Highlights from Ultra Music Festival

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I’ve been sick with a sore throat the past couple of days.  Perhaps it was from all the cheering at Ultra or trying to shout over the music.  Either way, it’s a small price to pay for getting to check out two days of performances by some of the biggest DJs and producers in the dance and electronic music scene.

Ultra Music FestivalWhat I enjoy about this genre of music (besides the music itself), is that it brings all sorts of people together.  Between 50,000 and 60,000 people attended Ultra each day, united by a love of dance and electronic music.  The fashion ranged from preppy to sporty, from hipster to raver.  A guy in a polo shirt would be enjoying the same music as a girl wearing a neon-colored tutu and black fuzzy boots with bead bracelets halfway up to her elbows.  It was truly an international event — music fans from approximately 80 countries made up the crowd and waved flags in beat to the music.  Maybe all they need at the G20 summit is a little dance music.

Even hip-hop artists are getting into the electronic scene.  The Black Eyed Peas chose Ultra as the venue to unveil the first song from their upcoming album.  Their performance Friday night (their first performance as a group in three years), kicked off with the hits “Let’s Get It Started” and “My Humps” before the debut of the beat-driven “Boom Boom Pow.”  If the audience’s reaction to the group’s high energy performance is any indication, The Black Eyed Peas will have huge success with their new album, due out June 9th.

Black Eyed Peas and LMFAOThis being Miami, the audience cheered loudly anytime The Black Eyed Peas mentioned the city by name.  And they went insane when the duo from LMFAO came on stage and joined them for an extended version of “I’m in Miami, B—-,” their song that’s huge right now in Miami clubs.

Ultra seemed to have several surprise appearances.  My favorite was during David Guetta’s set on Friday when he was joined by Kelly Rowland (of Destiny’s Child fame) to perform their new song “Love Takes Over.”  And wow, this woman can really belt it out!  The song has a great melody and you’ll want to sing along.  It’s definitely going to be a huge club hit this summer.

On Saturday music producer Timbaland tried his hand at DJing.  He mixed together beats from his hit songs like “The Way I Are” and “SexyBack.”  It seemed like he was a little unsure of his DJing abilities at times, relying on a hype man for encouragement and to pump up the audience.  Maybe he’s practicing for a new career?

Paul van DykTiësto and Paul van Dyk didn’t disappoint, headlining Friday and Saturday respectively with their brand of techno and electronic music that brought them to the top of the dance music scene.  It was incredible looking around at the massive audience during their sets; performing to a crowd of around 50,000 must be an incredible rush.

During his performance Saturday night Paul van Dyk debuted his latest single “Home.”  It has a warm mix of house music and pop vocals, but seems to rely too much on the same formula as his other popular singles.

Ultra Music Festival is loaded with so many different performances at a number of different stages that it makes it tough to choose where to go.  I found myself running from stage to stage, trying to get in as many performances as possible.

Roni Size and GoldieI’m a big fan of drum & bass so I made sure to be right up front for Roni Size (who performed in the U.S. for the first time in seven years with Reprazent), and Goldie.  Years ago it was music from these two who piqued my interest in drum & bass.  If you’re not familiar with this kind of music, I’d describe it as a heart-pumping frenzy of beats and bass that would make the heads of many parents (mine included) explode.

A big disappointment was the Prodigy, who started their set 20 minutes late and then proceeded to spew out a string of epithets to get the crowd going.  The cursing got old after a few minutes and I ended up leaving to check out the other stages.

Deadmau5Another disappointment was the no-show by Kaskade, whose song “Move for Me” with Deadmau5 is currently one of the most played songs on my iPod.  I did enjoy seeing two sets by Deadmau5, who took the stage wearing a helmet that was one part Mickey Mouse and another part Takashi Murakami.

Ultra Music FestivalIn between the main stage performances I spent a lot of time in the Carl Cox and Friends tent.  With friends like Moby, Pete Tong and Eric Morillo, there was a great mix of songs and beats.  I always made sure to return for Carl Cox, who is great at manipulating the energy of the crowd through his music.

