Taste of the Nation South Florida: Chefs and Locals Feed Hungry Kids

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Taste of the Nation, the annual event to end childhood hunger in America took place last night in the grand Americana ballroom at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel. It was an evening filled with lots of food, drinks, chefs, and prizes.

The event was followed by a Chef After Party where chefs and VIP ticket buyers got to rendezvous poolside in the Loews cabanas. Shake Shack, Misha's cupcakes, Bombay Sapphire all provided food and drink -- that is if you could eat or drink any more. The three-hour -- four for VIP ticket holders - event was already enough to leave you in a food coma. Pictures and our picks for best dishes following the jump.

See also: Photos: Taste of the Nation South Florida 2013 at Loews Miami Beach

If you had the chance to arrive early, you were one of the lucky people to bid on the silent auction early. We took our chances with about five -- dinner for four at Makoto ($150) being one of them. When else are you going to get the chance to win a deal like that. Of course the thought crossed our mind -- what if we win all five? Starving journalists don't exactly make much dough. Oh well, it's for the kids.

Another thing you got when walking in was a goodie bag and a wine glass, to be refilled as you pleased with champagne, wine, sangria, and Pellegrino's many flavors. We saw lots of people loading up with Pellegrino. Summer in Miami ain't so breezy.

More than 50 restaurants from Dade and Broward participated in hopes of supporting Share Our Strength's mission to leave no kid hungry. 3030 Ocean, Bianca at the Delano, Bloom Wynwood, Casa D'Angelo, Dolce Italian, Edge Steak & Bar, HaVen Gastro-Lounge, Katsuya;, Khong River House, MC Kitchen, Oak Tavern,The Oceanaire, Pubbelly Restaurant, Quattro Gastronomia Italiana, Raw Body Food, Red The Steakhouse, Steak 954, Sugarcane, Swine Southern Table, The Bazaar, The Federal Food Drink & Provisions, and Yardbird Southern Table and Bar were some of the participants.

With all that food it was hard to distinguish the best, but we managed to do so. Makoto, of course, was a standout with a wild mushroom gyoza served with truffle cream and a summer truffle on top. As we took a plate, chef Makoto Okuwa bowed down and we bowed right back. Jamie De Rosa from Tongue & Cheek stood happily in his booth, drawing people just because of his bubbling energy. He was prepping and serving two delectable dishes. The first, a peach soda with bourbon ice cream and cream cheese crumbles, popped instantly on the tongue. Second, a beef cheek burger with pimento cheese on a housemade brioche bun, was a cheek filler. As our food critic recently wrote, his food is certainly fun, to say the least.

The Federal Drink & Provisions served crawfish and grits with Andouille and summer corn that was just a bit spicy but perfect for this heated summer event. Haven Gastro Lounge had lobster curry served deviled egg style and also green eggs & ham -- both were a perfect bite and deliciously different. We wish some queso mac from HuaHua would have somehow made it's way on there. The Ritz served a layered dessert of pineapple compote with coconut rice, pudding mango gele, passion fruit creme, white chocolate balls, and a passion fruit foam that deserved some sort of sugar medal.

Besides Makoto, my personal pick for the night was Little Palm Island's olive oil-poached shrimp with boniato mash, sweet corn salsa, and roasted onion vinaigrette. At first I was skeptical about a poached shrimp that looked like it had been sitting out, but I was wrong. It was cooked and seasoned beyond perfection, and anyone who serves a shrimp with its tail at a non-sit down event like this deserves some type of recognition. I've never been to Little Palm Island, but now I'm tempted to make a drive down to Little Torch Key soon.

Sure a ticket may have cost you $125 or $250 for VIP, but you're not only feeding hungry kids across America, you're also trying and being exposed to restaurants you may have otherwise never even thought to go to or had some misrepresentation about. Not to mention you get a chance to talk to locals about their favorite spots.

And if you're lucky you might get to meet your favorite chef or the people behind the kitchens you frequent and admire. Chef Conor Hanlon from The Dutch and Miguel Aguilar chatted it up all night, exchanging laughs with each other and with locals about their dishes, their ingredients, and their own personal food culture. Michael Schwartz, on the other hand, was a bit harder to get to, as he traveled with this culinary entourage and was always surrounded.

Still, Taste of the Nation was a great way to get a taste of Miami.

Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha

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