Our small group (around 12 people) met up at Hotel Astor for the beginning of the tour. Let's get this party started!
Promptly at 6:00 PM, we were ushered into the hotel to sample creations from James Beard Award-winning chef D. Rodriguez Cuba, who happens to have a renowned Cuban-inspired restaurant in the hotel called D. Rodriguez. Honestly, I wish this had been our final stop instead of the first because the bar was set impossibly high after this sampling. Mojitos were immediately passed, which obviously catapulted D. Rodriquez into my good graces right away.
We met a fun couple of bona fide foodies from Denver, Andrew and Karen, who we immediately pegged as our kindred spirits in the group. I wish we could've gotten to know them better, but there really wasn't much more time to relax and chat after this point in the tour. Hi, Andrew and Karen!
We were quickly (because everything on this tour happened quickly) presented with some delightful crispy fried plantains with fresh sofrito (a cold sautee of onion, garlic, bell peppers, tomatoes, herbs and spices which is similar to salsa) for dipping. It was delicious!
Next came an absolutely beautiful trio of small bites. Left to right we have crispy Chicken Empanaditas; Pan Con Bistec (mini short rib skewer with garlic, onions and toasted breadcrumbs); and a tiny, perfect Picadillo Taco served atop a dab of Sweetened Malanga (which is a tuber similar to potato or yucca, but less fibrous). Honestly...I never wanted to leave. I wish we'd just brought all of our tour dollars (and then some, most likely) and settled in here for the evening. Doesn't this look nice?
Unfortunately, the unmerciful cattle prod was administered far too quickly and we were herded on to our next (non-food) destination which was the Essex House Hotel. The Essex House was built in 1938 and is a stunning example of Nautical Art Deco architecture. Even with no noshing, it was definitely worth a visit. Check out the gorgeous lobby!
Our next stop (which was really not so much a "stop" as a dead run through the place) was David's Cafe, a 24-hour casual Cuban cafe, where we all took a small Cuban sandwich from a platter already awaiting us in a corner of the restaurant (oddly enough, served on a sweet egg roll as opposed to classic Cuban bread) which we were instructed to eat on the go as we kept moving. Sorry...I've had much better here in Tampa.
After pausing briefly outside of the Hotel Congress on Ocean Drive to learn why it is one of the best representations of Art Deco architecture in South Beach (which has to do with the "rule of three" that sees decorative elements repeating in groups of three throughout a building façade)....
...we moved on to the fabulous The Tides hotel. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, this was my favorite part of the tour. The hotel restaurant, La Marea, is visually stunning and decorated in breathtaking Art Deco style with adornments such as bleached driftwood, realistic-looking faux sea turtle shells and polished slabs of agate on the place settings. Just. Wow.
We were each offered a glass of Agua Fresca upon arrival, a refreshing non-alcoholic concoction made with fresh fruit (in our case, strawberries) which is popular in Mexico. Sure, it could've used a shot of rum...but very nice nonetheless!
The small plates we enjoyed at La Marea wer also very good and consisted of Coctel de Camerones (a small, spicy shrimp cocktail) served alongside a Mahi Mahi Taco. We were treated to a staccato-paced litany of our guide's local recs while we enjoyed our tasting (which sounded canned and was a little too reminscent of a sales spiel for my taste) during which we were showered with coupons for coffee shops, bakeries and the like. We were also strongly encouraged to make a trip to a winery in Homestead which is a "must-do for every foodie so they can experience watermelon and guava wines". Really???? Somehow, we weren't inspired.
After leaving The Tides, we hit the Betsy Ross Hotel where we headed straight to the roof for a glass of Chocolate Supreme Wine. It was interesting (creamy, cool, and tasted a little like Bailey's). While there, we were specifically instructed not to venture away from the area where the drinks were being distributed lest we disturb some dining parties at the roof-top tables...which served to cement the vague (yet pervasive) sense I had that the group was not exactly a welcome sight at any of our stops, but something more to be tolerated and processed as quickly as possible.
The "Betsy" (photo taken earlier in the day):
Time for Jerry's Deli. I would've really liked to browse a little bit in Jerry's because they had an amazing-looking dessert case that I couldn't take my eyes off of, but we only paused long enough to snatch up a proffered Almond Drop (which I might add was One. Fine. Cookie.) and kept walking. It was moist, chewy and slightly reminiscent of marzipan with a luscious chocolate topper.
Jerry's dessert case *thud*:
The grand finale was a gelato shop that was similar to what can been found in any city, where we were all given a sample taste of a single offering (which we pretty much could've walked in on our own at any given time and received at no charge). Can you say "anti-climactic"?
At this point, we were released by our guide, who seemed like she had somewhere a lot more fun to be on a Saturday night. Thankfully, we found ourselves a stone's throw from the charming Tapas y Tintos, where we ducked in for some small plates since we were (yes) still hungry. But that's another blog post.
While there were some interesting historical tidbits of knowledge to be gleaned from our Miami Culinary Tour, it was overall only an "okay" experience and I honestly wouldn't recommend it to anyone. There were absolutely a couple of hits, but much of the food was not memorable and we were given precious little time to savor any of it. If I had it to do all over again, I'd simply take an architectural walking tour and create my own culinary tour. With so much wonderful food to be had in South Beach, it wouldn't take much research to do so.