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Wine Festival Growing A super-sized wine tasting venue and a live auction to benefit local charities are among the highlights at the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience (May 20-24). The festival draws large crowds to the French Quarter and venues around town for seminars, tastings and wine- and cuisine-related events, some of which sell out in advance. This year, NOWFE's Grand Tastings will be held in the Louisiana Superdome , where 175 wineries from around the world and 75 New Orleans-area restaurants will participate. As usual, NOWFE begins with the Royal Street Stroll, a roving wine tasting through French Quarter galleries and boutiques on Thursday. Other highlights include wine dinners in local restaurants, often hosted by winemakers themselves. There's a new live auction for wine and travel packages called Vinola, which will be on Thursday at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel . The festival also includes a Louisiana seafood cook-off and tradeshow. Ticket information and a full schedule are available online at Thin Fish, Big Deck When chef Horst Pfeifer bought the landmark catfish house Middendorf's (Exit 15 off I-55, Akers, 985-386-6666; last year, he pledged to tread gently when it came to making changes to the 1930s-vintage restaurant. The German-trained chef, formerly of Bella Luna in the French Quarter, started by adding extra phone lines to process credit cards faster. The results of a much grander plan for the restaurant will be unveiled this week. On Friday, the restaurant introduces a new dining hall built as a covered deck on the water's edge at Pass Manchac, complete with a bar, a seafood boiling area open to view and a play area outside for kids. The deck will be open Fridays through Sundays starting at noon. Rum Earns Gold Four variations of the locally produced Old New Orleans Rum earned honors at the 2008 Polished Palate International Rum Festival Competition held in Tampa, Fla. Close to 150 rums were assessed by a panel of spirits industry executives on aroma, appearance, taste, mouthfeel and finish. Old New Orleans Crystal Rum took a gold medal in the white rum category. Old New Orleans Amber Rum and Old New Orleans Cajun Spice Rum each won silver medals, and Old New Orleans Special Edition 10-year-old rum won a bronze medal. The rums are produced in Gentilly by Celebration Distillation (2815 Frenchmen St., 945-9400;, a company founded by New Orleans artist James Michalopoulos . — McNulty

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