Restaurant Review: Funky Monkey Wine Company

Originally posted on Blogger on July 3, 2011

I had been eyeing the Funky Monkey Wine Company menu for ages. AGES. So when a Groupon came out for the downtown location, I knew I had to grab it. Who can turn down $40 worth of food for $20? I bought the Groupon, of course, and last week convinced a friend to venture out to the Mills50 District for a bite after work.

It is a very small restaurant that is almost hidden in the shadows at night time. If I hadn’t known that it was next to Bananas Modern American Diner (owned by the same people that own Funky Monkey), I probably would have driven right past it. As it was, I had to turn around and crawl back to find the parking lot. Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not. I love a hole in the wall, especially if it has good food. It just surprised me, for some reason that I cannot pinpoint.

The decor at Funky Monkey is…well….dark. It was very dark in the restaurant; so dark in fact that I can tell you that I think the main color scheme included a deep purple and black, but don’t quote me on that. I’d love to show you a photo but well, you guessed it, it was too dark. Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore a small, intimate, romantic setting. The Funky Monkey has the potential to be just that. However, when my friend has to use a cell phone light to read the menu, and when the server needs to move the candle on the table so that we can “see the food better,” that is a little too “intimate” for me. I’m at a restaurant, not in bed. On the opposite side of the coin, though, some of the tables are so close together that, frankly, if I was there on a date I’d probably learn just as much about the couple sitting next to me as I would about my companion.

And now…for the service and the food. When people have asked me over the past few days what I thought of Funky Monkey, I’ve described it with one sentence. The service got increasingly better, while the food got increasingly worse. That is such a disappointing thing for me to say, because really, truly, I hate saying bad things about eateries, especially ones that I’ve been anticipating for such a time. But…it is the truth, so I say it.

We were seated by a very friendly younger guy who offered us two tables (it was late, so the restaurant was not very crowded). One was virtually on top of a couple who seemed to be getting on fairly well, and the other was off to the side by the wall. Table number two, please! So, we were sat down and our server was pointed out to us. Said server seemed very focused on the large raised table behind us, which was occupied by two men and two women. Throughout our meal, it became clear that the two men at the table were either the owners of the restaurant or someone very high up in the company. This explained why their server (who was also, at this point, only ours in name) was so attentive to them. It did not explain why he walked by our table twice without even greeting us or letting us know that he would be with us shortly.

Monkey Balls (excuse my photos…it was dark, remember?)

While we waited….and waited….we were brought a bowl of complimentary edamame and then poured glasses of water by two separate servers, while ours continued to walk back and forth past us. During this time we both marveled at how absolutely freezing it was in the restaurant. I was already wearing a cardigan, but a few times I was tempted to hunch down and cover myself with the tablecloth. It was that bad. The edamame, however, was delicious. There was a great balance of flavor between the garlic, lime, and sea salt coating, and we quickly devoured it and wished there had been more. However, I have a couple of negative comments for the edamame, as well, although neither of them have to do with flavor. One, this is a fairly expensive restaurant, so I did not expect any food items to be served on plastic plates. Sure, they were decorated nicely (my friend has the same set, actually; she got them at Target), but still. Plastic? Maybe I’m a being a bit of a snob, but with the rest of the environment, I don’t think so. And two, the edamame bowl had liquid at the bottom, most likely just water, but with the lack of lighting it was difficult to see, so I managed to get edamame juice all over the table, menu, and my lap. Oops.

Around the time we finished our edamame, our server came to the table (finally) and introduced himself. From here on out, the service was satisfactory, and towards the end of the meal it was actually quite pleasant. We placed appetizer orders for the monkey balls and the stuffed avocado, and kept our menus so that we could decide what we would order from the sushi menu (we’d decided to limit ourselves to sushi and apps since it was already fairly late). The monkey balls arrived first, and they were tasty, sticky rice with a cream cheese center, breaded in panko and sitting atop a spicy mayo. Yummy, and we quickly gobbled them up, just as the stuffed avocado arrived. The stuffed avocado was…amazingly delicious. By far the best menu item that we tried that night. It is presented as a half of an avocado perched on top of a bed of sticky rice. The avocado is perfectly ripe and diced in its skin (or served “on the half shell” as our server described it), and has an ahi tuna salad, composed of gorgeous chunks of ahi tuna, more avocado, cream cheese, eel sauce, spicy mayo, and sriracha sauce. This tuna salad has a kick, folks, and it is a good one. We started by just taking bites from the top and then bites from the rice, but in the end overturned the avocado “shell” and mixed everything together, rice included. This made for a dish in which every bite was just bursting with flavor, with just enough heat to make your tongue burn so good, but not so much that you are begging for more water and unable to taste the other flavors.

