Iron Fork 2013: Year of the Ceviche!

Held at the stylish Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in the heart of the downtown Miami, Iron Fork 2013 was large and in charge. At first the venue gave us hope, as in past years the one-story warehouse-style venues got instantly crammed with attendees. As our third Iron Fork, it was definitely the largest ever, but also unfortunately the weakest of them all. Let’s get right to it…

Beginning at the large party tent on the north side of the building, spilling into the main lobby and wrapping its way up four floors overlooking the chef competition below, Iron Fork 2013 was massive. The notion of event planning and designing a layout for so many restaurants and vendors is daunting to say the least, however, having it done in narrow hallways and walkways of the Center was poor planning that may have only been realized the day of the event. Crowd control was a joke. The crowds were so thick with eaters and drinkers it proved extremely hard to maneuver around the scores of eager eaters, rubber-neckers and polite foodies forming organized lines. I had a difficult time standing two steps back to shoot a picture without stomping on someone’s foot or bumping into a woman’s purse. I couldn’t even get a fork to my mouth without someone banging into my elbow. If it wasn’t one-bite or God-forbid, required a utensil, it was impossible to savor. One of our favorites, and first tastings, was Pappa al Pomodoro soup from Toscana Divino, but the crowd forced you to suck it down, knowing you’ll get bumped into any second, drop the spoon, and perhaps the soup. This severely eliminated the FUN factor.

Each floor had it’s own hallway chock full of an excellent variety of local chefs and restaurants, along with several rooms dedicated to vendors and spirit distributors. However, asking elderly people or folks with bad knees and backs to walk up four floors was a bit much. Yes the center did provide elevators and yes they were in working order, but keep in mind that the elevators were designed to take people to seats and exits basically twice in any one night. There was such an overload at the elevator that most hindered folks braved the staircase.

My last gripe has more to do with the menus than anything. I realize many of the dishes are “cooked to order” but when 30% of the restaurants decide to make ceviche to save time… that’s a lot of ceviche for one night. They were at the very least 6 different restaurants making ceviche! We only had 4 and skipped the last two restaurants. We also didn’t touch upon every table so I wonder how many more had ceviche? It’s not that we don’t like ceviche, we love it. But it was a bit much for one night, especially if you were allergic to seafood, you’d have missed 30% of samples. This could have been alleviated by having restaurants sign up with what dishes they’d provide, perhaps their first and second choice, and having the host, New Times, “approve” dishes. This would have created better variety.

Other mishaps include:

• Situating the band and lovely high top tables outside while all the bars were INSIDE. At least one bar should have been outside or under the overhang by the band. The band space was empty. By the time you got through the crowd to the outdoors, your drink was gone and there was nothing to “sip” on while watching the band. It was completely empty and sad by the band and these high tables.

• Having a limit on tickets. There were way too many people admitted. I couldn’t move on ANY floor. Therefore, it wasn’t crowd dispersement that was the problem, it was the amount of people admitted.

• I was thirsting my ass off. There was one water vendor, thank god I got the LAST water bottle sample. Secure more drink samples – water, tea, juice, anything. Also, if you wanted a water or soda you had to wait in the ginormous alcohol line. Have just a water/soda counter.

• Brasileiro Steakhouse served bacon wrapped dates with no interesting taste, seasoning, stuffing (goat cheese?), nada. Would I ever be enticed to visit a carnivore’s restaurant that showcases meh bacon wrapped dates? No. Get with the program and do a memorable dish – the point of the event is to entice visitors to your restaurant.

Enough negativity for one post, its not really our style, but we think it had to be said because there is room for improvement and we only want to see Iron Fork get better.

Now for the real good stuff and highlights:

• Accessibility was a major improvement from last year. Because it was held in the middle of downtown with the Metro Mover in walking distance, valet, and parking lots and metered parking for blocks, Iron Fork was clearly capable of hosting thousands of people. Some of the private parking vendors were dickholes for jacking up their prices from $10-$25 when parking got scarce (one of us got charged $10, then the other drove in 2 min later and they said $25…WTF. I parked at metered parking instead).

• The entrance for Grouponers and Daily Deals were flawless especially when you can bring up the pdf on your smartphone for a quick scan. I know this is minor and not really food related but if the event planners are reading this, hire that company again. (One Nomster lost their printed ticket so needed to use the mobile version =) ).

• Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty; food. As much as we ripped on the amount of ceviche offered, it didn’t suck. All the ceviche was wonderfully-flavored, some tomato based, some citrusy. Everything was good quality and it showed. We loved them all but most notably the “movie theater” had the best with CineBistro’s cobia ceviche. Their pulled pork tacos were also enjoyable. 660 at The Angler’s short rib empanadas were delicious. Flaky, with a good crunch, the empanadas were amazingly prepared for this huge event. West Avenue Cafe earned a spot for the night with their fresh tasting hummus and wonderfully cooked tabouli. These two dishes were really refreshing and light since we were tasting quite a bit. Moving our way past more ceviche and pastry dishes we found ourselves in a lounge with short rib sliders from Morton’s Steakhouse. The braised short rib was soft and tender, but the bread it was served with was stone hard, stale and overtly “bready.” I don’t know what happened there, but it was an epic failure. I’m not over exaggerating when I saw piles of empty bread lying around like discarded cardboard boxes (the garbage needed cleaning.) The Mini Causitas (Peruvian finger food made with mashed potatoes and lime juice with a touch of yellow chili pepper sauce) from El Chaman were divine. The last memorable dish for the night came from A Fish Called Avalon where they were pan frying octopus! I mean they were cooking with serious fire. I never had octopus before, and I  had to try it… I really didn’t care for it much. It wasn’t the flavor – no. I can still recall the fresh ground pepper, citrus light cream sauce and white balsamic vinegar used on the plate, but it was the texture. It was like biting into a paper-mache model. Not for me. (However, Nomster Laureen needs to add that this octopus was amazing. Laureen felt that the flavors made you forget you were eating tentacle-ridden meat. The fire blackened the octopus and made the consistency very “steak” like. The blackened flavors with the contrasting light citrus sauce were a novel idea.)

By the end of the night, after having our bellies full of great dishes and a full camera roll, I think we’d have to rate this year’s Iron Fork as just ok. It was far too crowded, the layout was badly designed, and we did see some repeat restaurants on two different floors and the outside tent. However, if it was just about the food, then this was a home run! There are just too many restaurants to list that served excellent foods, and they ought to be proud of what they served.

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