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Entries in TRAVEL Florida: Miami (4)


South Beach Wine & Food Fest, 2013

For those of you who have been around for a while, you know that every February, my friend, Emily, and I shed our winter-weather gear and head to Miami for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.  It's a weekend that I look forward to all year long.  Why?  Because, aside from the obvious (my passion for food and wine), there's just something about Miami Beach that works for me.  Clicks.  Does it.  I often say that it is the "perfect beach city," as the sea water is warm and the prettiest hue of turquoise blue - there's a strong Latin culture and flair - an abundance of fabulous shopping - world-class night life and dining - and some of the best looking people on the planet.  Oh, and temperatures in February range anywhere from 75 to 85 degrees (Fahrenheit). 

Where does the time go?  Seriously, I'm having some issues coming to grips with the fact that my 3-day food and sun-soaked weekend has passed.  However, I'm already looking in to hotel reservations for 2014!  The dates for next year's Festival, by the way, are 2/20-2/23.  So, in the meantime, please enjoy my recap from yet another fabulous visit to Miami.


Thursday, 2/21

Just call me your personal "travel martyr."  Why?  Because I thought that I was saving a bundle by flying in to Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami.  And, technically, I was.  Until I saw my bill for the 45-minute cab ride to the hotel.  $80, folks!  Pre-tip.

This year, Emily and I decided to stay at the Fountainebleau, which is located next door to Eden Roc, where we stayed last year.  We wanted to try something different and, after having checked out Fountainebleau's hot pool scene last year, decided that we'd be better positioned to meet men.  And famous chefs. 

After checking in, the first thing Emily and I did was head down to the pools/beach.  We did not want to miss a minute of sunshine!

Fountainebleau lobbyFountainebleau's many poolsCheers! Nothing like a poolside frozen margarita to officially kick off a holiday weekend!...and fresh fruit-infused ice water when you need a break from that frozen cocktail.Prior to our 8pm dinner reservation, Emily, Josh, and I headed to the W hotel's outdoor lounge, Grove, to meet my friend, Tammi, for a cocktail.  Oh, how I wish we could have stayed there all night!  Legit, Grove was one of the coolest outdoor cocktail venues I've ever been to.  In the world.  This, fellow travelers, is a Miami *must.*

For dinner, we met up with Yasmin and Mike at Quinn's.  The five of us were seated at a prime outdoor table overlooking famous Ocean Drive

Per our adorable Cuban waiter's advice, I whetted my palate with a muddled-watermelon mojito. It was outstanding!The bread basket was absolutely fabulous, namely because of the freshly-baked popover, which was paired with strawberry butter. (I ate three of them over the course of the eve.)I live for stone crab claws, and this piece was the single best claw that I've had, to date!This Caribbean-inspired red snapper entree was listed on Quinn's menu as being one of their house specialties. Josh and I decided to split the dish and, while we agreed that the fish was fresh and well-seasoned, its accompaniments - grilled plantains, squash, black beans - reminded us of "conference food." Lukewarm, gummy, flavorless, and incredibly "1990s."This was the best key lime pie that, I believe, I've ever had. The tart curd/filling was not frozen - the graham-cracker crust was still a bit crunchy - and I loved the raspberry drizzle.After dinner, Emily headed to one of the Festival events, while I retired to our hotel room.


Friday, 2/22

Because chaise lounges are such a hot commodity, I ran down to the pool before 9am (!!!) to snag two for Emily and me.  The effort!  Then, I grabbed my goggles and went for a dip in the beautiful ocean...

When I got out, I almost stepped on this...

Portuguese "man o' war"Upon my return to the pool area, I noticed a film crew and learned that Telemundo was shooting a chef's demonstration with Richard Sandoval

Richard Sandoval for TelemundoAs if a famous chef and a near-jelly fish-bite weren't exciting enough, the lunch I ordered, poolside, was *actually* really delicious.  Who'd have thought?  Grilled mahi-mahi fish tacos came drizzled with cilantro crema and were accompanied by cole slaw and a fantastic salsa.  Bam!

