2.5 stars for pan Latin eats at Paladar at the Village of Gulfstream

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.

What Worked

  • Light and flaky empanadas stuffed with portobello mushrooms and queso blanco cheese, then topped with pico de gallo and pasilla pepper aioli
  • Mixed seafood ceviche (snapper, calamari and shrimp) spiked with ají peppers and served with carrots
  • Three types of guacamole: Traditional (mild), spicy (flavorful but not hot) and a “chef’s inspiration”
  • Veracruz seafood stew shrimp, calamari, mussels, tilapia, a zesty tomato sauce, green beans and pickled jalapeños
  • Deliciously tender churrasco steak
  • Coconut curry vegetables-  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
  • Brazilian feijoada combining slow-roasted pork, smoky chorizo, black beans, house-made pickled jalapeños and a sauce of yellow peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic
  • Warm sweet potato doughnuts dusted with vanilla sugar and served with a caramel dip

What Didn’t Work

  • Mild tilapia  overwhelmed by a should-have-been-crisper crust of plantain crumbs and pumpkin seeds
  • Perfectly seared scallops with a cauliflower huancaina sauce lacked the boldness of the Peruvian original
  • Rum-soaked pineapple upside-down cake that could have been sweeter