Coffee and pastries kick off the day. There's a mid-morning laptop crowd fueled by espresso drinks and maybe a breakfast taco or two. Lunch could be a roasted pork torta and a green salad, and as the day winds into the afternoon, patrons might opt for a glass of rose and something on which to nibble. When the space fills up in the evening, cocktail glasses replace the coffee mugs, and it feels like a full-blown restaurant instead of a corner cafe.
That's how the day progresses at Paloma Cafe in Bywater.
The restaurant, from the owners behind the Birmingham, Alabama-based coffee chain Revelator Coffee Company, opened late last year in the space that previously housed Cafe Henri and Booty's Street Food.
Chefs Danny Alas and Justin Rodriguez, from Venezuela and the Dominican Republic respectively, cut their teeth at chef Nina Compton's Compere Lapin before taking over the kitchen here. Their backgrounds and culinary pedigree shape the creative menu, which has Caribbean and Latin influences throughout.
Sweet plantains, fried until brown and crispy, are served with Oaxacan crema and topped with salty nibs of queso fresco. A plate of fried yuca spears is complemented by a snappy garlic and cilantro aioli. More Spanish-leaning influence is found in the chorizo-stuffed datiles, where sugary dates are wrapped around spicy sausage and served in a creamy Manchego fonduta, a salty contrast to the date's sweetness.
Small plates make up a large part of the cafe's menu and are affordably priced for a snack — most cost between $5 and $7. The cafe's all-day hours are appealing, but the prices are attractive as well, with entrees falling in the $12 to $14 range.
Restaurants that attempt to do too many things at once often lose track of quality control. Paloma sidesteps this by keeping its menu short, but more options are needed for dinner.
Of the dinner options, a roasted squash salad was one of the better dishes I've had in recent memory. It features feathery layers of barely-dressed greens interspersed with silky hunks of roasted squash, slivers of almonds and a nutty romesco sauce. The salad is hearty enough to serve as an entree and has ample body and character.
The chefs have an affinity for Spanish romesco, a warming mix of red peppers, tomatoes, garlic and almonds. It appears in a bowl of curried roasted cauliflower, in which the golden, buttery nuggets sit in a pool of the sauce, dusted with biscuit breadcrumbs and almonds.
Patacones, or fried green plantains, serve as the base for one of the menu's best dishes. Golden-fried plantain cakes are topped with tender pork shoulder roasted in a citrusy mojo sauce. A shower of pickled red onions, cilantro and thinly sliced Fresno chilies impart acid and heat.
In keeping with an overarching Latin theme, a simple and subtly sweet flan arrives with the burnt amber gloss that hints of rum and caramel, and is sweet but not cloyingly so.
Restaurants like Atla in New York and Sqirl in Los Angeles have made a name for themselves perfecting the all-day cafe model. Paloma Cafe might be the first local rendition to truly succeed at the concept.