Poolside at the Fountainebleau: Grilled fish tacos, cole slaw, salsa After putting a serious dent in my new beach read, Why Men Love Bitches, I delved in to a little retail therapy and scored a gorgeous pair of Valentino riding boots for 50% off! 

What's a vacation w/o a sassy beach read?"You had me at 50% off." My new Valentino riding boots...Post-shopping, I met Alex and Chef Cesare Casella for a cocktail in the lobby of the hotel.

Me, Cesare Casella, and AlexMy first event of the weekend was the Amstel Light Burger Bash, which kicked off at 7:30pm on the beach at the Ritz-Carlton.    

My official media pass!Me and EmilyEntry to the 'BashFolks waiting on line for burgersChef Laurent Tourondel (right)!Look who else came out! GUY FIERI!Burgers.  Burgers.  And more BURGERS!  I was in hog heaven (or, should I say "beef heaven")...

This was, by far, one of the most delicious nights I've had in recent memory.  My favorite burger of the thirty-four was from Miami's own Burger & Beer Joint.  The "Susie Q" was composed of:  Aged sharp cheddar, smoked applewood bacon, tomato jam and spicy mayo on a brioche bun.  Crispy dill pickles and buttermilk ranch (dressing) accompanied.

My favorite burger: Burger & Beer Joint's "Susie Q"...

Saturday, 2/23

As per usual, I was up early and headed down to the pool to grab chaise lounges.  This morning, however, I had to snag 8 chairs instead of just 2.  Since Emily had befriended 4 new people and invited Yasmin and Mike to join us, I literally had to place a piece of random collateral - sunscreen bottles, water bottle, magazines - on an entire row of chairs.  Once everyone slowly started to arrive, I decided that it was time to crack open the 40oz. can of malt liquor that Emily's friend brought for me in a paper bag.  Remember, dear readers:  I put the "ass" in "class."

Damn right. This is some good stuff, believe it or not!At around 1pm, I headed back to our room to change out of my swimsuit and wander over to my next Festival event:  Whole Foods Grand Tasting Village.  Held beach-side on the sand was a literal "tent village," consisting of cooking demos, book signings, and a massive grand tasting.  While the sights were lovely and impressive, and the talent lineup was fantastic, I found the event, itself, uncomfortably crowded and hot.  I only lasted about 20-minutes, from entry to exit.  :( 

Entry to the Whole Foods Grand Tasting Village

Cooking demoChef Aaron Sanchez's cooking demoInside the preassure cooker/grand tentA bunch of tastings that, sadly, I did not sample because I was so uncomfortable...Something I did get to try, however, was a Mama's Guava Bar.  Guava, if you did not know, if my favorite fruit, and I adored these chewy bars laced with the stuff.  I don't know who "Mama" is, but I totally wanted to hug her.   

Mama's Guava BarsLike I said further above, I got the hell out of that grand tent as soon as I possibly could.  Famished, since I had not sampled much of the food, I went back to my hotel and noshed on a spicy tuna roll.

Blade at the Fountainebleau: Spicy tuna rollAfter a fabulous afternoon nap in my comfy hotel bed (I know, life is really hard), Em and I got ready and joined two of our new friends (who we met at the pool) for dinner at local favorite, Pubbelly.  Although the restaurant does not take reservations, we scored an awesome outdoor table without having to wait more than a minute!  Unfortunately, I did not have my fancy camera on me that night, so that explains the lack of photos.  Plus, I'm too embarrassed to share the shiteous shots that I actually snapped of the meal with my iPhone.  So, instead, I will just give a brief, jealousy-inducing synopsis of what we enjoyed:

  • Sour Patch Kid (cocktail):  Sake, pickled pineapple, chili flakes
  • Stone Crab claws
  • Croquetas:  Chorizo, roasted apple aioli
  • BBQ Pork Wings:  Smoked teriyaki, picked grapes slaw, bacon
  • Eggplant Fries:  Housemade ketchup
  • Shortrib & Corn dumplings:  Black truffle, corn soy, shiso, parmigiano
  • Kimchee Fried Rice:  Porkbelly & pineapple

I would wholeheartedly recommend Pubbelly to anyone looking to try multiple, eclectic plates that are packed full of flavor and creativity.  We absolutely loved our experience!

