Tag Archives: Miami Beach

Inside WMC: Belvedere Music Lounge

During the 2010 Winter Music Conference I hopped between parties on South Beach, danced in the sand at Nikki Beach and listened to some of the best DJs in the electronic music scene at Ultra.  Out of all these my favorite experience was hanging out at the Belvedere Vodka Music Lounge.

Belvedere Music LoungeHosted by SIRIUS XM Radio and held outside at the posh W Hotel, the music lounge featured an impressive array of DJs whose performances and interviews were broadcast live on Area (SIRIUS channel 38 and XM channel 80).

It wasn’t just hanging out at a swanky spot near the Belvedere Music Loungeocean and sipping Belvedere cocktails that made the experience.  It was getting to be just steps away from some of the biggest DJs in the world.

I couldn’t help but feel starstruck — there I was, watching DJs whom I’ve listened to for years perform right in front of me.  Even with the music blasting from the speakers the lounge felt so intimate.  It was like a secret club for VIPs that I had been allowed to enter.

When I walked into the Belvedere Music Lounge I saw on stage a man with dirty blond hair and a red shirt.  I got a little bit closer and realized it was Ferry Corsten!  The Dutch DJ is currently ranked number 7 in DJ Magazine‘s list of the Top 100 DJs.

Ferry CorstenAs I walked even closer to the stage Ferry looked up at me.  I smiled and gave him a small wave; he flashed a smile right back at me.  I looked around at the dozen or so other guests in amazement, feeling absolutely thrilled that I was part of this special experience.  Here was a guy who plays for tens of thousands of people on a regular basis — and right then it felt like he was playing just for me.

As Ferry was winding down, a man with black hair and sunglasses got on stage to start setting up for his own set.  He was soon joined by another guy wearing a white t-shirt that said “Fix News” in a style similar to Fox News’ logo.

The Crystal MethodWere my eyes playing tricks on me?  I looked again.  Yes, I was seeing things correctly.  There, less than 10 feet in front of me were Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland of The Crystal Method.

On the tiny stage without any flashing lights or smoke machines, the two looked like normal guys rocking out to the music and having lots of fun.  It was so neat to see them in this small and casual setting; and such a different feeling than their performance later that evening for thousands of fans at Ultra.  Click here for a photo of The Crystal Method at Ultra

deadmau5 & Tommy LeeAll of a sudden I saw a flash of tattoos breeze by me, headed for the stage.  I recognized Tommy Lee (of Mötley Crüe and Pamela Anderson fame) right away, and then checked out who he came in with.  It turned out to be none other than Joel Zimmerman aka deadmau5, my current favorite DJ.  Surrounded by a small entourage they said hi to the guys from The Crystal Method, posed for some pictures, then headed off to an interview for SIRIUS XM Radio.

Had I been able to spend more time at the Belvedere Music Lounge I would have seen deadmau5 perform, as well as numerous other DJs who played for massive crowds at Ultra and other events throughout the WMC.  As I was leaving the lounge I felt like kicking myself for committing to too many other events.

Note to self for WMC 2011: make sure to clear plenty of time to hang out at the Belvedere Music Lounge.  The experience of listening to world famous DJs up close is not to be missed.

Snapshots from the Winter Music Conference

The Winter Music Conference is the ultimate destination for DJs and fans of electronic music.

Established in 1985, WMC is the largest music industry gathering of its kind in the world.  This year clubs throughout downtown Miami and Miami Beach will host nearly two thousand DJs and artists.  The lineup is a veritable who’s who in the electronic music scene, with superstar DJs like Paul van Dyk, David Guetta, Tiësto and Deadmau5 set to perform.

Nikki BeachThe action kicked off Wednesday night at Nikki Beach with the annual Welcome to Miami party.  It featured more than 50 DJs and performers on two stages, including Timo Maas, Audiofly, DJ Rap, Tom Novy and a special DJ set by Lil Jon.  The first DJ took the stage at noon and the music didn’t end until 5 in the morning.  Both the Nikki Beachdownstairs and upstairs of Nikki Beach were packed with people dancing and cheering on the DJs.

