The Italian pavilion at the Grand Tasting, which was actually a pretty straightforward assembly line of wine pours with delicious Grana Padano cheese for nibbles.
My second experience of the Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival started on Friday morning when it took me one and half hours to drive 15 miles from South Miami to South Beach at 9:30 AM. After securing what was probably the last parking spot at the Anchor Shops garage across from the Loews Hotel, and being nearly rear-ended by an antsy valet driver
(By the way, this is a great municipal parking garage. $16 is the most you'll pay for a 24 hour period. A true South Beach bargain.)
Quiche, mimosas and hobnobbing were on the menu at brunch. It was here I overheard journalists discuss important matters like "are you a true food writer or simply someone who writes who happens to be passionate about food?"
Well, if we're going to ask questions, I also want to ponder: "How can you be a food writer and wear a size zero? You see, food is this stuff you put in your mouth, chew and swallow. You don't eat, girlfriend."
Holding up a sign at the Grand Tasting line. Somebody please put this man out of his misery.
No cattle call ever looked so sunny and bright.
But I digress. From brunch, I traipsed over to the Grand Tasting at Lummus Park, which was open only to trade on Friday. After waiting 40 minutes in line to get our wristbands, friend and fellow writer from South Florida Food and Wine Blog and I proceeded to the gate. Once inside, we would spend three hours on our feet in what I can only call the most glorious "People Watching Festival" I have ever attended -- mobs of people were there and this wasn't even open to the general public! I think every restaurant owner with relatives in Hialeah had entire clans infiltrate the inner sanctum of this gourmet fair.
Bitches were walking around in their mini-skirts and high heels (seriously, on the beach, ladies?), Eurotrash was well represented and the requisite ass models in boy shorts were giving out booze samples. Ah yes, it was South Beach all right ... all the sex and none of the sophistication.
The mob of wine and food enthusiasts. At closing time, a voice over a loud speaker repeated: "stop pouring now." I kept hearing: "stop whoring now."
No South Beach event would be complete without the selling power of pussy.
And behold: there wasn't much food at the Grand Tasting at all, and what little there was, required a ten to fifteen minute wait in line for a small sample.
No, no. This wasn't about food. This was about wine and booze. By closing time at 4 PM, most folks were rip-roarin' tipsy, because those thimble-full alcohol samples really do add up. This reminded me of the Gasparilla pirate festival, where frat boys were wasted by 11 am, but minus the bead flinging and police arrests.
This vodka was actually pretty good. It's made in Central Florida from 4 different varieties of Florida oranges. I tried some neat. It was not as sickeningly sweet as other citrus flavored vodkas.
Refreshing prosecco. Probably my favorite pour of the day, besides cold Amstel (yes, beer!) which is about all I could tolerate under the hot tent.
The Grand Tasting is a true tribute to Bacchus for the masses, where sampling a bazillion different wines isn't really going to teach you anything about being an enophile. Come on, folks! You cannot appreciate anything in large doses. Discreet tastings of food and drink, spread out over time, is the only way to educate your palate.
The grapevine of seasoned journalists who were festival veterans informed me that the event would be doubly insane over the weekend. Scalpers abound, people try to bum wristbands from strangers at the gate and security is on hand to pick up the lightweights puking and passing out. Geez, I'm so sorry I went on the more "civilized" trade day and missed all that.
Two ladies getting their tan on at the South Beach Wine, Food, People Watching and Tanning Festival.
Arugula and duck salad was one of the few samples of food I saw at the event. Mind you, that doesn't mean food wasn't there, but it was so crowded, it was hard to spot.
So what to expect if you are a layperson: lots of wine, lots of waiting, lots of bumping into strangers, not so much food and fantastic people watching.
There is, of course, much more to the festival than the Grand Tasting bacchanalia and geeze, if the PR companies had been open to including more local writers, I might have been able to pen some stories about those worthy events, too. But word from the grapevine was that press passes were as tight as Madonna's ass.
As my friend put it: "If you really want to learn, go to the seminars and tastings and know that your contributions are helping Florida International University's hospitality and tourism program."
And this I did, right after, with my sand-coated feet dog tired after walking around for three hours. A small, cozy wine and cheese event at the roof deck of the Betsy Hotel was just what the doctor ordered and that kind of investment of money and time is what I would recommend to anyone interested in attending next year. If you want to gormandize, don't do fast food -- do so wisely and elegantly. Avoid this cattle call.
SEE IT ALL IN A GROOVY MONTAGE
I don't know what it was about this weekend that turned everyone into an animal on the streets of South Beach. By the time I left around 7:30 PM, it was bumper to bumper everywhere and people were driving as if they were jonesing for crack. I have never seen South Beach like this, not even during Boat Show or Memorial Day weekend! Other South Beach residents corroborated my observations. Foodies are crazy!
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