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More Beer, Rock Shrimp, and Chilaquiles: Final Notes on the SoBe Fest

​So we close the page on another South Beach Wine & Food Festival -- or, as we like to call it, the Annual Four Day Gastro-Intestinal Challenge. The following list consists of personal observations and reflections gathered over the weekend.

- I've been to so many Festivals that I've gotten to know two of the Illy Espresso baristers. "See you next time," we say to each other each annually. It's sort of like the espresso-lovers version of the 1978 film "Same Time, Next Year" -- except instead of cheating on my wife one day each year, I'm cheating on Nespresso.

- Fabio Viviani, shilling for Bertolli Olive Oil at Casa Tua, gave one of the best make-your-own-pasta demos I've ever seen. He was funny, too. That said, his sexy-Italian schtick is really more suitable for women. And I said "schtick".

- Seminars can be boring.

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- They ought to offer at least one type of beer at Best of the Best, if only for the food loving attendee with an allergy to sulfites. I say this because I ran into one such unfortunate fellow who was unsuccessfully scanning the room for a brew.

- The Media Hospitality Suite was very hospitable, which hasn't always been the case. Plus the room, when I visited, overwhelmingly smelled of freshly sliced pickles, which is a good thing.

- FIU students at their school's hospitality tent offered guests in the Grand Tasting Village a grilled flank steak sandwich on grilled bread, with some sort of slaw. It was the tastiest treat I had all day.

- Other memorable dishes during the weekend included Gabrielle Hamilton's Florida rock shrimp with buttered brown rice and duck cracklings; porchetta from NYC's Maialino; David Burke's sea urchin custard with uni and lobster foam; and chilaquiles from Jamie Bissonnette (Copa and Toro). But of course that's culled from a teeny sampling of what was offered.

- Most popular swag at this year's SoBeWFF was definitely cheap sunglasses. Seems nearly every company was handing out a pair emblazoned with it's name. They came in handy while walking around the sunny Village, which made them more helpful than the pens, key chains, corkscrews and so forth given away. There were a lot of potato chips being dished out too.

- Personal Moment Of Gluttonous Triumph: I was stunned that hardly any of the attendees to the Media Welcoming cocktail gathering on the rooftop of The Betsey Hotel were touching the two platters piled with stone crabs -- with big bowls of mustard sauce on the side. Maybe they didn't want to get their hands all fishy; maybe they were invited to dinners afterwards and didn't want to spoil their appetites. Now that's a jaded life! Whatever: I took advantage of the easy access and filled my little plate with two crabs at a time. I returned for more on numerous occasions and brought them back to a little cocktail table at which I'd been standing, eating, and talking with a rep from Winebow. After perhaps my fourth or fifth plate, said rep turned to me and said "We've just met and already I'm embarrassed to be seen with you." I like to think she was kidding, but either way it was one of the better lines I heard all weekend.

- I still don't know half of these Food Network personalities, but judging by attendance at their demos, I'm the only one.

- Some of our best local and national chefs chose to participate in Burger Bash rather than Best of the Best. It's understandable -- the former is trendier, more exciting, gets more media coverage, and burgers are far less a pain-in-the-ass to prepare en masse than detailed small plates. Still, the idea that hamburgers have become so popular a canvas for America's chefs, and not just at food fairs, says something about where our national cuisine is at right now. And I'm not certain it's that great a place to be. Hmmm...sounds like fodder for a future post.

- Kudos to Lee Schrager and his team for adding a host of affordable parties to the mix. These new events allowed moderate-income food-and-wine-loving locals access, which is great. And, for that matter, congrats to all involved for another smashingly successful Festival. I'm not saying Lee is a workaholic, but he'll probably take today off -- and have to be persuaded to do so -- then start planning next year's bash on Wednesday.

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