One of the biggest events during WMC is Ultra Music Festival, taking place Friday and Saturday at Bicentennial Park in downtown Miami.  Over the two days more than 200 DJs will perform on 16 stages for more than 100,000 people.  You can be sure the Amateur Gastronomer will be there!  Click here to read about last year’s Ultra Music Festival.

For updates from the Winter Music Conference and Ultra Music Festival follow @amgastronomer on Twitter.

Nikki Beach

Photos from the Welcome to Miami party at Nikki Beach.  Click to enlarge.

Nikki Beach

Nikki Beach

Highlights from the Grand Tasting Village

My favorite part of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival is the Grand Tasting Village.  It’s an entire day (or weekend) of sipping wines, spirits and beer, sampling small bites from local restaurants, hotels and specialty food stores and interacting with famous chefs and Food Network personalities, all with a gorgeous ocean backdrop.

This year’s Grand Tasting featured an impressive array of spirits — vodka, rum, tequila, absinthe, whisky, brandy and more.  With the popularity of caipirinhas exploding in Miami, it was great to sample a variety of cachaça (I found out I liked Sagatiba the best).

Inside the white tents I had a great time revisiting old favorites and discovering new wines.  It was great to sip the reds from Cosentino Winery in Napa, Dry Creek Vineyards in Sonoma and Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington’s Columbia Valley (I also liked a couple of their Rieslings).  And boy did Conundrum taste good when I was sipping it in the sun!

Another wine that fit in perfectly with the setting was a Rosé from KracherI’m a huge fan of the Austrian winery’s sweet wines so I was excited to try something new from them (though I still enjoyed tasting their three sweet offerings — a 2007 Auslese, 2007 Beerenauslese and a 2005 Trockenbeerenauslese).

The 2008 Illmitz is 100% Zweigelt, the most widely-grown red wine grape of Austria.  The wine is a lovely light pink color.  It has aromas of strawberries and raspberries, with light and refreshing flavors of red berries and cherries on the palate.  It’s elegant and lively with soft acidity and a clean finish.  It’s a nice wine to take to the beach or enjoy as an aperitif on a warm afternoon.

I also enjoyed tasting a variety of California Pinot Noir from Pali Wine Company, Roessler Cellars and A.P. Vin.  I have yet to taste a wine I don’t like from Pali, though with an average price of $50 a bottle I don’t get to drink them too often.  My favorite from the Grand Tasting was the 2007 Santa Barbara County Cargasacchi Jalama Vineyard ($55) which has big plum and cherry flavors with earthy and herbal notes.

New to me were the wines from Roessler Cellars, made with Pinot Noir from the Central Coast and Sonoma.  It was neat to taste all four wines to see how the terroir can make the same grape taste so different.  I especially liked the 2007 La Brisa ($33) from the Sonoma Coast with its complex dark cherry and spice notes, as well as the 2007 Peregrine ($38) from Santa Rita Hills which has ripe flavors of black cherry and plum with earth and pepper.

A.P. Vin offered four delicious Pinot Noirs as well.  Though it was hard to choose one favorite, I couldn’t get enough of the 2008 Kanzler Vineyard ($50), with its rich and full red berry flavors, elegant oak and long finish.

Returning after a year absence was an entire tent dedicated to France, complete with “Le Tasting Bar,” a selection of cheeses, Champagne and a variety of reds, whites and rosés.  One exciting discovery I made inside was a liquor called Chartreuse.  It’s a potent herbal elixir, created in the 18th century by monks.  If you like your spirits with a healthy dose of sinus stimulating menthol, licorice and spice, you’ll want to try Chartreuse.

Yellow Chartreuse is almost unnatural neon yellow in color.  It’s made from 130 herbs, plants and flowers gathered in the French Alps.  The mixture is macerated with a neutral alcohol spirit and distilled, then aged in oak for about 5 years.  It has floral aromas with hints of sweet lemon and intense spices.  On the palate are thick honey and blood orange flavors with an array of exotic spices including saffron, anise and cloves, with bitter leaf and licorice on the finish.  The combination of flavors and the high alcohol (40%) make you say ‘whoah’ after your sip.  I was intrigued; it made me a fan.

