finished our drinks.

If you enjoy fine dining at a reasonable price, Lola’s On Harrison is a great choice. The food and drink menus are varied and all delicious, the atmosphere relaxed and unpretentious. Lola’s is a Wanderlush friendly place indeed.

 

South Beach Food & Wine Festival Weekend

Cardozo Hotel

Cardozo Hotel

February is a special time in South Florida for Wanderlushing.  South Beach turns into Mecca for fans of good food, wine and drink as the culinary elite head into town for the annual South Beach Food & Wine Festival.  We consider ourselves lucky to live so close to this event and every year we make our escape to the slight south for this special weekend.

Dilido Beach Club View of Burger Bash

As a change of pace for this year’s event, we decided to head down early Friday to ease our way into the decadent weekend.  After checking into our hotel, the Cardozo, on Ocean Drive, we decided a drink was in order.   We headed to The Betsy Hotel about a block north on Ocean drive.  We grabbed two bar stools at the long wooden bar where we could watch the passers by through the windows facing Ocean Drive.   With glasses of wine in hand we toasted to the beginning of our weekend.  The vibe was chill and the service was good.  Not a bad way to start.

We headed back to our hotel to get ready to go to the Dilido Beach Club at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel where we could watch the Burger Bash going on at the beach and get to sample the Ritz Carlton’s entry.  We ended up getting a table that was right at the edge with a perfect view of the event.  A bottle of Cabernet on the table, lamb and beef sliders on the way and beautiful weather put us in the semi-reality that is the SOBE Food & Wine Festival.  The night wouldn’t be complete without a stop at a dive bar.  We ended up heading to Lost Weekend with plans to go to to Mac’s Club Deuce next but after a pint of Brooklyn Monster it was all we could do to make it back to the hotel.  Note to self:  10% beers at the END of the evening not such a good idea.

 

Grand Tasting Village

Grand Tasting Village

SATURDAY

Come 11 a.m. sharp the doors opened wide for the Grand Tasting Village. It was a warm day, but not terribly uncomfortable. I say this every year we go to the SBW&FF, what possesses people to wear white clothing to an event where red wine will flow like slurred prose from a drunken poet? To each his own, I suppose. With two tents both a football field in length to walk through, it would take several blog entries to give you a fair and apt description of all the wine, food and spirits available over the course of seven hours. However, that said, we would like to pass along some important highlights about some of the subtle changes that have taken place since last year’s event.

 

  • The wine glasses: Gone is the elegant sophistication of the Reidel glass, replaced by a dubious sponsor in Ikea. On a positive note, the glass did come fully assembled. The complimentary first wine pour as we left the hospitality tent was welcome, as usual.
  • The “Swag Bag”: During past festivals bags would be brimming with volumes of coupons, recipes, food samples and even utensils like cutting boards, bowls and small kitchen gadgets you could keep for a few months and then use as cheap Christmas stocking stuffers. Our bags seemed considerably lighter this year, and it seemed like there were less free magazines available as well.
  • The Crowds: Maybe it’s just us, but it looked like there were more people at this year’s event. Maybe they oversold tickets to the Saturday Grand Tasting, or maybe we’re just losing our capacity to handle large crowds (especially tipsy ones), but it was more elbow-to-elbow during the 2012 event. No one was rude or cut in line, but several vendors ran out of their respective items before the tents closed at 5 p.m.
  • The Home Brew: Several intrepid students from Florida International University Cooking & Hospitality school brewed four craft beers as an academic assignment. Come to think of it, if I had a class like that in college I would have never graduated. The American Pale Ale and the IPA we tasted were incredibly bold, complex and refreshing, not overly hoppy or dry. We give them an A+ on their beer-making venture.


"Talking with My Mouth Full" Pairing Event

“Talking with My Mouth Full” Pairing Event

SUNDAY

It was nice to sleep in on Sunday after a full Saturday’s overindulgence. We took a walk over to Starbucks for coffee, orange juice and muffins. We checked out of the Cardozo at 11 a.m. and headed over to the Miami Beach Convention Center where we would be attending a Bank of America Lifestyle food and wine pairing seminar given by Top Chef judge, author of the book Talking With My Mouth Full and Special Projects Director at Food & Wine Magazine, Gail Simmons, along with wine personality Josh Wesson.

Josh Wesson

Josh Wesson

The seminar, slated to begin at 1 p.m., started a little later than expected because of timing issues with a previous event. This didn’t make a lot of people happy, including the Wanderlushes. Punctuality aside, Gail Simmons is the same in person as she is on television, friendly, knowledgeable, outgoing and definitely not afraid to say what’s on her mind. Her partner for this seminar, Josh Wesson, was equally entertaining and made funny remarks throughout the presentation. Each food item was not only delicious, it had an interesting story behind it. The Spanish artichoke and chickpea stew with Chorizo, served with pan con tomate, was influenced by her early college days in Spain; the Quinoa and brown rice bowl with sautéed vegetables and Tahini Dressing; the pork belly with pickled radishes; the Vietnamese shrimp and scallion Pancake with Asian slaw and fried shallots; and for dessert, her mom’s vanilla and plum (peaches substituting for the plum) tart. The wine selection was eclectic; yet paired well with the food. The Zardetto Spumante Rose, The 2010 Clean Slate Mosel Riesling, the 2010 Los Dos Grenache/Syrah, the 2011 Stella Moscato and a thick, yet not cloyingly oversweet, Emilio Hidalgo Pedro Ximenez NV Sherry. The portion sizes were adequate, as were the wine pours. Overall, the It was an hour-long food and wine journey we both thoroughly enjoyed.

