There's no better way to bid adieu to the past year and look forward to the new one than armed with a glass of bubbly in one hand, a succulent bite of food in the other, and a sweetheart linked around your elbow as the clock ticks down to midnight.
But, what bite of food? Too often, large group celebrations rely heavily on quantity over quality. Great party food should be pleasurable, not too tricky to make and easily consumed while mingling. For the ideal festive finger food, add some local flair from wherever you’re celebrating—or where you'd like to be celebrating.
This New Year’s Eve, head to Miami for inspiration. The colors are bright, the vibe is carefree, and the seafood is fresh. An over-the-top party isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but through the doors of the stylish oceanfront W South Beach Hotel and inside chef and restaurateur Andrew Carmellini’s the Dutch Miami, which holds a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence, you’ll find a happy medium. In this comfortable restaurant, Carmellini’s refrain is that the food should make people happy.
What’s an example? The addictive Little Oyster Sandwiches. The oysters, lightly fried in cornmeal and served on slider-sized sesame brioche buns with pickled okra sauce, have just enough “oomph” to keep you grounded as the night lengthens into the next day and the bubbly continues to pour.
"My inspiration for the Little Oyster Sandwich was a New Orleans-style po' boy, shrunk to slider proportions," says Carmellini. "We experimented with over 20 different ways of frying an oyster and ended up with the perfect two-bite dish ... ideal for any New Year's Eve party."
Carmellini’s cuisine is best known in New York City. After getting his start at respected dining destinations such as San Domenico, Lespinasse and the new Le Cirque, he captured the culinary world's attention as the opening chef de cuisine at Café Boulud, and then later at Italian restaurant A Voce, where he earned his first Michelin star. Starting in the late 2000s, he opened a series of restaurants, including Locanda Verde and the original version of the Dutch with partners Josh Pickard and Luke Ostrom. Today the trio oversees these and other dining venues as part of the NoHo Hospitality Group.
When the Miami sister location of the Dutch opened, the restaurant felt more like a homecoming than a venture into new waters. Carmellini’s family has roots in Miami: His grandfather was the general manager of the Surf Club, an eminent private club that welcomed Miami’s glitterati in the 1930s—after debuting on New Year’s Eve.
When recreating Carmellini's sandwiches at home, buy the oysters the day of the party and take the easy shortcut by asking your local fishmonger to pre-shuck them for you. If mini-brioche buns can’t be found, home cooks can simply use a round cookie cutter on standard sandwich buns to get the smaller slider size.
Of course, on New Year’s Eve, sparkling wine is the go-to beverage. Briny oysters and minerally Champagne are a classic match (as are other fresh, crisp, still whites), and the acidity of bubbly makes it perfect with fried and salty foods, refreshing your palate after each sip. Quality sparklers hail from all over the world, offering great values, nuanced styles and polish for any event.
NoHo Hospitality Group beverage director Josh Nadel suggests a few examples. "For sparkling, I'd pair the Lieb Cellars Blanc de Blancs from North Fork. We serve this by the glass, and it's such a perfect pairing! Really crisp, clean and refreshing style rather than briochey and toasty, like a lot of méthode champenoise. I also love excellent northern coastal Italian whites from Liguria with the oysters; Punta Crena winery makes exceptional bright whites from Vermentino, Pigato and Mataossu."
Below, Wine Spectator recommends 15 sparkling wines to help ring in the new year.
Little Oyster Sandwiches
Recipe courtesy of chef Andrew Carmellini at the Dutch Miami and chef Jason Hua at the Dutch.
For the cornmeal mix:
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
To make the cornmeal mix:
1. Thoroughly blend ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
For the pickled okra sauce:
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 3 tablespoons grainy mustard
- 3 tablespoons pickled okra (Carmellini recommends Rick’s Picks’ Smokra)
- 1/2 teaspoon capers, chopped
- 1 teaspoon cornichon, finely diced
- 1 teaspoon parsley, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon chervil, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon tarragon, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon pickled okra juice (from the same jar as pickled okra)
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
To make the pickled okra sauce:
1. Thoroughly mix all ingredients and set aside.
For the sandwiches:
- 12 mini sesame brioche buns
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup iceberg lettuce, shredded
- 12 large oysters, fresh and shucked
- 4 cups (approximately) vegetable or peanut oil
To make the sandwiches:
1. Cut brioche buns in half. Butter the buns and warm on a griddle until brown. Spread pickled okra sauce on the inside of buns. Set aside.
