The face of downtown Stamford is ever changing and evolving. An area once considered to be seedy at best has undergone a vast transformation. Gone are the run-down factories and dilapidated buildings of yesterday replaced by large modern luxury highrises and a bevvy of fun new restaurants and bars. In fact this area is so newly developed that my car's navigation system trumps itself when I plug in an address. Luckily Google Maps comes to this directionally challenged girl's rescue!
A few days ago I was invited to a press dinner at Paloma on the harbor in Stamford. I had heard mixed things, and made a point not to read any written reviews until I had had the opportunity to visit the restaurant myself. When it comes to food and dining the experience is truly subjective. When I like something I rave about it and when I don't I keep quiet or tend to steer people away from a particular dish. I have rarely gone to a restaurant where I didn't like anything on the menu. Often there are things I adore and sometimes a few items I do not like at all. It would behoove me to recommend something I really didn't like. While I do not take my "food reviews" too seriously, I know that I have a substantial following who appreciate my honesty and candor - I don't want to mislead anyone!
As I pulled up to Paloma on the street level of an elegant new building I noticed immediately that there was no parking and no signage telling me where to go. I drove around looking for a spot. Cars lined the streets to but no parking to be found. I hate to be late to an event and so I was already a bit stressed and starting to panic. I pulled around to the restaurant again and from my car shouted out to the hostess standing in the doorway. "Where do I park?" As if I should have known, she tells me to park at the 3rd gate behind the Beacon building. I drive by. There are no gates. There are, however, garage doors. I pull up to a third door and press the button. It rings and rings and rings and rings. Finally someone answers. I tell them I am parking for Paloma. The gate pulls up in a quick and dramatic manner. I am told to look for the red elevator. As lacking as the parking signs were in front of the restaurant they were in this large empty, unattended parking lot. I'm nearly 10 minutes late now and have no idea where to find this Alleged Red Elevator. Somehow, after a bunch of left hand turns I see it! I park, enter the elevator and the doors open right into the restaurant where I immediately see all the chefs working away behind the glass.
I love this open kitchen concept. I am 15 minutes late. Shit. I'm sharing this with you because I want to you to know that in order to park you must drive behind the Beacon and pull into the 3rd garage bay. Once inside take a bunch of left hand turns and you'll find the elevator!
I see the manager and I share my frustrations in regards to the parking. He shrugged his shoulders. "We are new here," he explained. I told him all the more of a reason to have proper signage or someone to guide cars in the right direction. 15 minutes late and a manager who seemed disinterested. Until I mentioned that I was meeting up with the press diners.
As soon as I went outside my mood changed. The stress immediately melted away as I went to my seat overlooking the magnificent views of the harbor. Calm has been restored. A drink order has been placed.
Usually I stick with wine when I go out but I decided, instead to have fun with a cocktail. I ordered the Paloma Margarita. And it did not disappoint. It was, in fact, delicious! Made with chinaco silver tequila, Grand Marnier, house orange tincture, lime and hibiscus, this cocktail was neither too strong or too sweet. It was quite refreshing and the next time I find myself at Paloma, I will absolutely order it again. Later on I ordered a Mojito, and while it too was very good, I thought the Paloma Margarita really stood out as something special.
Petite plates of appetizers greeted me at the table upon my arrival. Mushroom tostadas, Shrimp tostadas with creamy aji miralso and mango salso, and Tai Tiradito, a snapper crudo with aji rocoto sauce and crispy homini. I helped myself to one of the shrimp tostadas. While I am normally not a fan of sweet with my savory, the shrimp were tender and the mango salsa added a refreshing touch despite the fact it was sweet. I will sing the praises of the Snapper Crudo. One of my favorite dishes of the night. This dish was tremendous - the snapper was so fresh and tender and the sauce had a lovely zesty spicy kick to it. I helped myself to several pieces and would have been happy to have made this my dinner.
A little while later we were served Albondigas - meatballs in a chipotle broth, mint and queso cotija, Mexican Street Corn with a chipotle crema, queso cotija and herbs and a Queso Fundido - a rich crispy creamy decadent cheese dish served with wild mushrooms and warm corn tortillas. There was nothing in this round I didn't like. In fact there was nothing in this round I didn't love. The meatballs in chipotle broth were so tender and flavorful. The chipotle broth added just the right kick and the meatballs seemed to just melt in my mouth. The Mexican corn was like a fiesta of flavors. The perfectly grilled, sweet flavors of the corn perfectly married the spicy chipotle crema and the fresh herbs. The corn is not on the cob which makes it so much easier to eat. Rounding out this trifecta was this incredibly decadent cheese dish. Served in a mini earthenware dish, piping hot, beneath a crispy golden crust was this incredibly soft and almost delicate cheese... perfectly runny. I sampled this straight up but it came served with warm corn tortillas. How to best describe this... fundido means molten. Think molten lava cake, but in cheese format. Yeah... and it was that good.
Next to arrive was the Cuban Style Chicken - a marinated roasted chicken with a pickled salad and tamarind fried-rice, and the Braised Short Ribs with an ancho-cacao rub, seasonal vegetables and a horseradish gremolata. The chicken, served on the bone, was exquisite. I wish the skin had been a bit crispier but the meat was tender, soft and incredibly flavorful. I swished forkfuls around in the sauce. I couldn't taste the pickling on the salad but none of that mattered as soon as I had a forkful of the fried rice. The seemed to me to be a wonderful cross between a fried rice and a sticky rice. Whatever they did - It just worked. I ate too much of it!
Short Ribs are the It menu item these days as they are everywhere. Some better than others. While I am not a meat person per se, I found these to be incredibly tender, but thought the flavor could have been a tad stronger. I really expected a bolder flavor here since all of our other dishes were. Where was the horseradish gremola? It was not served with or in the dish. I would be willing to give this dish another go, however.
From there two more dishes magically appeared - Garganelli Pasta and Camarones de Ajo, jumbo shrimp served on a wonderfully spicy grits cake. I didn't particularly care for the pasta. Although made with chorizo, which I adore, I didn't like this dish. It felt heavy and greasy and somehow this dish didn't quite work for me. I really wanted to like it too. The Shrimp, however, were wonderful. The large, sweet shrimp were a wonderful flavor contrast to the delightfully spicy grits.
To say I was full was an understatement. But dessert was coming our way and I had to at least take a small sampling. But the Churros arrived and I was done. I'm not a Churros person. But these aren't your mama's or your abuela's Churros. These are something else entirely. I have no words to describe. Unbelievable. Might work. As would decadent. As would heavenly. Like deep fried donut holes, these bites of deliciousness had a crispy exterior with an incredibly soft interior... the crunch and the soft... the sugary exterior as the decadent dolce de leche gently oozed out... a small ramekin filled with an agave-vanilla crema in which to dunk the already decadent bite of deliciousness. I had more than a small sampling. And as a result of this meal I have placed myself on The Supercharged South Beach Diet. And every morsel and every calorie ingested was so worth it! Life is short. Eat well!
Paloma offers a hip, somewhat sophisticated yet relaxed dining experience. The decor is a cross of island style and urban and provides a most welcome setting whether seated indoors or out on the water. Do give Paloma a chance... Do try the Snapper Crudo, the Albondigas, Mexican Street Corn, Queso Fondido, Cuban Style Chicken, Camarones Mojo de Ajo and for goodness sake, don't leave without trying the Churros!