The stronger tasting Green Chartreuse (55% alcohol) is vibrant green in color.  It’s made with the same secret formula as Yellow Chartreuse but aged longer in oak.  A wide variety of flavors including herbs, mint, orange rind, leather, licorice, basil and flowers make it quite the unique digestif.  Both spirits can be enjoyed on their own or mixed in cocktails.

Throughout the Sunday Grand Tasting I popped in and out of demonstrations by Michael Chiarello, Marcus Samuelsson, Sandra Lee, Michael Symon and Tony Abou-Ganim.  One of my favorites was Paula Deen, who shared stories and chatted with audience members instead of cooking (after all, people see her cook on TV all the time).

As a butter and fat-conscious home cook I feel like I gain 5 pounds just thinking about Paula’s cooking style.  But in person I found Paula to be a hoot!  Joined by her husband Michael and her assistant Brandon, Paula shared a slew of raunchy stories.  One involved Brandon putting on her clothes and a wig and getting into bed with Michael — let’s just say that Michael was none too pleased.  Paula loved telling the audience about her husband’s male fan base.  Apparently he has quite a following, including his own Facebook page.

The highlight of the Grand Tasting was a friendly cook-off between Chefs Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain.  Click here to read my interview with Eric Ripert. The challenge: prepare a tuna dish and a mussel dish in 20 minutes, in the style of each other’s restaurants (Les Halles for Eric and Le Bernardin for Tony).  Tony, perhaps rusty in the kitchen because of his gastronomic adventures around the world, called the cook-off one of the dumbest things he’d ever agreed to (add in a couple of curse words for his phrasing).  However he did get more excited when he discovered the refrigerator was stocked with beer.

The chefs had access to a beautiful piece of yellowfin tuna that had been prepared by Chef Masaharu Morimoto.

Click the video below to watch the chefs discuss their dishes

As the clock ticked down Eric looked at ease preparing his dishes, pouring white wine into a pot and then taking a swig from the bottle as the audience cheered.  “Nothing people like more than an alcoholism joke,” remarked Tony, who traded jokes and jabs with his competitor.

When it was time to judge the dishes the chefs invited Guy Fieri and Dinner Impossible’s Robert Irvine on stage to taste the food — maybe an unfair disadvantage for Tony, who has been vocal about his dislike of Guy’s cooking style.  But the food spoke for itself.  The winner hands down was Eric, whose seared tuna in a creamy pepper sauce made me salivate.  He served it alongside mussels in a white wine sauce and what he called Caesar salad gratin (pieces of lettuce brushed with Caesar dressing and placed in the oven on high heat for several minutes).  As Guy told Tony, “he kicked your ass big time.” 

Click the video below to watch the judges announce the winner

After the cook-off the chefs took questions from the audience.  The two talked about sipping tequila together and shared their favorite beers (Dos Equis for Eric, Guinness for Tony but only in Dublin).  One piece of information Tony refused to divulge was his favorite restaurant in the world, for fear it would become overrun with tourists.  He only disclosed its location: San Sebastian, Spain.  Don’t worry about not being in on the secret; Eric says Tony won’t even tell him!

More articles from the 2010 South Beach Wine & Food Festival:
Beach, Bubbly and Barbecue at BubbleQ
Something Sweet: Dessert and Fortified Wines

Beach, Bubbly and Barbecue at BubbleQ

I couldn’t imagine a Friday night event at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival topping my experience at Wine Spectator‘s Best of the Best last year, but BubbleQ went way beyond my expectations.

But then again, what’s not to love?  Some of the biggest names in the local and national food scene serve up their take on barbecue, with free-flowing Perrier-Jouët Champagne and enough sweets that you could fill up on dessert alone.  As the evening goes on, the action under the tent turns into a nightclub with a DJ playing dance music, accompanied by a drummer and saxophonist.

Hosted by Emeril Lagasse who served up a tasty version of a pulled pork sandwich, this year’s BubbleQ featured more than 25 chefs from South Florida and around the country.  They were joined by students from Florida International University’s School of Hospitality who helped prepare and plate the food.  Click to read more about the students’ roles in preparing for BubbleQ

Though the event was certainly crowded, you never had to wait too long to get each dish or for a refill of Champagne.  And with the chefs on hand to serve their food, it was a unique opportunity to get up close and talk with them.

