Category: Spirits

New Times Pairings Event, Thursday, September 15, 2011 Broward Center for the Performing Arts

VIP Pairings Lounge

"VIP" Pairings Lounge

Septembers in South Florida can be brutal. High temperatures and humidity levels prevail, leaving everyone wondering when we’ll get a welcome relief from it all. September also means it’s time once again for the New Times Pairings, an annual wine and food extravaganza held at the Broward Center For The Performing Arts, in Fort Lauderdale.

View from the Top

View from the Balcony

We did our homework, as usual, gathering a wine barrel’s worth of information on the wide variety of wines, food, etc. available during the event, most notably in the V.I.P. section, which always boasts some incredible high-end vintners (presented by Wine Watch) and amazingly delectable food.

However, that said, the 2011 version of the V.I.P. section, which was located in a different area from last year, felt less top end and more like “V.I. Paid For This”? It wasn’t bad, per se, it’s just that in our minds it didn’t merit the cost ($75 per ticket) to get a one-hour head start on the general admission folks to eat, drink and rub elbows with the Real Housewives of Broward County, cougars and a few middle-aged hipsters. Sure, we sampled an impressive array of high-end wines and nibbled on some delicious food, but overall we were under whelmed. On a negative note: there was a gentleman serving wine at one of the tables who felt texting on his phone superceded his actual job, which was to serve pours of wine and answer questions, if needed. Several people remarked on his lack of professionalism.

Courtyard

Courtyard

In spite of the V.I.P. area let down, this year’s Pairings was a lot of fun. Meandering past the food and wine stands throughout the night (too many to sample), it seemed less crowded and there was a more relaxed vibe to the event. Trash piling up was a problem in certain areas, and that’s to be expected to an extent, but it was especially prevalent in the V.I.P. area where there were fewer tables to bus.  At several times during the night we noticed people putting plates on tables when there was a trash can nearby.   Really?!  You couldn’t walk the few feet to the trash can?  We also chatted with our craft beer expert friends Blake and Ryan, who, per usual, were quite generous with their pours.

PL8

PL8

It’s impossible to list everything we tasted, but among the stand-outs in the VIP area:

2009 Roessler Blue Jay Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $36
2009 Roessler Pinot Noir Laurellwood Willamette Valley $36
2006 Vinoce Cabernet Franc Blend Mount Veeder  $58
2007 Vinoce Cabernet Franc Blend Mount Veeder $58
2008 Vinoce Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder $58
Green Range Farms Florida Wagyu Ribeye/ Truffle Creamed Corn/ Bordelaise Sauce – Melted in the mouth with a creamy lushness.

SA1A

SA1A

Among the stand-outs in the general admission area:

SAIA: Scallop  & Victory Prima Pils
Alibi:
Profiteroles with Lavender Honey & Parlay “the Bookmaker”  $25
Sette Bello: Escarole & Sensorium Syrah/Grenache/Marsanne/Viognier Blend 2008  $30
Casa D’Angelo: Roasted Veal Risotto Timbale & Corte Pavone Brunello di Montalcino 2005  $40
3030 Ocean:
Pumpkin Soup w/Pumpkin Ale
Bhudda Sky Bar:
Vinoce Sauvignon Bland Napa 2010 $22
PL8: Shrimp Bruschetta 2009 Hahn Pinot Noir Monterey  $12
Rok:Brgr: Lobster corn dogs & Ayinger
Bravo Ristorante: Pollo Scarpariello   Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2006 $31
New River: Spellbound Petite Sirah Reserve $49
Kilwins Las Olas: Dow 10-Year Tawny Port $33

Once again, Pairings didn’t disappoint. The wine and food were plentiful, the atmosphere friendly. We’ll be back next year, to be sure, though we may just have to forgo the extra expense of the V.I.P. treatment. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.

Cirque Eloize ID at the Adrienne Arsht Center & Haven Nightclub Saturday, September 3

Cirque Eloize IDCIRQUE ELOIZE Adrienne Arsht Center, Miami 

“The valet is closed. They’re not parking any more cars,” a rain-soaked man told us Saturday evening as we were 10 minutes late for the 8 p.m. start of the Cirque Eloize show at the Adrienne Arsht Center, in Miami. Life may be about the journey, not the destination – but try telling that to anxious ticket holders like us who drove all the way from Fort Lauderdale in a blinding squall (at night, mind you), and who just waited 20 minutes in the Valet line and want their damn car parked to the tune of $25 so they have an opportunity to see one of the more unique Cirque du Soleil shows to come along in some time. 

