SOBE Wine and Food: All you need is love and a wristband

Michael Symon

Today we decide to brave the Whole Foods grand tasting tent.  Six years ago when I went to this event, I was blown away at how many people were waiting to get into the grand tasting tent and how many people were waiting in line to get signatures from the famous chefs.   This food celebrity thing is taking off I thought.  Who was famous six years ago:  Tyler Florence (who I had barely heard of), Emeril, Rachel Ray, Paula Dean, Ming Tsai and an emerging celebrity Anthony Bourdain.

Six years ago I walked into the grand tasting tent and along with all the other attendees struggled to get food samples from the different local restaurants and taste wines from the different distributors.  It was hot and fans were blowing air into the oppressive stagnating environment that I chose to spend a few hours in.  I walked out exhausted, a little annoyed and tipsy.  I ran into Anthony Bourdain and actually had a conversation with him.  If anything I actually chose to end the conversation early to head back to my wife and newborn daughter who were waiting for me by the pool.

Those days are over.  The event has doubled in size, the number of star chefs has increased and the people are even more fanatical about getting in on the scene.   Ted took me to the event and actually joined me for about 10 minutes until he broke away.  Too many people for his liking.  I decided to see how long I could hang.  There are a lot more restaurants and wine distributors now. Instead of one tent there are two with a little open space between the two for a rum bar with a reggae singer.  The tents are a lot more open and allow more air flow (a major improvement), the quality of the wines and food have also improved.   I run into the owner of a wine importing company called Wonderful Ethnic  I met Konstantin the night I met Thomas Trois Gros.  He takes me behind the counter and pours me his whole selection of Greek and Brazilian wines.  I was pleasantly surprised by their quality and it further reinforced the notion that today good wines can be made anywhere with good growing conditions.

I throw in the towel two hours later, tired, a little annoyed and head outside.  I go to the French pavillion and run into Sacha Lichine again.  His Chateau d’ Esclan is excellent.  They have a small representation of French products and wines.  I’m always amazed at how little of a marketing effort France does compare to say Spain.

I go a little farther and see that Michael Symon is doing his demo.  I decide to check that out.  It’s a stand up comedy routine peppered with Michael’s maniacal laugh.  He makes a super simple tomato sauce to put on top of pasta.  The dish is simply the vehicle for people to ask questions and to spur more humor.  He has the crowd captivated and does fire off some useful tips.  Occasionally another famous chef comes from back stage to rib him (including Bobby Flay).  Then it’s question time.  Someone asks him if he plans to open any outlets outside Cleveland.  He say he prefers to stay in his home area and build more restaurants close to home.  His fellow star chefs have certainly not held back in putting their name behind restaurants in Miami and Vegas.

After he finishes the Q&A,  I go up to talk to him.  A chef friend of mine who I worked with at the Four Seasons in Georgetown was his roommate at the CIA.  I chat with him briefly.

A typical Art Deco building in South Beach

It’s then time for home.  Ted nicely comes to pick me up.  We relax at his pad until our scheduled dinner at Michelle Bernstein’s Sra. Martinez.

Pata Negra Ham from extremadura

The Wine+Dine+Design event is taking place and we arrive right in the middle of a group leaving Sra. Martinez and another arriving from Micheal’s.  It is a little chaotic but we manage to get installed at our table.   We are a party of 8 and it doesn’t take long for us to realize that we are surrounded by top chefs who are there to enjoy Michelle’s food as well.  The emblem of the restaurant is the pig and the menu is built on a Tapas format.  We all decide to do the $65 tasting menu. I order a wonderful Priorat Closa Batllet, by Marc Ripoll Sans for us to start.  I’ve never had a white Priorat before and this did not disappoint.  I love their red wines.  The waiter mentions they have Pata Negra ham from Spain as a special and I have them bring an order so everyone can sample the world’s most expensive ham.  It is $21 for an ounce at la Senora.

Then the tapas start to roll in.  Each dish is full of flavor with very simple presentation.  It is true tapas food and all very comforting.  My favorite dish which is not pictured here is the pork belly.  Spot on cooking and flavor.  It’s not the first pork belly dish I experience in SOBE, but one of the best.

Patatas Bravas

Thinly sliced and fried eggplant drizzled with mollasses

Bread with tomato and white anchovy

Arugula salad with apple

Pan fried marlin

At about this time we switch over to a red Priorat called los planetas.  Amazing

Squid and sea urchin risotto and sauteed kale

sauteed JJ Kale with squid and sea urchin risotto

Brussel sprouts a la plancha and lamb shortribs with romesco and spring onions

Julie and I decide to take a break and look around the place.  This is when I notice we are surrounded by celebrity chefs eating dinner at Senora Martinez.  Two tables away from us is Nobu, but we’re confused isn’t he supposed to be cooking for the Daniel Boulud tribute dinner taking place at that exact moment.  Now that is super chef power.  He could become a member of  “les Incroyables.”

I take a closer look at the bar which also has one of those great Italian hand cranking meat slicers.

a view of the bar area

Julie and I walk upstairs and run into Michael Symon on the restaurant’s outdoor deck.  This time we have a more prolonged and relaxed chat.  He is very nice and down to earth.  We come back down to the next flurry of desserts tapas.

Apple tarte tatin, chocolate cake and a Spanish goat cheese with honey

One of the dishes is a flan the table falls in love with.  So we order another one.  Super creamy with a fennel butter cookie.

Flan with fennel butter cookie

We are completely satiated at the end of the meal and since our reservations were at 9pm the night has progressed and we head to the next big event a little private party put on by Rachel Ray at the Raleigh.

The pool at the Raleigh

The cascading waterfall at the Raleigh pool

They have a band playing but very quietly.  It turns out their sound system is all messed up.   Rachel is trying to get to the bottom of the problem and finally they get the problem resolved.  People are huddled around heat lamps trying to stay warm.  Guy Fieri is darting in and out of sealed off cabana tents.  Rocco is loitering around the bar.  They play an acoustic version of the Ramones “I want to be sedated” cmon what would Joey say?   This party is a lot more relaxed than the others and many more chefs are represented.   Finally they get their sound issues resolved and a chef gets on stage to play some songs.  Rachel is singing along with a TV camera right in her face and occasionally a person breaks her space to talk to her.  She is sans Body Guards tonight but her husband and Ken Oringer from Clio is there to keep the A list fans at bay.

At the end of the show the band has members of the audience come up for the Beatles song “all you need is love.”

It’s a “we are the world” moment.

Of course you would need to be wearing a wristband to hear that message.

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