Each chef offered a dish that featured pork, beef, fowl, lamb or seafood.  One of my favorite pork dishes was the first dish I had at BubbleQ.  Simple and so good, it was a heaping plate of pulled pork and coleslaw from Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama.  The meat was so tender and well-seasoned that I would have gone back for seconds had there not been nearly 30 more dishes to taste.

Another highlight was the cochon de lait po’ boy from John Besh of Restaurant August in New Orleans.  The pork belly was so sinfully rich and creamy that I ditched the bun to enjoy the meat on its own.

For the beef dishes, I couldn’t get enough of Michelle Bernstein’s Kobe beef short rib taco with green tomato slaw.  The taste of the beef contrasted so nicely with the slaw that it made for one of the more exciting flavor combinations of the evening.

I also enjoyed Norman Van Aken’s Miami-Cuban spin on the night’s theme.  The iconic Florida chef, known as the “Founding Father of New World Cuisine” served deep fried Cuban barbecued stuffed mollete sandwiches with mojo slaw.  Just as much a mouthful to eat as to say, the sandwiches were packed with flavor.

Not to be missed was the lamb belly BLT from Tim Love from Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in Fort Worth, Texas.  The Top Chef Masters contestant looked like he was having just as much fun serving his food as partygoers did eating it, dancing and singing with the music and chatting with fans.

On the seafood side, I loved the grilled oysters from Susan Spicer of Bayona in New Orleans.  They were big and juicy, served on top of a savory artichoke bread pudding and lemon garlic butter.

Though I hadn’t yet made my way through the entire tent, I took a break from barbecue for dessert, just so I wouldn’t be too full to enjoy it.  I was glad I had saved room for Sweet Street Desserts from Reading, Pennsylvania, who displayed all their goodies on a bar made from ice.  From chocolate to peanut butter to fruity creamy treats, there was something for any kind of sweet tooth.  There was even a man decked out as a human cupcake stand, passing out a variety of moist and delicious little cakes.  My other favorite sweet treat was a tequila milkshake served by Elizabeth Karmel from Hill Country in New York.

Throughout the evening, the Champagne never stopped flowing.  At one point I thought they had switched up the bubbly for absinthe when I saw a green fairy — a woman in a bright green bodysuit dangling upside down from a chandelier, pouring Perrier-Jouët.

Towards the end of BubbleQ it was a sight to behold behind the bar — dozens upon dozens of empty Champagne bottles overflowing from boxes.  After Friday night I would think there would be no Champagne left in the entire state of Florida!

As the evening wound down, I hit the white sand dance floor with the other partygoers and chefs until it was time to head home.  From the outside BubbleQ may not appear to be as sophisticated as Best of the Best, but this one-of-a-kind party on the beach just can’t be beat.

FIU Students Help Make Wine & Food Festival a Success

Miami Beach is getting ready to stage its biggest annual food and wine event: the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival.  Now in its 9th year, the four-day extravaganza will star world renowned chefs and culinary celebrities like Daniel Boulud, Rachael Ray, Bobby Flay, Paula Deen, Masaharu Morimoto, Anthony Bourdain and more.

Like any successful production, it’s essential to have a strong supporting cast.  Working behind the scenes ahead of the festival and throughout the weekend will be more than 800 students from Florida International University’s School of Hospitality.

The festival gives the students invaluable hands-on experience that will help them in their careers, whether it is as a chef or a manager of a restaurant, hotel or cruise ship.  The massive student effort is coordinated by chef-instructor Michael Moran who teaches a course in quantity food production as well as a popular class where students run a restaurant that is open to the public.

The students’ work starts well before the festival kicks off on February 25th.  Early next week the students will leave FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus in North Miami for the Miami Beach convention center to get ready for the Perrier-Jouët BubbleQ on Friday night.  In the convention center’s commercial kitchens the students will spend approximately 3,500 man hours preparing food for the more than 3,000 people attending the extravagant barbecue and Champagne party on the beach.

