A great Mexican restaurant meal begins with great tortillas. Paloma’s BK makes its own memorable version: coarse grained and tasting of corn; semi-thick and slightly spongy, so that only one is needed per taco; and tinted a dreamy shade of yellow. These are deployed in a number of novel ways, including a pair of great regional tacos. One comes from the state of Sinaloa, opposite the Baja Peninsula on the Mexican mainland, while the other is associated with Puerto Vallarta, a coastal resort town in the state of Jalisco, popularized in the States by the Love Boat.
From Sinaloa, Paloma’s BK offers tacos gobernador (“governor’s tacos,” two for $14), featuring the aforementioned tortilla wrapped around a handful of shrimp that have been poached in butter with tomatoes, mild green chiles, and cheese — making for the mellowest flavor-meld imaginable. The taco was apparently invented three decades ago when a Sinaloan governor visited an oceanside restaurant and the chef created a tribute taco.
From Puerto Vallarta comes tacos pescado zarandeado, referring to a cooking method invented in Nayarit just to the north, whereby a fish is split down the middle, rubbed with chile paste, grilled over charcoal, then deboned and stuffed in a tortilla with yellow rice and pickled purple onions. The taco has a smoky bouquet and earthy chile taste, and the fluffy yellow rice inside identifies it as a cousin of the humble tacos placeros, which our city fell in love with when they appeared around 15 years ago at a cart on Roosevelt Avenue.
Paloma’s BK is the handiwork of owner, chef, and former law student Fabiola Maldonado, who opened it in early March in the old Guadalupe Inn space. The restaurant is located at the convergence of Knickerbocker, Bogart, and Johnson avenues, where old manufacturing buildings are coming down and being replaced by condos, creating dust storms when the wind whips up, giving the corner a Wild West feel.
By contrast, the black-and-white interior has a night clubby ambiance, and adjacent to the dining room is a performance space where a jazz trio was improvising on a recent visit, making a nice backdrop for a meal. Maldonado is also responsible for another Mexican restaurant in the vicinity with almost the same name: Paloma’s in nearby Ridgewood. Opened five years ago, its bill of fare runs more to chimichangas, nachos, and other Mexican bar-food staples.
The menu at Paloma’s BK is far more adventurous in its exploration of Mexico’s regional cuisines. Besides atypical tacos, an entree section partly focuses on the currently faddish moles of the country’s souther regions, the complex pre-colonial combinations of chiles, herbs, nuts, tomatillos, and other indigenous ingredients that form thick sauces that can stand alone as meals in themselves. Oaxacan chile colorado is a scarlet mole with highlights of garlic and clove; a quarter chicken glistens in the middle, its skin slicked with sauce. Littered with sesame seeds, the sauce is darker, sweeter, and less complicated than some of the other sauces also considered moles.
Its companion on the menu is chamorro en adobo ($20), a hefty pork shank drenched with a zingy red sauce of dried ancho and guajillo chiles laced with vinegar. As is traditional, the tart and pungent concoction is profuse enough to moisten both the plate of rice and pile of tortillas that accompany it. Both are great choices among the seven entrees on the menu. Less successful is a dish of octopus tossed with potatoes in a dry chile sauce, barely coating the crustacean and leaving the dish low on flavor. Other entrees, which I didn’t try, include mixed-seafood enchiladas and a ribeye steak in poblano sauce.
The entrees are so profuse in size you won’t have room for them if you’ve already sampled dishes found among the starters and small plates, which is a shame since many good things are found in those two sections. Among the former appears an oddball version of guacamole heaped with pancetta — cubed, oily, and fibrous, with that funky and porky Italian charcuterie savor. It sounds like a useless addition to an already perfect dish, yet it works wonderfully by turning the guac saltier and richer. Give it a try.
The best dishes in the starter section are a pair of irresistible aguachiles, again originating in the state of Sinaloa. A version with raw scallops exploits the shellfish’s slipperiness and sweet flavor, tossed with fresh serranos, avocados, and cucumbers in lime juice to make a sweet-and-sour salad. The second aguachile is of particular interest to vegetarians, since it features crunchy jicama instead of seafood as its main ingredient.
But no matter how you chart a course among the three pages of menu items, you’ll keep coming back to those wonderful tortillas, and the fresh seafood that is the centerpiece of the menu at Paloma’s BK. Those two merge in a dish found in the small plate section: tostadas de congrejo ($15). A pair of tortillas are fried, smashed avocado is thickly spread over each, then a crab salad made with fresh mayonnaise is heaped with a generous hand. Finally, microgreens are sprinkled on top.
Rich and filling, the crab tostada is among the most memorable Mexican dishes I’ve tasted so far this year. Throw in the adobo pork shank, scallop aguachile, and tacos gobernador, and you have one of the best new Mexican restaurants in town, and one that uses the freshest ingredients in pursuit of a bold menu.