Luckily, the rain slowed enough that we were able to park the car, scamper across the stree and make our way to the entrance. The show had already started at that point, so the usher waited for a break in the action to put us in seats that far exceeded what we had purchased. 

Cirque Eloize is the younger, hipper cousin to the Cirque family of shows, which are a fusion of operatic drama mixed with amazing acrobatics. The website calls it “a spectacular, mind-blowing fusion of new theatrical circus and urban dance.” Less dramatic and light on the visuals, Eloize is the story of a typical day in the life of a large metropolitan city, see through the eyes (and actions) of its street goers. Eloize’s story is told through a playful mix of choreographed dance routines interspersed with awe-inspiring feats of acrobatic prowess – all set to a thunderous soundtrack of break beats, hip hop and EBM. Several of the slower routines were in the vein of the Cirque drama, but were a welcome segue to the more up-tempo numbers. Overall, we were very impressed with Cirque Eloize. 

HAVEN NIGHTCLUB Lincoln Road, South Beach—http://www.havenlounge.com

Pop Drop Cocktail

Pop Drop Cocktail

The opening of a new nightclub in South Beach is akin to a Sarah Palin verbal gaffe. It’s not much in the way of news. Interesting, perhaps – but not enough to pique your interest in an earth-shattering way. 

So, after the Cirque Eloize show Saturday we decided to head over to SoBe’s newest night spot, Haven. Located just north of most of the retail stores and restaurants on Lincoln Road, Haven is a welcome addition to the plethora of South Beach late-night venues. There was a doorman at the front of the establishment, which didn’t bode well at first (I thought he looked like a “yacht club cocktail party casual” ESPN sports anchor Scott Van Pelt, in his white pants and navy blue blazer). He asked us if we had reservations, which we did not. Inside I spoke to a young girl who said we could grab a table if, and only if, we were out of the place in two hours (apparently Haven’s tables are a premium as the South Beach nights heat up).

Slider & Tots

Slider & Tots

Our feeling was this was going to be a colossal time suck, but we ventured in and were seated. Besides the usual good-looking patrons, we were quick to notice the incredible (and elaborate) light and sound system inside the club. A DJ stationed in the back was spinning a sultry mix of down tempo house and trip hop music as people noshed on tapas-styled appetizers and mixed drinks. Haven bills itself as a “digital intimate Hi-Fi lounge serving fresh organic small plates and innovative cocktails.” For drinks, Mitch and Jen both ordered the Elevate, a delightful blend of pineapple-sage infused partida silver, lime and agave nectar. Kim ordered the Pop Drop, a complex, cold martini comprised of Tito’s handmade vodka and cucumber juice, garnished with a playful basil popsicle. Both drinks were incredible. I settled for a Brooklyn Lager. For food, we decided on the XL slider lamburger, which is topped with lavender-coriander honey, apple-fennel slaw and ouzo mustard; the XL Prime Beef slider, with neuskes bacon, guacamole, tomato and Vermont cheddar cheese melted on top. We also shared two orders of tater tots, topped with Maytag bleu cheese, chives and balsamic ketchup. Overall, the food and drinks were quite good, though a bit pricey, which is what you come to expect in South Beach nightclubs. The staff was friendly and accommodating – and at no point did we feel rushed or uncomfortable in our surroundings. Haven is a welcome addition to the South Beach scene, with great drinks, delicious food – all without the attitude.

Mai Kai Restaurant, Ft. Lauderdale

Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a Hawaiian/Polynesian-themed restaurant in town that served island food, plusMai Kai really strong fruity, rum-soaked drinks in cool-looking glasses served up by co-eds clad in skimpy island wear? Oh yeah, and put this all under a thatched roof faux tiki-style building with torches and “waterfalls,” too.

Welcome to Mai Kai, located on Federal Highway, in Fort Lauderdale.

Since its inception over40 years ago, The Mai Kai has been offering tourists and locals alike authentic Polynesian cuisine (think Japanese or Korean BBQ, but with more Don Ho and less Kim Jong-Il) and dinner shows consisting of Shakira-like hula dancers and dudes twirling fire batons. However, most locals (us included) prefer to sip drinks in the Molokai Bar, which is located just inside the restaurant. If you’ve never been, check it out some time. With its signature clipper ship nautical-themed décor and polished wood bar, the Molokai Bar is a relaxing saloon in which to enjoy cocktails and/or appetizers with friends, or as we noted, a fair number of business professionals taking full advantage of the Mai Kai’s happy hour drink prices.