It’s quite a feat to put on the feast.  For last year’s BubbleQ the students prepared 1,800 pounds of pork, 1,500 pounds of beef, 1,000 pounds of chicken, 1,200 pounds of fish and 800 pounds of cabbage, as well as several hundred pounds of potato salad, coleslaw and other side dishes.  That’s more than 22,000 portions of food, enough to sate any cowboy’s appetite.

The students’ work isn’t finished once the food is packed onto refrigerated trucks and delivered to the Delano hotel, the site of BubbleQ.  At the event the students will assist professional chefs from around the country including Emeril Lagasse, Michelle Bernstein, Tim Love and John Besh as they cook and serve their mouthwatering dishes.

In addition to BubbleQ, the students will work throughout the festival weekend in a variety of key capacities, including ticket sales and greeting guests at seminars and events.  They’ll also be participating in the Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village, serving up a taste of their hard work.

Besides the important real-world experience for students and the chance to network with chefs and people in the food and beverage industry, the festival serves as a fundraiser for the School of Hospitality.  Last year almost $2 million was raised for the teaching restaurant program, which went towards student scholarships and enhancing the faculty and teaching facilities.

As you’re enjoying the delicious food next weekend, take time out to think about who helped prepare it.  After all, you could be tasting a dish from one of the next big culinary stars!

The 2010 Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival will be held February 25th through 28th.  For more information visit sobefest.comClick here to learn more about FIU’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Miami's Best Brunches

You can’t beat brunch.  A great brunch is the most sumptuous meal of the week and it’s the best excuse to have all of your favorite foods at one time.

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, just think how important brunch must be!

Looking to plan your Sunday brunch?  Here are my favorite spots in Miami:

Acqua at Four Seasons Miami
An elegant setting to enjoy brunch favorites with a Mediterranean flair.  With extensive cheese, carving, Asian food stations and more, there’s truly something for any taste.  If you’re not in the mood for a Mimosa or Bloody Mary get a mojito — all are unlimited.  Request a table by the window for nice views of Brickell and the bay.
$70 per person.  Located in the Four Seasons Miami, 1435 Brickell Avenue, Brickell. (305) 381-3190

Area 31
Chef John Critchley’s brunch is a gourmet buffet featuring caviar, paté, cold cuts and cooked dishes like roast chicken breast and steak frites.  While sipping on unlimited Mimosas or Bellinis you can enjoy live music.
$50 per person.  Located in the EPIC Hotel, 270 Biscayne Boulevard Way, Downtown Miami.  (305) 424-5234

Balans
Whether it’s breakfast or lunch, Balans has it all.  You can’t go wrong with one of the four kinds of eggs benedict or the enormous breakfast burrito, though you may be tempted by the lobster club wrap or the chili beef salad.  The à la carte menu ranges from around $8 to $15.  To get your day started there’s a full menu of cocktails for $11 each.  Just be sure to arrive early otherwise you could have a long wait (especially at the Miami Beach location).
Both Saturday & Sunday.  Two locations: 901 South Miami Avenue, Brickell and 1022 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach.  (305) 534-9191

Biltmore Hotel
It doesn’t get any more lavish than Sunday Champagne brunch at the Biltmore Hotel.  The array of selections include carving, omelet, sushi and tapas stations, plus a wall of desserts.
$75 per person.  Located in Fontana Restaurant at the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Avenue, Coral Gables.  (305) 913-3202

Bizcaya at the Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove
The Ritz-Carlton always gets brunch right.  Here you’ll enjoy all the traditional favorites plus made-to-order sushi and sashimi and grilled-to-order fresh fish — all in a gorgeous setting that includes a cascading waterfall.  And of course, you’ll be able to take in the view with free-flowing Champagne.
$52 per person, $25 for kids 4 to 12 years old.  Located in the Ritz Carlton Coconut Grove, 3300 Southwest 27th Avenue, Coconut Grove.  (305) 644-4680