Ultra Music FestivalIn the middle of all the action was the international food market, which tempted me with delicious smells even when I wasn’t hungry.  There was pizza, burgers, gyros, fried chicken, crepes, frog legs, gator bites, pasta and more.  My favorite was the stir-fried noodles, which were among the cheaper food items at $7 (my slice of pizza Friday night cost $10).  I did go a little overboard on eating but I figured I’d work off all the calories while dancing!

With non-stop, electrifying performances, Ultra Music Festival is the highlight of the Winter Music Conference.  Now that my ears have finally stopped ringing I’m ready for Ultra 2010!

Deering Seafood Festival

If there’s a food festival going on, I’m there!

Deering Seafood FestivalYesterday I had the chance to check out the 5th Annual Deering Seafood Festival on the Bay at the Deering Estate at Cutler.  It was my first time at both the seafood festival and the Deering Estate and I had a great time.

Grey skies and occasional drops of rain didn’t frighten away the crowds.  The appropriately named Seafood Alley was packed with people lining up to try the fresh offerings from local restaurants and catering companies.

crawfishGolden Rule Seafood‘s raw bar was my first stop.  Their oysters were some of the biggest I’ve seen and had a great creamy and meaty taste.  I normally eat raw oysters with cocktail or hot sauce but these were so good I ate them on their own.  I really wish I had saved room for Golden Rule Seafood’s cajun crawfish which looked and smelled delicious.

Next I tried a pair of dishes from Black Point Ocean Grill.  Their jambalaya was rich and well spiced, with large pieces of shrimp, chicken and andouille sausage.  Their grilled shrimp gazpacho was light and refreshing with a great kick to it — perfect for the hot and muggy afternoon.  Black Point Ocean Grill’s location in Homestead is a bit of a drive for me but after yesterday’s tasting I’ll be making a special trip.

I’m not sure if alligator actually qualifies as seafood but I knew I couldn’t leave the festival without trying some.  I’ve only had alligator fried beyond recognition so I was excited to try the smoked gator kabobs from the Les Seafood Express.  The gator meat was moist and tender, with a slightly more chewy texture than chicken.  The smoky taste suited the alligator meat really well.

garlic crabsMy eyes are always bigger than my stomach and I wish I could have eaten much more — especially the surf and turf nachos, lobster sliders and frog legs.  I should have gotten the seafood paella from Paellas R Us to go, I don’t know what I was thinking by passing that up!

The Bahamian Junkanoo enhanced the seafood celebration with an energetic and entertaining performance.  You couldn’t miss the brass band marching around in their bright neon uniforms.

I left the festival happy and very full — a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  I’ll definitely be back next year!

Sights, Sounds and Tastes at Ultra Music Festival

Paul van Dyk, Tiësto, Kaskade, Carl Cox, Moby and more — the biggest names in dance and electronic music are in Miami this weekend for Ultra Music Festival, part of the Winter Music Conference.

Ultra Music FestivalMore than 70,000 people are expected to attend the 11th edition of the festival to watch performances by more than 100 DJs, bands and producers over two days and two nights.

While checking out the action at all sixteen stages, festival goers are bound to work up an appetite.  At the international food market you can sample dishes from around the world.  From pizza to burgers to gyros, there’s anything a music fan could need to be able to dance all night.

Coming in the next few days: more about the music and food at Ultra, plus the Black Eyed Peas talk about their new album and their favorite places to eat in Miami.

AG Pick: Matanzas Creek Merlot

I have been a fan of Matanzas Creek’s red wines for years, even before I visited their beautiful estate in Santa Rosa, California.  Now every time I open a bottle I think about strolling through the rows and rows of lavender, taking in its intoxicating and soothing smell.

Matanzas Creek LavenderMatanzas Creek’s tasting room is perched on a hill overlooking the winery’s vineyards and lavender fields.  It’s one of my favorite wineries to visit in Sonoma County — not just because I’m a sucker for anything lavender, but because they produce delicious wines.

I really enjoy Matanzas Creek’s Bennett Valley Merlot.  Right now I’m drinking the 2005 vintage which is 85% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Syrah.  It has a deep garnet red color and a nose of ripe cherries and fresh herbs.

