Last Update: Aug 19th, 2015
Pairings bigcity

New Times Pairings: Anatomy of a Disaster

Originally Posted: 9/16/2010

Guess Where We're Drinking

The best way to describe last night's Pairings experience is to start at the end and then flashback to the great event that could have been. The main picture here was taken at Big City Tavern after the event. Why would anyone leave a wine tasting event and then stop off for a glass of wine? Because we didn't get much wine at the event. They ran out. Early. I admit to using sensationalism in the title of this article. The event wasn't a disaster. It was frustrating and disappointing. It could have been a great event. Of course I could have been a Brain Surgeon, but I'm not.

Some Background

Let's start off by saying that I'm no favored son of New Times. With 35,000 readers per month and growing at 15% per month, you'd think that they'd comp me a couple of VIP tickets, right? Fat chance. New Times is run largely by young people and I'm one of their biggest critics. And we all know how young people react to criticism. They whine and accuse me of some devious agenda. But that's not it at all. I want them to do a better job next year. I want to attend great events. I want Fort Lauderdale to be a great place to live. But sometimes you have to tell your girlfriend she's getting fat. Sometimes people need to hear the truth. And there's no-one else in Fort Lauderdale telling the truth. Their write-up on their blog proves their delusion. They view their events from the perspective of out-of-touch VIPs, with no understanding of what the event was actually like for the vast majority of those attending.

Pairings line

I was attending with a party of 6; 5 of us boarded a cab downtown at 7:35 and a 6th was working until 7:30 and would meet us there later. After all, the event was billed from 7:30 to 10:30, so getting there at 8:30 should be no big deal. As our cab arrived at the venue at 7:45, our first reaction was "oh crap" when we saw the line. As we positioned ourselves at the end of the massive queue, we wondered why the line wasn't moving. At all. Luckily one in my party had some tickets at Will Call, and he waved us up to a second line that apparently nobody knew about. If you look at the picture, there is one very long line on the left, a second line in the middle with no-one on it, and the Will Call line where you could also buy tickets if you hadn't pre-purchased. You'd think that someone at New Times would inform the people on the long line that there was another. But they didn't.

At check in they were using some sort of scanning software to verify tickets, probably to assure that tickets weren't used twice. I guess they didn't notice the perforation on the tickets. At smaller events, such as at Yankee Stadium, they tear the tickets and keep the line moving. Here we had some kids who had to scan every ticket several times, requiring some keystrokes every couple of scans when it didn't register properly. The result was a line that moved like a tortoise on ice. Luckily we found the short line.

If you're one of those people who want to pretend you're important, you can get your picture taken by a dude with a portable soft box.

Pairings photos

The entrance music was comprised of some drummers, which gave the feel of a Michigan State football game. They were somewhat entertaining to watch, but from the back of the line it was just noise.

Pairings drums

When we entered we were given a small "tasting" glass, and a map, which indicated the room where each of the vendors were located.

Pairings map

The problem was that if you weren't familiar with the architectural layout of the Performing Arts Center, you didn't know where you could find these rooms. We completely missed the New River room, because by the time we found it everything was shut down.

Pairings bigroom

We started the evening in the Horowitz Lobby. It was so crowded that I feared for my Camera's life. Our first "pairing" was Steak 954. Beef Carpaccio with a squirt of truffle aioli, and red radish frisee salad. It all seemed on track as we received a half glass of wine and a small plate; the dish was sublime. My initial thought was that they were giving us an awful lot of wine; I was expecting just a taste. A second issue was that there were no buckets to dump wine after you tasted it. So as we entered the our next station, our choices were to guzzle the wine from the first station, or to not receive the pairing wine for the second station. I don't really like to guzzle wine, so we sampled Taste Gastropub's pork bellies with huckleberry marmalade without sampling the paired wine. We really lucked out here; the pork bellies were decadent and one of the best dishes at the event by multiple accounts. After that it was pretty much downhill.

The Hunt for Red (Wine) October

The next station was Capital Grille, and my issues with this venue are well documented. They seemed unable to keep up with the demand, so they were frantically slicing off slabs of beef and slapping them on a bun. I later learned that the VIPs, who had access to the food and wine before the rest of us peons, had received the tenderloin slider with boursin cheese and mushrooms. Also, Capital Grill was already out of wine: at 8:15pm.

Pairings room1

We surmised that the Horiwitz room was so crowded because it was the first door off the line, so we might find some less crowded stations elsewhere.

