SOBEWFF 2018 Reflections

Another South Beach Wine and Food Festival (SOBEWFF) in the books.
My eighth, to be exact.

By now, I’ve figured out a game plan that usually works for me: where to stay, how many days to attend, and which type of events to choose. I know I don’t prefer the larger functions (there and anywhere else, really). I find the human hysteria surrounding acquiring single bites of food and sips of wine in plastic cups incredibly overwhelming. I know, whenever possible, I love to splurge on private dining experiences I wouldn’t otherwise find year-round; perhaps it means an outstanding chef collaboration is happening or tribute dinner. Maybe it involves “croquetas and champagne” hosted by chef extraordinaire Jean-Georges Vongerichten like last year. How do I say no to that?

Some years I drive to and from events. Others, I make a staycation out the entire weekend and play along with the tourists. This year, I kept it simple and drove. I chose three experiences I thought would be interesting for each night, purchased my tickets in October and started the countdown until February finally arrived.

February 22nd
Dinner hosted by Stephanie Izard, Michael Gulotta, and Sergio Sigala.
Presented by Far Niente.

If Stephanie Izard is in town, I’m probably in attendance. Clearly, I’m a fan and can’t get to her many Chicago spots as often as I’d like. Michael Gulotta (Maypop) and Sergio Sigala (Cecconi’s) also joined for a dinner presented by the Far Niente Family of Wineries. This sounded like the perfect way to kick off SOBEWFF.

Sigala’s Tuna Tartare (avocado, dry olive raspberry powder) was up first, followed by Gulotta’s Squid Ink Fusilli with spicy blue crab (house chorizo, saffron coconut butter, and mint) and ending with Izard’s Smoked Goat Necks. Goat? Of course! The dishes were on the rustic side, showing off heavy seasoning and a decadence I thoroughly enjoyed.

The 2013 Far Niente lineup at Bourbon Steak ALSO included different vintages (and generous pours) of their signature Cabernet Sauvignon.

What I didn’t love, unfortunately, was the family-style servings. My husband and I attended alone. The table had room for a total of ten diners. We lucked out and met another couple whose company we enjoyed. The other guests seated nearby lacked proper table manners and apparently thought nothing of double dipping with their spoons and over serving themselves. Really? This is what I paid so much for? Adding insult to injury, Far Niente provided a shameful lineup of their lower tier wines: EnRoute & Bella Union. I really do like them, but not when I paid $557.00. My source of comparison? Many years of attending the Far Niente sponsored SOBEWFF dinners at Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak, where the signature Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon flowed time and time again. At least the night did end with their fabulous liquid gold, Dolce.

February 23rd
Dinner hosted by Daniela Soto-Innes, Diego Oka, Carlos Garcia, and Norman Van Aken. Part of The NYT Cooking Dinner Series.

Originally slated to take place at (then upcoming) Obra Miami, this dinner relocated to Three just weeks before the event. My expectations were sky-high given I absolutely love La Mar and Three, and had recently visited Cosme. Ooh, this was going to be good. I had a feeling.

And it delivered, on the food front at least. This event would have been a slam dunk had it not been for yet another unfortunate wine situation. Given the caliber of participating chefs at this dinner, I looked forward to a creative wine pairing. A couple of sips of wine here and there convinced me to stick to water for the rest of the night. Only a few of the varietals showed potential, but when served at significantly less than room temperature it was hard to tell. Sorry, but Miami “room temperature” isn’t a thing. It’s important to note that judging by everyone around me, not everyone shared my same opinion. In typical festival fashion, diners mindlessly made wine disappear as if there was drought, never once stopping to discover its qualities, and nuisances. So there’s that…

Every dish served, however, showed off with flavors on point and not for the faint of heart. After a parade of beautiful, intricate, and delicious appetizers passed around during the outdoor reception, we were escorted inside to our seats.

Chef Carlos Garcia (Obra Miami) debuted his lovely Lobster “Vuelve a la Vida” first. Then,  Diego Oka (La Mar) served a perfect rendition of his Pulpito a la Parrilla with parmesano, kiwicha, and huacatay. Que rico! The last entree, the Pork with Shishito Mole, blew me away. Honestly, I’d left a bit underwhelmed after my initial lunch at New York’s Cosme, and this dish piqued my interest enough to consider a return visit. The spiciness of the pepper combined with the bitter-sweet and rich mole…Dios mío!

To end, Three’s very talented pastry chef, Mame Sow, delivered The Congo. A Nyangbo crémeux, Congo bar, and cocoa nib ice cream concoction I’m still thinking about today.

February 24th
Dinner hosted by Bradley Kilgore, Mike Bagale, and Justin Carlisle
Hosted by Grey Goose, Interpreted by Ducasse
Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science

Last in the lineup for my weekend was a dinner by chefs Kilgore (Alter), Carlisle (Ardent) and Bagale (Alinea): a no-brainer. For this event, Grey Goose Interpreted by Ducasse, sponsored and created a respectable vodka-pairing. While I’m not a big cocktail fan, I tried and appreciated each one.

Showcasing elevated and cutting-edge techniques, as expected, every dish doubled as frameable art with intense and sometimes uncommon flavor combinations. 1. Celeriac & Carmelized white chocolate tart to start with trout roe (Carlisle). 2. Langoustine en Polvo with green curry, pearls, and beads (Kilgore). 3. Preserved Duck with matsutake puree, puffed rice and grains, cinnamon cashew milk, and pickled mango gelee (Bagale). 4. My favorite of the night: the Mochi with foie gras gianduja, honeycomb pate bomb, sour huckleberry, and carrot film. I’m still trying to convince chef Kilgore to add this to the regular Alter menu. Pretty please?

As much as I’ve enjoyed the many different types of SOBEWFF functions throughout the years, my enthusiasm continues to wane. I find myself comparing their worth, more often than not. When, for two, one can spend the equivalent at some of the country’s top restaurants ($665 at The French Laundry, $540 at Per Se, or $601 at Le Bernardin), how do festival goers justify putting up with mediocre wine, served cattle-style, and sharing family-style dishes with strangers? Just thinking how far that cost would take me here in Miami, at some of my favorite restaurants, makes me shudder. I could probably do the Chef’s Tasting Menu at Stubborn Seed four times over for the cost of one high-end collaboration dinner at SOBEWFF! I’m not saying I won’t attend any more dinners, but I am saying the novelty is wearing off quickly and I’m grasping at straws when trying to defend its worth. It’s beyond being “able to” and more about “principle.”

In other news, tickets to the February 2019 line-up were just released. And I’m torn. What about you, South Florida? How do you SOBEWFF? Tell me all about it…

Past SOBEWFF Coverage:






Post Date: October 2018