Stupendous tents that compose the Grand Tasting Village have been constructed on the Beach. Barbecue pits are being assembled for the BubbleQ, flatware is being polished for the Ferran Adrià Tribute Dinner, sugar is being spun for the poolside dessert party, and a small army of the culinary world's movers, shakers, and bakers are checking into their hotels having brought with them enough food to stock a Publix. Thousands of cases of wine have been trucked in too, as well as a superfluity of spirits. Yes, that effervescent gastronomic caravan known as the South Beach Wine & Food Festival has pulled into town. Tout! Tout!
Presented by Food & Wine magazine, hosted by Southern Wine & Spirits of Florida and Florida International University, and founded by Lee Schrager, the festival is celebrating its fifth annual run, during which time it has grown into one of the nation's most prestigious gustatory gatherings. Formerly a three-day affair, this year's festivities open one night early with Thursday's Veuve Clicquot Bubble Bath at Hotel Victor. That same evening, Casa Casuarina will serve as a sophisticated setting for a prelude dinner hosted by Davidoff cigars. At $600, this meal, along with the equally expensive Adrià feast, is the priciest of the week.
The celebratory spirit really kicks into gear Friday night, when two of the most popular events occur simultaneously: Bobby Flay and Friends' Mot & Chandon BubbleQ, and Wine Spectator's Best of the Best. The former is a casually chic beach party featuring America's most acclaimed grillmasters, who will sizzle up all sorts of bodacious barbecue, which pairs surprisingly well with flutes of the namesake champagne. The Fontainebleau Resort hosts the other highlighted reception, a marriage between the finest reserves from 25 of the country's most exciting wineries and a tasting menu prepared by legendary local and national chefs plus Willy Moya, one of Andalusia's top toques.
Wine seminars, interactive cooking lunches, tribute dinners, and myriad other events take place at hotels in Coral Gables, downtown Miami, and the Beach, but the Grand Tasting Village is where the main action happens. Highlights here include demonstration tents where chefs most notably Nobu Matsuhisa and Food Network personalities give seminars and share techniques; a Kidz Kitchen tent where the likes of Emeril Lagasse, Rachel Ray, and Alton Brown teach and entertain the youngsters; and the festival's signature Grand Tasting, where revelers sample foods and beverages from a staggering array of big-name restaurants, vintners, and prestigious procurers of victuals, vodkas, and other invigorating vices.
Now for the bad news: The South Beach Wine & Food Festival is largely sold out. Although lots of lucky locals have locked in tickets for one or more of the festivities, many envious foodies have not. Don't despair: We've assembled a list of consolatory alternatives beggars' banquets, if you will at which to snare some of the region's most characteristic down-home cuisine. And if any of you out-of-towners participating in or attending the festival find yourselves with downtime between gala events, the following eateries (see "Beggars' Banquets") represent a unique slice of Miami you won't encounter on any South Beach itinerary.