Stuff Avocado

We ordered the lobster roll and the erupting monkey roll next, and while we were waiting, a few surprising things happened. First, two men walked in and headed for the raised table next to us that was mentioned previously, and one of them was holding a chihuahua against his chest and no one batted an eye! Now, I thought the dog was adorable. I didn’t think it was particularly great, though, that the chihuaha was being held up right to the edge of our neighboring table. I understand that you are the owner, or the manager, or…whoever…but when there are other customers in the restaurant, it makes sense to me that you ought to follow your own rules. And as far as I am aware (please correct me if I’m wrong), dogs are not allowed inside Orlando restaurants.

At this point I couldn’t help but start commenting on this (through chattering teeth, mind you) to my friend, but then couldn’t help but hear (as we waited for our two sushi rolls….while at least one of the chefs was now chatting with our table neighbors) that now they were discussing ways to hold events and deals that would be relatively inexpensive but draw more money from customers once they were here. That’s a great idea! Awesome planning. But…I didn’t really want to hear about it. I know I won’t be looking for a card for $10 to Funky Monkey just to draw me in so I’ll spend even more money. Take it from me, that $10 will maybe buy you an order of monkey balls and a soda. Again…I know. Managers/owners/executives hold meetings at their own restaurants all the time. I have no issue with that. But maybe…keep the business strategy out of the earshot of your customers, okay?

Somewhere in the midst of this conversation, our sushi arrived. The plate was put down, and our server picked up our silverware and replaced it with chopsticks. “You guys know how to use these, right?” Well…it’s a good thing we do, since you took away our forks! I hate to nitpick, and I feel like I am at this point, but geez….these were the most SLIPPERY chopsticks I have ever used in my life. I was tempted to ask if they had any disposable wooden ones, but I held my (freezing) tongue.

Erupting Monkey Roll (left) and Lobster Roll (right)

The sushi was…okay. Far too small for the price. These were what I would consider to be “specialty” rolls at any other restaurant, and those are normally significantly larger than classic rolls. These were not, but the prices reflected “specialty.” The erupting monkey was sliced up oddly, which made it easier to stack and resemble a volcano, but it also made for some very large pieces to shove into ones mouth. It also was far from spicy, especially for a roll that boasts both sriracha and spicy mayo in its ingredients list. The lobster roll had two really, really good pieces: the end pieces. Each of these had a nice chunk of lobster claw meat protruding from the roll, and balanced beautifully with the lemon aioli drizzled on top. Unfortunately, the lobster flavor was lost in the middle pieces, and those ended up tasting more like cucumber lemon rolls.

Our server, as mentioned previously, got more and more friendly as our meal progressed. By the end of our meal, we were the only table (of paying customers, that is) still in the restaurant, and instead of rushing us out, the server conversed with us, talking about the area and offering us dessert. He even talked about the Groupon deal, once I presented my iPhone with the deal on it, and how they had so many orders for the Groupon and couldn’t wait for the customers to come in with it. I was a little surprised when he tried to take my phone to the register to enter the Groupon code, but he didn’t protest when I asked for a pen and paper to write it down for him instead.

Would I go back to Funky Monkey? Maybe. But not any time soon. The stuffed avocado was almost worth a return trip, but there are just too many more places in the Orlando area that I’d rather spend that amount of money on, where I won’t be freezing or unable to see my food, so I’ll pass for now.  And from what I overheard at the next table that night, it sounds like a couple more restaurants are in the works. I wish they’d evaluate their current venues before taking on new ones. All of that disappoints me, too, because the set-up really is nice and I really, really wanted to love Funky Monkey Wine Company.

Funky Monkey Wine Company on Urbanspoon

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