Food reviews are mixed, though the Mai Kai’s drinks are top notch. Looking at the illustrated, full-color menu, you’ll notice the cocktails are divided into three categories: mild, medium and strong. Kim and Mitch had the Cobra’s Kiss,  and Jen enjoyed the Tahitian Breeze while I sipped on a Hidden Pearl, a medium strong punch laced with rum, served in a tulip glass.

Mai Kai Back Bar

Mai Kai Back Bar View

This particular night, one of our favorite local bands, Slip & The Spinouts, was playing sets from 6 to 9 p.m. It was Slip’s birthday, so in true fashion he celebrated his big day doing what he loves most: playing kick-ass rockabilly music and enjoying a few birthday libations between sets. With dinner plans already made and still in a proper frame of mind, we finished our drinks, said good night to Slip and the boys and headed out. As to the libations, just keep in mind that yes, the Mai Kai’s drinks are fruity, cold and delicious – but they can also be deceivingly strong. Here’s a simple sobriety test: order one drink and enjoy it. If you’re bold enough to cross the two or three-drink threshold and start seriously entertaining the idea of twirling fire, hula dancing or singing Tiny Bubbles, it’s time to say aloha to the Mai Kai. Cheers!

Dapur—Asian Tapas Restaurant and Lounge

Dapur Restaurant

Dapur

Gauging the eating habits of Fort Lauderdale foodies is always a crapshoot. What’s popular today may be gone today, literally. Seizing on the hot trend of tapas dining, Chef and restaurateur, Edi Mulyanto, has put together a chic dining spot with a decidedly South Beach feel to it: Dapur. If the site looks familiar, you may be thinking, “Another restaurant? There?” Have faith, dear readers. Dapur is the latest incarnation to open at the location of several restaurants and nightclubs that have come and gone. Dapur looks promising. The night we dined the main room was filled with customers and the lounge on the other side also had a fair amount of patrons. The décor is “Eclectic Asian Spare,” with simple wood tables, white plates and non-descript flatware, plus a fair amount of candlelight to set the mood beautifully.

Dapur boasts an extensive specialty drink and martini menu, along with an eclectic array of white and red wines. Dapur’s signature cocktail, the Dartsmoor, which Kim, Jen & Mitch all ordered (I stuck to a, yawn…glass of Sauvignon Blanc; big mistake due to its small pour), was as good as described on the menu, though they were a bit smaller than we had hoped.

Hamachi Tartar

Hamachi Tartar - Gold Flakes on Top!

The portion sizes on the small plates are as advertised. It’s best to order several small plate items to share. We didn’t order any of the “large” entrees from the menu this particular night, but we could see some of the items being delivered to other tables (and something to try the next time we dine there). All of the entrees we were lucky enough to savor with our eyes looked and smelled incredible. Dapur’s staff is friendly and accommodating, as well. No high-brow stuffiness or SoBe attitude here. Our server was quite excited to talk about the food, but mostly he couldn’t stop raving about the drinks. They were delicious and refreshing.

Our Table Selections listed in order by favorite to least:

  • Hamachi Tartar—hamachi, fresh ginger, chives and garlic, soy yuzu sauce
  • Hamachi Kama—grilled yellow-tail tuna jaw with a ponzu dipping sauce
  • Royal Tuna  Roll – Albacore, Hamachi, Jalapeno Tempura, Cilantro, Inside and Topped with Tuna and Wahoo
  • Crab Cake—jumbo blue lump crab, heart of palm and crunchy coconut with a tangy creamy sauce
  • Bang Bang Scallops – Scallops with Soy Garlic Butter Sauce on Brussel Sprouts
  • Vietnamese Rolls—vermicelli noodles, basil, vegetables and shrimp with a peanut hoisin dipping sauce
  • Thai Pancake—green mussels, egg, tempura batter garnished with scallions and bean sprouts
  • Pretty Roll—salmon, tobiko, cream cheese, crab, wrapped in cucumber (no rice) (more of an appetizer than a roll)
Thai Pancakes

Thai Pancakes

Dapur
1620 N Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale
www.dapurkitchen.com

10th Annual South Beach Food & Wine Festival

SOBE 2011 Wine & Food Festival

SOBE 2011 Wine & Food Festival

If you’re one of the many fortunate souls who find themselves in South Florida in the waning days of February, you’re not only grateful for the weather (beautiful), you are also fortunate to be situated in the food Mecca (for four days at least) located in the epicenter of the culinary festival world: The South Beach Food & Wine Festival.