At the entrance of the Peck courtyard was the obligatory Bud station, which showcased their desperate attempt to enter the lucrative microbrew niche. I'd wanted to try the Beach Bum, a blonde ale with a slightly hoppy but balance malty flavor. Bud had their own plastic cups here so we didn't have to use the wine glasses with remnants of reds for the beer.

Pairings bud

While we sampled the beer we wandered over to Rocco's Tacos for some chips, salsa and guacamole. And a fine guacamole it is. I really can't wait for them to open on Las Olas. They had two bottles of wine left but somehow wine doesn't pair with tacos to me, so we kept our beers. Little did we know that it would be our last chance at wine for the evening. It was barely 8:30.

Pairings roccos

Meanwhile the 6th in my party arrived. Let me reiterate that it was only 8:30. We had left a ticket for him at Will Call, and he said that they were out of glasses. Say What? He was given a plastic cup. Luckily he's well connected and scored a glass from one of the vendors who had an extra one. The less connected wouldn't be so fortunate. "Where's the wine", he asked. They have it at each station, we told him. He wandered over to Rocco's and loaded up some guacamole. But they were out of wine. He got some tequila, which seemed to satisfy him temporarily.

My friend is partially blind so I walked with him back into the Horowitz Lobby so he could sample the good dishes we had in there. Except Capital Grille was packing up already. No more sliders. Steak 954 was out of wine. So was Taste Gastropub. So was everyone else. Trina was shut down already. The end was near, at 8:40pm.

A DJ was playing at the outside courtyard, high above the fold:

Pairings dj

The Peck Courtyard

The Hunt for Red Wine continued in the Peck Courtyard, where the first encounter was Jet Runway Cafe, touting their self proclaimed 'award winning pulled pork'. The mushy fare reminded me of my childhood Sloppy Joes; its better to be thin than to eat that stuff. Right next to them was Rock and Roll Ribs, where they had a much more authentic version of pulled pork with firm, tasty baked beans with just enough sweetness. The pork was smokey but bland on its own, but a squirt of their very good BBQ sauce brought it to life. A real treat. Next was SportsZone 84, with massive trays of their Cajun Chicken Pasta, a bland concoction of noodles and small bits of chicken lacking in the spices that make Cajun food enjoyable. Another waste of calories.

Pairings sportszone84

In the back was the Argentango Grill, who offered a beef empanada, 2 slices of sausage and chimichurri sauce. I can't guess how they came up with this combo, as I rarely consider putting chimichurri sauce on an empanada. The chimichurri was very fresh if not very garlicky, but I think I might like to try it on a nice grilled skirt steak. Maybe someday.

The Amaturo Lobby

It was about 8:50 when we got to the Amaturo Lobby, where I confirmed my theory that Pizza places should stick to pizza with New River Pizza's attempt to push some pedestrian penne and rare tuna. Of course its not so much the tuna itself, but the people play a major role here. "Friends" of the venue received a dab of wasabi and a drizzle of soy; while others just had a small piece tossed onto a plate and shoved at them. Just down the line was Sette Bello; I was looking forward to their offering of escarole and sausage. How foolish of us to expect to get some almost an hour and a half into a 3 hour event as they were shutting down. We spotted Fresh Beer, Inc, and by now we were so thirsty that we thought it might be a mirage. But no, it was real. I had the Stone Smoked Porter, a smooth dark beer with a complex taste that isn't chocolatey like Guinness but has a fine, hearty taste. It successfully cleansed my palate of the New River food.

We moved onward to the other side of the lobby, where the first station was Pellegrino. Were they making wine now? Alas, it was just sparkling water. I still had some beer and no way to carry a bottle of water, so I had to pass. First was SeaLevel Restaurant; one of the venues at the Marriott Harbor beach. They had a roasted corn soup with blue crab and an ancho chili drizzle. The microscopic spoon they supplied was dainty; my friend tossed it down and did the soup as a shot. I thought it was good but not enough to have it pasted all over my face. Next was L'Chaim Kosher Vodka. I don't drink hard alcohol unless I'm downright depressed, and I wasn't quite there yet. I spotted Mancini's, and I remembered that they were going to have braised short ribs.

