Category: Food

Wine Watch Oregon Pinot Noir Tasting Wednesday, April 18th

Wine Watch

Wine Watch

Pinot Noir may be one of the most enjoyed red wines amongst wine aficionados, but it is probably one of the more mysterious varietals in its complexity. This Old World grape has been transformed in the U.S., especially in the Central Coast of California and Oregon. Understanding and appreciating Pinot Noir is an acquired skill, and at times can be downright mystifying…but hugely rewarding.

So when Andrew Lampasone, owner/proprietor and resident wine expert of Wine Watch in Fort Lauderdale, held an Oregon Pinot Noir tasting at his establishment located in the historic Progresso Plaza, naturally we were intrigued.  Wine Watch had three stations set up around the plaza, with 20 Pinots available for sampling. Oregon is well known for producing some of the most sought-after Pinot Noirs worldwide, mostly from the famed Willamette Valley (pronounced Will-am-ette, like “damn it.” ) Yes, we’ve all been mispronouncing the name, so Andrew was quick to point this fact out to us during our sampling. Two members of  the Wine Watch staff prepared appetizers for attendees to nosh on during the event, which included: Wild mushroom & Mascarpone Flat Bread; Asian Pork & Shrimp Sliders; Seared Ahi Tuna Lollipops with Ginger Ponzu; Duck Spring Rolls with  Sesame Plum Glaze. All were delicious and paired well with the wines.

We have somewhat refined our palates and can now begin to navigate our way through the maze of adjectives associated with Wine Speak. In general, we picked up black cherry, spice and toast notes typical of the Pinot Noir profile.  However, with each taste of the selections the nuance of each was apparent as hints of licorice, orange peel, exotic spices and even minerality were apparent. There were several Pinot Noirs that missed the mark (a few tasted younger, needing more time in the bottle), but all were fantastic in their own right. Of the 20 we tried, our three favorites (of which we purchased) are as follows:

2009 Kelley Fox Wines Pinot Noir Momtazi Vineyard McMinneville – $37.50
2009 Klee Pinot Noir Willamette – $24 –
2009 Soter Pinot Noir Mineral Springs Ranch – $52

Andrew was a great host and was eager to impart his wine knowledge to all of the patrons (us included). Pinot Noir is a little less mysterious to us after this tasting, but will still require more research – research that we  are more than happy to conduct. Cheers!

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


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


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.”



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.

Cheese Culture Lacking

Cheese Culture has an identity crisis.

The small, mom and pop cheese and wine shop located on Las Olas Boulevard, in Ft. Lauderdale, doesn’t know whether it wants to be a small wine and cheese purveyor, or simply a quaint cafe that serves wine and cheese.

It doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s a cafe/store/place you really should avoid. In fact, the folks at Cheese Culture may want to brush up on their people skills.

On this particular evening we attended a sparkling wine tasting “event” that we had received a “special invitation” via email hosted by Cheese Culture requesting an RSVP.  We expected a cheese pairing (or at the least recommendations for pairings) for each wine.  How silly of us to expect that at a cheese shop.  There was neither.  The wines were laid out on display with no description or pairing recommendations, just bottles on a table.  This was really just a distributor sampling much like you find in any grocery store on any given weekend.   No RSVP required.  Okay, we got that and went in for the tasting fully expecting to want to order a cheese platter at some point.

The host and hostess of the event, representing the distributor, were in the very back of the small store.  They were pleasant people, offering decent pours of five sparkling wines just in time for the New Year’s holiday celebration. We enjoyed sipping on some delicious sparkling wines (a Prosecco most notably, that shined above all the others), though there were a couple forgettable ones. Still, the hosts were amicable and answered any questions that came their way.

As we wandered the store we stopped in front of the one (yes, only one!) cheese case to see what we wanted.  The Cheese Culture’s staff made no effort whatsoever to ask us if we needed any help, if we were interested in any cheese – nothing.  We were especially taken aback by a gentleman (who may or may not be one of the owners) that walked right in front of us as we eyed several cheeses in the glass case.  He was clearly able to hear our conversation inquiring about what we may like to try but chose to ignore us.  Mind you, this is the second time we’ve gone to Cheese Culture and both experiences have been similar.

We had great hopes for this shop as we started to watch the signs go up and were able to get a preview at the Las Olas Wine & Food Festival.  Our hopes were dashed not one, but two times since.  There are other great local cheese shops with large, but unique choices that want our business, so that’s where you will find us.

Cheese isn’t the only stinky thing in this establishment.

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