For a night cap, the four of us headed to the uber chic and trendy SLS Hotel, where I realized that, never in my entire life, had I been surrounded by more sexy, breathtakingly gorgeous human beings.  Seriously.  Ladies:  If you want your man to *not* pay you any attention and check out other girls all night, take him here!!  On that note, the public facilities at this hotel, bars and restaurants, are no place to step foot within if you're having a "fat day" or a "bad hair day."  Trust me, you will only feel much worse!


On Sunday morning, I caught another flight out of Fort Lauderdale and headed home.  Although I was sad to leave another outstanding weekend in Miami, I was looking forward to seeing my pup, Lucy, who turned 1 the day prior.  A belated-birthday celebration was in order!

Thanks for this, D Pet Hotels!~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle


A recap: Day 3 of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival

Sunday.  "God's Day."  And, for Emily and I, the perfect day to sleep-in after an adventurous, rambunctious, and very late night.  It's not often that yours truly stays in bed until 10:30am but, last Sunday, it just felt appropriate.  A bit rebellious, if you will.  And oh-so comfortable. 

When we finally came to, Em and I decided that this would be the perfect afternoon to wander over to uber-famous Joe's Stone Crab for lunch.  After all, the sky was cloudy and the wind was angry.  There wasn't a chance in hell that either of us would get a lick of color on our winter-white skin.

As luck would have it, the moment that we arrived at Joe's, the sky miraculously returned to its familiar shade of blue... Sigh.

Em and I didn't realize how large Joe's was.  Within moments of stepping out of the taxi, we were approached by an employee who informed us that "the restaurant is not open for lunch on Sunday's, but you can get take-away and sit in the market."  

Alrighty thenIf you can snag a seat at the bar, you will be served, as opposed to having to fetch items yourself! Trust me on this one, it's worth it! Plus, not too many folks know this precious tidbit of info...Joe's Stone Crabs! Fried green tomatoes!Key Lime PieIf you've never had the pleasure of tasting stone crab for yourself - and plan to be in Miami - Joe's is an absolute MUST!  You have not had crab until you've had stone crab.  Trust me!

Joe's Stone Crab:  11 Washington Avenue Miami Beach, FL 33139


From lunch, we hopped in to a cab en route to the Miami Convention Center for our first event of the afternoon:  "Bank of America Lifestyle Seminar - Foods and Fine Wines of the Rich and Famous," with Ariane Daguin & Andrea Robinson.  Unfortunately, the event held in the room prior to ours was running over, and Em and I had to be in Coral Gables before 4pm.  It was already 3:15pm!  Alas, we had to make the painful, executive decision to skip the Seminar and, instead, head straight to the 'Gables.


First (but, technically 2nd) event of the afternoon:  "Swine & Wine," presented by Pat LaFrieda Meats and hosted by Debi Mazar & Gabriele Corcos.

Our ding-dong of a cab driver mistakenly assumed (emphasis on ass) that, by us telling him that we needed to go to Coral Gables, we meant the mall in Coral Gables!  Not "The Biltmore" in Coral Gables.  So, nearly an hour and 20 extra dollars later, we arrived at the sprawling and fabulous Biltmore Hotel.

