Going through my notebook on the first day of the Grand Tasting Village on South Beach between 10th and 14th streets on Ocean Drive:

  • The second tent was better than the first. Better food choices all around (from Ritz Carlton Hotel to Pura Vida to The Diplomat and STK, the restaurant in the soon to be open Gavensdordt Hotel).. Verizon Wireless area is lively and engaging. Wineries are a tad better. People seemed to gravitate to Tent No. 2….
  • Cruzan Rum is the unofficial after party spot when you have finished your tastings and wanna get your groove on. The Caribbean grooves, with a mix of Latin favorites, make you forget you’re at a wine event.
  • In Tent 1, there are a few things to make sure to stop by – Abokado’s booth (a week-old restaurant in Mary Brickell Village), Domo Japones’ booth (with some tasty octopus), and the Belvedere vodka lounge (try the Zinger drink, which seemed to be very popular).
  • We were a little disappointed with what DeVito’s had to offer at their booth. A meatball slider sandwich that was heavy on the bread is what we saw when we first arrived. Heard there was a second item but never tried it. Perhaps Sunday will be a different story.
  • STK (with a beef tenderloin) and A Fish Called Avalon (shrimp ceviche) was a couple of places that completely surprised us. But a can’t miss surprise in the second tent was Pura Vida and their spicy shrimp, complete with an eye-dropper that delivered tangy juices right into the palate.
  • We didn’t find many wine stains, perhaps because Miami is becoming better at consuming its wine so it knows how to stay stain-free in big crowds. The one exception was a woman from Atlanta who discovered a pretty big wine stain on the side of her $200 dress. She figured someone knocked into her and spilled their red, because she was drinking white all day long. (Picture posted elsewhere in this blog.)
  • Before you get to the Village, make sure to stop by the FIU tent and have some venison. Very, very tasty. And on the way back, try a taste of their brewed pale ale or a taste of their home grown wines. Dr. Barry H. Gump (no relation to Forrest) leads the first year program in how to make both, and with a limited number of bottles they wait until the end of the day to unveil their efforts.
  • Green is in. Efforts to recycle were very noticeable this year, with areas to toss plastic items very close to the regular trash cans. However, they needed one more recycle bin – for paper products. Tasters were dumping oodles of paper products from their gift bags onto the beach near the booths where you checked-in with your tickets. The pile of papers and magazines turned into an eyesore.
  • Thoughts for next year: Perhaps a third tent? Seems like after a few years of the same format, organizers need to come up with something innovative to handle the masses. We know, we know, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – but for nearly $200 it seems like something new should be in store.

- Fred Gonzalez