Judging Pairings is a little daunting. With nearly 50 different restaurants serving up as many dishes on three levels of the Broward County Convention Center, you've got to have a strategy if you plan on sampling each and every one. The plan was simple -- start on the third floor and work down to the ground -- and don't finish everything on the plate, no matter how savory and tempting.
Full disclosure: I managed to visit all but two restaurants at Pairings -- and it's because I simply couldn't find them in the fray.
With that in mind, I'm sharing my personal five favorite dishes of the evening. This is in no way scientific and these are not the official results of Pairings. Just a little observation of someone who is happily still in a slight food coma.
5. Steak 954's Cucumber gazpacho with lump crab meat was a perfect start to the evening. Cool and crisp with a hint of heat and a lovely bit of lump crab meat waiting at the bottom of the cup.
4. YOLO's octopus carpaccio was so thinly sliced, at first I thought they were radishes. Tender and flavorful, this dish, served with a farro grape tomato salad and feta, brought the flavors of the Mediterranean to Fort Lauderdale.
3. Grill on the Avenue's braised short rib, served with horseradish mashed potatoes, was a robust plate of comfort food. The meat was so tender, it practically fell apart and the horseradish potatoes really begged me to finish every drop...and scrounge another helping.
2. El Jefe Luchador's tacos de barbacoa with smoked mushrooms, pickled onions, corn salsa fresca, and truffle cream were bright, tangy, simple, complicated, and just delicious. Clearly a case of turning simple street food into a memorable meal.
1. Lush Confections' beer-infused truffles were the perfect sweet bite. These little nuggets of heaven came in varieties like Key lime and pumpkin, and were paired with brews from Florida Beer Company. The knockout? A white chocolate covered grapefruit truffle paired with Swamp Ape IPA.
Special mention goes out to Isaac Grillo from Haven and Robert Ferrara from The Dutch, who traveled from South Beach to craft some amazing cocktails for the event. With all that wine and beer, it was nice to take a cocktail break -- especially when said libations involved mezcal, fresh fruits -- and frozen smoking lemon grass foam!
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