Celebrity chef Aarón Sánchez dishes on the dock

Photographs by Danielle Brody.

 

The reputation of Aarón Sánchez, celebrity chef (“Chopped”) and co-owner of Paloma, might draw you to the Stamford restaurant, but its waterfront location, stylish atmosphere and quality food will make you glad you came.

The year-old Latin grill at Harbor Point seats 250 in a sleek, two-story glass building. On a summer evening, the back glass walls were opened to let the dining room (all warm wood and stone) spill onto a spacious patio (a backyard vibe with wicker and flower benches) next to the Harbor Point dock. Well-appointed patrons enjoyed the light breeze and sunset as well as the flavorful offerings that reflect Sánchez’s heritage and the décor’s casual-chic quality.

The well-plated dishes are unmistakably Latin, but also take inspiration from Southern barbecue and all-American favorites. Chef de cuisine Chris Bateman, who runs the day-to-day operations, says he and Sánchez put their own spin on traditional dishes.

“We try to spice it up and change things to make it a little bit different. We try to have some fun with the food.”

Take the tostadas — Paloma’s upgrade of nachos. The plates of small tortillas, one topped with mushrooms and chipotle aioli, the other with shrimp and mango salsa, had us savoring each bite.

The albondigas — Spanish for meatballs — were reminiscent of their classic Italian counterpart and Spanish tapas. Enjoy the spicy dish on its own — or with a forkful of creamy Mexican street corn.  The queso fundido, or fried cheese, served steaming in a skillet with ingredients like huitlacoche (corn smut, it’s better than it sounds) and wild mushrooms, completed the savory trio.

There’s something about eating tapas-style that is exciting, comfortable and awkward all at the same time. Grabbing bits, comparing and sharing, elevate the food fun and group dynamic. Perhaps that’s why when the entrées arrived, I wasn’t quite as excited.

But the main course also lacked the bold flavor I had expected. The Cuban-marinated rotisserie chicken and the braised short ribs were tender yet safe. Still, Bateman says these are best sellers, along with the camarones mojo de ajo, or jumbo shrimp.

Even though I’m not a seafood lover, I enjoyed the shrimp because they were spicy and presented on a tasty cake of grits. My favorite entrée was the garganelli pasta with ground chorizo. The fresh pasta served as a nice complement to the delicious spicy Spanish sausage.

Come dessert, there were no complaints and not many leftovers. We ate doughnut-shaped, dolce de leche-garnished churros with an agave-vanilla cream dipping sauce. They could have used more dolce de leche filling, but that didn’t stop me from eating more than one. The salted caramel cheesecake, served in deconstructed layers in a mason jar, was a creamy, tasty take on the classic dessert. It came with a cherry chunk cookie on the side that was decent but better when combined with the star of the plate.

Overall it’s the small offerings — the drinks, appetizers and desserts — coupled with the big waterside view and, of course, the potential for a Sánchez sighting that would bring me back to Paloma.

For more, visit palomagrill.com.

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