The Biltmore Hotel: yep, you've seen it in the movies.Held in one of The Biltmore's outdoor patios was, without a doubt, my favorite event of the entire weekend!  More than a dozen chefs from across the country were chosen to prepare their own special version of a whole-roasted Duroc & Hampshire-breed pig.  To accompany, the hotel provided various Cuban savory dishes and bite-sized desserts.  Padron and La Flor Dominicana were also on-hand to gift smokers with gratis cigars.  A gent's favorite way to commence or end a pig-out! 

Spotted:  the gorgeous Debi Mazar, Marc Murphy, Jonathan Waxman, Michael White, Seamus Mullen, Marcela Valladolid and, my personal favorites, The Real Housewives of Miami, who were filming on-location!  #starstruck

Participating Chefs & Featured Menu Items:

Nick Anderer:  Maialino al Forno
Yuhi Fujinaga:  Suckling Pig with Heirloom Bean Casoullet, Morcilla Dip with Chicharones
Mayor Carlos Gimenez:  Pan con Lechon
Ingrid Hoffmann:  Mini Pulled Pork Taco Bowl with Guava Salsa Negra & pickled Mustard Seeds
Linton Hopkins:  Chopped Smoked Pig, Buttermilk Johnny Cakes, Craklin'and Pickel Salad
Mark Ladner:  Bolito Misto Terrina alla Paesana              
Debi Mazar & Gabriele Corcos:  Tuscan Porchetta Sandwich
Marc Murphy:  Southern Stryle "Porchetta" with Corn Bread & Andouille Stuffing
Seamus Mullen:  Smoked Berkshire Pork Jowl & Whole Suckling Pig
Jorge Padrón:  Tradicional Lechon Asado
Isiah Thomas:  Brined Baby Swine with Passion Fruit Habanero Mojo
Marcela Valladolid:  Cochinita Pibil
Jonathan Waxman:  Blood Orange Pig Tacos
Michael White & Bill Dorrler:  Porchetta Tigelle con Pesto di Lardo e Salsa Verde
Event menuEvent
Maialino's "Maialino al Forno"Mango mojitos! (Don't mind the trash can in the background...)

Jonathan Waxman's "Blood Orange Pic Taco"Mini tacoThe Biltmore's dessertsCafe el Bustelo: nothing goes better with dessert than a "cortadito," or sweet Cuban coffee!Yours truly, Debi Mazar, Emily, Gabriele CorcosDebi & Gabriele address the crowdAnd, here's when I nearly lost my marbles...

The Real Housewives of Miami!!!!...and another one! Marisol, where was Mama Elsa? And, for your musical pleasure, Spanish tunes performed by "The Chirino Sisters"Don't forget a cigar on your way out!On our way out of the event, I made Em come with me to check out The Biltmore's famous pool and common areas.


Second (but, technically 3rd) event of the afternoon, now evening:  "Trucks on the Beach," presented by Cultivate Wines: The Official Festival Closing Party hosted by Andrew Zimmern

Lines and more lines......While the concept of having food trucks on the beach was brilliant in theory, there was simply not enough space, food, drink, or breathing room.  The lines at each food truck were at least 20-deep.  Same goes for the beverage huts!  Em and I got out of there just about as quickly as we arrived.  Le bummer.

While we made our way out of the event, Em grabbed my arm.  "Hey, look over there," she pointed towards a bright stall selling 'Festival tees.  "You really should get something," she said.  As we made our way over, the company's name caught my eye.  "Flavour Gallery," I mumbled, as I read the logo.  "Love it."

Seriously, how cute are those?  I grabbed two tees for myself and was reassured that, by god, a little retail therapy always seems to cure the blues.


Since we had left the event prematurely and did not want to return to our hotel to order room service and stare at eachother, Em and I walked over to The Shore Club for a drink on their fabulous outdoor/pool deck.  What a gorgeous space!


And that marks my final day at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, but stay tuned for my "The Lunch Belle does Miami" guide!


