What's your idea of the good life? Is it a sprawling private event held in something called "the Sparkle Ballroom" in a glamorous over-the-top Miami Beach resort? Is it top-rated bottles of rare, aged grapes all silently glistening, clamoring to fill a complimentary Riedel glass hanging from a nifty cord around your well-moisturized, soigné neck?
Is it the just-because-you-can decadence of eating humble snack food like popcorn dressed with freshly grated truffles? Is it a live jazz band providing the soundtrack as you line up for yet another swig of gratis Krug champagne? Is it a chorus of angels applauding your existence as you float from tasting booth to tasting booth, only to be handed a peekytoe crab roll by molecular gastronomy maestro Wiley Dufresne himself?
Oh, okay. So you were likely at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival's Best of the Best last night, a blow-out at the Fontainebleau presented by Wine Spectator. The three-and-a-half hour event was a monument to sensual, though restrained, luxury.
Best of the Best assembled 15 champagnes, precisely 201 wines, and dishes from over 47 marquee-name chefs. Clearly, this was not a party for those overwhelmed by choice -- but though the display was plentiful, it was never tacky. If anything, the event was a bit staid, but with the circus-like atmosphere of other events this weekend, it was welcome.
One of the best bangs for the buck -- at least for bubbly-lovers -- came in the smaller champagne selection, which included multiple selections from Krug, Henriot, Mumm, Pommery, Nicolas Feuillatte, and Perrier-Jouet, among others. Among the still wines, the selection weighed heavily towards California, France, and Italy, though a few vineyards from Argentina, Chile, Spain, and Austria also peeked through. (Click here to read a full list of all the vineyards who participated.)
As far as the food, Miami establishments figured heavily among the restaurants serving, with most of the city's culinary stars dutifully represented: Michelle Bernstein, Thomas Buckley, Scott Conant, Ciny Hutson, Ooi Soon Lok, the Randazzos, Alfred Portale, Simon Stojanovic, John Suley, Norman Van Aken, Peter Vauthy, Bjoern Weizzgerber, and Kris Wessel among them.
From farther afield, bigger marquee names were also promised: Marcus Samuelsson, Wylie Dufresne, and event host Charlie Trotter among them, but Dufresne was the only one who could be found hands-on plating the offerings at his booth. That was a peekytoe crab roll with salt and vinegar chips and celery mayonnaise.
Actually, with the necessity of each establishment serving catering-style, small seafood and ceviche-type dishes reigned supreme. Foie gras figured surprisingly heavily as well, as did a few more unabashedly carnivorous presentations, like a chili served in actual sliced of leg bone that came courtesy of John Doherty, representing the Certified Angus Beef brand.
Here are some more random pictures collected during the evening.
These complimentary Riedel wine glasses came with that nifty hands-free cord that allows you to keep your hands free while taking tasting notes.
From Bruce and Eric Bromberg of Blue Ribbon Restaurant in New York Citi, mini beef marrow with oxtail marmalade, served with challah toast croutons and fried parsley.
Patrick O'Connell, of the Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia, grated these pungent truffles fresh over each mini box of popcorn.
One of the few meat-free offerings came from Bryan Voltaggio of Volt in Frederick, Maryland, and also had one of the cutest platings. This is winter garden beets, carrots, radish, Coach Farm goat cheese, and upland cress.
Coach Farm itself had a booth too.
From Robert Del Grande of Restaurant RDG and Bar Annie in Houston, a relatively straightforward Black Angus steak salad with mission fig and marrow mousse.
Kris Wessel of Red Light served a crawfish pie and bisque which ran out before the evening's end, but remaining on the table was his display of live, caged crawfish. By 10 p.m., they were still sadly waving their little claws in protest.
Assorted confections from Andrew Shotts.
Displaying one of the few sparks of outright humor for the evening, Michelle Gayer of the Salty Tart bakery in Minneapolis served these cookies shaped like mustaches on a stick, and the friendly ladies manning the booth even offered to take pictures "for your Facebook status update." (Guess we had iPhone addict written all over us.)
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Fresh marshmallows, and a rainbow of macarons, eclairs, and other confections from Yannis Janssens, executive pastry chef for the Fontainebleau Hotel and, apparently, the maker of dreams.