Despite the negatives, and they are minor ones at that, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival really is a wine and food lover’s dream. Even if you pace yourself properly (and remember to hydrate frequently), there is no conceivable way you can sample everything available. It is just that big…but in a good way. We will be back next year, SBW&FF.

Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon – Wanderlush Style

South Florida Lazy Sunday

South Florida Lazy Sunday

I am not a firm believer in preventing a hangover via the “hair of the dog.” To me, it simply delays the inevitable – so why put it off? A better cure is to absorb any traces of alcohol in the system by a strict adherence to being lazy, eating rich food and imbibing (responsibly) in the curative properties of more alcohol. This method is unscientific at best, and to my knowledge no data exists to support it. But it sure makes for a fun and filling Sunday.

Bloody Mary at Sea Watch

Sea Watch Bloody Mary

Which is where we Wanderlushes found ourselves this particular January Sunday. Every so often we like to throw caution to the wind, venture out and do a modified version of a pub crawl in our town. Ours started with breakfast, or in this case a brunch of lobster benedict and Bloody Marys at one of our favorite Fort Lauderdale beachside restaurants, Coconuts. The weather was ideal for sitting outside, but even the booths indoor offer a favorable glimpse of the beautiful Fort Lauderdale intracoastal.

Sea Watch

Sea Watch

After brunch we drove north along A1A, breezing through Fort Lauderdale into smaller seaside towns like Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Pompano Beach, Lighthouse Point, Deerfield Beach and Boca Raton. We decided to make a pit stop at one of Pompano Beach’s oldest and most frequented beachside eateries: Seawatch. Still full from our brunch at Coconuts, we ordered four Bloody Marys and sat outside on the upper deck patio/dining area that offers unbeatable vistas of the grassy dunes and beach. It’s days like this that we’re grateful to be living in South Florida and not digging out of three feet of snow in sub-zero temperatures somewhere else.

Sea Watch

Sea Watch

After sipping on our drinks and enjoying the gorgeous weather, we piled back into the Wanderlushmobile and headed north along A1A to Boca Raton, admiring many of the multi-million-dollar homes situated on either side of the street. It’s staggering to think how much people pay to live along the beach in South Florida, though it must be worth it because, as the late comedian George Carlin quipped, “You only have a**holes on three sides of you.”

Biergarten

Biergarten

We made it to Boca Raton and stopped by the Royal Palm Plaza to check out an arts and crafts fair taking place in the parking on the Federal Highway side of the shopping center. There were people there selling original art, clothing, homemade pickles and jewelry. We wandered around for a while checking out the wares and decided a little snack was in order, so we ended up ordering some noshes at The Biergarten Boca Raton. The décor at this Boca newcomer is decidedly hofbrauhaus, with waitresses clad in festive Oktoberfest dresses and a menu consisting of German and American bar bites and pub grub. We ordered beers, a plate of chicken wings, sausage bites with mustard dipping sauce and bier cheese fries, which were good, but were served sundae style and with a thin cheese sauce. Overall the Biergarten is a fun place to enjoy some lighter fare and beers, especially outside, weather permitting.

Biergarten Apps

Biergarten Apps

Most people would be sated at this point and call it a day. But not the Wanderlushes. With the sun still shining we were bound and determined to make the most of this lazy Sunday, so we headed over to Mizner Park to check out the Cheese Course.

Cheese Plates

Cheese Plates from The Cheese Course

This establishment does wine and cheese right. Not only do they boast a world-class array of some of the finest domestic and imported cheeses, they have an eclectic wine selection so you can purchase and enjoy both on the premises. A pleasant woman working behind the counter offered samples of three delicious cheeses, which we all tried.  After sampling the Cahill Porter, Cacio di Bosco (Truffle!) and Teahive cheeses we decided we had to share  couple of cheese plates to complete our evening.   We looked for a nice bottle of red to accompany our selections and settled on a bold and zesty Sebastiani California Zinfandel.  We then sat down at a long, rustic wooden dinner table (country style) and enjoyed our cheese, bread and wine feast. Whatever traces of hangover or blahs we had in the morning were long gone by the time we left Boca Raton early that evening. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday, in our book.

