Bongo Bay on Lower Main Street welcomes diners into a sophisticated setting, reminiscent of a colonial mansion in the tropics. To the left of the striking stone waterfall reception is a cocktail lounge, with velvet covered banquets and a small bar, showcasing an 18-foot palm tree to enhance the tropical theme. Smoking is permitted in this area and a selection of fine cigars is available at the bar. The atmosphere is relaxed and the concept of late night cocktails appealing with an extensive menu of specialty Martinis and cocktails. However the essence of Bongo Bay is inspired individuality so beware the mundane, $6 for a Heineken seemed a little steep. In the main dining room soothing jazz is played at an almost indiscernible volume perfect for talking. For the fall season, owner Robert Shalom, has replaced some of the bright white spotlights with orange ones adding a warm glow to the otherwise cool white interior. Gargantuan groupings of autumnal branches have replaced the dining room palm trees and a mezzanine and fireplace offer a variety of dining aspects.
At the table, vibrant-pink orchids graced each setting and we were told these are edible, although no one spoiled their beauty by doing a taste-test. The wait staff were efficient and prompt in their ministering of water and warm bread rolls, the latter being baked on the premises and offered individually to diners. These delicious treats were renewed without our having to ask, but disappointingly were removed before the main course was served. Accompanying the rolls were a ramekin of herbed butter and two statuesque bottles of flavored olive oil, infused on the premises. The red pepper infusion was robust and the Basil Thyme an excellent alternative for those who prefer less bite.
The wine list offers regular and reserve wines with regular wines ranging in price from $24 to $66 and the reserve from $65 to $136. The selection is a refreshing combination of familiar favorites with some relatively obscure options and it is worth asking your server for a recommendation. Wines by the glass start at $6 and the wider than usual selection makes this a fun way to taste something new. A glass of champagne is $8, with bottles starting at $75 and rising to $180 for that very special occasion. The only disappointing characteristic of the drinks menu was the relatively small print on buff colored paper making it a challenge to read in the dining room light. To sustain us while we perused the food menu, our waiter, Chris recommended a Zemmer Pinot Grigio, a refreshingly light wine with subtle hints of the orchard available by the glass. Chris was an instant hit with everyone at the table, his excellent service and impressive knowledge of the food and wine greatly contributing to the enjoyment of the evening.
The menu is eclectic and required much musing as executive chef, Micah Asculai has recently revamped it and each dish comes with an unexpected twist. We selected for appetizers, the 12 Spice Ribs, Ahi Tuna Tartar and the special of the day Baby Pumpkin Soup with cinnamon crème fraiche. The ribs were served with a sweet and creamy hoisin butter on the side; an excellent foil for the light spicing of the ribs. We were forewarned that the tuna was spicy but it was more piquant than peppery-hot and even those at the table with milder tastes found it very enjoyable. The pumpkin soup was a work of art both presentation and flavor-wise and the added drizzle of truffle oil made it a must try. Appetizers range in price from $6 to $16 and other temptations include Cracklin' Shrimp with a fire roasted habanero remoulade and Dorset Cheddar Fondue with winter vegetables and truffle crouton.
For entrees we chose the Long Bone Veal Chop, Petite Porterhouse, Pappardelle and the Bongo Bay Fried Chicken, another excellent recommendation by Chris. The substantial veal chop was succulent and its flavor enhanced by the subtle roast peach demi glace. Accompanying it were crackled beans and two tempura-breaded onion rings the size of tea cups, the latter of which were impressive to look at but disappointingly difficult to eat as the papery part of the onion had been included. The chicken, worthy of its signature name, was fried in a coating of panko crumbs that remained grease-free and offered a hint of the orient. Served with crisp sugar snap peas, a hearty portion of mashed potato, and rich bourbon gravy this was one of our favorite dishes. The porterhouse steak, sliced and fanned out against the bone, came with a sensational wild mushroom and roast onion tart and intense port wine sauce. The Pappardelle was the unanimous winner combining wide pasta noodles with mushrooms, asparagus and jumbo shrimp, swathed in a luxurious, creamy sun-dried tomato pesto sauce. The entrees range in price from $16 to $36 and offer a good selection including a 12-ounce ground sirloin burger but the seriously vegetarian appear to have been overlooked and their best option would probably be the Pappardelle minus the shrimp. Once our entrees had been cleared we were offered hot towels, which were served in glass mugs of lemon and steaming water. Whilst aesthetically pleasing the towels needed ringing out as they sat partly in the water, an action that required caution due to the hot water.
The equally exotic desserts were stunning in their imaginative presentation. The Ying-Yang Brule, was a delight to the eye and the palate unifying two dishes, one filled with vanilla flavored brule, the other with mocha to make up the ying-yang symbol. The burnt sugar concealed a brule light enough for the most satiated diner. The white chocolate cheesecake was decadently topped with three spire-like triangles of rich white chocolate, wreathed in a cloud of spun sugar and the raspberry tatin topped by the sweetest berry liqueur ice cream is a luxurious temptation that should be restricted to adult consumption only. Coffee was served in satisfyingly well-sized mugs as we watched a young crowd begin to mingle at the bar. The music increased in volume and it appeared that at 10pm the cocktail hour was just starting. In confirmation of this barstools were removed to accommodate the anticipated crowd.
Bongo Bay's simple but stylized décor provides an intimate setting with an ideal level of light for dining and discreet jazz played softly enough not to interrupt conversation. The service was consistently attentive and efficient, led by a knowledgeable waiter. The flamboyant menu suggested delicate nouvelle cuisine style portions but each dish was both rich in flavor and generously portioned ensuring even the healthiest of appetites were satisfied. Inspiring presentation and imaginative combinations are Bongo Bay's forte and the slightly higher than average prices reflect the overall quality of the dining experience.
Bongo Bay is located at 415 Main Street, Port Washington and is open from 4:30 until 12:00 daily. It is wheelchair accessible and accepts all major credit cards. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 516 767 2900.