Spiced to Taste

Prix fixe promo starts slow, then heats up

Indeed the restaurants that patrons appreciated most were those that did not run Miami Spice like an early-bird special or treat Spice diners like nontipping tourists. Todd Wernstrom, executive editor of The Wine News, noted that initially, when he asked for the prix fixe in eateries like Baleen, "I got the distinct sense at first that the servers were perhaps a bit unhappy. It took a little too long for water to be filled. It's not like we were second-class citizens. But we certainly weren't first class or even business class. I really got a sense of, 'Oh. Well, welcome.' Of course," he continued, "they thawed out when I asked for the wine list and ordered a $100 bottle." Nevertheless Wernstrom noticed that the portions at Baleen were very small, and that the dishes from which he had to choose didn't seem to be on the regular menu.

Wernstrom had positive experiences at Nemo, a regular hangout of his, and Pacific Time, where the prix fixe was included as an insert in the regular menu. Best of all, at Ortanique on the Mile, the staff "was practically licking me from head to toe," he reported. Likewise cookbook author Linda Gassenheimer appreciated the fact that no one sneered when she ordered the prix fixe at Aria in the Key Biscayne Ritz-Carlton, and was delighted that Azul had the Miami Spice menu on the table, so she didn't have to feel cheap should someone overhear her request it.

As the month started to wind down, some restaurateurs felt the promotion had been such a fabulous community effort that they didn't want it to end. Jonathan Eismann of Pacific Time told me he'd conferred with Pascal Oudin of Pascal's on Ponce, and that they'd both agreed to extend their Miami Spice menus into the middle of September. A short while later, GMCVB president and CEO William Talbert made a formal announcement via press release. "We got dozens of phone calls from restaurants who said our pilot program was a tremendous home run for them last month," Talbert said. "There was a lot more traffic in many of our establishments during a traditionally slower period. The public loved it so much, we decided to extend it for two more weeks to give people one more chance to take advantage of it before it begins again next summer."

Jeremy Eaton

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China Grill

404 Washington Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Category: Music Venues

Region: South Beach

Tuscan Steak

433 Washington Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: South Beach

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And fortunately it will be an annual happening. "We're very pleased by how the Miami Spice promotion played out, especially since it was our first year. We got a lot of great feedback, which we're using to improve the program and bring it to the next level," GMCVB associate vice president of media relations Jeanne Sullivan wrote me in an e-mail. "We're talking with potential partners to expand the program next year. Our goal is to eventually, over time, make Miami Spice a national promotion to get people to book [vacations] here during a traditionally slower time for hotels and restaurants."

Nor, thanks to another affair that debuted only last year, will she have to travel to Aspen to win national attention. What better way to promote Miami Spice than at the Miami Wine & Food Festival, a three-day party that has the potential to make even the most skeptical of us into something resembling true believers?

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