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My First Time at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival

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As a food writer, I couldn't resist applying for a few media tickets to attend my first SOBE in Miami. Held at the end of February, never a nice time of the year in the North (aka New York), the SOBE Wine and Food Festival is not only just a temptation, it's a must-do. I was awarded a media ticket for the Grand Tasting at the tents, one for the Wine Spectator's Best of the Best event and luckily a ticket to the Paula Deen's Gospel Brunch with a twist, courtesy of a New York PR company.

I am not new in the food festival and show world. Since 2007, I have been to the Fancy Food Shows, the New York Food and Wine Festivals, Choice Eats, Gala Italia, and participated in numerous culinary and wine tasting adventures in New York and elsewhere. The SOBE wasn't a big surprise in terms of food tasting. It was just set in a different, shiny, hot and colorful environment that welcomes food as well.

Wearing my Southern Hospitality Traveler's Magazine hat and researching content for the Flavors of the South article I was assigned to write, I was surprised to discover that the SOBE festival does not involve too much Southern-flavored food. Participating restaurants at the Grand Tasting offered Spicy Tuna Banh Mi, Tuna Tacos and Watermelon Ceviche, Braised Short Ribs but also Coconut Lo Mein Noodles, Chicharon de Camarones and the mundane Barilla Pasta dishes -- all in small bites to please attendees. I was desperate to identify some sort of Southern flavors for the sake of the culinary journalism. After a few rounds and more tiny dishes, I was happy to find the Cold, Smoked and Roasted Chipotle BBQ Pork Belly, a Southern delicacy, and the Crab Bisque, a Louisiana specialty. But my vote will go to the Croquetas de Chocolate, a Cuban dessert made with cornflakes and milk chocolate in the interior. And all those happened under loud music, hundreds of people and celebrity chefs presenting their newest cooking skills, kitchen items or cook books. The most Southern cocktail? The Illy coffee Miami Vice, a perfect combination of coffee and alcohol!

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The Best of the Best was a more civilized experience. Held at the amazing Fontainebleau Hotel, participants tasted food and wine from the best-voted restaurants and wineries according to Wine Spectator magazine. Amazing were most of the champagnes I had so I don't make any news. When it comes to food, the most innovative dish was the Eleven Madison Park Smoked Sturgeon Sabayon with Chives, served in a real eggshell. It was mousse-y and tasty and rather light. Other favorites included the Crawfish Pie and Bisque from the Red Light Little River restaurant in Miami, the most "Southern" dish at the Best of the Best event and the Cuban Fois Gras sandwich, a Southern sandwich with a twist. The big miss of the night? The Chocolate Braised Lamb, something I would never try again.

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Paula Deen's Gospel Brunch was a real Southern experience. Cornbread, Fried Green Tomatoes, BBQs, Potato and Cheese Biscuits, Black Eye Peas, Hush Puppies, Fried Chicken -- all typical flavors of the South paired with Beaujolais wines -- that was the successful twist of the brunch. All I needed to close my four-day feast with some work-related material.

But regrettable was the fact that the focus on food "understaged" wine. It is called the Wine and Food Festival, so do something to show off those amazing wines that were pouring. It is sad to ignore them just to promote top chefs.

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