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle


A recap: Day 2 of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival

There's nothing quite as ideal as waking up in a random hotel room - walking over to the window to draw the blackout shades - and peering out on to a picture-perfect, cloud-free sky.  Especially when you're in a beach town.  "Em!  Wake up!  Come on!  We need to take a beach walk, eat breakfast, and grab some chaise lounges at the pool!  Hurry up!"  As Emily lifted her eye mask, she let out a big sigh.  "OK, OK," she mumbled between yawns, "give me 10 minutes."  Our first SBWFF event was not until the evening, after all, so the two of us had nearly all day to take advantage of Miami's gorgeous water and weather...

We began the morning with a leisurely beach walk......and passed quite a few lovely hotels!Upon returning to the Eden Roc, our "home away from home," Em and I thoroughly enjoyed the delicious and bountiful items making up the breakfast buffet at 1500 Degrees, the restaurant within our hotel.

Pineapple chunks, quartered kiwi, and halved passion fruit!Among the hodge-podge of starch on my plate was the "Ropa Vieja Eggs Benedict." Absolutely fantastic and very "Miami."After a leisurely afternoon by the pool and beach, Em and I met our friend, Bryan, for early evening cocktails at South Beach's most famous hotel, the Delano.  Below are some of my favorite shots from this uber sexy and swank venue:

Horrible photo quality, but it's proof that we were there (w/ Bryan)!~

First event of the evening:  "Thrillist's BBQ & The Blues," hosted by Michael Symon

Em and I were particularly pleased that this event was held at our hotel, as the soiree following this one would take us next door, to the Fountainebleu!  Sometimes, things just work out in your geographical favor!

Sponsored by Thrillist, an online media source who publishes one of my favorite daily emails (think local recommendations for food, drink, travel, events, etc.), and hosted by celebu-chef, Michael Symon, this outdoor BBQ 'n booze fest was the perfect way to begin our night!  Restaurants from across Miami featured some of their signature smoky bites. 

As if all of that weren't enough, the audience was serenaded by peppy ragtime band, Diablo Dimes & The Bloodhounds.  And my personal 'cherry on top?'  I spied Jeff Mauro, a.k.a "Sandwich King," from The Next Food Network Star!  Love him.

Crowds gather around one of Eden Roc's poolsPanorama of eventMy man, Jeff Mauro!

Music provided by: Diablo Dimes & The Bloodhounds~

Second event of the evening:  "Food & Wine and La Cote Mediterranean Grill Celebrate the Release of Gail Simmons' New Book, Talking With My Mouth Full."

Em and I were graciously "and guest-ed" to this exclusive party, which was held at Fountainebleu's sexy outdoor restaurant/bar, La Cote

Upon entering the bash, we couldn't help but gawk at the scantily-clad ladies 'striking a pose' at the step-and-repeat...we soon joined them!

How hot are they? Remind me, again, why I'm posing like a cheerleader? Sigh.Glasses of champagne and Kir Royale-on-ice were passed, as were savory hors d'oeuvres and bite-sized desserts.  However, the most delicious treat of the evening was mingling with the likes of Bobby Flay, Dana Cowin, and her culinary majesty, Miss Gail Simmons

Photo: Gail Simmons, Casa DragonesSome time after midnight - though I couldn't give you an exact number - Em and I slowly made the short trek back to our hotel.  We found the Fountainebleau's twinkling pool bottoms particularly fascinating...good thing one/both of us didn't fall in!

Even the pools at the Fountainebleau sparkle at night!Saturday was, truly, just another incredibly amazing and delicious day in paradise!  'Til tomorrow...


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle


A recap: Day 1 of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival

On Friday morning, February 24th, I arrived in beautiful, sunny Miami for the South Beach Wine and Food Festival.  After checking in to my hotel, the first item on the agenda was to fetch my event passes from the Media Suite at the Loews Miami Beach...and snoop around the Hospitality Suite (chock-full of goodies)!

Next item of business?  Return to my hotel - quickly change in to my swim suit - and hit the pool/beach.  Hey, a girl's gotta' have some down time!

