SoBe Fest's Italian Al Fresco Feast: Little Italy Comes to the Beach

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Maybe it was the chill in the air, maybe it was the river of red sauce, but South Beach felt like New York City at last evening's Italian Al Fresco Feast.

The premiere event celebrated Ronzoni's 100th anniversary, complete with a big sand-sculpted birthday cake and plenty of pasta dishes by some of the most creative Italian chefs in South Florida, New York, and Philadelphia.

The event was different than other SoBeWFF parties in many ways. Although the fete was hosted by Cooking Channel's Debi Mazar & Gabriele Corcos, there were few celebrity sightings. Instead, darn good chefs like Michael Pirolo (Macchialina), Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia), and Ryan Hardy (Charlie Bird) presented enough meatballs, sausage, and red sauce to satisfy. Add one part Sinatra and two parts vino (although most bars ran out of red), and you've more than a touch of amore in the air.

Hosts Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos sign autographs for a fan.

Macchialina's Michael Pirolo had a little assistance in the way of Nina Compton. The NOLA-bound chef was kindly paying back her friend and former colleague for helping her out at her recent pop-up.

Tony Mantuano's hand rolled potato gnocchi with langoustine, finished with a bit of lemon, was the most inspired dish of the evening, making Miami miss his local restaurant, Lorenzo, even more than ever.

Fabio Viviani's Siena Tavern meatball was there, but the chef stayed for just a short time, before wandering off. Don't feel bad for the meatball -- she had quite the entourage.

Not even wine and good pasta could warm up Touche's Carla Pellegrino. The chef said she was freezing in the short-sleeved seersucker chef's jacket provided by the Festival, so she changed into a long-sleeved coat.

Charlie Bird's Ryan Hardy made tiny porchetta sandwiches. Paired with pickled winter vegetables, it was the perfect bite.

There's a story behind Laurenzo's homemade Italian "Donnie Brasco" Sausage. David Laurenzo explains that the recipe is actually a secret straight from the movie set. Of course, when asked what the secret is, I just got the malocchio -- and another helping of sausage.

With the weekend just getting underway, Miami chefs, like Ralph Pagano and Timon Balloo stopped in to support friends and try out some food before their own duties kick in.

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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