Taste of the Gables, with over 500 attendees, is over and the Miami Dining Examiner's stomach is still stuffed with all kinds of tasty treats. Of course, only one dish can reign supreme and this year, newcomer Uvaggio, with Top Chef contestant Bret Pelaggi, took home the coveted prize.
"We were lucky enough to present a dish that diners liked," said Uvaggio co-owner and wine director Heath Porter. "It is one of our signature dishes."
The Miami Dining Examiner's top three tastes at Taste of the Gables were:
#1 Ikura Sushi Lounge. Their crab salad, an amazing tangle of crab strands, fish flakes, roe, with a bit of a kick to it, was a light, refreshing bite at the perfect size.
#2 Divino Ceviche. Another newcomer, their green risotto with seafood was warm, rich and yummy.
#3 Uvaggio. The grilled octopus, topped with jicama slices, sauced with aji Amarillo sauce and sprinkled with smoked paprika was delicious. The contrast of flavors and textures appealing and it was the perfect size to sample. Another plus, co-owner Craig DeWald was charming and patient with the hordes of hungry diners.
"If you were to get this dish at my restaurant, I would suggest this bottle of rose wine to compliment it's flavors," DeWald said, holding up the bottle of wine. Kudos for connecting with the public and selling Uvaggio. It makes this diner want to book a table, pronto.
Runners up for bites: Caffe Vialetto's pear ravioli in a creamy gorgonzola sauce, Anacapri's gnocchi in truffle oil and Sushi Maki's vegetable sushi with pikka sauce.
Local favorite Talavera offered two light bites- corvina ceviche and shrimp ceviche tostado, as well as two non-alchoholic drinks. Way to bring it!
The underlying theme at this year's Taste seemed to be seafood. There was lots of sushi, ceviche, crab and tuna offered. In years past, there had been more than one restaurant offering slices of beef on toast. This year, not a one and Mortons, right next to the event, no-showed.
As in other matters, size is important while presenting a bite at Taste of the Gables. While Anglique Euro Cafe's pulled pork sandwich looked tempting, the Miami Dining Examiner passed on it because it was so large. Her husband sampled it and the sauce ended up on his shirt, illustrating why one or two bite tastes are the way to go.
While it was overall an enjoyable evening, the Miami Dining Examiner felt there were some kinks to be worked out for the future.
At past events, V.I.P.s had a separate room, off the Aragon entrance, where gourmet tasting stations and an open bar was located. This year, V.I.P.'s were upstairs, which was the only place to get your free drinks.
The upstairs, which is quite spacious, had only two bars, two dessert stations, one tasting station and a table of goody bags. It was a huge waste of space, which is precious with 500 people milling about. As the Miami Dining Examiner looked down below at the general admission populace feasting away, she felt it was wrong to isolate V.I.P.'s in this manner.
The other problem was if attendees were upstairs at the V.I.P. bars, all the food was downstairs. There were servers coming around bringing samples from restaurants, but it is not the same experience.
The new system also made the general admission areas more crowded, particularly in the hallway where the restaurants were set up. There were lines for most of the restaurants and no place to sit or eat, creating a lock-jam of people.
Also, only V.I.P. ticket holders got dessert. Is that anyway to treat a guest? Seasons 52, with their popular mini indulgences, were absent from this year's event, leaving the dessert choices at Bacardi rum raisin ice cream (with toppings) and Peterbrooke chocolate. Snooze.
Lastly, as the Miami Dining Examiner walked downstairs to vote for her favorite restaurant at 8:15 p.m., she was dismayed to find the ballot boxes had already been collected. An announcement that voting was closing would have been helpful. She spoke to other diners, who weren't able to vote, and they felt the same way.
Taste of the Gables is the kick-off to Coral Gables Restaurant week, starting June 9th. For three weeks, participating restaurants will offer prix fix menus at reduced prices. Visit coralgablesrestaurantweek.com for a list of restaurants participating and their menus.
This offers diners the chance to try some of the award-winning newcomers and revisit old favorites so get on out and eat!