The smell of delectable morsels wafted from behind glass doors at the Miami Beach Convention Center July 31 as hundreds mingled in a line that limbered down the street.
The Miami Spice preview was in full swing.
During Miami Spice, restaurants in Miami-Dade County create three-course menus at fixed prices of $22 for lunch and $35 for dinner. The meal plan, in its ninth year, runs from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30. It was born after travel and eating out came to a standstill in tourism-dependent Miami after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
A first, the kickoff event provided diners with a culinary smorgasbord from which to sample flavors of restaurants participating in the two-month food promotion. The event, backed by the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, drew 4,000 people.
More than 45 of the 117 restaurants in the program showcased bite-size morsels in hopes that foodies will patronize their spots.
Some restaurants' samples were clear favorites, like Miami Beach’s A Fish called Avalon’s Bigeye Tuna Tartare (raw fish), flavored with kimche, orange, jalapeno, cucumber, cilantro, sesame oil and soy, wrapped in a sliver of English cucumber and topped with micro greens.
Miami Beach's Asia de Cuba at Mondrian's serving of braised beef short rib on a wonton crisp was Barry Johnson's favorite. Johnson and his wife, Dale, drove down from Plantation excited to try new restaurants.
“It was a good event,” he said. “I tried a couple of restaurants that I would like to come back to.”
The Johnsons arrived about 7:30 p.m. to the event, which ran from 7 to 10 p.m. By the time the Johnsons arrived, many of the stations had been decimated.
Philippe Chow at the Gansevoort S. Hotel had already run out of its 600 pieces of chicken satay with peanut sauce.
“It's either someone didn't tell the vendors how many people to expect or someone got greedy and oversold the tickets,” Johnson said.
Other participants said the lack of ropes to guide the lines made it difficult for some diners to try dishes.
“I like the music and the mingling,” said Sandra Greenidge of Fort Lauderdale. “It would have been better if the lines were more organized. That way everyone would have had at least one dish each.”
Dorian Barrera, sales and marketing manager of Chophouse Miami, which offered sliced beef tenderloin on toast point with green peppercorn sauce, was packing up by 8 p.m.
She said she was told to bring 1,000 servings. The restaurant's chef provided 1,200.
Steve Haas, the event’s founder and chairman of the visitor's bureau's executive committee, said the food events in Miami usually do not have line control. He said a flurry of sales at the last minute doubled the event's size.
“The problem is too many people came to fill up, and this was just to be a tasting,” Haas said. “It was also a charity event as well.”
Tickets for early responders were $35 per person or $75 for VIP, which included a $15 valet charge. Walk ups paid $50 to get in; VIP sold out early. Some proceeds from the event benefit Share our Strength, an organization that fights child hunger, and Madison's Wish, which raises funds to fight the disease spinal muscular atrophy. The restaurants were paid by the Miami Beach Convention Center to provide the tasting.
Haas said planning for the preview party started in April.
“We were thinking, ‘How can we make this more exciting? How can we make this better?’” Haas said. “Then it all came together.”
He said he has bigger plans for next year.
“I think we are going to make the whole thing into a club, expect dancing,” he said.
To view the list of restaurants participating in Miami Spice, visit www.ilovemiamispice.com