South Beach Wine & Food Festival 2023: An All-Around Bad Dinner

by Anthony Losanno
SOBE Dinner

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As I wrote about here, we’re in Miami for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival (SOBEWFF®). We went to A Taste of Italy on the first night and Fontainebleau Miami Beach presents Wine Spectator’s Best of the Best on Friday night. We were excited to go to the Dinner presented by Consorzio DOC delle Venezie Pinot Grigio, but that quickly faded once we were seated for dinner. This dinner was also part of the Marriott Bonvoy Moments™ package I had won and I hope they keep it to walk-around tastings in the future. The dinner is described as:

Chef and entrepreneur Esther Choi returns to SOBEWFF® for this globally-influenced dinner that’s sure to pack a punch! The Instagram sensation and host of the acclaimed Get Down with K-Town podcast is responsible for some of New York City’s hottest Korean hangouts, including the popular ramen shop, Mŏkbar and the swanky Korean-American cocktail bar, Ms. Yoo. For one night only, Cho will inject her signature approach (inspired by the time-honored techniques of her grandmother’s cooking) into what promises to be an enchanting evening filled with vibrant flavors that taste anything but ordinary. Joining her is the extraordinarily gifted Peruvian-born Diego Oka, who has helmed the kitchen at La Mar by Gastón Acurio since 2013. With influences including his own grandmother’s cooking, his Japanese-Peruvian heritage and the foods he discovered while living in Mexico and Colombia, Oka brings a deft touch to his kitchen at La Mar – and to his SOBEWFF® dinners as well. Together, these two titans will execute a boldly flavored menu rivaled only by the sparkling views of Biscayne Bay.”


The dinner paired up Chefs Esther Choi and Diego Oka. I was excited to have some more of Chef Choi’s cooking as I have been a fan of her Mokbar restaurant in Chelsea Market since it opened. I had also heard good things about Chef Oka’s cuisine and La Mar restaurant, which hosted the event. I’m not sure if it was an off night, if the chefs couldn’t coordinate, or what happened, but the dinner’s pacing, courses, and even food quality were bad.

SOBE La Mar Chefs

The night started out fine with a cocktail hour and the chance to wander the dining room and watch the chefs cook.

SOBE La Mar Plates

It was cool to see all of the plates lined up for service.

SOBE La Mar Kitchen

The kitchen is open and courses were being plated in advance.

SOBE La Mar Kitchen 2

Another course being prepared and plated.

SOBE La Mar Menu

Here is the menu for the dinner.

La Mar Plant Wall

We started with a reception and took some selfies in front of the live plant wall (which reminded me of an American Express Centurion Lounge).

SOBE La Mar Potato

The reception featured three dishes. The Potato Croquette above was tasty.

SOBE La Mar Dumpling

The Kalbi Truffle Dumpling was also delicious.

SOBE La Mar Duck Flan

The Duck Flan was a miss. The portion was large and it was hard to eat standing. It would have been a good course, but it failed as something to eat during a cocktail reception. During the cocktail reception two wines were being poured. We also saw many guests having martinis and other cocktails. My husband wanted an espresso martini and the bartender told him that we could have whatever we wanted. This was true, but not complimentary. This was never expressed. We were never asked if we wanted to start a tab. When we were departing, the server came up to us with a check for over $100 that included the drinks we consumed. I’m fine with paying, but we should have been told. We would have gladly paid had we known. Instead, it felt underhanded and left a further bad taste in our mouths.

SOBE La Mar Dinner

We were then asked to be seated for the dinner. This is where things went off the rails. We were seated at a table that held 20 people. We sat down and were quickly flanked by a couple from Germany who did not want to engage at all and a couple across from us. The couple across was from Cleveland and the husband did not stop talking the entire meal. He had corny joke after joke, talked about all kinds of random things, and spewed tons of incorrect statements like, “I’m staying at the W Westin,” and “Old Faithful is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.” We humored him and grinned and beared the nonstop chatter.

SOBE La Mar Cebiche Encurtido

The first course was Cebiche Encurtido. It was bland and pretty flavorless.

SOBE La Mar Pancake

Next, we had Peruvian Corn Jeon “Pancake.” The pancake itself was fine, but the lettuce and bacon added nothing. It was a meh dish.

SOBE La Mar Pasta

The third dish was Pasta From the Day Before with Peruvian Trout. The trout seemed undercooked and under-seasoned. The pasta was too crunchy and salty. We were still sitting through joke after joke while the food never seemed to come to the table.

SOBE La Mar Kimchi

Finally, the main course arrived. It was now three hours since we arrived. All of the accompaniments like the kimchi and rice were brought to the table, but not to everyone. The staff tried to scatter dishes to share, but did not give instructions. People started digging in. We had nothing in front of us.

SOBE La Mar Meat

Then they announced that the kitchen was running behind and the meat would be up shortly. It arrived and it was not great. The pork belly was overcooked. The veal heart was really chewy and rubbery. We left before dessert was served, but with the pace of things we might still be sitting there waiting for it to come.

At this point we had enough of this poor dinner and wanted to go back to our hotel. The restaurant does validate parking, but even with the validation it cost $18 to park for the event. This was also tacky. Parking should have been included. I also thought the wine was a forced pairing because the sponsor wanted to be included in an event. The menu was Korean and South American inspired, but the wine was from Italy. It didn’t fit and was also not very good.

Anthony’s Take: Between the bar tab, paying for parking, the wannabe stand-up comic, and the mediocre (that’s being generous) food, this was a bad dinner. If this was not part of the package I had won and I had paid $300 plus taxes and fees for this meal I would have felt completely ripped off. I wish we would have skipped it.

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Randy Petersen February 27, 2023 - 12:12 am

Excellent photography. What were you taking your pictures with?

Frankfurt Airport Lufthansa
Anthony Losanno February 27, 2023 - 4:37 pm

Thanks! All photos were taken with my iPhone 13 Pro.


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