With a bum foot, I hobbled (literally) my way into Paladar for dinner tonight. We tried to go for lunch yesterday, but lunch service doesn’t start until the 15th of this month. First, the decor. Very impressed. Overall, it’s pretty minimalist with some artistic touches. There are decorative stencils behind the host stand and throughout the space (I liked these because the design reminded me of our living room), and good use of color. One wall is a version of hot pink, another green and I think the guacamole bar was yellow with a simple mocajete display as a backdrop. Another wall had a pressed paper panel, at least that’s what it looked like, with changing track lighting. The bar had funky artwork and a stylish creamy texture. The seating is a mix of dark wood chairs/tables and light olive green couches. Sprinkled throughout are simple centerpieces of cylinder vases filled with stone and cactus like flowers. Even the menus were cool. I even liked how the servers were dressed in all black and wore different colored belts. My husband, a creative director and design freak, gave the space an A-.
We started off with a mojito and Caipirinha; the traditional guacamole served with malanga (from Venezuela, according to our server), yucca and plantain chips; black bean empanada with queso fresco and smoky aioli; 5 tiny tacos filled with rum soaked mahi mahi and pickled jalapeños. For dinner we shared the guava BBQ glazed pork chop served with spicy sweet potato salad and smoky bacon chimichurri. Finally, the cafe con leche for dessert.
The drinks were perfect but the guacamole was a little disappointing. The chips were thin, crispy, salty and fantastic – a nice change to tortilla chips. The guac, while obviously fresh with plenty of big avocado chunks, was shy of spices. I really didn’t taste anything except avocado. Next time I’ll try something besides traditional. The empanada was our favorite. While we didn’t taste anything smoky, the flavor of the beans was plentiful and a nice pairing with the corn in the turnover and the tomatoes. We really enjoyed this. The tiny tacos (very cute) were a nice sized appetizer and could easily be a meal. They are served in the malanga chip, which was a nice touch, but the texture (not taste) of the fish reminded me of chicken salad. I couldn’t really taste the fish or the rum. To be fair, I took off the jalapeños and James said that is what gave a lot of the flavor. I liked these, but wouldn’t be in a hurry to order again. The pork chop was simply delicious. This dish reminded me of a perfect fall meal. Great presentation and the chop itself was full of flavor, cooked perfectly, tender, juicy and you could really taste the spices, especially cinnamon and the guava. What I couldn’t taste was the smoky bacon. The potatoes were ok. I wasn’t wowed with them, and while I could taste some heat, overall thought they were a bit bland. Finally, dessert. Delicious. Great presentation with the leche in an espresso cup and chocolate cake in an oversized mug. Served piping hot, the server told us to break open the cake and pour in the milk. The texture and consistency reminded us of bread pudding. Very chocolaty but not too rich.
The owner made his rounds and stopped to chat with us for a few minutes. He could hardly contain his excitement for his new venture and I can see why. The space is beautiful, for the most part we really enjoyed the food and the service was flawless which you typically don’t find with a week-old restaurant. We will definitely be regulars, especially for lunch.
One last thing I thought was smart on the owners’ part. Included in the bill was a discount “coupon” for Boulevard Blue, their other restaurant, along with a feedback card. Very smart marketing. I’ve done some freelance PR for various restaurants and it’s amazing what a challenge it can be to convince owners to do such simple things.