Bongos Cuban Cafe Signature Dinner

Cast of Characters: nick, nora & Asta

We arrived at Bongos about 20 minutes before the start of check-in, the podium staff and the manager, Tony Montana, welcomed us. Tony was very friendly and escorted us to a bar in a smaller back area – this bar was set aside for the Signature Dinner. The bartender, James, offered us a Mojito while we waited for the dinner seating.

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Bongos Mojito - there were beautiful mosaics on the bar top, in keeping with the pineapple theme and the tropical feel of the area

Asta thought this was an excellent drink, and he’s never before had a mojito he liked; we enjoyed it too, usually we think that mojitos taste like toothpaste. We stopped by Bongos a few days later during The Festival of the Masters so Asta could have another one. However, he didn’t think it was as good, perhaps James has a special touch with the mojito?

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Bartender James - the master mojito maker

We were seated in a small area (tables set for at least 20 guests, there were 15 of us attending the event), with a small bandstand and a trio playing and singing. There were two additional couples at our table and they proved to be very good dinner companions. We were introduced to our hosts for the evening and the waitstaff – the gentleman in the center is Alex, our wine steward, but we didn’t catch the other names (we were busy introducing ourselves to our table mates).

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Our Staff for the evening

The menu contained seven courses! This ended up being a lot of food and a lot of wine. The wines for the evening were from La Postolle winery (we had one of their wines at a Culinary Demonstration earlier during the Food & Wine Festival (here)). Each of our wines were from the Cuvee line of La Postolle – these are the mid-range wines from this particular winery.

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Our Menu for the Signature Dinner

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Alex, our wine steward

First Course – Soup

She Crab Soup – full body cream crab soup with a hint of cayenne pepper.

  • The She Crab Soup was a hit with all three of us.
  • nick and Asta thought it was a bit salty but the consistency was perfect
  • nick and nora would go back during colder weather simply to have a bowl (if  it is on the regular menu).

Wine – Cuvee Chardonnay

  • this wine comes 30 year old vines, they’re stressed to create better wines
  • it is fermented and aged in 63% French Oak and 37% Stainless Steel
  • higher acidity
  • aroma and taste without food – not overly metallic, a bit grassy, a bit buttery, not oaky, fruit forward (nick said “smells like white wine” & nora said that it was preferable to most chardonnays only a bit grassy)

 

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She Crab Soup

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The first wine

 Second Course – Salad

Churrasco Salad – Grilled skirt steak, sliced avocado, crispy plaintain, charred onions with mango chimichurri sauce

  • with this course, we noticed that the servers were making sure to serve the ladies first (nice touch!)
  • the salad course was good but not outstanding, the skirt steak was rather chewy

Wine – Cuvee Merlot

  • comes from the oldest vineyard, 120 years old
  • 85% merlot and 15% cabernet
  • full bodied, darker fruits
  • not a lot of tannins
  • silky smooth
  • it disappears in your mouth, very hard to capture what you’re sensing
  • Asta & nick – it’s more like breathing wine instead of tasting wine, smells wonderful but tasting demonstrates no body, it’s “thin”
  • nora – I tend to prefer red wines, this was good, but not something I’m going to seek out
  • seems that the three of us aren’t huge merlot fans to begin with
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Churrasco Salad

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Wine 2

Third Course – Appetizer

Fried Green Tomato Napoleon Specked Up High with Grilled Jumbo Shrimp and Raspberry Vinaigrette (believe that it should read “Stacked Up High”)

  • too much breading and a bit greasy, not impressed
  • the cheese on top took away from the rest of the food
  • all three of us are from the south, and we’ve all had fabulous fried green tomatoes – in fact, nora used to cook them for us – this really wasn’t worth the calories and we left some unfinished

Wine – Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon (no bottle left on table for photos)

  • we were served the Merlot again with this course, nick pointed out that the wrong wine was served and talked to the managers, we soon had our cabernet sauvignon
  • cabernet sauvignon is one of nora’s favorite wines
  • spicier, richer, very good
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Fried Green Tomato Stack

