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
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
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.
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.