Which is where we found ourselves the weekend of February 26-27. The SBF&WF has become our February ritual, a “stay-cation” weekend we’ve looked forward to for the past four years. Knowing full and well just how crowded an event like this can be, we drove down to Miami Beach early Saturday morning in hopes of finding suitable parking near our accommodations, the Cardozo Hotel, which is located at 13th and Ocean Drive, just across street from the festival.

Starting the Festival at the Tents

Entering the Tents to Pick Up Glasses

No such luck. We had to double back along Collins and park in a monolithic parking structure between sixth and seventh avenues, a good six blocks from our destination. We parked the car and made the trek along the sun-baked Miami street, checking out many of the designer fashion and schlock stores catering to fat-wallet tourists. We arrived at the hotel but our room wasn’t ready, but the friendly front desk attendant told us she would have our bags put aside until later that day when we were ready to check in. Then, it was on to the show.

We could already taste that first welcoming sample of wine being poured as we received complimentary culinary and wine magazines (to pawn off on family and friends after reading) swag bags (a bit lighter in freebies than last year), wine glasses (Waterford) and, wait for it—no lanyards! Huh? Say that again SBF&WF student greeter? Did you say NO lanyards? We can do with less food, less wine, less anything at this event, except we simply cannot function without our beloved wine lanyards. Events like this make you wish you had four arms, but the wine lanyard, so simple and elegant in its design, an accessory item valued at less than in this writer’s estimation, simply is an indispensable “pseudo limb” for the serious samplers because it frees up your wine glass hand so you can eat, sip, Tweet, update your Facebook status, call your friends and gloat about where you are, what you’re doing, who you saw, who you wish you saw, etc.

Rick Bayless

Rick Bayless

Yeah, we get that it may be rather lame to actually wear the lanyard but it is handy.  Later on in the day we found out that the show planners stopped distributing lanyards due to a widespread design flaw, a fatal defect in which part of the plastic that wraps around the stem could break and thus, cause the would-be wearer to lose precious liquids and/or stain their designer shirt.

But we soldiered on, lanyards or no lanyards. The weather this particular Saturday was quite simply amazing, low 80s, dry and sunny, with a slight breeze coming off the ocean—perfect conditions for eating and drinking to excess. We noticed that similar to years past show planners strategically set up water stations all around the event, with distributors at each one gently reminding everyone to stay hydrated—which we did. Chef Rick Bayless was giving a cooking seminar in the first kitchen station tent located close by the front entrance, so we stopped for a moment to check out what this very talented chef (and Top Chef Masters winner) was preparing for the large, eager audience seated there.

Cosmopolitan Mixologist

Cosmopolitan Mixologist

A first at this year’s event was a cleverly designed two-story Cosmopolitan Lounge set up between tents. On the bottom floor was a small bar where bartenders mixed drinks and a chef prepared burgers and small appetizers. We waited briefly to check out the upstairs patio deck lounge (due to weight restrictions, only six people at a time). After being presented with cool towels we made our way to the second floor where we enjoyed our drinks and took in the incredible 360 degree view of the event, Miami Beach as well as Ocean Drive.

View from Cosmopolitan Deck

View from Cosmopolitan Deck

The rest of the afternoon we leisurely made our way through the Grand Tasting tents (each of which is a football field in length). We both took note and agreed that with so many culinary delights and wines available we would have to rank them in the order of “must try,” “looks interesting” and “if we’re not full and can make room.” Some of the more memorable wines we enjoyed during this year’s event:

Bondi Santi Brunello
Grich Hills Fume Blanc
Rosenblum Monte Rosso Reserve
Wild Horse Unbridled Pinot Noir
Rubicon Blancaneaux

Stone Crabs

Stone Crabs

There is that point when even the heartiest appetites will be filled; when the mere thought of stuffing or cramming another bite-sized morsel into an already full stomach is just unbearable. It’s the point when you can’t tell a Cabernet from a Yellow Cab, or that Pinot Grigio tastes strangely like the Chardonnay we tried two tables down, which oddly mimics the Sauvignon Blanc next to that one, using the same glass we may or may not have sampled a beer with.

Yes, we had reached that point—and then some. To eat or drink anything else at that point (besides the occasional sip of water) would have been a lesson in gluttony we didn’t want to learn. As good as it all is, you have to stop at some point, unfortunately. So, with the sun setting it was time to leave the friendly confines of the Grand Tasting tents and meander through the grassy dunes to make our way back to the hotel. Thanks, South Beach Food & Wine Festival, for putting our food and spirit consumption level to the test—again.

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