Cioppino at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne
A buffet so big you’ll be full just looking at it.  Go easy on the pasta, salads and grilled meats so you can save room for caviar (three different types), raw oysters and sushi.  Of course there are unlimited Bloody Marys and Champagne cocktails (Mimosas, Bellinis and a few more), and an entire room just for dessert.
$72 for adults, $36 for children under 12.  Located in the Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne, 455 Grand Bay Drive, Key Biscayne.  (305) 365-4286

Eos
The à la carte menu features a variety of frittatas and egg dishes that start at $12.  Or try the buttermilk pancakes that are topped with caramelized apples and spiced candied walnuts.  Plus you get to enjoy complimentary Mimosas or Bloody Marys with your meal.  Bonus: brunch gets you free entrance to Club 50’s Sunday Refresher party where you can groove to a live DJ and enjoy light bites until 5pm (it’s normally $30).
Located in the Viceroy Hotel, 485 Brickell Avenue, Brickell. (305) 503-0373

Rusty Pelican
Go for the great view of downtown and Brickell, stay for the enormous fresh seafood spread.  If you’re not in the mood for peel and eat shrimp, raw oysters or steamed crab, there’s always the assortment of cold salads and ham or beef at the carving station.  Enjoy the view with unlimited Champagne, Mimosas or orange juice.
$33.95 per person, $13.95 for kids 5 to 10 years old, under 5 free.  3201 Rickenbacker Causeway, Key Biscayne.  (305) 361-3818

The Setai
Craving Asian cuisine?  Check out Sunday brunch at the Setai.  In addition to eggs, pancakes and traditional brunch breads, there’s a wide assortment of Indian, Chinese, Thai and Malaysian dishes.
$67 per person, $34 for kids 5 to 12 years old.  2001 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach.  (305) 520-6400

Talula
Escape the craziness of South Beach at this cozy brunch.  The buffet is set up on the restaurant’s garden patio and features a carving station, pasta, fresh local fish, breakfast favorites like waffles and pancakes and an elaborate display of homemade desserts.
$29 per person which includes juice and coffee.  210 23rd Street, Miami Beach.  (305) 672-0778

Tre Italian Bistro
A great value and a convenient spot for people who live in downtown.  A la carte items are $12 and come with a complimentary Mimosa, Bloody Mary, sangria, orange juice or cappuccino (each additional drink is $3).
270 East Flagler Street, Downtown Miami.  (305) 373-3303

Tropical Chinese Restaurant
It’s a bit of a drive from downtown and Miami Beach but it’s the best dim sum in the area.  A word of advice: don’t get too much off of the baked and fried items cart so you can load up on delicious steamed dumplings.  Dishes range between $3 and $7 so your bill can be as small or as big as your appetite.
Both Saturday & Sunday.  7991 Southwest 40th Street, Miami.  (305) 262-7576

8 oz Burger Bar
I could eat 8 oz’s juicy burgers any time of the day (my favorite is the Niman Ranch lamb), but they’re even better with Bloody Marys that you can customize at the Bloody Mary bar.  Unlimited Bloody Marys cost $20.
1080 Alton Road, Miami Beach.  (305) 397-8246

Have a favorite brunch spot that’s not on the list?  Send an email to tips@amateurgastronomer.com.

Celebrating Beatlemania in Miami

Today is September 9, 2009, or 9/09/09.  Besides being a cool-looking date, it’s a special day for Beatles fans.  Today the digitally remastered versions of the Beatles studio albums will be released, as will “The Beatles: Rock Band,” a video game that lets you play along with the group.

Why 9/09/09?  Besides songs like “One After 909″ and “Revolution #9,” the number 9 had special meaning for John Lennon.  It was his lucky number; important things seemed to happen on the 9th day of the month.  Both he and his son Sean were born on October 9th (1940 and 1975 respectively), Brian Epstein first saw the Beatles at the Cavern Club on November 9, 1961, the Beatles got their recording contract on May 9, 1962, and John met Yoko on November 9, 1966.  So it’s fitting that such a big release takes place on this date.

