South Beach Wine and Food Festival, as chefs, pseudo-celebrity-chefs, and their stalkers invade Miami for four days of food festivities. I'm not completely knocking the thing: there are in fact some great chefs coming to town, some of the events provide an opportunity for the local talent to show off, and, well, I can't speak from personal experience because I haven't actually been to a SoBe Fest event in several years. So I'll just have to leave the celebrity chef gossip over the next week to others, and hope everyone that's going enjoys it.
In the meantime, if while you're here you want more of a taste of what Miami has to offer, and haven't had your fill at the Burger Bash or the Bubble Q, a few ideas:
(WARNING: horn self-tooting alert!) If you're looking for an alternative to the glam and glitz of the SoBe Fest, welcome to the underground. On Saturday February 26, Alex Talbot, who with his wife Aki Kamozawa make up the creative culinary team that is Ideas in Food, is in town and will be doing a dinner for the Cobaya Gourmet Guinea Pigs. Details here, and though all seats have been filled, waitlist requests are still being taken.
Even if you can't make the dinner, there will be an "open house" style brunch (no reservations needed, a la carte prices) with Alex cooking on Miami's favorite Airstream trailer, the gastroPod, on Sunday February 27 from 12:30-4:00pm at The Stage in the Design District, 170 NE 38th Street.
South Beach Underbelly
You know from Joe's Stone Crab. You know from Prime 112. Wouldn't you like to see a little more of South Beach than the big-name places?
A good place to start is Pubbelly (my thoughts here), a recently opened restaurant sort of off the main drag on 20th Street near Purdy Avenue. It styles itself an "Asian-inspired gastropub," but I see a lot more Spanish tapas bar than English gastropub in it. Not surprisingly given the name, pork belly plays a major role, whether it's paired with a miso butterscotch and bok choy, or in a "McBelly" sandwich with kimchi, BBQ sauce and pickles, or in a kimchi fried rice served in a hot stone bowl. The menu changes regularly, but other items to look for include the duck and pumpkin dumplings in a orange soy brown butter, croquetas, and possibly the best pan con tomate I've had in Miami.
Another even more off-the-beaten-path place to consider is Indomania (my thoughts here), just north of South Beach proper on 26th Street. This Dutch-Indonesian restaurant is cozy, comfortable and friendly, and ordering the rijsttafel will bring you nearly 20 different dishes to try for under $30 per person.
And if you're still peckish after all the SoBe Fest afterparties, you can do worse for late night eats than to find your way to The Alibi. Tucked into the back of a dive bar called "Lost Weekend" on Española Way and open till 5am, the Alibi does an authentic Philly cheese steak, a solid fried shrimp po'boy, crisp hand-cut fries with a choice of seasoning (I like the "ranch dust"), and house-made pickles.
Perhaps the most important bit of advice to offer anyone visiting for the South Beach Wine and Food Festival and looking for good food is: get off South Beach! The recolonization of the mainland started years ago, highlighted by Michelle Bernstein opening Michy's on a then-unpromising stretch of Biscayne Boulevard, followed by Michael Schwartz opening Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in the Design District. Now, one of the greatest concentrations of good eats can be found in and around the Midtown Miami development, just west of Biscayne Boulevard and south of the 195 highway overpass. All within walking distance of one another, and all worth a visit:
Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill (my thoughts here). The unlikely but successful mix of tapas, robata grilled items, and sushi was recently named a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation "Best New Restaurant" award. The tapas items are generally the strongest part of the menu, with personal favorites including the bacon wrapped dates stuffed with linguica and manchego cheese, the flash-fried tripe with kimchi, the scallop crudo with apple, jalapeño, truffle and lime, and the duck and waffles.
Sakaya Kitchen (my thoughts here). From the bare bones furnishings and counter-service layout, Sakaya Kitchen may look like a fast-food joint, but there's some real cooking going on here at this contemporary Asian place, with the best pork buns in town (slow-roasted shoulder topped with pickled cucumbers and spicy-sweet ssamjang sauce), great Korean fried chicken, honey-orange glazed ribs that you'll eat like candy, and the awe-inspiring "bulgogi" burger.
Sustain (my thoughts here). This recently opened restaurant puts its money where its mouth is, doing farm-to-table Florida style. Some highlights include the "50-Mile Salad" (with ingredients all sourced from within fifty miles of the restaurant, including Paradise Farms brassicas, roasted beets, local heirloom tomatoes, pickled onions and fromage blanc from a local producer), the intensely-flavored Florida corn bisque, and the "Fork and Knife" Burger using Four Arrows Ranch grass-fed beef.
Gigi (my thoughts here). Just across the street from the Midtown Miami complex, Chef Jeff McInnis is packing them in nightly with a mix of contemporary Asian (the trend du jour in South Florida) and local flavors. Some of the best things on the fairly short menu are the "BLT" (with pork belly in a toasted Chinese bun and pungent pickles), the short rib meat loaf with a smoky plantain purée and salty-sweet soy molasses drizzle, the beef brisket buns, the crispy chicken skin with an Asian romesco sauce, and the grilled butternut squash with yogurt and a spicy vinegar drizzle. Bonus points for being open late: 3am on weeknights, 5am weekends.
Go Truck Yourself
Miami was a bit behind the curve on the food truck trend, but is trying to catch up quickly. A year ago there were only two. Now there are more than forty on the road or in the pipeline. The good news is that they often congregate, and your best chances to catch several of them in one place may be at the Biscayne Triangle Truck Roundup on Thursday at the American Legion Hall just east of 64th Street off Biscayne Boulevard, or the Wynwood Food Truckers Meet Up on Saturday night at 210 NW 22nd Lane. Some may also be at Grove Harbour Marina for Thursday lunch. You might see the gastroPod, plus Sakaya Kitchen goes mobile with the "Dim Ssam a Gogo" truck, but also keep an eye out for Latin Burger (get the "Macho Burger" with some chorizo in the grind, and topped with Oaxaca cheese and grilled onions), Fish Box (the pan con minuta is a great fried fish sandwich), Jefe's Original (go for the Ensenada style fish tacos), The MexZican for tortas, and some desserts from Sugar Rush or frozen concoctions from Feverish. Schedules and locations change frequently, a good place to check is Burger Beast's SFL Street Food Locations, or my twitter list of Miami Food Trucks.
So if you're doing the South Beach Wine and Food Festival thing, please enjoy. But if you want to sample a little more Miami flavor, I'd encourage you to get out of the tent and do some exploring.