Foodies taste buds went into overdrive at Fridays Best of the Best event, with gourmet offerings like chili lobster, seared tuna tacos and a crawfish boil gnocchi with brandy and black truffles.
We just love it all, said Monica Mayotte, as she took a break amid the Best of the Best crowd at the Fontainebleau ballroom.
For Mayotte and her husband Terry, from Boca Raton, the festival is their annual mini-vacation. They book their hotel room in September and buy their tickets in October. Every year they hit the Best of the Best, then mix it up the rest of the time. This year the to-do list included several first-time events, including the Chicken Couple and the A-list Farm to Table brunch.
Its like our date week., said Monica Mayotte, who was staying for two nights at the Loews Miami Beach. When you dont do it very often, its fun to splurge. Its like our Valentines getaway.
Although more than 70 percent of the festivals visitors are from Florida, more than half of those, like Mayotte, come from outside Miami-Dade. Many turn it into a long weekend.
The festival filled nearly 2,600 room nights in 2012, and that number was expected to be closer to 3,000 this year.
In just two years, the number of room nights the festival fills has more than doubled, said Carol Press of Protravel International.
At the James Royal Palm hotel, which opened at the end of last year, management took advantage of the festival to add its own line-up of spin-off programming, including a celebrity chef volleyball tournament, and the Big Gay ice cream social to promote gay marriage in Florida.
These events help to create an energy and a buzz around the property during the festival, said Sims Foster, vice president of restaurant and bars for Denihan Hospitality Group, owner of the James. It cements us as a very food-driven company and destination.
Miamis progress as a culinary destination has tracked the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, said Rolando Aedo, senior vice president of marketing and tourist for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. By all accounts, we are a serious culinary destination, and that speaks to the evolution of this community. When you look at the top experiences our customers like dining is at the top of the list. Thats how most people make their memories.
Mindy Horowitz would agree. The Long Island resident has been coming to the festival for the past decade. She loves the chance to meet the top chefs and vineyard owners at her favorite event, the Best of the Best. She gets culinary tips for herself at smaller events, like seminars by Josh Wesson and Laura Werlin.
But the week is also a chance for Horowitz, who has a second home in Miami Beach, to sample her favorite restaurants in Miami a list that keeps getting longer. Perennial favorites include Joes, Prime 112 and Il Gabbiano, but shes also a big fan of the new restaurants by the Pubbelly group.
Miamis food scene is getting better and better. Its very diverse, Horowitz said. Were foodies so we love to explore. No matter where we go. Food is social.
With all the chances to indulge at the festival, its hard to believe many foodies could still find time to check out some of Miamis hottest restaurants.