For lunch, I grabbed the healthiest item I could find on Eden Roc's Cabana Beach Club menu:  "Blackened Salmon Salad" (sub salmon for grilled shrimp).  Why "healthiest," you ask?  Because I knew that the remainder of my meals in Miami would be overly abundant, indulgent, and gluttonous.  Though I'm sure the two frozen margaritas I sipped poolside didn't aid much in my lo-cal endeavors...


First event of the evening:  "Ultimate Beginnings Wine & Cheese Party," hosted by Josh Wesson & Laura Werlin

Held on the sprawling rooftop terrace - overlooking the turquoise sea and palm tree "tops" - at The Betsy Hotel, the Ultimate Beginnings Wine & Cheese Party featured a multi-table spread consisting of a selection of pours from Winebow, and a variety of fromage (chosen specifically to compliment the wines) from the Cheese Course.  Hosts, Josh Wesson and Laura Werlin, were on-hand to answer attendees' questions, pose for photos, and mingle.

We heart you, Michael!!Photo: Billy Farrell Agency (left to right: Emily, Josh Wesson, The Lunch Belle)The Betsy Hotel: a view from the topFabulous pairing sauce from the Cheese Course~

Second event of the evening:  "Wine Spectator's Best of the Best," at the Fountainebleau

This event ended up being one of my favorites of the entire weekend!  Held at the fabulous Fountainebleau Miami Beach (hotel), this grand soiree featured dishes from the best new chefs in the country, which were paired with wines rated 90 points or higher on Wine Spectator's scale! 

Wineries of note included:

  • Champagne Laurent-Perrier
  • Champagne Nicoloas Feuillatte
  • Inniskillin (yummy ice wine)
  • Stag's Leap Wine Cellars
  • Sterling Vineyards

Chefs/restaurants of note included:

  • Hugh Acheson (Five & Ten, Athens, GA)
  • Nick Anderer (Maialino, New York, NY)
  • David Burke (David Burke Townhouse, New York, NY)
  • Marco Canora (Hearth Restaurant, New York, NY)
  • Scott Conant (Scarpetta at Fontainebleau Miami Beach, FL) - met him!  What a babe...!
  • Ariane Daguin (D'Artagnan, New York, NY)
  • Gabrielle Hamilton (Prune, New York, NY)
  • Gerard Hayden (North Fork Table & Inn, Southold, NY)
  • Dan Kluger (ABC Kitchen, New York, NY)
  • Jian Heng Loo  (Hakkasan at Fontainebleau Miami Beach, FL)
  • Emily Luchetti (Waterbar, San Francisco, CA) - met her!  Super nice!
  • George Mendes (ALDEA, New York, NY)
  • Carlo Mirarchi (Roberta's, Brooklyn, NY)
  • Seamus Mullen (Tertulia, New York, NY)
  • Charles Phan (The Slanted Door, San Francisco, CA)
  • Angela Pinkerton (Eleven Madison Park, New York, NY)
  • Bill Telepan (Telepan, New York, NY)
  • Christina Tosi (Momofuku Milk Bar, New York, NY) - met her!

Wine glasses were given to each guest to use for tastingsSea Urchin w/ Straiciatella: Roberta's, Brooklyn

Dessert spread from the chefs at the FountainebleauMomofuku Milk Bar's Christina Tosi brought her "Pretzel Cake Truffles!" Yum!!Gag all you want, but ice-wine is the bomb! Especially Inniskillin's version...Chef Emily Luchetti's "Brownie Brown Sugar Parfait," Farallon Restaurant, San FranciscoMy favorite savory dish: "Short Rib Robata with Truffle Miso," Makato at the Bal Harbour Shops, Miami~

Oh, what an eventful day/night it was!  By about 10:45pm, I had no other choice but to surrender to my hotel room.  After all, I had been up since 3:30am and had a full Saturday planned.  Until then...!


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle