Category: Events

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.

Beer –n-Bites 10 “Bee” My Valentine

Beer My Valentine

Beer My Valentine

Hostess Melanie’s delicious pairing event (her last at Crown Wine & Spirits, by the way) may have taken place three days after Valentine’s Day, but there was plenty of sweet love (of beer and food) in the air as more than 25 beer aficionados sat down to enjoy some remarkable craft brews and homemade food at Crown Wine & Spirits, in Fort Lauderdale.

In keeping with the sweet theme of the event, Melanie chose several honey-based beers to pair with her food items. Don’t let the honey beer connotation turn you off; honey can impart a totally unexpected flavor profile that can surprise and delight, if you let it.   Melanie provided us with a flier with tasting notes and recipes for the evening and we began the tasting!

Sunshine Nectar

Redstone Meadery Sunshine Nectar

Our first beer/food pairing was the Redstone Meadery Sunshine Nectar (8% ABV) which was something we hadn’t tried before.  This particular quaff is a melomel, a mead that contains any type of fruit. It was extremely light in in color and was slightly tart, courtesy of the apricots it was infused with.  Thankfully it did not have the extreme sweet we had experienced with other Meads.  Melanie paired the Redstone with a goat cheese, apricot jam and a toast point. The contrasting taste of the cheese and beer melded quite well on our palates.

Midas Touch

Midas Touch with Thai Avocado Shrimp Salad

Next came the Dogfish Head Midas Touch (9% ABV), always a favorite of ours, an unusual brew created from an ancient Turkish recipe allegedly found in the tomb of King Midas. Its unusual blend provides lots of layers and complexity.  It provided a nice balance to the Thai avocado and shrimp salad with its fresh lime juice and sweet chili sauce.

Brooklyn 'Local 2'

Brooklyn Local 2 paired with a Mushroom Ragout

Our next beer was the Brooklyn Brewery Local 2 (9% ABV), an ale that has notes of honeyed dark fruits, citrus and spices. It was slightly hoppy, but the aforementioned mix of sweet ingredients balanced out the tart notes of the hops. The Brooklyn paired really well with the delicious ragout of wild mushrooms Melanie prepared.  We could have eaten several bowls (with several beers, of course)!

Next, we moved onto the Dupont Biere de Miel (8% ABV), another new try for us, a classic Belgian-style brew that had hints of earth, herbs and white pepper, all mellowed by its subtle honey notes. I am not a huge fan of the Belgian style beers, but this one in particular changed my opinion immensely.

Dupont Biere de Miel

Dupont Biere de Miel paired with a Potato & Raclette Pizza

As a special treat (not mentioned in the flier we received at the beginning of the pairing) Melanie offered up a taste of Bell’s Hop Slam, the Holy Grail of honey-based beers, and easily one of the most amazingly complex IPA’s you will ever taste. It is brewed but once a year and released in small quantities across the U.S. Because of its cult-like following, it fetches nearly $20 a six-pack at liquor purveyors who are lucky enough to have it, but it is worth every penny. Melanie served up delicious coconut and passion fruit bars that accentuated the complex notes of the Hop Slam. After the event Melanie let us all purchase one bottle each of the Hop Slam, and we were all grateful to her for her generosity.



It is sad that this was Melanie’s last Beer –n- Bites at Crown, but she told us she would back with more pairing events at her new place of employ, Whole Foods Market, in Fort Lauderdale, where she will take over the beer-buying duties at this location. Thanks, Melanie, for some incredible beers and unbelievably tasty foods. Cheers!

Jupiter Craft Beer Festival

Jupiter Craft Beer Festival

Jupiter Craft Beer Festival at Roger Dean Stadium

Brew it and they shall come…

Every hop head in South Florida (and even parts elsewhere) circle it on their calendars, etch in their Stone Pale Ale, then commit it to memory and save the date: the annual Jupiter Craft Brewers Festival, which takes place at Roger Dean Baseball Stadium, in Jupiter, Florida.

We Wanderlushes piled into our vehicle and made the hour-long trek to this grand tasting event, which attracts thousands of beer aficionados, craft brewers and the beer curious alike.

The weather was perfect this particular Saturday, with highs in the low 70s, sunny blue skies and a light breeze—perfect for beer drinking. Learning from the previous year’s festival we all decided we would pace ourselves accordingly and limit our alcohol intake, drink plenty of water, eat some food and…oh well, that’s all great in theory until you see the galaxy of beer choices staring you in the face.  We were issued badges and small 8-ounce plastic sampling steins, and then it was drinking time!