Matanzas Creek MerlotThis is a Merlot with muscle.  The taste is ripe and full, with flavors of blackberry, cherry and quince rounded out with pepper and cloves.  It’s well balanced with soft tannins that give it a pleasant mouthfeel.  It’s a delicious wine to sip on the porch overlooking your own garden, or to pair with beef, poultry or tomato-based pasta dishes.

The 2005 Matanzas Creek Bennett Valley Merlot costs around $30.  If you enjoy this Merlot you’ll love their Jackson Park Merlot, a full-bodied wine with notes of cassis, coffee and white pepper.  The 2005 Jackson Park Merlot costs around $45.

Matanzas Creek makes a variety of products with the lavender grown on their estate.  For more information on both the wine and lavender products visit www.matanzascreek.com.

Miami Style on the Runway

SoBe chic was on full display Thursday night at Miami Fashion Week.

Sabrina BarnettSabrina BarnettThe evening kicked off on a positive note with the international launch of Sabrina Barnett’s “Empowering Women” collection.  The former supermodel of Haitian, Cuban and Italian descent presented an array of shirts, pants and dresses, all with positive messages of self love.  Models of all ages walked the runway to a mix of upbeat songs, ending with the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love.”

Caribbean showcaseSKANext came a taste of the islands at the St. Vincent & the Grenadines Caribbean Designers Showcase.  Brightly-colored bikinis and light, flowing tops and dresses were the reoccurring theme.

Looks from the SKA fashion line featured ruffled tops and skirts, and a white dress with cloth flowers cascading down from the waist.  Designer Deb E. Barbour closed out the showcase with bright colored gowns and wedding dresses.

ECO Sustainable CollectionECO Sustainable CollectionThe Miami Style Showcase kicked off with the ECO Sustainable Collection, a stunning assortment of dresses created by students from the Design & Architect Senior High School.  Among the highlights were a long dress in neutral colors that had bunches of gathered fabric and a gown with a bodice of exotic feathers.

Francisos QuadrosFinalists in the Emerging Designer competition presented a variety of looks.  I especially liked the bright colors from Romina Heighes’ collection, the silver and striped dresses of Zula Khramov and a gorgeous flowing gown by Francisos Quadros.

A definite crowd-pleaser was the matching mother-daughter line of MamaOm Organics.  You couldn’t help but smile when seeing the little girls dressed in cute bathing suits and dresses beam as they walked down the runway.

MamaOmNicolas FelizolaThe Miami Style Showcase ended with the elaborate fashions of designer Nicolas Felizola.  Using bright colors and a variety of materials, Felizola created beautiful dresses that accentuated and complemented the female form.

Chef Elgin WoodmanChef Elgin Woodman of A Joy Wallace Catering paired the fashion with three dishes at the International Culinary Arts Pavillion.  The braised short rib served on a manchego flatbread was tender and well-spiced.  In a twist on “fish and chips,” quinoa crusted snapper had a great crunchy outside and yucca sticks were great with a sour orange mojo.  Savory and salty were balanced out with a sweet finish of rich and creamy dulce de leche panna cotta.

Photos by Gemetti Stefano/Model Work Style Press — www.fotocalendario.ch
Except for photos of dress by Francisos Quadros, feather dress by student designers and food by Chef Elgin Woodman.

Accessorizing at Miami Fashion Week

Miami Fashion Week has come to a close, ending seven days of shows, shopping and parties.  The collections of the local and international designers reflected the glamor and diversity of Miami, with many designers drawing inspiration from the city’s vibrant colors and culture.

No outfit is complete without accessories; a stroll through the jewelry and accessories marketplace completed the fashion week experience.  From the simple to the sophisticated, to the over the top and flashy, there was something for everyone.

Cleo and Cat ringsOne trend with the jewelry was the bigger, the better.  Oversized rings and pendants by Cleo & Cat caught my eye right away.  South Florida-based sisters Claudia and Catalina mold the chunky and funky designs by hand.  The rings and pendants are surprisingly light-weight, made from polymer clay that’s painted and decorated with semi-precious stones.  Cleo & Cat’s rings and pendants may not be the best jewelry choice if you’re shy; these pieces will definitely get you noticed in a crowd.

