I have much respect for chefs who have mastered the art of French culinary techniques. The use of fresh, in-season ingredients, properly reduced sauces, the right touch of seasonings and eye appeal are just a few on the list.
Chef Adán Saavedra, who is from Mexico, decided to marry the flavors of his native land with French technique when he opened Paloma in Northeast Philly about 13 years ago. He is dedicated to haute cuisine and food fads be damned.
He moved Paloma to Bella Vista right across the street from Cucina Forte. I don’t know why I never reviewed Paloma, so a visit was in order.
A bubbly woman met me at the door and we chatted about the rain while Edward found a parking spot. Since the restaurant is quite dark, she asked our server to seat us near the window.
Paloma is lovely. The dining rooms have white walls, colorful artwork and fresh yellow roses that set off the crisp white linen and modern flatware.
The restaurant features a three-course dinner Tuesday through Thursday, but Edward and I decided to order from the à la carte menu. Our server opened the French burgundy we brought, wrapped it in a napkin and poured us a taste in a most professional manner.
A hot-from-the-oven loaf of bread from a Portuguese bakery in Newark, N.J. kept us happy. It was served with a small mound of whipped sour cream piped from a pastry bag. A small dish of hot chili sauce with a demi-tasse spoon arrived and we were urged to be careful. It was quite hot.
We began dinner with corn chowder ($9.50) and crab ceviche ($12.50). The soup was rich, bursting with fresh corn, potatoes, onions, red peppers, poblano and ancho chilis. It was prepared with a homemade vegetable stock and topped with baby shrimp. Saavedra achieved the perfect balance of heat and flavor in this tasty bowl.
French technique was apparent in his ceviche presentation. Jumbo lump crabmeat was marinated in lime juice, olive oil, shallots, jalapeño and cilantro and placed atop a round stack of sliced red ripe tomato and avocado. The ceviche lacked acid. A true ceviche is made with raw fish that is “cooked” in lemon or lime juice. Still, it was a cool and pleasant way to begin dinner. All it required was a sprinkling of salt.
Unfortunately, our entrées went south. Edward ordered the branzino ($23) and I looked forward to breast of duck ($25).
To the best of my knowledge, branzino is not eaten in Mexico or France. It is a Mediterranean fish that must be cooked on the bone to impart a rich flavor. Saavedra filleted the fish and baked it in the oven along with capers and olives and finished it with a tomato Serrano chili sauce. It was bland and arrived lukewarm. A round stack of cool mashed potatoes were set on a few sautéed spinach leaves. Mashed potatoes, or pomme puree, is a French invention. They must be whipped into submission with lots of butter. This version fell flat.
My duck was prepared with a boneless, skinless duck breast. No chef would remove the skin from a duck before cooking it. This was the first problem. Before the skinned duck was seared, it was stuffedwith caramelizes shallots, wrapped in bacon and roasted in the oven. The result was a dry overcooked breast of duck, which took on an unpleasant gray hue. A pyramid-shaped bit of rice topped with a few pencil-thin asparagus sat on the plate. The duck was lukewarm and the rice mix cold.
Our understanding waiter offered me another entrée. I ordered the rib-eye steak medium-rare ($23). A rib-eye is an oval-shaped steak, rich with marbling and adorned with the “lip,” the most tender part, which surrounds the meat. I have never seen one shaped like a rectangle. I am not sure this was a rib-eye because there was no marbling and no lip. It was a tender cut and was topped with chopped black trumpet mushrooms. The aforementioned cool potatoes and spinach sat on the plate.
Dessert fared a bit better. A hefty slice of homemade, rich and flavorful chocolate-orange cake iced with a tasty chocolate ganache and filled with chocolate/mocha buttercream redeemed a fairly disappointing dinner.
Two-and-a-half tips of the toque to Paloma.
763 S. Eighth St.
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