Iron Fork 2013, Year of the Ceviche!

Iron Fork 2013 was large and in charge this year. The stylish and beautiful Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts had the honor of hosting in the heart of the downtown Miami. Unlike previous years the performing arts center offered a large area inside and out for all vendors. 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…

Iron Fork 2013 was massive. It began outside at the large party tent and spilled into the main lobby. It wrapped its way up four floors onto narrow hallways and walkways. Crowd control was an utter joke. The crowds were so thick with eaters and drinkers. Maneuvering around scores of eager eaters, rubber-neckers and polite foodies was clumsy and difficult. I had a hard time standing two steps back to shoot a picture without stomping on someone’s foot. I couldn’t even get a fork to my mouth without someone banging into my elbow. If it wasn’t one-bite or heaven-forbid, required a utensil, it was impossible to savor. One of our favorites, Pappa al Pomodoro soup from Toscana Divino, forced you to suck it down. Knowing you’ll get bumped into any second, drop the spoon, and perhaps the soup was unnerving. This severely eliminated the FUN factor.

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 as a time saver… that’s a lot of ceviche for one night. They were at the 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.

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 disbursement that was the problem, it was the amount of people admitted.

• I was thirsting my ass off. 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. It’s 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, Iron Fork was clearly capable of hosting thousands of people. Some of the private parking vendors were dickholes for jacking up their prices by $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 food related but if the event planners are reading this, hire that company again.

• 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 overly “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. (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 “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 Iron Fork 2013 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. 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.