AmaloaAnother trend was the use of rare and unusual materials to create jewelry.  Venezuelan designer Amaloa Bonvecchio showcased some truly wild pieces that are made with reptile skins, feathers, bones, tusks and horns.  The materials are strung together with leather, creating elaborate works of art.  Wear one of her pieces and it’s sure to be a conversation starter.

Other jewelry designers drew their inspiration from nature.  The pieces by Maleku are influenced by the colors of Costa Rica’s rainforest.  Inspired by her native country and its people, artist Ileana Maria Rojas-Bennett donates a portion of her sales to the Maleku people in northern Costa Rica.  The Amazon forest is the inspiration — and provides the materials — for Amazon Fashion Seeds.  The jewelry is made with seeds, bark, leaves and gems from the Amazon forest.

SikaraOne of my favorite collections in the fashion week jewelry & accessories marketplace was by Sikara.  Founder Mousumi Shaw draws on her Indian heritage to create what she calls “Modern Fusion Jewelry,” a mix of the culture and history of countries she’s visited.  Her sophisticated and still affordable designs appeal to a variety of tastes.  I liked her colorful gemstone rings so much I bought one for myself!

LaLucca Art BagsBold and bright are the best terms to describe the handbags at the jewelry & accessories marketplace.  My favorite bags were the colorful clutches from LaLucca.  Appropriately named “Art Bags,” each clutch is painted by artist Aleksandar Kirilov, creating a one of a kind design.  The clutches start at $450.

iCool bagsA less expensive but still bright alternative are the bags from iCool.  These super light bags are made from recycled bamboo fibers that are printed and laminated with the designs.  The totes and shoulder bags cost around $30.  If you like the designs they also come on wallets, pens, and card carrying cases.

Best Value Bordeaux

I don’t like to play favorites when it comes to wine but I must admit Bordeaux is among my favorite wine producing areas in the world, particularly for red wine.

Bordeaux is located in southwest France, a region where wine production dates back to the 8th century.  Today there are more than 10,000 wine-producing châteaux that produce more than 700 million bottles annually.

With the huge amount of wines that come in a wide range of prices, picking out a wine from Bordeaux can be intimidating.  The wine labels look similar and the names may be hard to pronounce if you don’t know French.  Many bottles do not list the grape varietals in the wine, which can complicate the selection process even more.

Wines from Bordeaux can be very expensive but don’t think you need to spend a lot to get a nice bottle.  I’ve found some great tasting wines that start at just $12.

Chateau CoucheroyWhite wines in Bordeaux are made from Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle.  If you like Sauvignon Blanc, try the 2007 Château Coucheroy from Pessac-Léognan.  It’s 100% Sauvignon Blanc.  The wine has crisp flavors of grapefruit and pineapple.  There’s a subtle grassiness that’s typical of the Sauvignon Blanc grape, but it’s much more delicate than other Sauvignon Blanc wines.  The 2007 Château Coucheroy costs $17.

For a taste of all three white grapes, try the 2007 Château Lamothe de Haux from Bordeaux.  It’s 40% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Sémillon and 20% Muscadelle.  The grassy taste of the Sauvignon Blanc is nicely balanced out with flavors of ripe grapefruit and white peach.  It’s a light and bouncy wine that works well with shellfish, sushi, fresh fruit and light fish and pasta dishes.  The 2007 Château Lamothe de Haux costs $14.

Red wines in Bordeaux are made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  If you don’t see the name of the grape on the label, it’s likely a blend of two or more of these varietals.

There are many red Bordeaux gems that cost less than $20.  The 2005 Château Cazat Beauchene from the Bordeaux Supérieur appellation costs $14.  It’s 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc.  The wine has mouthwatering flavors of cherry, plum and blackberry that end in a warm finish.

Chateau La Grange ClinetThe 2006 Château La Grange Clinet from the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux is a steal at $12.  It’s 60% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc.  With big flavors of plum and black cherry you’ll think it’s a $20 bottle.  Subtle tannins give it a velvety mouthfeel and a satisfying finish.

