Born out of the union between Miami’s unofficial First Couple, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, and Walt Disney World, this long time Downtown Disney anchor is still belting out the rhythms, somewhat. My first introduction to the Miami Sound Machine’s restaurant was on a fabled night at Larios on Ocean Drive, Miami. Enchanting sounds and smells coupled with cool ocean breeze swayed me into the back room of Larios. A feast of unbelievable finesse proceeded to capture my every being. It was such a long time ago that I forgot exactly what I ate. But after dinner we retired to the patio with a cognac and cigar. Ah that first taste….
When Bongos opened in Orlando I made it a point to visit. The experience was similar albeit on a grander scale than tiny Larios. However, the flavors that wrapped me on that first visit was still very prevalent. Fast forward 2012, there might have been some missing notes. The physical grandness and blustering energy is still alluring. My out of town guest were in awe. When a little girl walks into a restaurant and whispers, wow. I would say that is a nice moment. With it’s two floors, merchandising, coffee stand, live music, and outdoor dining it is hard to not notice amongst the newer establishments at Downtown Disney. LED backlit walls and string lights creates a very enchanting dining atmosphere.
Our greeter was monotonous and short. The upper floor dining was not offered until I requested. Walking through the restaurant you can’t help but feel the soul of Cuba back in it’s day of glitz and glamor. Our server finally came to the table after quite a while for Disney standards. The greeting and inquiries was “matter a factly”. Somehow I got the feeling we were encroaching on his attention to others. Something about servers with an off putting attitude turns sweet music into a half hearted shuffle. No niceties, no chitty chat, very stoic. Questions about the menu were answered with a attitude of “You don’t know?” Weren’t we at Disney?
I seem to recall that the wine list was larger and more intricate, or was there a another wine list that I wasn’t given? The compliment of drinks from the bar splashes with Mojitos, Bongoritas, classic cocktails, and sangria. All the usual suspects of Cuban cuisine made appearances on this extensive menu.
Martin Codax Rioja – Big, bold, cherry, fruit forward, heavy tannin, and long finish. Indulge me here for a micro second. Look at the size of that glass, how do I swirl?
Bongos Combo – Fried Stuffed Potatoes, nice crunch and soft inside; Pork Tamales, good pork and corn flavors; Cuban Marinated Fried Pork Bites, overcooked all the way little bricks; Traditional Cuban Ham Croquettes, nicely done with good amount of pork; Stuffed Yuca Cups, meat was flavorful but cups were brick hard.
Cuban Style Steak – Thin tenderized steak seasoned with garlic salt and mojo topped with onions and parsley, served with fried green plantains, white rice and black beans. Bursting with flavors that hit the back of your mouth to open for more, nice crunch on the plantains, black beans were amply seasoned.
Fish Cuban Criolla – Fish Bites sautéed in homemade Cuban criolla sauce served with white rice and sweet fried plantains. Tender flaky fish in nicely balanced acidic sauce. Menu says fried sweet plantains, doesn’t that picture show fried green plantains? No I didn’t ask for substitution, neither did I ask for sweet plantains. I can live with green plantains, but…..
Bongo Famous Masitas de Puerco – Cuban mojo marinated fried pork bites topped with grilled onions served with moro rice and fried sweet plantains. Pork was flavorful but a little on the hard side, rice was tender and tasty, sweet plantains were a delight. (sorry for the blurry image).
Shredded Beef – in a light tomato Cuban criolla sauce with onions and peppers served with fried sweet plantains and white rice. Tasteless beef in watery sauce, complete lack of flavor.
The rhythm skipped a beat with some of this food. There is a lack of flavor. None of the food came out at the proper temperature. Are the notes taken down a notch for the wide array of Disney’s guest? Quite possible. Service and attention to detail is taking a back seat. There just did not seem like a genuine or fake hospitality even for tourist standards. Maybe the bar was set too high years ago. Needless to say if someone never had Cuban food before, they may walk away with a false representation.