Terrapin Booth

Terrapin Booth

The beer stands were well laid out and accessible, though standing in line creates traffic jams with tipsy patrons meandering their way through the throngs of people anxiously awaiting their chance to sip and savor. Patience may be a virtue, but at an event like this it’s an absolute necessity. Alcohol, besides its mood-altering properties, also helps you maintain equilibrium with the environment. After a few hours of tasting you realize through half-closed, bloodshot eyes it’s not you who is teetering and tottering, it’s everyone else…and maybe the earth has fallen on its axis.

Our new Wanderlushes-in-training, Joel and Anelena, also came to the festival. In addition, we saw some other familiar faces at the event. Our friends in the “beer biz,” Blake, Ryan and Melanie, were all in attendance as well. We took a moment to chat with them and compare tasting notes. Like fine wine, everyone has a particular favorite style of beer (I prefer IPA’s because of their citrus-like hoppy tart taste and pronounced finish). After half an hour of tasting we decide to get some grilled sausage sandwiches to help offset the lingering effects of the beer, many of which hover at or above 10 percent ABV. This isn’t a place where the Coors Light/Schlitz chug-a-lug drinker can get away with the usual ball game 12-pack lazy Sunday and expect to save face.

Funky Buddha Booth

Crowd in front of Funky Buddha Booth

Some of the beers of note:

  • Inlet Brewing Monk IPA
  • Terrapin Rye Pale Ale
  • Southern Tier Mocha Java Stout (very, very good)
  • Funky Buddha Ginger Lemongrass Wheat & Maple Bacon Porter
  • Blue Point Hoptical Illusion & Rastafa Rye Ale
  • Bold City Cask Rosemary Mad Manatee IPA
  • Dogfish Head 60-Minute served through a Randall Hops filter (unique and zesty, to say the least)
  • Brooklyn Brewing Local #2
  • Cigar City Asian Saison & Vuja De (Collaboration with Saint Somewhere – made with hibiscus, cane sugar and elderberry flowers)
  • Left Hand Brewing Wake Up Dead
  • Stone Cali Belgique (excellent melding of Belgian and IPA brews)
  • Saint Somewhere Anne
  • Holy Mackerel Panic Attack (a strong favorite)
  • Big Bear Brewing (Coral Springs) Decade Double IPA & Dopplebock

After nearly four hours of tasting our way through the world of craft beers (or a small territory of it) we decided to head back home. We did stop in Lake Worth to enjoy some Mexican food at a famed local eatery Havana Hideout where we all ordered a small feast of tasty tacos, chips and salsa and empanadas. By the time we all made it back to Fort Lauderdale we knew our day was finished. But it was a good way to end an enjoyable Saturday of sipping and savoring some of the best craft brew this nation has to offer.

Crown’s Beer n Bites 9 – Hoppy Holidays

Hoppy Holidays!

Hoppy Holidays!

We were in a funk and needed to get into the “spirit” of the holiday season.  What to do?  Attend the 9th Beer n Bites “Hoppy Holidays” at Crown Wine and Spirits, of course!  Who better to lead us through the offerings but Chef and beer connoisseur Melanie.

To begin Melanie had placed brandied cheddar pub cheese on each table in advance.  To pair with the pub cheese had chosen the  He’Brew Rejewvenator.  The slight sweetness from the concord grapes in the beer (yes, grapes!) really pulled the Stilton blue flavor out of the pub cheese.

Next up was a beef and ale pie paired with a Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve.  This beer had much stronger hoppy notes to it and paired well with the savory pies.  The only thing missing for us was a gravy for the pies!

Beef & Ale

Beef & Ale Pie

Between each tasting Melanie would work our brains by asking a few beer related trivia questions.  Wanderlush Jen won a bottle of beer by remembering the New Zealand episode of Brewmasters and correctly identifying the tamarillo ingredient for the special collaboration brew between Dogfish and Epic Brewing.  We’re hoping she shares!

After the trivia we moved on to the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (our favorite!) paired with a trio of gouda cheeses served with a pear paste.   Each gouda brought out a unique quality in the beer.

On to the pink elephants…Delirium Noel!  We often drink Delirium Tremens and now will be drinking the Noel when available.  It has the sweetness that the Tremens has but also a caramel note that worked great with the sticky toffee pudding which was so good I was tempted to lick the bowl!  I restrained myself, though.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky Toffee Pudding

The final taste for the night was a Lindemans Framboise Lambic and Creme de Cacoa shooter.  Wanderlush Tim called it when he described it as a tootsie pop in a sip.  It was a great way to end the event.

This is the second Beer n Bites we have attended and we will definitely be going to more.  The good-natured comaraderie with fellow beer enthusiasts along with good food and drink is the best pairing of all.

