Bongos Cuban Cafe & Sky Lounge

Seminole Paradise: Executive chef Jose Luis Flores shows off his flan at Bongos.
Seminole Paradise: Executive chef Jose Luis Flores shows off his flan at Bongos.

Bongos Cuban Cafe is a shimmery new edition to Seminole Paradise, the fifth branch of the festive restaurant launched by Miami super couple Gloria and Emilio Estefan. This Bongos is a little different, though. It’s owned by the restaurant group CB5 (Tatu), which has a licensing agreement with the Estefans. Celebrities are often involved with restaurants in name only, but CB5 officials say the couple had a “strong presence” in shaping the decor and menu at the nearly 4-month-old, $5-million restaurant and lounge at the entertainment complex next to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood. You might see Pit Bull or Dennis Rodman stop by, so it’s not your typical Cuban café – especially with $6 Cuban bread and $24 ropa vieja. But for the most part, the food is traditional.

Ambience: The setting, more elaborate than other Bongos, is meant to be reminiscent of a ’40s Havana supper club with a contemporary, high-decibel vibe. Gleaming in silver and white, the 7,000-square-foot, 280-seat restaurant has fancy chandeliers and a 20-foot window where you can watch flames shoot up in an elaborate rotisserie. One side of the bar is topped by a stage and the other extends outside to the patio, and there’s a mezzanine overlooking the dining room. On one visit, our service was excellent, and the next time it lagged. The music is so loud you practically have to shout your order, so no wonder our waiter brought us fried plantains instead of tostones.

What Worked

  • A welcoming steel ramekin of granita – a scoop of shaved ice infused with lime and fresh mint, served over dry ice so it arrives in a billowing cloud, topped with a splash of Bacardi (at no charge) to turn it into a frozen mojito
  • Complimentary malanga chips with a creamy roasted onion mojo dip
  • Crisp croquetas, based on an Estefan recipe, filled with ham and potato and drizzled with béchamel
  • Rock shrimp tossed with a kicky yellow pepper sauce
  • Camarones ajillo – juicy shrimp sautéed with garlic-herb butter and served with white rice and black beans
  • A side of spinach sautéed in olive oil with garlic, pine nuts and raisins
  • Ultra-rich croquetas de chocolate c
  • Coffee tres leches cake with dulce de leche ice cream
  • Rice pudding and fresh mango
  • A tasty, complimentary, bongo-shaped tuile

What Didn’t Work

  • Ceviche mixto – shrimp, calamari, grouper and octopus in coconut milk spiked with lime and chiles  – lacking a fresh, citrusy tang
  • Big prices, small servings
  • Well-seasoned but chewy thick-cut double pork chops
  • Dry but gorgeously charred rotisserie chicken
  • Rib-eye with an overwhelming caramelized garlic sauce