If you like ripe flavors of red fruit, try the 2003 Château Roques Mauriac from Bordeaux Supérieur.  It’s 50% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine has bright and juicy raspberry notes.  At $13 it’s a great wine for chicken or turkey.

Moving up slightly in price, the 2005 Château Les Ricards from the Premières Côtes de Blaye costs $20.  It’s 70% Merlot, 20% Malbec and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Chewy flavors of plum and blackberry fill your mouth.  It’s a well-rounded wine with nicely integrated tannins.

Chateau Tour de CalensStaying around the $20 price range, I am a big fan of the 2005 Château Tour de Calens from Graves.  It’s 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc.  Lush flavors of black fruits mingle with flavors of vanilla and coffee that end in a lingering, almost a creamy finish.  Gentle tannins roll over your tongue for a velvety mouthfeel.  Serve this with steak, lamb, duck or well-spiced poultry dishes.  The 2005 Château Tour de Calens costs between $20 and $22.

When it comes to trying wines from Bordeaux, don’t be afraid to try a less-expensive wine with a hard to pronounce name.  It could become a new favorite wine!

Miami Fashion Week

One of the most fashionable cities in the world is getting even more stylish for Miami Fashion Week!

fashion weekThe annual event held in the trendy Wynwood Art District runs through Sunday, March 22nd.  It’s the largest Hispanic and international fashion event in the United States, featuring designers, entertainers and celebrities from around the world.

Go for the fashion and stay for the food!  New this year is the International Culinary Arts Pavilion.  Each evening a chef will prepare a tasting menu based on the countries featured in that evening’s shows.

Serving international flavors on Thursday will be Elgin Woodman, Chef de Cuisine of A Joy Wallace Catering and Production.  On Friday the chef will be Edgar Leal, Executive Chef of Cacao Restaurant in Coral Gables.  On Saturday it’s Irina Korneeva-Hogle of Tantra Restaurant and Lounge in South Beach.  Closing out Fashion Week on Sunday will be Nate Martin, Executive Chef of Andú Restaurant & Lounge in Brickell.

All shows for Miami Fashion Week will be held at SOHO Studios, located at 2136 NW 1st Avenue in Miami’s Wynwood Art District.  Tickets to each show are $25 except for the Agatha Ruiz de la Prada show and Miami Moda & Music Awards on Sunday which costs $100.

For a full list of shows and to purchase tickets visit www.miamifashionweek.com.

Great Bites at 8 oz. Burger Bar

With overpriced and underwhelming steak restaurants opening up in South Florida on what seems like a monthly basis, it’s nice to see a new restaurant keep beef uncomplicated and affordable — and most importantly, tasting good.

8 oz Burger Bar8 oz. Burger Bar in Miami Beach does just that.  Executive Chef Govind Armstrong (best known in SoBe as the Executive Chef and Owner of Table 8 on Ocean Drive), has a simple concept for his new eatery — burgers, beer and shakes — rounded out with upscale versions of side dishes and a long list of toppings.

The decor is simple as well.  Wooden tables and metal chairs look straight out of an IKEA catalogue.  Walls are bare except for a few flat screen TVs.  The menu looks like it was printed from a home computer and photocopied a few times.  In comparison, the restaurant’s white cloth napkins seem oddly out of place.

8 oz Burger BarThe no frills appearance puts the focus on the dining experience and the food.  After some early growing pains, the service at 8 oz. Burger Bar has improved.  Our server was friendly and attentive, and our food came out promptly.

Roll up your sleeves before taking your first bite.  The grilled bun and juice from the meat will make your hands greasy — just the way eating a burger should be.

8 oz.’s house blend burger is a mix of sirloin, tri-tip, short rib and chuck, cured in a Himalayan salt-tiled locker.  The signature burger comes with shredded iceberg lettuce, tomato, white onion and pickles.  Want to add more?  You can pick from more than half a dozen cheeses, a long list of sauces and dressings, and non-traditional toppings like fried green tomatoes or charred escarole.

