After a bloggers’ tasting at Paloma in Stamford’s Harbor Point, CTBites sat down with Chef de Cuisine Chris Bateman to review the menu -- and his creative relationship with celebrity chef-owner Aarón Sánchez.
Bateman is a culinary prodigy. Fresh from CIA, the young chef opened Four Seasons Restaurants and Hotels around the world. So debuting Paloma last summer wasn’t his first big time rodeo. Sánchez may be its star, but Bateman runs the day-to-day show.
We wondered how much the celeb is involved in the creation of Paloma’s menu. “Very much,” Bateman replies. “We work closely. But he’s wide open to my ideas, and listens really well.” The unshaven, still youthful chef, sporting jeans and a Yankee cap worn backwards, confides, “Aarón is the reason I’ve stayed here. I love cooking with him.”
The globetrotting Bateman was born and raised in Stamford. Visiting his parents last year, he learned of the Paloma opening in his home town. “And when I met Aarón,” he confesses, “I knew I wanted to work with him.”
The seasonal menu was largely conceived by Bateman, but refined with Sánchez. Their notion was to lighten Paloma’s winter fare with vibrant Latin flavors like passion fruit, cilantro, chipotle, and tamarind.
Of all the offerings, our favorite was the Mexican Street Corn, sweet kernels dressed with herbed chipotle crema and queso cotija, the cheese lending a surprising saltiness. The conversation at the table suddenly dissolved into a chorus of “mmmmms” and “yummmms.” In our mind, this humble, peasant staple, elevated by the crema and queso, won the night. Bateman also choses his inventive take on the classic Elotes as a favorite: “It’s really what Paloma and the season are all about.”
However, another app, Lobster Ceviche, lost its way somewhere between New England and Mexico. The taste was surprisingly un-lobstery, its buttery texture floundering in passion fruit and habanero sauce.
We then sampled Bateman/Sánchez’s inspired version of Albondigas -- meatballs bathed in chipotle broth, mint, and queso cotija. The presentation in itself was mouthwatering. The taste was eye-opening, just as it once had been at another time, another place.
We first tried Albondigas at the eponymous Zarela’s in New York two decades ago. The restaurant’s namesake, Zerela Martiniz, single-handedly transformed New York’s Mexican food scene. Indeed, her rendition of that homespun meatball dish changed our notion of what Mexican fare could and should be. It turns out that Zerala happens to be Aarón Sánchez’s mom. Elevating simplicity to sublime runs in the family.
When the entries were served, we particularly enjoyed the braised short ribs, imbued with an ancho-cacao rub and accompanied by seasonal vegetables. Like the Albondigas, this umami-rich beef dish seemed suitable for any season, any America.
Chef Bateman singles out the Cuban Style Chicken as a personal favorite. He marinates, then roasts the bird, pairing it with a pickled salad and sweet tamarind flavored chicken fried rice. It certainly bears Paloma’s signature: simple comfort food, lifted by spices and herbs. “This isn’t fusion,” Bateman insists. “We like to stay true to Latin cooking.”
Case in point: the Garganelli Pasta. Bateman creates a ragout of slow cooked lamb shoulder, cauliflower, grilled escarole, and tamarind reduction, a tasty, almost rustic sauce for the penne style noodles. The result is a tribute to a popular South American pasta-based cuisine. (Most Americans don’t realize that noodles are a staple in the kitchens of South America, due to the influx of Italians who migrated to Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Chile at the end of the 19th Century and after WWI.)
The banquet culminated with a double-barrel dessert of warm churros, capped with dolce de leche and agave-vanilla crema, flanked by cheesecake with salted caramel and cherry chunk cookie crumble.
Bateman promises that as the summer deepens, Paloma’s menu will welcome the season’s bounty. Expect watermelon, peaches, and late berries to grace his apps, entries, and deserts.
When the kitchen closes at night, Chef Bateman faces an easy commute home. Like many in the crowded restaurant, Chris lives in Harbor Point, a short jaunt from a workplace like no other….
Encased in a stunning two-story glass edifice overlooking the waters of Stamford Harbor, Paloma may be the most visually captivating dining venue on Connecticut’s Gold Coast.
15 Harbor Pt. Road, Stamford (203) 998-7500 Palomagrill.com
Lunch, Dinner, Weekend BrunchH15 Harbor Point Road,
Stamford, CT 06902