Standing in line at the Miami Airport I'm literally trembling with excitement. I am taking the trip of a lifetime and I'm eager for it to start. On the agenda for this evening is a date with the Godfather of Cigars, Carlito Fuente and some food (minor detail). Wandering down the maze of unmarked airport hallways, I find myself at the top of a set of stairs that lead to a crazy long customs line. A customs agent at the top of the stairs addresses me in Spanish, and I forget everything I know and simply stare dumbfounded at her. She says again, in english that I have to go pay the “tourist tax” which is $10 USD before entering the line.
Breezing through customs I am now standing at the loading zone staring up a a signs that in Spanish warning people to leave their guns at the airport. Really? I'm definitely not in Kansas anymore. Grabbing a cab, I'm finally enroute to a tiny, Italian restaurant named Pasticcio. Bursting through the door, I'm guided to a large private room in the back of the restaurant, there I'm greeted by my friends and Carlito Fuente. He welcomes me with a hug and a cigar. We sit down to an amazing nine course meal which was sensational. We drank Judas wine, dined on conch lasangna (yes you heard that right), and smoked a 15 year old Opus X lancero “Phantom”. It was positively surreal.
Carlito explained he was a bit fatigured from his trip to Dubai, however he kept the conversation rolling and was incredibly engaging. He spent a bit of time ranting about proposed laws the Dominican and other countries abroad are considering, shared his inspirations, discussed family and of course cigars. He is an artist first and businessman as a distant second. He cares deeply about his product and the community, hoping his family legacy will live on long after he's departed this world. Occasionally I would ask a question about the why behind the creation of a certain cigar, or why he chose to name it one thing over another. Carlito always answered my questions with a great amount of exuberance and debated the impact of the Cuban Trade Embargo being lifted on his country''s cigar business. Interestingly he said while it may have an intial negative effect on his company for 3 to 5 years, ultimately it will enhance the cigar community, with a net benefit to all after a short depression in sales. Personally I think the impact will be much shorter, no longer than 18 months, as US consumers are some of the most demanding in the world and have a refined palette. I also cited the impending quality issue that is sure to plague the Cuban cigar industry and will certainly route sales back to brands such as Fuente. (Read my POST about the Embargo lift and quality control.)
Enjoying the last cups of café and puffs of our cigars, we shuffled slowly out the door. I thanked Carlos for the amazing evening and meantioed we would be walking back to our hotel to which he replied with a stern “oh no you're not”. Afterall the Dominican Republic is still a third world country and we were in a non tourist part of town, so without further adeiu we piled into black Range Rovers (complete with armed guards) and headed to catch a few "Zzzz".
The evening was richly vibrant, the wine flowed freely and we consumed an inordinate amount of amazing cigars. The owner of Pasticcio kept the place open long into the evening for us, 4 hours extra to be exact. I CANNOT wait for tomorrow!