The Beatles on Ed SullivanEven though I was born long after the Beatles broke up, I’ve been a Beatles fan for longer than I can remember.  I think it started when my parents used to sing “All Together Now” to me when I was an infant.  Growing up, my room was covered in Beatles posters.  My first celebrity crush was Paul McCartney (the early 1960s version, not the guy who was in his 50s when I was a teenager).  I had parties with a Beatles theme.  My first dance with my husband at our wedding was to a Beatles song.  Ever since I was young and still to this day, precious brain space is taken up by random Beatles facts and song lyrics.

So yeah, you could say I’m a big Beatles fan.

DeauvilleI’m celebrating 9/09/09 by checking out the Deauville Beach Resort in Miami Beach.  Never heard of it?  If you’re a Beatles fan, chances are you’ve seen it on TV.

In a performance that has become part of Rock and Roll history, the Beatles made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in New York City on February 9, 1964.  Lesser known is the Beatles’ second appearance on the show a week later on February 16th.  This performance was broadcast live via satellite from the Napoleon Ballroom at the Deauville Beach Resort.  In front of their Florida fans, the Beatles performed “She Loves You,” “This Boy,” “All My Loving,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “From Me To You,” “Til There Was You,” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”

The Fab Four spent a week at the Deauville, enjoying Miami’s sun and surf.

Deauville lobbyIn 1964 the Deauville was a popular hangout spot for stars like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.  Today the Deauville remains a full-service hotel but it is a bit off the beaten path for Miami Beach tourists.  At 67th Street and Collins Avenue it’s far away from the excitement of South Beach, and more than 20 blocks north of the recently renovated Deauville elevatorFontainebleau Resort.

I visited the Deauville to imagine what it was like when Beatlemania swept through.  It wasn’t too hard — much of the hotel looks like it hasn’t been updated since the 1960s.  Stepping into the lobby is like stepping back in time.  From the floor to the chandeliers, to the “this car up” sign that lights up when the elevator arrives, everything is reminiscent of another era.  Though the lobby was empty when I was there, I could picture it packed with screaming fans.

Deauville pool deckDeauville poolOutside, the pool deck has the charm of a decade long gone.  Looking out it’s easy to imagine John, Paul, George and Ringo splashing around in their “Help!” style swim trunks.  And sure enough, the Napoleon Ballroom is still there, up a few steps from the lobby.

It was neat to look at the beach and imagine what the Beatles thought about their first visit to Miami.  It certainly must have been an exciting trip for the four lads from Liverpool, who had just flown in from chilly New York City.

Though many years have gone by and popular music has changed, it’s nice to find a bit of Beatles history right here in Miami.

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.

A Wine for Everyone at Cavas Tasting Room

A wine bar for indecisive oenophiles has arrived in South Florida.

cavas tasting roomCavas Tasting Room and Cafe is the adult version of a candy store.  A huge selection of wines is right at your fingertips — with a press of a button you can sip your favorite grape or try something new.

The pressure of selecting just one wine from a long list is gone.  At Cavas you can help yourself to a taste of more than 60 wines, many not normally found by the glass.

Cavas is the latest wine bar to use the Enomatic wine dispensing system.  I first fell in love with Enomatic at Clo Wine Bar in New York City.  Using an ATM-style card that keeps track of your tab, you select a wine and the machine dispenses the exact amount.  At Cavas you pick the amount of wine to try, so you don’t have to commit to an entire glass (great for when the wine you picked isn’t to your liking).  You can select a 1 oz tasting portion, a 3 oz half glass, or a 5 oz full glass.

cavasMost 1 oz pours range between $1 and $3, which enables you to try a wide range of wines and styles without spending a lot.  Brunellos and big name Napa wineries are now within your budget.  You’ll also enjoy experimenting with unfamiliar grapes or blends.  I discovered a delicious Malbec and Corvina blend from Argentina and a light and fruity red from Austria.  A full glass of wine ranges from around $6 to $40.

All the wines available to taste are available to purchase.  The prices are slightly higher than at a liquor store, but not by much.  If you drink the bottle at Cavas you’ll pay a corkage fee ($10 for bottles under $30, $20 for more expensive bottles).  If you’re looking for something different than a wine you tried by the glass, Cavas offers more than 200 other wines by the bottle.

cavasMost wine is meant to be served with food.  Cavas has a menu of light bites to pair with the wine.  You can select your own assortment of sliced meats and cheeses or have a sandwich served on a fresh baguette.  If you prefer something sweet, Cavas has several tempting desserts that you can order individually or as a trio.

