March 1st, 2010

South Beach Wine & Food Best of the Best: Of Beast, pork and other stories

bestofbest2010

At Friday night’s Wine Spectator’s Best of the Best, I was seduced by a little gem of a bite. A foie gras bon bon with quince-champagne gelee on cracked pepper shortbread. Apparently I wasn’t alone. The dish served by chef Naomi Pomeroy and sous chef Mika Paredes of Beast in Portland has gotten love from many.

While there were many other delicious dishes, which I’ll get to in a moment, I was left thinking about this 24-seat restaurant, you know, for whenever I go to Portland. Pomeroy, who was named one of the 10 best new chefs in 2009 by Food & Wine, makes her appreciation for meat clear and describes Beast’s food as simple, refined and feminine. That little bon bon was just that. It was simple but packed with rich flavor.

We didn’t get around to every one of the more than 40 restaurants represented in the ballroom at the Fontainebleau, but of the dishes we tasted, there were several that impressed us. Marc Vidal’s veal cheek with porcini and Idiazabal toast was delicious. I really, really need to get to Solea.

Veal cheek with poricini Idiazabal toast

Veal cheek with poricini Idiazabal toast

Underbelly’s kimchi stew with BBQ Korean kogi and tofu was a comforting shot of flavor. Another restaurant that intrigued me with its terrine of oxtail and beef tongue was Hungry Mother in Cambridge. The guys from Animal in LA served head cheese with a bread and butter pickle vinaigrette but the highlight was that morsel of fried cornbread they put on the plate.

Terrine by Hungry Mother, Cambridge, MA

We must’ve had pork five or more ways. Mike Lata from FIG (Food is Good) in Charleston served fried pig trotters with a beet mustard. Morimoto served a delicious pork belly with congee and didn’t mind when people came up and asked him for six servings at a time to take back to their friends holding tables. Chef Sue Zemanick of Gautreau’s in New Orleans served satsuma glazed pork belly and Sean Brock of McCrady’s in Charleston served pork jowl and scallop with a sunchoke pickle.

Pig trotters from FIG

Pig trotters from FIG

Another interesting — and different — dish was the Puget Sound king clam with cauliflower, grapefruit, Meyer lemon and ogo dashi served by Mark Fuller of Spring Hill in Seattle. Tim Cushman from o ya in Boston served a hamachi sashimi with viet mignonette, fried shallots and basil that was also noteworthy. Coincidentally, Steve of Blind Tastes had just dined there the night before in Boston and had told us great things about it. Before we left, I went back to Beast and snatched the last bon bon.

The last time I went to Best of the Best two years ago, it was held at the American Airlines Arena, and I still remember it as my favorite South Beach Wine & Food Festival event despite its steep price. This year, I was curious about how it would work at the Fontainebleau. Admittedly the arena isn’t as swanky as the Fontainebleau but somehow having one or two chefs with one or two vintners separated into suites seemed to be more conducive to talking with them and learning more about the wines and dishes. Don’t get me wrong, I had excellent dishes and a wonderful time this year, but maybe organizers will consider going back to a similar set up and skip the speeches and national anthems.

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