Pairings mancinis

But no such luck. They had some Rigatoni dish; I can't say if they ran out of ribs or they just changed their offering. There was no sign. I wasn't thrilled with trying yet another pasta dish, but my friends eyes lit up when he tasted it. It was really very good; I'll guess some sort of short rib ragout clung to the rigatoni with a bit of parmesan cheese. It was easily the best pasta dish I tasted at the event. Next up was Himmarshee, who had a butternut risotto. One bite and in the garbage; the risotto had clotted into what amounted to a nasty tasting rice pudding. It's difficult to keep risotto fresh for 2 and a half hours.

The Broward Center Driveway

We ran into some scantily clad babes with Duffy's tee shirts who convinced us to try their Angus sliders. It was easy to miss their station as it was behind the massive line for Chima and their fire-grilled lamb chops. The wait for Chima was a good half hour and it didn't seem worth it. Duffy's had plenty of sliders out; no wine of course, and they were pretty good. Luckily I know enough not to ruin them with their private labeled ketchup. We all enjoyed the sliders which were perfectly representative of their establishments; solid food; nothing to rave about but just plain good.

Back to Horowitz

At 9:20 the band was just finishing up and it was sticky outside, so we went back into the Horowitz Lobby to see if we could pick up some scraps.

Pairings band

The rum bar was still flowing; unfortunately after one taste we all rejected it as vile.

Pairings rumbar

The lone chica in our group was apparently the only one with balls, as she returned the drink and informed them that their product was crap. I won't name the brand. Bimini Boatyard was still putting out their Tuna with white sauce and Red Curry mop out; when we asked for forks they said they were out. So how were we supposed to eat this stuff? There were a handful of forks left at Steak 954 so we grabbed one and toted it around with our glass for the remainder of the event. The tuna was cold and lousy and a waste of effort. We had missed Chef Allen's station before and it was still serving their Mango Roasted Pork with macadamia nut rice. The problem here was the 2" rounds of pork were hard to cut with our plastic fork and too big to put into your mouth unless you were blessed with Julia Robert's sized chops. It was too dry anyway.

Winding it down

We were just hanging around checking out the tail at this point, with only the Rum Bar and Arrogant Bastard Ale available, which I had tried and not particularly cared for. So we started to make our way back downtown, hoping to catch a trolley or a van that could accommodate 6 people. Perhaps next year New Times can slap the Sun Trolley logo on their web site in exchange for putting a few Trolleys on the road. We didn't see one in either direction at any time during the evening. On the way back my friend who had arrived at 8:30 could say little more than that he couldn't believe that he hadn't had one sip of wine at a wine tasting event. Another friend pondered when we had all been so sober at 10pm at the same time; we couldn't recall such an unlikely occurrence. I mentioned that I could go for a glass of chianti at which point we decided to head over to Big City, where finding a glass of wine was a lot easier.

Summaries and Conclusions

The first reaction to attending a crowded Wine Pairing event that runs out of the main point of the event an hour in is greed. After all, New Times was running big ads on Urbanspoon all day on the day of the event, and they were even selling tickets after they had run out of glasses. But there's another more likely angle. Every one of the 6 of us had complementary tickets to the event from various sources. I won some tickets on their web site, and getting complementary tickets was as easy as making a phone call to the right person. We were even offered 2 VIP tickets; not enough for all of us so we passed, but its likely that anyone who knew someone at New Times, or who had a relative at New Times, or who had a friend of a relative at New Times didn't pay for the event. I really wonder how many people were there au gratis.

There's absolutely no excuse for running out of glasses an hour into an event advertised as a 3 hour affair. Likewise, there's no excuse for running out of wine at a pairing event an hour into the event. Advertised vendors shouldn't be folding up shop an hour into the event. Even if you arrived at 7:30 you couldn't get to all of the stations in an hour.

They should have had an information table set up in the center of the driveway where we could ask where to find these various "rooms". They should have had a booth layout showing where each vendor was. It was so crowded that it was easy to miss vendors who were tucked in a corner. I missed several dishes that I was anxious to try. Next year they need buckets to dump wine you haven't finished in favor of the next wine, and they need to give less wine so they don't run out so fast. You're only supposed to get a taste; not a half glass.

I asked one mild mannered friend if he would have been pissed if he had paid for the event. His answer was "No, but I wouldn't pay for it again next year". The event had a plethora of good restaurants, good music, good wine and interesting beer selections; it had all the makings of a great event. But they failed to deliver for anyone but the VIPs; not enough wine and too many vendors bailing out early left most of us with little more than a feeling of disappointment.

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This is too funny. Thanks for the warning!

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