Taste of Little Italy 2011
In an effort to reacquaint myself with San Diego, get into the swing of things and enjoy all the wonderful fun this fabulous city has to offer, I jumped at the opportunity to get tickets for the Taste of Little Italy. I bought my tickets about two weeks in advance so that there was no risk of being turned down. The website said they do sell out every year.
My friends Michelle and Carrie joined me, and were equally excited for the event. Who doesn’t love the idea of trying a lot of great Italian food, strolling through Little Italy and fitting in a glass of wine somewhere in the evening?
With e-tickets in hand, we checked in at Date and India streets and were handed a map/passport to guide us through the evening. We decided to start at the outskirts, The Restaurant at the W and Karl Strauss, and work our way toward the heart of Little Italy. Both of these establishments helped set the bar. The W was serving an absolutely exquisite morsel of Achiote rubbed tuna with tomatillo corn relish and lotus crisp. Divine. Depending on reaction during the tasting, they were considering this for their new menu. I think we’ll see it featured. So tasty, that tuna! The presentation was fantastic as well with nice little, black plastic plates and super cute plastic appetizer forks. Karl Strauss served generous pours of two of their award winning beer. I’m guessing a good 3-4oz pour was on offer. Awesome!
Aside from these two, there was only one other stand out, the Burger Lounge at India and Cedar. Their sample “sliders” were enough to make a meal in themselves and were perfection between a bun. They served a sample of the beef and vegetarian burgers. Smart idea. The casual atmosphere invited guests to be seated while eating, versus the typical standing-only style at most of the restaurants.
One restaurant (I’ll spare them the shame) served a polenta that was cold, nearly crunchy and looked as though they had poured canned mushroom soup over the top. Another served what was a really great wine, but in a jello shot-sized plastic. That comes across as cheap. Toward the end of the evening, one of Little Italy’s more upscale restaurants served a fusili with tomato, basil and mozzarella balls. If anyone is so incompetent in the kitchen enough that they cannot make that dish themselves…yikes. This was, I’m sure a far cry from the brandy cream sauce pasta advertised on their passport. Someone didn’t calculate portions correctly. My question to most all of the participating restaurants – This is the sample that best represents your restaurant?
We did appreciate Craft & Commerce for the atmosphere and tasty corn dog, but after a few other Italian restaurants served meatballs and sausage samples, it made it hard to appreciate a corn dog. Craft & Commerce is worth a second chance, though, as the people were lovely and the vibe of the place was very hip and cool. I’ll also give a nod to Po Pazzo’s tiramisu. Surprisingly moist for sitting outside for awhile and pretty yummy.
The cost to the participant is $35. I’m not sure what that pays for exactly as I do not know what is the maximum number of guests they allow, and given that, how much of the fee goes to each restaurant to help cover the costs for participating. There was not a lot of advertising, so that could not have been the majority of the expense. I’d love to see the cost breakdown. I didn’t feel the value of $35.
Given that the restaurants are so spread out, we didn’t really enjoy the experience of a special event, only the sense that the streets were a bit busy for a Wednesday night. We didn’t even bother to visit the Spicy Pickle (so sorry), as they are three blocks off the main street. I’m sure others also skipped this venue. I wouldn’t expect the Spicy Pickle to participate again. We also skipped The Waterfront, who was also serving sliders. Frankly, we were full on beef/meat/sausage samples and also had already enjoyed a slider at Burger Lounge. It was clear the restaurants didn’t communicate with each other to offer a variety of dishes and no repeats.
Only Puerto La Boca was clever enough to hand out a coupon to participants. Now they will be able to track who comes back after the Taste of Little Italy event (if the coupon was exclusive). But the others? How will they be able to measure their ROI? Or is it a write-off? The marketing person in me was and still is going crazy with ideas for how to improve this event, from promotion to execution, to follow-through with the restaurants involved. I will venture to say that they do not feel it a worthwhile event but more an obligation to participate.
I’m thoughtfully drafting my communication with the Taste of Little Italy and the Little Italy Association of San Diego. I really enjoy attending functions like this and I’d like to help them make this a more rewarding event for all involved. If any of you know members of the Little Italy Association San Diego, please have them contact me at email@example.com. It’s unfortunate when a highly anticipated event misses the mark.