New Times Pairings September 16, 2010

New Times Pairings Sep 2010

New Times Pairings Sep 2010

There are three to four major food and wine events that we mark on our calendar every year. We circle it in red, program it into our phones and make a mental note not to forget. The New Times Pairings event at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in September is one of these can’t miss events.

Now, despite what you may have read, or heard—or both—many of you devoted readers of this blog have some serious questions about the New Times Pairings event that need answering. We aim to inform, educate and entertain in this blog, when possible, and sometimes all three, if we’re lucky. The most common questions people have about an event like Pairings are: 1) Is there a lot of food and wine to sample? 2) Is it that good? 3) NT Pairings View from LoungeWill they run out of any food and/or beverage before I’ve had a chance to sample it? The answers to these questions are, 1) “Yup,” 2) “Hell yeah,” and 3) “Are you serious?” Pairings is all about over-the-top, too-much-is-never-enough eating and drinking, though most people pace themselves in order to squeeze in as much as possible during the night. Good luck with that. With over 30 local restaurants offering food and scads of wine, beer and spirits available, you’d do well to pick and choose what strikes your fancy and not try to taste everything on the sampling menu—though it would be tempting to try.

For the first time ever, Kim and I decided to splurge and buy VIP tickets to this year’s event. Though the $75 per person cost was a bit steep, and it may seem so, especially to the casual gourmand—it was well worth it. VIP attendees

Mushroom Ravioli from Sublime

Mushroom Ravioli from Sublime

were offered access to the event one hour prior to the general admission ticket holders. Nice. Next, VIP members enjoyed mezzanine level access to some of the higher end wines and beverages, as well as several private cooking demonstrations. Very nice, indeed. Kim and I had a chance to talk to Andrew Lampasone, owner and proprietor of  Wine Watch in Fort Lauderdale, and he told us that the better wines we’d be taste this evening were VIP only, so drink up before heading downstairs to the general population. Damn, that sounded pretentious as hell, but when you pay VIP prices you expect VIP wine and VIP food, and that’s no L-I-E.

Among the whites in the VIP area worth noting: the Pierre Sparr Gewurztraminer Alsace 2008, which was sweet, but not cloyingly sweet; the Chimney Rock Elevage Blanc Napa 2007; the Cuvaison Chardonnay Carneros 2008, which was the least memorable of the whites, though is still a far superior Chard that you will find for just $18 a bottle.

Among the reds, the Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon Chicken Ranch Napa 2007 was quite remarkable, with hints of oaky vanilla and light tannins; and the 2008 Luca Malbec stood out as well, though its $32.50 bottle price may scare away even the most adventurous red drinkers. Perhaps the highlight of the VIP reds that night was the Domaine Serene ‘Evenstad Reserve’ Pinot Noir, a light-bodied Pinot with a complex flavor profile and strong hints of ripe cherry.

Once the trough went dry upstairs, which is no surprise given people’s propensity for getting their money’s worth, Kim

Solita Meatball & Ravioli

Solita Meatball & Ravioli

and I decided to make our way downstairs to join the crowds, who by now were well into the event and getting happy. We have to mention that more often than not these events can get a little chippy. Some folks who literally try to eat and drink their money’s worth forget all about manners and common courtesy and turn into loud, drunken morons. Oh, and some of them forget the proper way to approach a booth or table and plow their way into the front like a fullback on fourth down and one. But there was none of that rude behavior at this year’s event…everyone seemed relaxed and fully enjoying partaking in all of the food and spirits (literally). The former can spoil any event; the latter makes it fun and enjoyable.

There were some outstanding food samples worth noting: the chilled cucumber mint soup with spicy shrimp from 3030 Ocean; Chef Allens mango roasted pork loin with macadamia rice; the beef short rib Shu Mai with Taleggio and balsamic mini cheese tarts with fig from Georgi’s Alibi was nothing short of amazing; the Hong Kong City sweet pork with plum sauce was anything but “take out”; the roasted corn soup and jumbo lump crab

Georgis Alibi Short Rib Shu Mai

Georgis Alibi Short Rib Shu Mai

from Sea Level; the meatball and ravioli served up by Solita; and for the vegetarians, the arugula salad, mushroom ravioli and coconut cake from Sublime. And did I mention it was all you can eat, stuff or otherwise cram into your stomach? Again, it’s all about pacing and knowing your limit, though that all goes right out the window when you have this much good food staring you in the face and bombarding your senses.

By 9:30 or so Kim and I just couldn’t eat or drink any more. As much as we hated to stop, we were stuffed. And, as tempting as it was to sample more, we just couldn’t do it. So we made our way (slowly) back to the car, well sated, and both agreed that this year’s Pairings event was a great success. It’s already penciled in for next year.

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