The party really got going when chef José Andrés went into his black-truffle dance.
Andrés—the chef whose successful restaurants span locations from Washington, D.C., to Las Vegas to Los Angeles—also runs Bazaar in the SLS Hotel in Miami Beach's South Beach neighborhood. Last night, he hosted 400 people for a paella and tapas party around the hotel’s pool, as one of the opening events at this year’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
A half-dozen local chefs served a range of Spanish-inspired and Latin-inflected tapas. The evening was clear and cool, and the music was mercifully discreet as people wandered from station to station, enjoying the tuna tartare, octopus salad, sushi and the inevitable, and always welcome, Spanish jamón ibérico.
Wines from Rioja made fine accompaniments. Showcasing the region’s diversity, there were dry whites, traditional rosados and a range of reds. I particularly enjoyed the fresh 2015 Rosado from El Coto de Rioja (85 points, $12) and the graceful 2010 Finca Ygay Reserva from Marqués de Murrieta (90 points, $26).
The centerpiece of the party was a huge steel pan, measuring at least six feet in diameter, set on top of a flaming ring of gas and attended by a half-dozen cooks and a DJ. Andrés explained that he was making a paella in homage to the late Jean-Louis Palladin, a mentor to Andrés during the Spanish chef's early days in the United States. Palladin was originally from French Gascony, and the paella included duck confit, prosciutto of magret and cubes of foie gras, all cooked with the rice in a rich, savory duck stock.
The aromas wafting from the steaming pan as the cooks stirred the rice were intoxicating. Then Andrés stepped into the circle of light and heat with a double handful of huge black truffles. He began dancing around the pan, shaving them into the rice with wild abandon.
Dozens of people crowded around, snapping photos and shooting videos. The DJ kicked up the music. The crowd began cheering and dancing. The party came alive. South Beach had worked its magic once again, and the 15th-annual Wine & Food Festival was well and truly begun.
Wine Spectator is a long-time sponsor of the festival and has given a $1 million donation to support the Wine Spectator Restaurant Management Laboratory at the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Florida International University, which benefits from the proceeds of each year’s festival.
Senior editor Bruce Sanderson and I, representing Wine Spectator, will lead a number of wine seminars over the weekend and host the Best of the Best, a walk-around tasting tonight at the Fontainebleau Hotel, featuring dozens of top wines and trendy restaurants. We’ll report further as the festival continues.