Fourth Course – Fish

Grouper Oscar – served with Asparagus, Crab Meat with a Tangy Hollandaise Sauce

  • the fish was a bit dry (overdone)
  • flavors were a good blend
  • not excellent, just good
  • it was a good pairing because the flavors didn’t clash

Wine – The Carmenere or Cuvee Chardonnay

  • the mineral tastes of the wine went well with the fish course
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Grouper Oscar

Fifth Course – Paella

Seafood Paella – Saffron Rice, Shrimp, Clams, Mussles, Calamari, Fish, Scallops, Baby Lobster Tail & White Wine

  • excellent
  • we assume that the portion size on the regular menu is much larger, this would be a good dish to share

Wine – The Carmenere or Cuvee Chardonnay

  • no change in the wines
  • The Carmenere was nick’s 2nd favorite and nora’s 1st favorite
  • this pairing was quite good
  • deep red, pretty strong
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Seafood Paella

Sixth Course – Steak

Filet Mignon Au Poivre – Green Peppercorn Brandy Sauce served with Homemade Potato Cakes

  • the steaks were cooked to perfection – nick can’t recall the last time he had steak at a restaurant that was so perfectly prepared
  • that said… the peppercorns were very spicy and overpowering (keep in mind that while we like spicy foods, we’re not fans of peppercorns in any form)
  • we each left most of the steak on our plates (taste and too full by now)
  • the pairing created a very strong cigar flavor

Wine – The Carmenere or Cuvee Chardonnay

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Filet Mignon Au Poivre

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Coated in peppercorns - took the enjoyment away for us, we ate a small bite only

Final Course – Dessert

Rum Raisin Bread Pudding

  • Remember the “plus” at the beginning with the mojito? Well we got “plused” again with a very sweet rum to pair with the bread pudding. The second best pairing of the night (behind the she crab soup and chardonnay).
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Executive Chef Armando and Manager Tony Montana - Tony brought the Chef out at dessert to introduce him and to thank us for coming to their signature dinner

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Rum Raisin Bread Pudding

Final Thoughts and Wrapping It All Up

from nick & nora – Overall this was much better than Fulton’s last year (here). It may equal Raglan Road’s Signature Dinner from 2010 (here). However, we honestly cannot eat so many courses and taste so many wines. We don’t enjoy this much food and wine… For us, Signature Dinners are just too much and thus unless something special pops up next year that we just can’t miss we probably will not do Signature Dinners again next year? Possible exception, bluezoo if Chad is still there.

The noise level was pretty bad, but not as much so as at some other events this year or last year.

The service was quite good and we were made to feel comfortable from the moment we entered Bongos (again, can’t say that about Fulton’s last year).

The Big Questions

  1. Was the experience worth the price? – No, too much food and too much wine. Perhaps if we really appreciated wine, the answer would be yes.
  2. Did we feel rushed or hurried? – No, the event filled the allotted time quite well
  3. Was it weird to sit with strangers? – No, we’re becoming accustomed to it; nick and Asta are excellent at making table-mates feel at ease during the meal (nora’s usually too busy making notes)
  4. Did we learn a lot? – No, the educational aspects of this dinner were totally lost on us – one thing that we haven’t observed at the Signature Dinners (and maybe it’s purposefully not part of these events) is more explanation of the culture of food that each Signature Dinner represents and more information on  the food itself
  5. Was the food adequate for the alcohol served? – Very difficult to say, not when your wine glass is refilled at will and when you’re not particularly enticed by the food (whether because it’s not to your tastes or because you don’t eat much – all three of us have lost significant amounts of weight and are pretty calorie conscious); perhaps yes if you really enjoy wine and you eat all of the food
  6. Final Thoughts – We enjoyed this, but are unlikely to do it again – it did entice us to examine the menu at Bongos and give the restaurant itself a try

 

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