Before you freak out, it wasn’t all bad!
It’s a consensus among food bloggers and writers that when a celebrity chef opens a restaurant that it may not always be good. In fact, when the big name behind the restaurant isn’t there, occasionally a diner experiences a dip in standards or food inconsistency. The latest big name in our area to open up a new restaurant is Aarón Sánchez with Paloma in the Harbor Point area of Stamford. I’m not saying Paloma was awful, it was not that at all, but many dishes that were delivered to my table full of people who know good food were just pretty average and it left me feeling underwhelmed.
It’s safe to say that we all wanted to love Paloma and I am a fan of Chef Sánchez (who was not there on this Friday night), so yes, I expected amazingness. Instead of greatness, well, why don’t I just break this one down?
First off, Harbor Point is beautiful, so when I heard that Paloma would take over the former big space once occupied by The Beer Garden, I was enthused. If you’ve seen the place before, you know what I mean. Design wise, it’s simple. Paloma allows lots of light in on both floors on a sunny day and when it is nice out, there’s a second floor patio/balcony that overlooks the harbor. One of my favorite parts of the restaurant is the bar area that is right next to a clear window that allows guests to see right into the kitchen. Kitchen = madness on a busy night and it’s quite a show! What’s not to love?
Perhaps the best part of the meal was the drinks; they look gorgeous and they taste great. Not only that, some of the cocktails creations are made ahead of time for consistency purposes and come out of a tap. I went right for the Bees & Honey (raw honey, lemon, ginger turmeric nectar, El Buho Mezcal, Maker’s Mark). It was sweet without being too sweet and masked the booziness really well. Although I did sorta feel it afterwards. I would order a B&H every time.
|Mmm…Bees & Honey
|Hemingway made an appearance too.
I also sampled a spicy margarita that was equal parts powerful, sweet, and spicy without killing your palate. On the drink menu you will find plenty of liquors from South and Central America used in the old school and new age cocktails.
Here’s where we had the most issues with the food. Are you ready?
Guacamole – Fresh, velvety & chunky; almost one of the best guacs around here. We actually ordered two bowls. It was mostly good except it could have used more salt.
Cactus Fritters w/Chipotle Remoulade – I’ll just say I thought this was a weird choice anyway (thanks, Rob). I don’t ever desire cactus. But seriously, it wasn’t all that bad; the smoky sauce really did help for me. So I guess if you like cactus…
Hamachi Taradito (yellowtail sashimi, aji rocoto sauce, crispy hominy) – By the time is was passed to me it was gone 😦 Everyone said they liked it. The photo is nice though, yeah?
Chicharrónes – These are some REAL pork rinds, not that corn with pork flavor imitation stuff you get at your local convenience store. They were well salted, porky, fatty, and the spicy/smoky red sauce served for dipping was a welcomed addition. These with a beer after a long week is winning.
Empanadas (chorizo, sweet plantains, mole dipping sauce) – The dough was spot on but that was all I tasted. There was very little chorizo present as a filling and the mole was too chocolaty, almost like a dessert sauce.
Albondigas (meatballs, chipotle broth, mint, cotija cheese) – I had these at the Paloma Pop-Up before the restaurant opened and even though the pop-up was not great, the meatballs were. I liked them at the pop-up, they were even better this time. Not your typical meatball, but the Mexican flavor is there and the touch of mint gives you a refreshing burst.
Roasted Bone Marrow (pickled mustard seed, serrano, herb salad, tortillas) – Possible nominee for worst marrow I’ve had. Ever. There was little marrow to extract and it was flavorless. I’m still not sure how that’s possible. When I packed all that in the tortilla, all I could taste was tortilla, and where there was pickled mustard seed it was like eating molasses spread on a tortilla. That’s probably not ideal.
That exclamation point means there was a lot of “good” here.
I ordered the Braised Short Ribs with an ancho coco rub, chile Colorado sauce, and seasonal veggies. The short ribs fell apart as soon as I stuck my fork in one and did a twist. This dish was pure hearty and reminded me of beef stew, but a way more upscale version. Paloma nailed this one.
Even though I loved the short ribs I was envious of my friend’s Grilled Strip Steak. The steak had a terrific crust that was no doubt achieved with a spice rub and by the way it’s cooked…on an open pit, open flame charcoal grill that is visible when you first walk in.
Tempting on the entrées section of the menu are the larger, shared plates. The deboned whole fried fish, the Pollo Pibil (whole roasted chicken), and the Tomahawk Steak all sound, or rather read like good experiences. If that strip steak gave anything away, it’s that if I return, I would likely order the giant ribeye.
We were all stuffed from this feast but we managed to try Chef Sánchez’s take on churros. I likened them to churro-donut holes, that is what they are. If I had not been so full I would have gladly eaten all of these light, sugared churro-donut hybrids and I may have done a shot of the sweet dulce de leche dipping sauce that accompanies these delightful little pillows.
Still, I’m underwhelmed. Paloma had some good and some bad. And that’s not including the slow service when trying to cash out at the bar, and the over two and a half hours it took to eat. There was lots of waiting around and it was not a super busy night.
I have heard from friends who went to Paloma on a night when Aarón was in the house and they said they loved it. Maybe this is an example of when THE MAN is there, it’s perfect, but when THE MAN is not there, it’s not so perfect. I can’t confirm that, not yet anyway. As of now, I would go back to Paloma if only for cocktails, possibly a steak, but I’m not jumping at the chance to do so.
15 Harbor Point Road
Stamford, CT 06902