Paladar: New Entry at Gulfstream Park Serves Up Winning Latin Fare

Who would have thought that a respectable nuevo Latino restaurant would arrive in South Florida by way of Cleveland and Annapolis? Well, that's what's happened with the opening of Paladar Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar at The Village at Gulfstream Park. Paladar got its start in Cleveland in 2007 and opened in Annapolis three years later. A fourth location will be opening soon in Bethesda.

Always on the lookout for new places to eat and drink, Short Order checked out Paladar and was impressed with the setting, ambiance, service and food. Located in the space formerly occupied by Primebar, Paladar offers ample seating inside as well as a large covered terrace overlooking the fountains and entry to Gulfstream's Clubhouse.

As its name implies, Paladar is also a rum bar, with more than 50 labels on its rum menu alone. But there's plenty of other stuff to drink besides rum, including a tasty Jalapeño Paloma made with el Jimador Silver tequila, muddled jalapeños, fresh grapefruit juice, fresh lemon juice and simply syrup, served on the rocks in a salt-rimmed glass.

Exec chef Orlando Aroyo introduces a fresh interpretation of Latin comfort food, with creative spins on traditional dishes. Paladar's well-rounded menu offers a good selection of appetizers, ceviches, salads and entrees, as well an array of quesadillas, wraps, soft tacos and sandwiches. There's surely enough variety here to please everyone at the table.

A welcome change from boring bread and butter or greasy toasted Cuban bread is Paladar's complimentary black bean spread -- warm and garlicky, and served with soft tortillas for tearing and dipping.

Guacamole comes in three varieties: traditional (mild), spicy (not really) and "chef's inspiration," served with an array of fresh and crunchy tortilla, boniato and plantain chips. Undecided? Get the Guacamole Trio and try all three. We opted for the spicy, but it required a few generous dashes of Paladar's own Caribbean Lime Hot Sauce to give it the zing we wanted.

Scallop Grapefruit Ceviche, one of four listed on the menu, was fresh, with thinly sliced scallops, Fresno peppers, scallions, shaved fennel, lime juice and a sprig of fresh dill, but the shaved fennel overpowered the other flavors and detracted from what otherwise would have been a terrific ceviche.

Cezar Salad, with romaine, shaved Manchego cheese and crunchy Cuban croutons tossed in a sugar cane Caesar dressing, was good but unremarkable. We couldn't say what made the croutons "Cuban" - perhaps they were made from garlicky Cuban bread? - but the salad was also topped with fried tortilla strips for extra crunch.

Slow Cooked Chicken Tortilla Soup was a thick and hearty concoction made with shredded chicken, hominy and smoky pasilla peppers, garnished with roasted tomato and avocado salsa, sour cream and fried tortilla strips. It was perfect for a somewhat chilly South Florida day.

Rum Glazed Cuban Pork featured savory pulled pork in a sweet rum glaze with black beans, coconut-mango rice and fresh pico de gallo. It was a flavorful and satisfying dish that we would order again. A side dish of sautéed spinach never made it to the table, but we didn't miss it; our bellies were so full we could barely cross the finish line on our entrée.

For dessert, Sweet Potato Donuts sounded appealing - fluffy sweet warm bites dusted with vanilla sugar and served with Paladar's golden caramel sauce. Both our server and chef Orlando advised us these might be delayed because the batter was too thick and they were working on thinning it out. Perhaps they didn't thin it out enough, as the donuts were dense and chewy, not fluffy. Even so, they made for a nice, sweet ending to our meal, especially when dipped in the caramel sauce.

Despite some opening week timing issues, service was polite and friendly. And with its generous portions and surprisingly reasonable prices (guess they figure people here will be dropping their dough on horses and slots), Paladar is the kind of place one can return to again and again, especially if you happen to live in northeast Miami-Dade or southeast Broward. But it's also one of those "worth a drive" spots when you're looking for something new, different and delicious.

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