10 Aug

On a recent trip to the city with my sister and our mom and dad, we dined at Pampano, an upscale Mexican restaurant.  The chef, Richard Sandoval, owns multiple restaurants of Mexican flavor, including Maya, which has locations in New York City, Los Angeles, and Dubai.  The chef may have a vast empire, and his food is decent.  However, my visit prompted me to think that his reign would be a little more successful if he cut back his borders. 

Once inside the restaurant, I was impressed with the design.  The lower floor is classy, as well as the upstairs, which evokes a Tommy Bahama photoshoot vibe.  The decor gave a beachy feel to the restaurant, and with some Tiki torches and an ocean, I could have been at a nice beach party on the gulf.  I suppose the frigid arctic blast also reminded me that I was certainly not in Mexico, but the accomodating staff did turn the fans down upon request. 

As far as the food, which to most people including myself is the most important aspect of a meal, I was not utterly distraught.  On the other hand, I was not inspired or completely satisfied.  A table portion of guacamole was a nice way to start the meal.  However, the large portion would lead one to believe, as far as I am concerned, that the following appetizer portions would at least match the quantity of guacamole divided up per person.  The concept of having a large “snack” before a meager first course is a smelly rat, because if you ask me, it is an easy and conspicuous way of cutting costs. 

My family and I were not excedingly hungry, so none of us ordered entrees.  While this is arguably the reason for our disappointment, a good restaurant should offer appetizers that are of equal caliber to the entrees.  We all shared a tasting of ceviches.  The portions were meager, but since it is something that the menu offers for a single diner, I’ll let that one slide.  However, the flavor sensations were less than perfect.  The mahi mahi ceviche was tender, but the curing liquid was reminiscent of inadequately flavored tomato juice, which was just salvaged by some fresh orange juice.  The tuna ceviche was nothing ground-breaking, and the halibut one was not balanced enough; the mango’s sweetness was not counteracted by enough savory flavor.  Overall, these dishes were pretty, but any Iron Chef freak knows that points for plating cannot salvage a dish that fails in flavor and ingenuity. 

After that, our appetizers were the lobster tacos; the blue cornmeal crusted oysters; the ensalada de espinaca; the tamale; the shrimp empeñadas; and the red snapper quesadillas.  As I mentioned previously, the portions were pretty small.  My dad’s tacos were miniscule, and the finely diced lobster stole all of the textural integrity from that ill-fated crustacean.  The salad was rather disappointing.  Its components were baby spinach, spicy pumpkin seeds, grapefruit segments, and some sad looking shaved jicama, carrots, and red onion.  I firmly believe that Chef Sandoval added this dim feature to the menu to show the world that he knew how to make grapefruit supremes.  The red snapper quesadillas were okay, but nothing awe-inspiring.

Fortunately, a few dishes saved face for the restaurant.  The tamale, although a little dry on the outside, was accompanied by a creamy sauce that melded well with the spicier salsa component on the plate.  The goat cheese interior was quite delicious as well.  Perhaps my favorite dish was the blue cornmeal crusted oysters, which carried the sea with them.  The brininess of the bivalve was excellent with the goat cheese and the crispy exterior. 

For dessert, we had the natilla de cajeta, which was not bad but nothing special.  I would liken its spot on the menu to putting a mediocre standardized test score on a college application.  Maybe it won’t throw you into a bad light, but if you have little else going for you, it certainly won’t help. 

The small plates did not leave us empty, but the aforementioned guacamole had a prime role in our satiation, no doubt.  Perhaps the blow of an under-par meal could be softened by their above average and quite potent margaritas.  I wouldn’t know.  The designated driver is the wisest diner.


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