Five Reasons Pairings Was Better Than the South Beach Wine and Food Festival

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Last night was New Times' second annual Pairings event, a food and wine free-for-all at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. I certainly don't want to toot our own horn too much (toot incoming), but this year's event was much improved over the last. Actually, Pairings was much better than many of the other tasting events of this variety. While it certainly wasn't as big as something like the South Beach Wine and Food Festival (the dates of which was announced this week: February 25-28, tickets on sale October 26), I think Pairings did a better job than it in a number of ways. I promise not be biased (really). Now read on to find out how.

Small Lines: For the most part, the lines to get food at Pairings were in check. Sure, if just beelined from the entrance to the closest booths, like everyone else, you'd wait a bit for your penne alla vodka or sirlion steak on truffled mash. But if you cleverly headed to the back booths, some of which were placed in the Adbo and New River rooms of the Broward Center, you had almost no lines to deal with at all. As the night wore on, the only booth that had an outrageous line was Chima. Which leads us to...

Meat!: Anti-vegetarianism has hit a new high, folks. The trend of dissing the few among us who have stuck to their guns about masticating dead animal is more popular than ever, and meat eaters are reveling in it. I didn't take a proper count, but if I had to wager a guess, I'd say red meat dominated as much as 50% of the booths. The gnocchi from Bova featured a beef ragu; braised short ribs were represented en mass by restaurants like Lola's on Harrison and Bistro Mezaluna. Chima, which I mentioned before as having the only really outrageous line, was packed for a definite reason: they had three chaffing trays full of carnal goodness, including a spread of grilled lamb chops so generous you could stuff away three or four of them at a time (ahem... not that I did that). And when that many people line up for lamb, you know times have changed. Vegetarians, you're officially on watch.

Really Good Beer and Wine: I was really suprised at how good the wine was, and especially the beer, at Pairings. Sublime's booth was pretty empty each time I passed it (you know, the whole no meat thing), but they served a Peak Organic Pale Ale that tasted incredible -- just faintly hoppy and malty sweet. A 2006 Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon was another real winner, a lone Cab in a sea of Malbecs and Merlots. South American wines continued to prove their dominance in this time of recession (hey, didn't anyone get the message that the recession is over?). Casa Lapostolle, which was previewed earlier in the week, was indeed an Argentinian Merlot. My personal favorite, though? Lola's on Harrison paired their cola-braised beef short ribs on a potato chip with Stone's Oaked Arrogant Bastard, which usually runs anywhere from four to eight bucks for a 12 ounce bottle. Lola's was tucked away under a staircase for some odd reasons, so I kept going back with no impediment to sample more of this fantastic beer, poured by Lola's chef Michael Wagner. 

Spread Out: Anyone who has been to the SoBe Wine and Food fest knows that, layout-wise, it sucks. The booths are simply lined up one next to another in two huge tents, with no gaps in between. This creates a clusterfuck -- you can hardly move through the overcrowded grand tasting village, let alone eat there. Pairings took up nearly the whole Broward Center complex with probably half the booths that SoBe has. The result was you could actually breath. You didn't bump into people every five seconds. There were places to sit down with your food, or at least stand at a table. You didn't feel like you were competing in a rush to get everywhere, and if you didn't try it all, it was OK. The whole night took on a more fun, relaxed feel because of it, and people genuinly seemed to be more interested in having a good time than shoving someone out of the way for a helping of pasta.

Diversity of Dishes: Sure, there was not as many different booths as some other tasting events. But what was out there was pretty diverse in nature. Usually, you'll get about 15 kinds of sliders at these events, a dozen of the same exact drinks or wines, and no less than five or six dishes that require you to suck sauce out of a pipette. No so at Pairings. There was ONE slider, and it made perfect sense because Charm City Burgers did it. (And it was fucking great, a banh mi slider with slaw.) There were a few gnocchi dishes (Bova, Cafe del Mar, the latter was aweful); some seafood (Wine Watch's [?] gulf shrimp crostini with garlic basil oil was very good); and a meatball or two (da Campo's pasta-filled meatball was actually very good). Plus some Mexican food, Greek, amazing verine desserts from Seasons 52, cupcakes from Storks, sushi... the list goes on. Basically, you never got tired of eating just one thing, and that's good.

All told, great event. Good job to the organizers. Here's hoping next year's Pairings lives up to this one. Check out a few more pictures to follow.

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