Friday, September 30, 2011

Banana Cafe

Our friend Budak is one of our favorite dining companions. He introduced us to Teaism and Julia's Empanadas, and for that we will be forever grateful. However, Budak has hit a bit of a rough patch with his restaurant suggestions: Malaysia Kopitiam, Liberty Tree, and Wok N Roll to name a few. It has become a running joke, yet we love him and still let him guide our dining choices since we figure we'll at least get an adventure out of it. On our last outing, we picked him up in the pouring rain and he proclaimed we were headed to Banana Cafe & Piano Bar. Leave it to Budak to find a piano bar/Cuban/Mexican/Puerto Rican restaurant.

We sat in the downstairs area (the piano bar is upstairs) and took in the bright, almost garish, decor. Our waitress delivered a basket of decidedly average chips with watery salsa, and asked if we wanted to order drinks. Feeling festive, we decided to share a pitcher and the waitress said that they serve great mojitos. Unfortunately, we took her word for it. What followed was what B described as the "single worst drink I have ever had in my life."

The giant pitcher was filled with perhaps 65% sugar water, 30% unpleasant-tasting rum, and 5% of completely unmuddled mint and unsqueezed limes. It was so off-balance and so indescribably bad, that B pushed away his glass and asked the waitress to come over. He explained that something tasted really off with the drink and she stared at us blankly and asked what WE wanted her to do to fix it! Baffled, we suggested perhaps she add more lime juice or try muddling the mint. She took the pitcher away, brought it back with some more limes thrown in and left us to taste it. It still tasted as terrible as it did the first time and we left the pitcher almost completely untouched as we ate our food.

The mojito from hell has dominated my memory of Banana Cafe so much that I barely remember the food. However, I believe I had the Puerto Rican Piononos - an interesting combination of sweet plantains stuffed with ground beef and pork and topped with cheese. I liked it fine and the portion was big enough to save half for lunch the next day. However, as I sat at my desk eating reheated piononos, I could not shake the taste of the mojito and the wacky way in which the waitress handled it.

B, still rattled by the brush with mojito darkness, ate seafood paella that he described as fine but nothing memorable.

At the end of the meal, the waitress came to clear the plates and saw the giant, untouched pitcher o' mojito and said nothing. Never an offer to bring us something else or reduce the price or have us talk to the manager or the bartender. We were stuck with a $38 pitcher of undrinkable liquid and a story to tell our friends. The whole thing was so awkward and uncomfortable that we just paid the bill and hustled out of there.

I suppose if I were trapped on Barracks Row and every single other restaurant was closed and I was about to die of starvation, I would consider going back to Banana Cafe. A bit dramatic? Perhaps, but you didn't try that mojito! On to the next Budak adventure...

Second Thoughts From B

An open letter to J: If we are dying of starvation on Barracks Row and our only choice is Banana Cafe, you're welcome to eat me, because I will happily pass on the meal.

The mojito was that bad. Completely undrinkable. So far off that I still have no idea what went wrong, much less how to fix it. Less motor oil perhaps?

As far as my paella - which incidentally, also came highly recommended - it was also memorably poor. It wasn't inedible and in fact, it didn't even taste bad. Rather, it was remarkably average. It tasted like 3 day old reheated leftovers. Or maybe lukewarm dehydrated camping food. To be fair, I love leftovers and am tempted to stock my pantry with Mountain House products, but this is not what I'd hope for at a reasonably nice restaurant.

Fortunately for all of us, Barracks Row is hardly a wasteland of dining options. Spare yourself the pain and $38 and go elsewhere.
Banana Cafe & Piano Bar on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

How does one handle such an awkward situation? Did you tip?

J said...

We were wondering the same thing. I refuse to stiff any server pretty much no matter what happens so yes, we did tip but definitely not our standard tip level. In retrospect maybe we should've pushed harder to talk to a manager or something but the way the waitress handled it made us feel like we were in the wrong so we just wanted to leave. At one point she told us "that's what a mojito is" when we said it tasted like simple syrup and that's about it. We felt uncomfortable pushing any harder to force her to rectify the issue. Definitely one of the weirder experiences we've had.

B said...

The biggest problem is that the waitress wanted us to fix the problem rather than getting involved and being a part of the solution. I was ready to completely stiff her when I saw the bill but J, being the kinder and gentler one, refused. We settled on half of what we normally would have tipped.

Grace said...

When I ate at this place for lunch a few months ago, it was also a regrettable experience. My rice was clearly old and the food was otherwise bland. Such a shame.

VC said...

That makes me sad that y'all had a bad experience. The food there is blah and I've never ordered a mojito, but that's because the sangria (esp. the white sangria) is so freaking good. The best part of Banana Cafe is the piano bar upstairs. The pianist is a blind guy who actually plays an electric keyboard placed on the piano. It's kitschy but that's what makes it fun.