Category: Spirits

Caliente Kitchen Restaurant & Lounge Delray Beach, Florida

Caliente Kitchen

Opening a restaurant/lounge in Florida, just like anywhere, takes a great deal of time and effort. Coming up with the next popular “place to see and be seen” in South Florida is especially tough. Which is why when our friends invited us to attend a private grand opening event for a new and exciting restaurant/lounge in Delray Beach, we simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Our friend Rob, a true entrepreneur in every sense, along with several business partners, opened Caliente Kitchen, an upscale Mexican eatery and lounge on trendy Atlantic Avenue, in Delray Beach.

This particular night was billed as an intimate, private event for close friends, families and associates to see the restaurant, take in its rustic ambience, and enjoy some cool margaritas while sampling a fixed tasting menu featuring a sample of several items from the regular menu.  Walking in to the restaurant you really do get the sense of being transported into a rustic hacienda in Mexico.  The decor features heavy wood furniture with burnt red leather upholstery and tin light fixtures.  The main focus at the front is a gigantic wood framed mirror that takes up a large expanse of the wall across from the bar.   The pleasing effect makes the front area feel much larger than the actual space.   There are several high bistro tables in this area which are removed later in the evening to allow for a dance floor.  This is where we were seated for the evening.  There was definitely a keen eye for detail in the interior design of the space.

Caliente Tasting Menu

Our server, one of several in this very attractive bar (all bearing “Papi” name tags!) and wait staff, immediately took our drink order and brought us a bowl of fresh tortilla chips and homemade guacamole along with chicken nachos to munch on prior to taking our entrée orders.  Both were delicious and paired well with our large, frosty cold margaritas.  Another round of margaritas later our entrees arrived.  Like the appetizers, they didn’t disappoint. The tacos were generously filled with a choice of marinated, shredded chicken, ground beef and homemade pico de gallo or grilled vegetables and queso fresco; the Dos Equis marinated sautéed chicken breast was probably the most interesting and tasty of the main courses.  We finished the meal by sharing coffee flan and tres leches desserts.  Both were good but the tres leches was by far the favorite of our table.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable evening.  There were a few minor issues with service and presentation but that is to be expected at a pre-opening event.  The missteps were small,  and the great food, service and atmosphere far outweighed them.   We can’t wait to try the regular full menu once they have gotten into their regular groove.  We didn’t get to partake in the night club aspect of the establishment, but it was a “school night’ after all and even us Wanderlushes have to consider the consequences of overindulgence.   By looking at Caliente’s Facebook page you can tell the nights are already going strong.

The food and drinks were all very good, the service, prompt and friendly…and the vibe is exciting and upbeat. We wish Rob all the best with this latest business endeavor. Though, with Rob’s “Midas Touch” sensibilities and his astute business acumen, we expect Caliente Kitchen will be a great success.

Las Olas Food & Wine Festival, May 15, 2010

Las Olas Food & Wine Festival

Events like the Las Olas Food & Wine Festival make us sad, that we as human beings, do not possess a second (larger) stomach, four arms (with 12 fingers) and an auxiliary liver.  And with good reason: with so much great food and wine choices available to us this particular night, a larger than normal capacity for eating and drinking would have been a welcome anomaly, though it certainly would draw attention to us…and not in a positive way.

So Many Wines to Try...

So Many Wines to Try...

Physiological limitations aside, we thoroughly enjoyed this year’s incarnation of the festival (the 15th), a culinary gauntlet which meanders its way down Las Olas, the toniest boulevard in all of Broward County, much less South Florida.  The event planners know how to put on a grand fete.  Ticket sales are limited to keep the crowds from bloating (literally) the boulevard.  Restaurants and shops along the street are open for business as usual, but curious patrons hoping to score a free nibble and sip here and there were kept at bay because they didn’t possess the one vital fashion accessory that binds all LOF&W foodies together: the day-glo orange disposable wrist band signifying them as paid attendees.  Simply put, if you don’t pay you can’t play.

Street View of Las Olas Food & Wine Festival

Street View

Due to space limitations and the sheer amount of participating food and beverage vendors, stands were spaced apart strategically.  This allowed easier access for everyone to both move about or stand in line, and not feel cramped (though several times throughout the night we were privy to cell phone conversations which, though interesting as they may have been, we could have done without hearing.)

If you’ve been following our blog then you know the rule of thumb at these events, as is par for the course at any large food and wine gathering, is to pace yourself accordingly.  We had a well thought-out plan to try specific foods and wines along the way.  If something looked or smelled tantalizing, we stopped and tried it.  If there was a significant wait at a particular station, be it for food or wine, we simply kept walking.  The crowds were quite relaxed and friendly this night, which makes an event of this kind easier to stomach (pun intended).

Bombay Sapphire Lounge

A view inside the Bombay Sapphire Lounge

There was also live entertainment to help set the mood.  On one side of the street Bombay Sapphire had set up a chill lounge, complete with DJ, couches and bar tables, and of course, loads of free samples to try.  We enjoy a nice cocktail every now and then, but with our stomachs reaching near bursting proportions at that point in the night we decided to decline the hard stuff and opted for water instead.  Just temporarily, of course.

As the event started winding down, the VIP lounge set up earlier on the grassy plain where O’Hara’s Lounge and Café Europa once stood for so long was now converted into a large gathering area for festival goers, complete with a DJ spinning all the overplayed cruise ship/wedding/bar mitzvah tunes you could stomach (again, pun intended).  We used this time to settle down and drink copious amounts of water to maintain our sobriety and help digest all the incredible food we sampled that night.   As we stood at the table, groups of ladies started forming on the dance floor,  which elicited the usual hoots and cries from those gathered around. Clearly they didn’t care, and I can’t say I blame them.  Events like this are all about letting loose and enjoying yourself.

