Tequila shots, music festivals and hot-dog eating contests: These are things best left to the young.
Add one more thing to that list this February: fighting crowds for food.
If your image of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival is crowding under a tent on the sand for a bite of food and a swallow of wine, it’s time to rethink how to approach Miami Beach’s annual bacchanalia.
Perhaps, when you were young and didn’t know what Pepcid was, paying $350 a person to stand in multiple 20-minute lines for a miniature burger seemed fun. But you’re an adult now. You should be doing the SOBEWFF like a grown up.
The pros know the events you should be attending are the sit-down dinners. It’s the best way to take advantage of some of the world’s best chefs coming to town to cook exclusive meals. They usually feature a great out-of-town chef at the restaurant of a local star, so it’s a great way to learn about the best restaurants in town, too.
There were more than 30 dinners from which to choose when tickets were announced in the fall. Several have sold out already. But some of the best bangs for your buck are still available.
So let the masses gather at the kids table. (Looking at you, Burger Bash and Grand Tasting.) Here are the best dinners for doing SOBEWFF like an adult.
This one is for the ultimate gourmands.
Every year, the best chefs on earth compete for their country and cook at an event called the Bocuse d’Or (pronounced bo-coos door). The United States won for the first time ever last year, and the captain of that team is leading this dinner.
Mathew Peters, most recently the executive sous chef at Thomas Keller’s Per Se (name check!) teams up with another Per Se alum, Greg Baxtrom, to cook with Chopped champion Giorgio Rapicavoli at the Miami native’s beautiful Glass & Vine restaurant, overlooking Coconut Grove’s Peacock Park.
Setting. Food. Star-power. You will be in culinary bliss.
Diners: Prepare to have your gourd blown.
If you’re still thinking of plant-based dinners as something for the crunchy granola people, you’re missing out on the most exciting cooking in America. And no one is doing it better than Amanda Cohen at New York’s Dirt Candy, the city’s first vegetable-focused restaurant. It’s not a vegetarian spot, no. It’s where she creates magic. She’ll be joined in Miami Beach by chef Anito Lo, whose West Village restaurant Annisa is a beloved landmark for a reason after 17 years. They’ll be cooking at Sunset Harbour’s newest whoa-what-are-they-doing-there plant-based restaurant Soul Tavern, which calls itself a vegetarian gastropub.
You’re deluded if you think you have to be Jewish or compromise your palate to appreciate this dinner.
Michael Solomonov won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef 2017 at Zahav in Philadelphia before opening his Dizengoff hummus shop in Wynwood. On this night, he teams up with Tel Aviv’s trendiest meat-centric restaurant chef, Jonathan Borowitz, and Justin Smillie, who opened a second stunning Upland restaurant on South Beach. Jenn Louis opened a celebrated new Israeli-inspired restaurant in Portland and local Kosher king, Zak Stern (aka Zak the Baker), rounds out the kitchen.
A mazel on whoever snags tickets.
Women of Syria
This is as authentic as it gets.
Syrian refugee women in Miami started the Syrian Supper Club of South Florida last year to bring their cuisine to a South Florida community that was new to this food tradition. Their monthly series is regularly booked.
At this event, they will cook with one of the stars of Mediterranean cuisine, Alon Shaya, the James Beard Award winner whose restaurant in New Orleans was named Best Restaurant in American by Esquire magazine in 2015. It was all put together by Miami celebrity chef Ingrid Hoffman, who fell in love with the Syrian women’s story (proceeds of the supper club go to help Miami refugee families), and brings her Colombian-American sensibilities to the table.
A Southern soiree
Fried chicken, people. We can almost guarantee that mouth-watering fried chicken will be on the menu at Yardbird, when the South Beach Southern food spot opens its kitchens to two of the South’s best regarded chefs — both James Beard Award winners.
Steven Satterfield is the reigning Best Chef: South for his Miller Union in Atlanta. He’ll be joined by John Currence, named Best Chef: South in 2009 for the fine dining he’s bringing to Oxford, Miss.