Did you know that there are nationally recognized food holidays for every day of the year? I have no idea who compiled these or designated specific days their foods. Everyone knows that it’s a terrible idea to eat ice cream in mid-December. I can also imagine that it would just suck to have your birthday on a day saddled with a food that you abhor. Happy birthday, Jimmy. I was gunning for July, but you just had to be born on June 17th. Enjoy your fresh veggies and thank your dad! Honestly, it would be bad. Good thing I like corned beef hash and chocolate milk. Another thing that I love: ceviche. To celebrate June 28th, ceviche day, I was invited to Pampano in New York City to try out their housemade ceviche and some of their other tasty bites.
The restaurant, a beloved Richard Sandoval favorite, is a beachy high-rise sandwiched in an unassuming area of the city, with a cool, white interior and minimal exterior for outside dining, sparsely decorated with palm fans and colorful metal fish. The restaurant specializes in contemporary Mexican and Spanish cuisine. We started off our dinner with two drinks, a grilled pineapple mojito and a mojito martini. Both were visually appealing and had fresh ingredients front and forward. I would have preferred to have a little more of a grilled, char flavor to the pina mojito, as that was a unique way of preparing the ingredients. So it was a bit of a letdown to have that subtlety overwhelmed by the rest of the ingredients. It was still delicious, and balanced the booziness with a sweet fruit juice and herbaceous twang.
The mojito martini sounded and tasted interesting, with white rum, mint, a red grape, and lime. The flavor was classic mojito, fresh and minty, but the lime and grape gave it a different twist. I’m not sure what was martini-like about it other than the visual element, but it was a fun drink. We started our meal with chips and guacamole, both freshly made and warm. The chips were very thick and crispy, perhaps a little too thick, but very hearty and filling before the meal. The guacamole, prepared spicy per our request, was thick and creamy without being heavy or monolithic in flavor. It was a solid example of a perfect dip.
We were unusually swayed by the appetizers more than the entrees- with many restaurants, there’s an even split between the two, but the entrees looked somewhat staid for our tastes, so we opted to whack up a bunch of appetizers between us. Being that it was ceviche day, we started with a fresh ahi tuna, pear tomato, cilantro, serrano pepper, and ginger cucumber broth-laced ceviche. It was one of the best I’ve ever had both in and out of a restaurant. Tender, fleshy pieces of tuna doused with the spicy broth and thin slices of pepper and tomato. The flavors were electrifying and zesty, with a warmth from the ginger and serrano. All of the elements really complimented the mild, buttery fish. Fantastic on both plantains and fish- this is definitely one to order for the whole table.
Our second appetizer was the cured hamachi with tamarind sauce, fried quinoa, and cilantro, flavors that mingled and blended effortlessly together. The fish, another tissue paper-like, masterful example, was delicately adorned with condiments. The quinoa’s earthy, crispy flavors, almost like micro french fries, and the sweet tang of the tamarind really made the dish. This is another one to keep an eye on if you’re craving fish. The delicate flavors are a real treat. With this, we enjoyed two huge glasses of the house sangria, pictured above. Both were robust in flavor with a colorful melange of fruits bobbing around inside. They were perfect in the heat of the night!
Continuing our forays into fish, we decided to try the lobster empanada. It was delicious, with an ingredient list hitting all of our sweet spots- roasted pineapple jalapeno salsa, chipotle sauce, and pickled red onions. The onions and salsa did little to cut the richness of the pastry, filled with cheese, spices, and formidable, yet yielding chunks of lobster, but it was a sumptuous dish.
Our final savory appetizer was the trio of filet mignon tacos, with tomatillo salsa, cilantro, and a healthy scoop of the aforementioned rich guacamole. While in many restaurants, filet is used as a gimmick to increase the price tag and prestige, the simple and unadorned flavors let the meat speak for itself. Chef Martinez knows his way around beef as he does fish. The beef was a perfectly seared medium rare. The sweetness of the condiments, fresh corn tortillas, and lime drew out the flavors expertly. This fresh take on classic Mexican street tacos, also simply dressed with onions, sauce, and cilantro, is a great version.
From there, we split two desserts. The pastel de elote, a warm corn cake painted with a bright swirl of hibiscus sauce and a scoop of housemade coconut ice cream, was a real showstopper and our favorite dish of the night. Bright, contrasting flavors that all melded together seamlessly. A bite of each of the three components was like being on the beach. The sharp, almost bittersweet flavor of the sauce was a ravishing treat.
Our last dessert was a coconut panna cotta with yuzu marshmallows and an airy tuille on top, garnished with fresh mint. This was a fun and palate-cleansing dessert to end our visit on, as its fun, eclectic set of flavors really emphasized what we felt Pampano was all about. The homemade marshmallows were squishy and citrus-heavy, with a zesty bitterness to offset the sweetness.
This was a great meal. It was interesting to walk downstairs from the hushed, formal dining room into the bustle below. If you’re enjoying Pampano’s tacos in their underground taqueria downstairs, I highly recommend getting dinner upstairs for a change of pace. It’s a versatile and clever restaurant to check out with friends or a partner and one that I know we’ll definitely be back to.