8 oz burgerMy personal favorite is the lamb burger.  It’s ground up lamb that’s so flavorful you may not want any additional toppings.  The burger was cooked exactly as I had ordered it (medium rare), and tasted delicious with Bel Paese cheese, a great recommendation by our server.  My one complaint is the small servings of ketchup and mustard.  They’re served in small cups rather than in a bottle.  If you like a lot of ketchup and mustard on your burger like I do, be sure to ask for extra.

If you don’t eat red meat you can try the turkey burger, veggie burger, or fish sandwich which can be either grilled or fried.  If you want a little bit of everything order the sliders: smaller portions of the beef, lamb and turkey burgers.

Forget your diet for a meal and try one of the mouthwatering snacks and sides.  Mini Kobe corndogs, fried olives stuffed with chorizo, and stout battered onion rings are worth a few extra minutes on the treadmill.  The truffled potato skins were a little disappointing; they weren’t crispy enough and had a weak truffle flavor.

I like beer with my burgers and 8 oz. has a pretty good list to choose from.  I was really excited to see Brooklyn Lager on the menu.  It’s one of my favorite beers and is hard to find in South Florida restaurants.  Though 8 oz.’s draught selection is much smaller than its selection by the bottle, it does offer some good deals.  On the night I was there a 22 oz. glass of a Hefeweizen cost $6.  And all this month 8 oz. is celebrating March Madness by offering a free 12 oz. draught beer with each burger.

8 oz shakeIf you like ice cream you’ll want to save room for dessert.  8 oz.’s thick and creamy milkshakes are not to miss.  For a grownup treat, try one of the “adult shakes” made with alcohol — I recommend the Kahlua shake.  Just do yourself a favor and don’t try to add up the calories from the burger and shake.

Other desserts include cupcakes and bread pudding (which I was looking forward to trying but they were all out).  I’ll definitely be back for another lamb burger and Brooklyn Lager so hopefully I’ll get to taste the bread pudding then.

Despite the low-key atmosphere the burgers still come with a Miami Beach price tag.  Burgers range between $8 and $10 and it’s an extra $1 – $2 for each additional topping.  So if you want to order a burger with cave-aged Gruyere cheese, spicy mayo, house cured bacon, roasted mushrooms and garlic roasted tomatoes, you’re looking at an $18 burger.  Classic condiments including ketchup and mustard are free.

8 oz. Burger Bar is located at 1080 Alton Road in Miami Beach.  For more information visit www.8ozburgerbar.com.

What is Meritage?

If you drink wine from California you’ve probably heard of “Meritage.” But do you know what the word actually means?

Meritage may sound fancy-schmancy but it’s basically a made up word for a Bordeaux-style blend made by a winemaker who has paid a fee to use the word.

But first let’s start with the pronunciation of Meritage.  There’s no “ahh” sound.  Meritage rhymes with heritage.  That’s actually partly where the word comes from — in 1988 it was created during a contest by a man who combined the words “merit” and “heritage.”

For a wine to be called a specific varietal in the United States, it must contain at least 75% of that grape.  So that bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon you last opened could have contained between 0% and 25% Merlot, Malbec, or a variety of other grapes.  If a winemaker creates a blend in the Bordeaux style that doesn’t have 75% of a particular grape it is labeled “Red Table Wine” or “White Table Wine” — not really a prestigious-sounding name for a wine with noble roots.

Enter a small group of Napa Valley vintners who in 1988 sought to create a recognizable name for high-quality blended wines.  A contest was held to come up with a name and Meritage and the Meritage Association were born.  Today there are more than 100 members of the Meritage Association, including international members.

For red wine, a Meritage must be made from at least two of the traditional Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  It may also contain Carmenere, St. Macaire, or Gros Verdot.   For white wine, a Meritage is a blend of two or more white Bordeaux varietals: Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Vert.  For both red and white Meritage, no more than 90% can be a single varietal.

You can’t just stick the word “Meritage” on your label — it’s a registered trademark of The Meritage Association.  Only wineries that agree to the Meritage Association’s licensing agreement and pay a fee to the association can use the word.

A wine labeled as a Meritage doesn’t necessarily mean good quality; however the association strongly recommends its members label only their best blend as Meritage and limit the production to 25,000 cases.

For more information visit www.meritagewine.org.