Chima Brazilian Steakhouse

Chima Brazilian Steakhouse Grilling Station

The Las Olas Food & Wine Festival is most definitely Wanderlush approved.  The food, wine, beer and the overall atmosphere made for a very enjoyable Saturday night.  The only thing we would like to see next year would be more elegant choices in food and presentation by some of the restaurants.  Come on Mangos, pita chips & hummus, really?

We will definitely be back next year.  Kudos to the planners for the best run event we have attended this year.

Our Wine/Beer Highlights of the Night:
Alexander Valley Vineyards Merlot
Buehler Russian River Chardonnay
Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron
Hook & Ladder The Tillerman
Lange Pinot Gris
Leth Gruner Vetliner
Peter Lehmann Layers
Southern Tier Raspberry Wheat Beer

Our Food Highlights of the Night:
Burgers from Charm City Burgers
Various Grilled Meats from Chima Brazilian Steakhouse
Pasta w/Veal Ragu from Valentino’s

15th Annual Wine & Culinary Celebration at Museum of Discovery & Science, April 16, 2010

We aren’t ones to knock any fundraiser, especially one that offers plentiful food and wine all in the name of raising funds for local organizations but take issue when an event doesn’t seem as well planned as it should be.   Take the 2010 incarnation of the Wine & Culinary Celebration at the Museum of Discovery & Science, in Fort Lauderdale. 

15th Annual Wine & Culinary Celebration

This is a large annual affair that is always well attended and raises a lot of money for the Museum of Science & Discovery.  Great food from top local restaurants, great wine, all donated to a worthy cause: a win-win situation, right?  Well, sort of.   We were a bit reluctant, simply based on the $85 price tag for general admission (VIP tickets were $150 each, so we didn’t feel all that bad) and the torrential rains that literally flooded our area that evening.

We decided to brave the elements and go.  Rain be damned.  If it’s for a good cause, it’s worth a soaking.  Soaking is the operative word, as I’ll explain.  The doors opened at 7:30 p.m. for general admission ticket buyers.  However, for VIP ticket holders, the doors opened at 6 p.m.  I don’t begrudge these VIP’s for getting early access to the event.  That seems fair given the $150 per ticket price tag.  No, my beef is with the event planners that didn’t take into account the fact that people who enjoy wine and like to eat out will go out of their way to make sure they receive their money’s worth.  By that I mean if you were given a full hour and a half to indulge in all the food and wine you can handle before all the teeming masses had a chance to do so, wouldn’t you fill your plate and keep the juice flowing during that 90 minutes?  Hell, I’d probably do the same.

But we were part of the teeming mass of humanity who had to wait to lick the crumbs from the VIP tables and hope to swig on the backwash of all those near empty bottles.  And if we’re paying $85 a ticket to enjoy a sumptuous sampling of food from some of South Florida’s finest eating establishments, plus wine—well, we want in on this little feast.  The Museum of Discovery & Science is a fun and interactive multi-storied place designed for kids and adults alike—but probably one of the worse places for buzzed folk to try out the various interactive science exhibits.  That aside, everyone inside the venue enjoyed the food and wine and were taking it all in.  

The food samples were tasty, and plentiful.  The wine—what very little of it that was left after the VIP access—seemed to be an eclectic mix of reds and whites from around the world.    Out of the numerous tables of wines that had been there were only four or five that still had wine, and they ran out within 30 minutes of us arriving.  There was one table serving wine in particular that irked us both. We walked up to the table to try a Malbec, but the “pleasant” gentleman serving it ignored everyone until his fellow associate motioned for him to pay attention and serve the guests.   We were not happy.   This tended to be the mood of  many of the vendors  by the time we were meandering through the tables.  What had started as a less than memorable affair was quickly deteriorating into a full-blown disappointment.  

Wandering through the scores of people we sadly noticed all of the abandoned wine tables.  Bottles of delightful Cabernets, Merlots, Chardonnays and Pinot Grigios, were now lifeless hulks strewn about with appetizer plates, plastic ware and cups—nary a drop remaining in any one of them.   Many food vendors were also packing up at this point and we missed out on trying several of the offerings.  Luckily we found a young Latin woman serving up a Puerto Rican apertif called Tres Leches.  Ay caramba, it’s muy delicioso!  How best to describe Tres Leches the liqueur?  Think of a McDonald’s vanilla milkshake…but with a kick to your Ray Kroc.  And best of all, this young woman was offering frequent pours from her stock of bottles. 

After almost an hour and a half, we decided enough was enough.  In one way we felt good donating to a good cause, but in another way we felt like it was a bitter disappointment having missed out on many of the offerings (i.e. wine).  Yes, we plebes never stood a chance against those VIP’s (very inebriated people).  As much as we enjoy food and wine shindigs, the Wanderlushes will not make a return appearance at this annual event.

Highlights of the Event:
Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc
Tres Leches Liqueur
Goulash from The Ambry
Lamb Chop from Vienna Cafe & Wine Bar
Meatballs from Solita
Cupcakes from Hey Cupcake
Bruschetta with Tenderloin & Tuna “Cone” from the Coral Ridge Yacht Club
Crab Cakes from Truluck’s

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.

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