Beat the drums, this ain’t Bongos.
Estefan Kitchen has opened its first location outside of Miami, one of several restaurants at the new Promenade at Sunset Walk near Walt Disney World.
Gloria and Emilio are the Estefans of the name, she the renowned Cuban-American singer who along with Miami Sound Machine gave us the effervescently zingy “Conga” and other classics.
The couple were also the owners of Bongos, the Cuban restaurant that opened in 1997 at what was then known as Downtown Disney West Side, now Disney Springs. It was in a distinctive pineapple-shaped building and served food that, well, let’s just say that when it was announced Bongos would close and the structure would be razed to make room for something else, I offered to push the plunger to detonate the explosives. No one returned my calls.
And so it was with hesitancy that I visited Estefan Kitchen, an offshoot of their Miami Design District restaurant, which remains closed at this time. (The Estefans also own Larios on the Beach on Ocean Drive in South Beach.)
The restaurant doesn’t have the cartoonish facade of a gigantic tropical fruit, which is just fine. The exterior is a simple bold edifice with thatched awnings over the main entrance and the outdoor bar, where patio seating is also available and is where I dined.
But I peeked inside and was impressed with the interior, a capacious, open space with a lively and colorful decor and a nightclubbish mien. Palm trees, hanging ferns, a performance space with an enormous screen for music videos and a cherry red piano as a centerpiece. (I was also impressed that the size and openness of the room allowed for plenty of spacing between tables, and I felt comfortable when I walked through the restaurant to visit the restroom.)
And this time the food rises to the ambience.
The menu features a number of Cuban and Latin American classics that are executed with a stylistic flair.
My meal began with an appetizer of...no, that’s not true. It really began with a classic mojito, the rummy cocktail infused with fresh mint and lime. Served with a sugarcane stir, it was about as good a mojito as I’ve had.
The appetizer was the bacon-wrapped sweet plantains, soft and sweet maduros swaddled in applewood bacon, dappled with white cheese and served with a drizzle of guava cream. The smokiness of the bacon added a nice note.
For the entree, my companion and I shared the seafood paella, a signature dish that could easily have served four. A lobster tail was artfully arranged upright in the center of the pan, surrounded by saffron infused rice that held ample amounts of scallops, shrimp, squid, fish, black mussels and littleneck clams. A highlight of the dish was the inclusion of yellow Peruvian peppers, slightly larger than a chickpea that gave a juicy burst of sweetness when bitten.
The menu features only two desserts, flan and tres leches, which is about all you need. The custard of the flan was smooth textured and sweet. And the moist cake of the tres leches cool and satisfying. A really wanted to have a Cuban coffee with the desserts and I would have if I had planned to go inside for some after-dinner dancing.
And I hope to do that someday. Trust me: Once this is all over and I hear someone sing “Come on, shake your body baby, do the conga,” I’ll be first one up and in line.
Estefan KitchenEstefan Kitchen is at 3269 Margaritaville Blvd., Kissimmee. It is currently open for Sunday brunch and for dinner Thursday through Sunday. The phone number is 407-828-0999.