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SoBeWFF: Feeding Jean-Georges

"Where are we going to dinner after The Burger Bash?" asked my friend Amber over a glass of wine on Friday afternoon. A foodie by profession, she joined visitors Amanda and Maddy for their first pilgrimage to the 11th annual South Beach Wine and Food Festival.

Despite that more than 30 burgers were featured at one of the festival's most anticipated events, there was so much to eat the weekend of the festival and so little time to cram it all in, or so said the out of town guests.

Under the tents at The Burger Bash, an energetic band belted out tunes from the wedding roster: Gnarls Barkley's Crazy, Wilson Pickett's Mustang Sally. Before 8 p.m., lines to eat hadn't yet congealed. Men gravitated toward the Amstel stations to get their drink on.

A graze through burgerdom offered fat-laden decadence patties to minimalist burgers. New York's Fatty Cue inspired a line for its lamb burger with addictive pickled peppers. Closer to the entrance, Top Chef alum Spike Mendelsohn -- in fake mustache and sideburns-- debuted a steak frites burger topped with blue cheese, Bearnaise, and french fries: a teaser for his newest restaurant yet to open in DC. 

Further down burger lane, the judges' choice burger from Whisk displayed crispy shallots on a bacon swiss burger with horseradish, tomatoes, and watercress on an onion bun. With so many vegetables, the nod to the garden clinched it as my favorite bite of the event.

Despite the bevy of beef, there's only so much that can satiate an appetite. Bathing in burger fumes from grills belching smoke didn't help.

"We have to get out of here," said Maddy. The smell of burgers and fat

clung to our clothes and hair. While Amanda and I discussed a sighting

of Zane Lamprey, eclectic host of Three Sheets, Maddy paced.

Pubbelly was the group's choice, but the wait was oppressive. Sibling restaurant Barceloneta next door served as backup, with a farmhouse table available near the window.


need something refreshing," said Amber. After a first dinner that

consisted primarily of burgers, we all did. Wouldn't a drink do?


not. A tomato, watermelon salad with a sherry vinaigrette did the trick,

while razor clams, squid ink meatballs, Shishito peppers, and escargot

served as dinner number two.

"Eat these with a spoon," said our

server as she dropped the snails in a cast iron dish at the table. Did

we seem like heathens who would use our hands? I shifted my gaze to find the table rubbernecking: Jean-Georges Vongerichten

sailed in with his crew. With over 30 restaurants around the world, the Manhattan-based chef icon has carved his reputation on Asian ingredients and French technique.

"No one in the restaurant recognizes him," said Amber. Food writer Amanda mentioned having interviewed him at his restaurant J&G a couple of months ago. He saw her and waived.


are you eating?" he and his table mates asked as they settled in,

perusing the menu. Each of us responded according to what was on our

forks. I was on the squid ink dish. "Black 'balls," I said and shrugged,

since that's in fact what they were. A man across the table craned to

see. I whisked the plate over.

As the evening progressed, the table lamented that Pubbelly hadn't made the

repertoire. Several diners at Vongerichten's table agreed.


know what to do," said Amanda, who breezed out the door to Pubbelly, where she placed two orders for kimchee fried rice. A short while

later, she delivered it to both tables.


in a plastic takeout container, crispy rice was layered with kimchee,

scallons, egg and other goodies. "The pineapple makes it," someone

chimed. Savory, salty, fatty, tangy, and sweet marked each delicious


Jean-Georges' clan finished first and were off to their next destination of the night. As he left, the table sighed.

"Jean-Georges." said Maddy. "I even liked that he was wearing velvet


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Food Critic
Contact: Melissa McCart

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