At Cavas you prepay for your wine card, starting with a minimum of $20.  When you’re down to your last couple of dollars the machine will pour an amount that’s equivalent to your remaining balance.  If you stick to your prepaid budget (plus a little extra for food and a tip for the friendly waitstaff), it’s sure to be one of your least expensive outings in Miami.

Cavas has locations in Miami and Broward Counties.  I visited the Miami Beach location on charming Española Way.  I like it because it’s off the touristy beaten path of Lincoln Road.  When you go there be sure to chat with owner Luis Duarte, who is always ready with a wine recommendation or to talk about his trips to France and Spain’s wine regions (look for his photographs on the wall).

Cavas on South Beach is located at 437 Española Way.  There are free wine tastings every Thursday from 7pm to 9pm, and from 5pm to 7pm on Fridays you get $25 added with the purchase of a $25 card.

For more information on Cavas Tasting Room and Cafe visit mycavas.com.

Nightlife at the Fontainebleau

A typical Saturday night in South Beach rarely extends beyond 20th Street.  The area that starts at 1st Street is packed with restaurants, lounges, chic hotels and nightclubs, all within walking distance of each other or a short cab ride away if you’re wearing heels.

The Fontainebleau is giving people a reason to head north — all the way to 44th Street and Collins.  The resort is a one stop shop for dining, drinking and dancing.

For a pre-dinner drink or a cocktail before you hit the nightclub, check out Bleau Bar.  You can’t miss this bright, glowing space off the lobby in Chateau.  If Stanley Kubrick designed a bar for the space station in “2001: A Space Odyssey” it would look like this.  The floor and ceiling glow blue while a large column in the center changes color every few minutes.  The furniture is sleek and modern.  The open, circular layout allows you to scope out the crowd.  Bleau Bar offers a mix of classic and contemporary cocktails and wines by the glass.  The bar opens at 10am and fills up at night, especially on the weekends.

If Bleau Bar is too crowded or you’re looking for a more intimate spot to get a drink, head downstairs to Blade Sushi Bar.  If none of the tables are available, grab one of the comfy chairs at the bar.  Gotham Steak and Scarpetta also have nice lounges for enjoying a drink or light bite.  If you want to have a conversation without having to shout, check out one of these two lounges.

It’s hard to dispute that LIV is the “it” club in Miami Beach right now.  On Saturday nights there’s a crowd of people gathered by the velvet rope inside the Chateau lobby and even more people waiting outside the hotel.  The name LIV, Roman numerals for 54, evokes memories of the club’s heyday when Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley performed.

Getting into LIV can be a challenge.  It helps to know someone, arrive early, or have a table reservation.  I’d recommend getting a group together and reserving a table.  It’s a three bottle minimum for tables on the dance floor and more for the VIP section and skyboxes.

LIV is the nightclub for those who want to see and be seen.  The layout is described as a “voyeuristic design” that allows you to check out other clubgoers from nearly anywhere in the room.  Though you may not have a skybox overlooking the dance floor you can hang out right next to it.  And you’ll want to — the upstairs bar is usually less crowded than the two downstairs.  Bring a credit card or lots of cash and prepare to spend a lot on drinks.  The Grey Goose and soda I got cost $16 (and that’s a single, not a double).

The music is a mix of hip-hop, house and rock.  Music videos are shown on TVs at the bar and projected on a large screen at one end of the club.  Lights illuminate the ceiling and pulse with different colors along with the beat.

If you like European club music you’ll want to be at LIV on Saturday night (technically Sunday morning), when DJ Tito takes over at 1:30am.  He mixes heart pumping house with the base turned up in a way that creates an electric energy that gets the crowd dancing.  This is the kind of music I like, so you’ll find me at LIV on Saturday nights.

When your night of partying comes to a close there are plenty of taxis waiting to take you home.

For more information on clubs and nightlife at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach click here.

Related Articles:
Dining at the Fontainebleau: Gotham Steak
Dining at the Fontainebleau: Scarpetta