Chef Rafael Palomino's Sonora Turns 20!

Kristin L. Wolfe
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Happy Birthday To You, 

Happy Birthday To You,

Happy Birthday Dear Sonora,

Happy 20th Birthday To You…

Chef Rafael Palomino has found a formula that works. If a restaurant lasts more than three years these days, it is almost surprising. Well not only has Chef found a formula for Sonora which turns 20 this year, but he’s spreading his latin magic left and right with several hot spots under his belt.

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Over the CT border in Port Chester, NY Sonora restaurant boasts plates full of flavor for every palate, but you wouldn’t guess it by the humble, unassuming exterior. The light, muted tones and simple trim on the outside, almost resembling a country cottage, makes walking into the vibrant colors on the walls, bountiful bar, upstairs party room, not to mention parties on each plate, quite a remarkable contrast.

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Originally hailing from Bogota in Colombia, then New York City, with culinary training in France, Chef Palomino is seasoned and uses his years of experience and his knowledge of latin and classic cuisine to his advantage. However, he also listens and continues his growth as a chef and is therefore able to blend that training and experience and flavors from home with fresh ideas and options. In addition to the tremendous array of zesty Latin dishes and traditional plates like patatas, empanadas, or ceviche--all labeled on the menu by South American country of origin--Chef Palomino has pumped up the menu with vegetarian and vegan options for most of those traditional Latin plates we crave.

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My friend Marina Escobar and fellow food connoisseur---who was actually on a Food Network episode with her mother back in the day--but more specifically, who’s family also hails from Colombia, says she was impressed by the way in which Chef was able to offer vegan options with so much flavor. Latin cuisine is often revered for its smoky, robust meats used, which can sometimes get heavy, and yet Chef’s veggies become stars and you don’t even miss the meat. We loved the Vegan Paella which was just as hearty as any you’d get with its heavier counterpart. With farro, pumpkin, roasted brussels sprouts, beets, and cauliflower topped with tofu aioli, it really put the yum in yummy.

THAT SAID, the traditional seafood paella was DE-liscious. The seafood takes on that low, slow smoky flavor, and yet remains so tender; I’ve had way too many paellas where the seafood gets too tough and ruins the whole plate.

Other bites that blew my mind: served on a three-tiered plate, dressed up with somewhere to go, the Goat Cheese Croquetas with mustard aioli was superb; it was the perfect example of a tiny bite with a kapow of big flavor; the Skirt Steak Coca on flatbread with arugula, cherry tomato, and manchego cheese was a party all on its own; and, wait for it...the Quinoa Empanadas with a Chocolate vinaigrette(!), goat cheese and roasted eggplant just about caused cartwheels around the table. Another example of a light bite with plenty of flavor, and one where the unexpected fusion caused quite a stir and a longing for more.

To accompany such a rainbow of flavors, we started out with a gorgeous, fruity traditional Spanish Red Sangria and moved to another first: an Avocado Margarita; it was delicious, smooth, and you guessed it, a bit green! Others at the table tried the Mango Mojito or the Spicy Ginger Margarita with crushed cherry peppers, and as the name suggests, ginger. They all had a delicious balance of sweet and spicy (like most Latin food, and Latin people I know!)

It is no wonder Sonora has turned 20 and has become a real, authentic gem in the area. There’s flavor, there’s warmth, great service, and a true homage to South American cuisines. There’s just enough of the traditional dishes many people have grown to love, and yet plenty more on the menu to discover. The other welcome note, is it is quite affordable with plenty of specials throughout the week, including perfectly-priced Happy Hour deals, and a Sunday Brunch with live jazz.

Can’t leave anywhere without a sweet finish, so, in Sonora’s trademark clean, classy, yet vibrant display, the desserts did not disappoint. From a fresh and fruity crumble to a chocolate cake and flan served with edible spoons, there was plenty to tempt us with, but whose heart would not beat a little faster around a tower of churros? (No, not because they are phallic symbols...geez, people) Mine certainly does though. From the hot crunch on the outside, to the tender smooth middle, and that always mind-blowing combo of cinnamon and sugar that gets dunked in a chocolate, I was done for when they were placed in front of me.

Sonora and Chef Palomino deserve the attention and accolades, including numerous Best of Westchester nods, received all these years. They are worth the hurrahs they continue to receive and we wish them countless more.

Books by Chef Rafael Palomino: Bistro Latino, Viva la Vida, Nueva Salsa, Fiesta Latina, and Latin Grill!

Other Restaurants from Chef Rafael Palomino

--Pacífico (New Haven)

-Tapas on Main (Bethlehem, PA)

-Urbano (Bethlehem, PA)

-The Flying Egg (Bethlehem, PA)

-Cachette Bistro & Creperie (Bethlehem, PA)

-Mesa Modern Mexican (Easton, PA)

-BSquare (Fort Lauderdale, FLA)




Sonora

179 Rectory Street,

Port Chester, NY 10573

914-933-0200