‘Tis the season to grab your tickets for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival 2016. You can find the line-up here. I’ve tried some other festivals here and there throughout the year, and I’ve even found some I can tolerate, but overall I’m just not much of a fan. I can’t stand crowds and find everyone’s desperation to be the first to grab a tiny plate of food and headache-inducing-cheap wine incredibly annoying. Walking around balancing a drink, a plate, my phone (gotta take photos!), and a purse is no easy task either. What’s to love? This must be why I attend less and less events every year. Personally, I prefer the off-venue private events provided by most festivals, especially SOBEWFF; that’s where it’s at! With the varied selections provided, there’s bound to be something for everyone at every price range. In the past, I’ve attended the Best of the Best, Dolce Brunch, Best of the Bay Dinner, and the East Meats West Dinner.
Earlier this year I also attended the Modern Italian Feast at MC Kitchen and the Harlem Shake Dinner at The Forge. The choice to purchase tickets for a dinner with Chefs Dena Marino and Michael Voltaggio was a no-brainer. I’m already a big fan of Marino and had been increasingly curious about Voltaggio’s kitchen savvyness. Coincidentally, I would be visiting L.A.’s INK several weeks after SOBEWFF. Perfect timing. The Florida Crab Arancini, Mini Cubano, and White Truffle Pizetta set the tone for the night. Talk about whetting your palette! Marino showed off right away with her first entree. The housemade Parmigiano Regiano Cavatelli with spicy Italian sausage, broccoli rage, pickled onions, and pecorino romano had everyone oohing and aahing. I did not expect to love Voltaggio’s second course as much as I did. I really dislike the texture and smell of cauliflower, but I loved his use of it with a black garlic pesto for his Filet of Branzino. I devoured it. Marino served a seemingly simple Heritage Breed Poulet Rouge with heirloom marble smashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, and pepperoncini pan jus for her third course: rich, savory, and quite the dish! By the time Voltaggio’s dessert came around, I had to rally. Phew! A Gianduia Ganache with an applewood gelato and rosemary ash pizelle sealed the deal. What a feast!
On a high from the night before, I arrived at The Forge the following day ready for another incredible dinner. The event, heavily advertised as being hosted by Chef Marcus Samuelson, piqued my interest from the beginning. Not knowing when I would be able to visit Samuelson’s NYC’s Red Rooster, this one seemed like the right choice for me. Needless to say, I felt extremely disappointed when I took one look at the menu upon arrival. He would only be presenting a Seared Hamachi and a smile for photos. Wait. What? That’s it? I paid $250 per person for a hamachi? I drowned my (initial) sorrows with the Henessy Spice of Life cocktail at the bar. Pineapple chunks, muddled japaleño, and lime juice mixed with Hennessy Privilege and topped with a sugar rim helped. Samuelson who? Moet & Chandon sponsored the dinner as well. Things were certainly looking up. Thankfully Chefs Christopher Lee, Charles Gabriel, and JJ Johnson cooked their hearts out. During the initial cocktail hour, Lee served a Chicken Fried Steak Tartare, Compressed Watermelon, Maple-Bourbon Glazed Bacon, and Lemon Pepper Shrimp for appetizers. As it turns out, I did enjoy Samuelson’s Seared Hamachi (corn and sea urchin puree in a clam and miso broth). Adding a cup of passion and a whole lot of love, Chef Gabriel’s Country Pan-Fried Chicken and collard greens with mac n’ cheese as the sides stood out from the rest. I couldn’t get enough. The real deal. He even brought his own pan! The seasoning of Chef Johnson’s Braised Goat (masa, watermelon radish, and citrus piri piri) brought back childhood memories. This could have been something my mom made me for supper: hearty and flavorful. The grand Dark Chocolate and Pecan Tart sweet finale by Chef Alycia Delaney tasted every bit as decadent as it looked. And just like that, another special SOBEWFF event concluded.
In just three months, the 2016 SOBEWFF will be here again. It’s not easy to choose just a handful out of such a great series, but I already have tickets to a couple of events. How about you? Have you studied the list yet? Perhaps I’ll see you there!