EPCOT Food & Wine Festival: Culinary Demo & Taste, Shake & Indulge Grand Marnier seminar

Food & Wine Festival
Culinary Demo:  Peng Looi – August Moon
Taste, Shake & Indulge Grand Marnier seminar at Le Bistro

It is raining. It is windy. Our shoes are soaked – soaked to the point that our feet go squish squish squish with every wet step we take. We’re in Florida (Lake Buena Vista, to be exact), so rain is not an aberration. But to us Wanderlushes, we always expect glorious, “wish you were here” postcard, chamber of commerce weather – and certainly not during the weekend of the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival, one of the Grand Slam events in the Wanderlush events tour. But let’s back up for just a moment.

Fisherman's Stew

Fisherman's Stew

Walt Disney World Dolphin

Walt Disney World Dolphin

Our situation couldn’t have been any better upon arriving Friday afternoon. We checked into our hotel, The Dolphin (located steps away from Disney’s Boardwalk), got settled and headed over to the park to taste some incredible food samples from around the world (the fisherman’s stew from Ireland paired with Guinness Stout was Erin Go Brav-OH Yeah!). On a side note: If you’ve ever spent a weekend experiencing the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival, you know things move at a frenetic pace. So, unlike past years where we exhausted ourselves trying to cram too much EPCOT-ness into a short period of time, we decided one seminar per day on Friday and Saturday was sufficient. In retrospect, this was a wise decision.

Salad of Arugula & Espresso Infused Lamb Loin

Salad of Arugula & Espresso Infused Lamb Loin

Peng Looi

Peng Looi Demo

Our first and only seminar on Friday was a culinary demonstration by Asian cuisine chef Peng Looi, who owns several restaurants in the Mid-South, most notably the critically acclaimed August Moon, located in Louisville, Kentucky. Chef Looi prepared a delicious salad of baby arugula and espresso infused lamb loin hat was out of this world. The lamb was seared to perfection; the pineapple chutney provided a bit of heat, yet was balanced out nicely by the truffled pickled ginger vinagrette  tossed with the arugula. Because fine cuisine is meant to be paired with a great wine, a representative from Chateau Ste. Michele Winery was on hand to give us a brief introduction of the Eroica Riesling, which paired tremendously with Chef Looi’s amazing appetizer.

A breakdown of Friday night, after the seminar: walk, eat, drink, ride Soarin’ (love that ride), eat some more, drink some more; stop, contemplate, ask each other if we’re too full, head back to the hotel, stop at Big River Brewing Company to share an appetizer of crab and cheese dip paired with buttery sliced bread (that we probably didn’t need) and a couple of craft beers; pay the bill, return to our room to freshen up; head over the Kimonos at the Swan Hotel, drink more wine we don’t need, listen to drunk people sing karaoke (a few could actually sing), call it a night, then make our way back to the hotel room and crash.

Grilled Lamb Chop

Grilled Lamb Chop from Australia

Saturday was a complete rainout. A large, rainy system passed over the entire state of Florida and didn’t stop the entire day. We grabbed our umbrellas and ventured out late in the morning. It was downright nasty out (a little Seattle or San Francisco paired with London, in terms of rain), but the heartiest of souls don’t let a little bit of rain and wind deter them from enjoying their vacation, and neither would we. We slogged our way to the park and enjoyed more great food and wine/beer samples meandering through the world showcase, though enjoying it took a little more effort as we clutched our umbrellas throughout the day.

Grand Marnier Tasting

Grand Marnier Tasting

At 2:30 Saturday we headed over to Le Bistro Restaurant in France to attend the Taste, Shake & Indulge Grand Marnier tasting. I am not a huge Grand Marnier drinker, but being the curious Wanderlush that I am, I was looking forward to the event. Once seated, our hostess gave us a brief but fascinating history lesson about this world-renowned liqueur. Then it was time to taste. The first was the Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge (red ribbon), which is easily the most recognizable liqueur in the Grand Marnier family. Besides the strong alcohol notes, the tangerine peel and vanilla are unmistakable in the Cordon Rouge. Next was the 100, a more limited release version of Grand Marnier most people have never tried because of its higher price tag. The 100 was remarkably smooth, with less of an alcoholic taste and more citrus on the nose and palate.

Crepes Suzette

Making Crepes Suzette

The third and final Grand Marnier, le piece de resistance, was the 150. This is Grand Marnier’s premier liqueur. It is made with up to 50 year old cognacs and is unquestionably the smoothest of the three with rounded spices. Throw out the recipe book – you drink the 150 neat, preferably at room temperature, in a large snifter, sitting comfortably by a roaring fire as you read Voltaire or Sartre (cigar and smoking jacket optional). After the tasting, waiters prepared crepes tableside. I have never seen crepes prepared in this manner, though we were all somewhat baffled when waiters emerged from the kitchen with plates of freshly prepared crepes. Huh? Oh well, Garcon’s flaming crepe display was entertaining, so we fully understood preparing them this way for the sake of timing.

The Final Product

The Final Product

All in all, this year’s EPCOT Food & Wine Festival was enjoyable. Wet, but enjoyable. Kim and I enjoy the event every year, rain or shine – though we hope for more shine than rain. Cheers!

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