2. Lightly dip the shucked oysters in cornmeal mix.
3. Fry oysters in the oil at 350° F—either using a deep fryer, if you have one, or a deep, wide pan fitted with a frying or candy thermometer—until golden, and season with salt as desired.
4. Assemble sandwiches with iceberg lettuce beneath the fried oyster and serve warm. Serves 12.
15 Recommended Sparkling Wines
Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More sparkling wines rated in the past year can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.
Domaine Carneros Brut Carneros Ultra 2011
Captivating aromas of Asian pear, mature apple and fresh ginger open to complex and polished flavors of brioche, spicy hazelnut and crème brûlée. Drink now through 2018. 2,700 cases made.
Domaine Chandon Brut Yountville Vintage 2009
Polished and graceful, with floral aromas of Asian pear, fresh ginger and brioche. Complex, steely flavors of lime and mineral are accented by hints of lemon tart and spice. Drink now through 2018. 1,074 cases made.
Alfred Gratien Brut Champagne NV
Rich, with hints of brioche and honey accenting the patisserie apple, mandarin orange peel and candied ginger flavors. Shows vibrancy throughout, framed by firm acidity and an airy mousse. Offers a lasting, mineral-tinged finish. Drink now through 2020. 1,500 cases imported.
Pol Roger Brut Champagne Réserve NV
An elegant Champagne, with a smoky, minerally underpinning and subtle flavors of poached pear, toast, candied lemon zest and ginger riding the finely detailed bead. Harmonious, and hard to stop sipping. Drink now through 2020. 10,000 cases imported.
Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley L’Ermitage 2009
A luxurious sparkler, with toasty brioche, mineral and lemon brûlée aromas and rich, complex flavors of crisp apple and raspberry, showing accents of fresh ginger and spice. Drink now through 2017. 6,500 cases made.
Schramsberg Brut Rosé North Coast 2013
Sleek and expressive, with floral strawberry and spicy vanilla aromas and delicately layered flavors of apple and lemon zest, accented by hints of ginger and spice. Drink now. 8,480 cases made.
Ferrari Brut Trento NV
Fresh and balanced, with a fine, lacy bead and a streak of salinity underscoring the Asian pear, ground ginger, hazelnut and lemon zest notes. Very drinkable. Drink now through 2019. 200,000 cases made.
Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Champagne Réserve NV
This balanced Champagne is ripe and juicy, with crème de cassis and Honeycrisp apple fruit flavors accented by details of honey, smoke and biscuit. A fresh and creamy aperitif. Drink now through 2018. 41,392 cases imported.
Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blancs Carneros NV
This sparkler agilely balances crisp and creamy details with lemon tart and toasted nut aromas, showing layered flavors of lemon zest and cinnamon brioche. Drink now. 5,400 cases made.
Gruet Brut American NV
This sleek sparkler is expressive for its floral apple and toasty cinnamon aromas and crisp, layered flavors of lime and mineral. Drink now. 15,000 cases made.
Korbel Brut California Organic Grapes NV
Crisp and luscious, this is a winning bubbly for a big party. Aromas of cinnamon, ginger and citrus lead to creamy flavors of pear and blanched almond. Drink now. 15,000 cases made.
Laetitia Brut Rosé Arroyo Grande Valley 2013
Lively and floral, with aromas of apricot and watermelon, leading to delicately complex flavors of pear, lemon zest and fresh anise. Drink now. 1,750 cases made.
Mumm Napa Blanc de Blancs Napa County NV
Offers a beam of crisp minerality layered with rich, creamy fruit, showing accents of lemon tart, fresh almond and sweet anise. Drink now. 15,214 cases made.
Juvé y Camps Brut Nature Cava Gran Reserva de la Familia 2011
A firm, focused version, with a smoky streak of mineral underscoring the flavors of fresh-cut pear, mandarin orange peel, vanilla biscuit and pickled ginger. Drink now through 2018. Tasted twice, with consistent notes.
Villa Sandi Brut Rosé Vino Spumante Il Fresco NV
Lightly creamy and fresh, featuring apple blossom and spice notes layered with plumped cherry and orange granita flavors. Well-knit, with a stony finish. Drink now through 2018. 2,000 cases imported.