A Latin-themed restaurant seems a more likely South Florida export than import, but Paladar Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar, part of a small Cleveland-based chain, opened last month at Hallandale Beach’s Village at Gulfstream Park.
The name, which means “palate” or “taste” in Spanish, is also a play on paladares, small restaurants in Cuban homes, but Paladar is a whopping 7,000 square feet, with a sprawling patio that overlooks the Gulfstream clubhouse. The location is a big draw, especially this time of year, with holiday lights glimmering and racing season in full swing.
Another attraction: more than 50 varieties of rum and a bunch of hand-muddled mojitos (we like the sweet-tangy pomegranate ginger).
Paladar’s website says patrons will “discover the bold flavors and vibrant cultures of Latin America without leaving their comfort zone.” We were skeptical, but the food is pretty good, and servers are friendly and accommodating, though still learning the menu, which covers a lot of territory, from Cuban mojo pork to Salvadoran pupusas and Jamaican curried shrimp. While the owners aren’t Latin, chef Orlando Arroyo (Seasons 52) is of Mexican descent.
Highlights include light and flaky empanadas stuffed with portobello mushrooms and queso blanco cheese, topped with pico de gallo and pasilla pepper aioli. Ceviches include our go-to favorite of mixed seafood (snapper, calamari and shrimp) spiked with ají peppers and served with carrots instead of the usual sweet potatoes and onions.
There are three types of guacamole, traditional (mild), spicy (flavorful but not hot) and a “chef’s inspiration” (our server said something about cucumbers and cilantro, but whatever was in there, we liked it). If you can’t decide, get the trio, served with tortillas and plantain, yuca and malanga chips, a nice touch.
With a long list of small plates, sandwiches and tacos, you can easily graze, but there are several worthy entrees. The Veracruz seafood stew casts a wide net, with shrimp, calamari, mussels and tilapia in a zesty tomato sauce with green beans and pickled jalapeños. Plated with cilantro rice and tortillas, it’s a generous portion for $18.95.
Churrasco steak was deliciously tender, and a meatless entree of coconut curry vegetables brought a big bowl of colorful, perfectly cooked sweet potatoes, zucchini, bell peppers and onions served with brown rice with red beans in a fragrant Jamaican-style curry sauce.
While it may not satisfy traditionalists, Paladar does a pretty good rendition of Brazilian feijoada, which combines slow-roasted pork, smoky chorizo and black beans with house-made pickled jalapeños in a sauce of yellow peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic, served with rice.
Less impressive, mild tilapia was overwhelmed by a should-have-been-crisper crust of plantain crumbs and pumpkin seeds plus chimichurri sauce and smoky corn salsa, with black beans, rice and sautéed green beans on the side. Scallops were perfectly seared, but a cauliflower huancaina sauce lacked the boldness of the Peruvian original.
Desserts were a miss and a hit. We were disappointed in the rum-soaked pineapple upside-down cake, which, surprisingly, could have been sweeter (though we liked the cinnamon ice cream). But warm sweet potato doughnuts, beignet-like treats dusted with vanilla sugar and served with a caramel dip, hit the spot.
While we wouldn’t come to Gulfstream just to eat at Paladar, it’s a good bet at the track.