Thursday, February 24, 2011

South Beach Food and Wine Festival, Part 2

Botran Rum Dinner South Beach Food and Wine Festival
I had problems with my camera so only a grainy photo from my iPhone today of my favorite dish.

Oh rum, why do you tease me so? Is it not enough that I have shared the finest grog with pirates, that I dream about a creamy guava rum punch I had in St. Lucia, staring out at the Caribbean sea, and that I loyally follow the rum gang at Miami's Rum Renaissance Festival?

Well, earlier today you teased me again, at a press luncheon showcasing the Guatemalan born spirit Botran paired with the food at D. Rodriguez Cuba, featuring two guest chefs.


I am by no means a rum expert and I'm not going to use hoity-toity terms like "it tastes oaky" or "it reminds me of my abuelita's arthritis ointment." But I do know this -- some rums are so good, you drink them neat or on the rocks like a fine scotch. They are made with painstaking craftsmanship supported by the science of distillery. Combine craft and science and you have art. The path from sugar cane to fine rum is a long one and I'll save that for another post, but it's all involved with the rich colonial history of Spain and the New World.

For pete's sake, please don't even consider rums like Bacardi Dragonberry a real rum. Even a shipwrecked pirate on his last breath wouldn't drink that crap. That is rum gone ghetto, appealing to the audience of Real Housewives of Miami -- indiscriminately tasteless. Real rum should be enjoyed alone or with combinations made from ingredients like fresh fruit, herbs, spices and bitters. Flavored rums are blech.

Does this make me a purist rum snob? I don't know. Actually, I don't care. But I do know that Botran's Reserva was good enough to mix and very palatable in a Manhattan made with sherry, sweet vermouth and bitters. It's not a light, white rum, though. Save that for your basic, traditional mojitos. And the Solera (aged longer) was tasty but lighter than other rums I would prefer to savor neat or on the rocks.


I'm not crazy about drinking sweet rum drinks with food. Wine or some dry cocktail just makes more sense because too many intense flavors confuse the palate. So today was an interesting exploration in pairing.

The first cocktail we enjoyed was created by Thomas Merolla, Botran's Director of Mixology. The Yellow Tail, curiously named after a snapper, consisted of Reserva blended with Aperol, ripe passion fruit, ginger, mint garnish, a bit of citrus and topped with champagne. It reminded me of an Old Cuban without the old in it -- very refreshing, like a South Beach model with personality.

The Yellow Tail was served with passed hors d'oeuvres that were prepared by Chef Carmen Trigueros of La Bottega in Coconut Grove. Her little bites were absolutely delectable, including the passion fruit ceviche, baby lamb chops with mole crust as well as Spanish tortilla with chorizo and pimentos, all of which were worthy of trying in full serving size.

We also sipped on this this cocktail with Chef Rodriguez's first course: a ceviche that made my mouth so happy, I really do hope they keep their word when they say it will be a regular menu item. Imagine this: loads of tender lobster meat and shredded stone crab in a cilantro based soupy mix with local heirloom tomatoes and avocado. The "gourmet" part was topping it with stone crab mustard and Botran rum ice cream, which had melted but certainly didn't hurt the dish, adding a light creaminess to your otherwise typically watery ceviche. You couldn't really taste the rum or the mustard, but somehow it worked.

Chef Mario Pagan from Puerto Rico was in town to help with second courses. I particularly liked a yuca hash he made to side with coconut crusted shrimp, which he said was "bringing back the '80s." (Well, if you bring back the '80s, make sure Crockett and Tubbs show up, too.) The humble tuber root was cut into bite-sized little squares, lightly fried and not at all greasy. Coated in cilantro and garlic, the hash offered a unique adaptation of the Cuban and Caribbean staple -- I would love the recipe.

Dessert came in the form of Blackberry and Goat Cheese Tart from D. Rodriguez Cuba's Executive Pastry Chef Christian Cobos. Since I don't like overly sweet stuff (have you noticed that yet?) I enjoyed the balance between the savory cheese and rich berries. Our drink pair for dessert was Botran Solera on the rocks, but I think the rum could have stood well on its own.


See, I don't want to talk about some famous food network chefs whose asses everyone is kissing. I want to talk about good grub and drink that we can all enjoy right here in our own backyards once all the hoopla is over.

  • D. Rodriguez Cuba on Washington Avenue at the Hotel Astor has closed and re-opened on Ocean Drive inside the Hilton Bentley Hotel. Sit down and hold on, for you shall be shocked: they offer free valet for all restaurant customers! Yes, you heard that right, free valet in the heart of South Beach. Happy hour features $5 mojitos from lunch to 6 PM.
  • Carmen Triguero's La Bottega is a newish place in the Grove. Sadly, her website is under construction but she does have a Facebook page. I haven't tried the restaurant, but based on what I ate today, I'm raring to go. She seemed very dedicated and wanted to make sure we gave her honest feedback. I'm not complaining.
  • Rum lovers, don't forget Rum Renaissance is happening again this year at the end of April.

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