By the end of 2014, Aarón Sánchez will have opened four new restaurants in seven months' time.
"It's completely insane," said the 38-year-old chef and restaurateur known for his Latin cuisine, which he has brought to national audiences through frequent appearances on the Food Network's "Chopped," "Best Thing I Ever Ate" and "Next Iron Chef."
The first of those four planned restaurants opened on July 21 in Stamford's Harbor Point. Paloma, a 250-seat space with a Latin-inspired menu and bar, is Sánchez's first foray into Connecticut. The owner of Mestizo in Leawood, Kan., he will also open Alegre in Manhattan and Johnny Sánchez alongside Chef John Besh in Baltimore and New Orleans this year.
Paloma features a menu of whole roasted meats, wood-grilled seafood, assorted ceviche and raw bar selections and small plates, drawing culinary inspiration from several Latin American and South American countries.
"I wanted to develop a menu that exemplifies all the things I like to eat," Sánchez said in a telephone interview. "I've traveled throughout South America quite a bit, and shot [television] all over Mexico. I wanted to make sure the menu represented my travel and inspiration. I didn't want to pigeonhole any type of food."
Sample menu items include hamachi tiradito with passion fruit aji rocoto sauce; cactus fritters with chipotle remoulade; sweet plantain empanadas with mole and pan-seared double-cut pork chop with grapefruit mojo and yam puree. A dish of albondigas (beef and pork meatballs) thickened with masa harina "like a tamal," Sánchez said, is a recipe of his grandmother's.
Larger plates include pollo pibil (whole roasted chicken marinated in achiote habanero sauce with pickled salad) and tomahawk steak for two with chimichurri sauce and epazote béarnaise. These were added to encourage guests to share, Sánchez said. "I wanted it to be convivial…I love when people get a big roasted chicken; it really encourages the social aspect of dining."
Paloma's bar mirrors the food's multicultural inspiration, with cocktails made with tequila, mezcal, pisco, cachaça, and rum - including the restaurant's namesake drink, a blend of ruby red grapefruit and lime juices, sea salt, purified water, Camarena reposado tequila and grapefruit creme brulee nectar. Mixology pro Olie Berlic is responsible for Paloma's beverage program, which he says was "created with a reverence for the craft of the cocktail, with a strong awareness of quality."
So what brought Sánchez to the Nutmeg State?
"I grew up in [New York] City," he said. "We're used to having people come from Connecticut to work and patronize our restaurants. As Stamford is having this rebirth and renaissance – I could introduce them to food they could really enjoy… Most people in Stamford are business people with savvy palates. For me it was a good choice to be there."
Sánchez partnered with Bill and Gus Chimos, owners of Frankie and Johnnie's steakhouses in Manhattan and Rye, N.Y., to open the Harbor Point eatery. The chef speaks highly of the collaboration with them and management group BLT, and says he loves the "beautiful" waterfront neighborhood.
"It's a burgeoning community. It's very family-oriented as well. It's a beautiful diverse mix. I love the strong Latin community here."
Sánchez is the son of Zarela Martinez, the restaurateur credited with bringing regional Mexican cuisine to New York City, but has made a name for himself through his own cooking. His television experience has helped him share his expertise with Latin cuisine to a much wider audience, he said.
"TV is a wonderful tool to help people cook," he said. "I can talk to someone in Iowa who doesn't know how to use a chipotle pepper…I think the Food Network has singlehandedly made people cook better. I've been happy to be part of their family for 10 years."
>>Paloma is at 15 Harbor Point Road in Stamford. The restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating, along with options for private parties. It's open Monday through Thursday from 4 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 4 to 11 p.m.; and Sunday, 3 to 9 p.m. Lunch and brunch are forthcoming. Information: 203-998-7500 and palomagrill.com.Copyright © 2015, CT Now