Black Rock Tavern: Rafael Palomino's latest establishment
With his track record and reputation as a discerning restauranteur, Rafael Palomino's newly opened Black Rock Tavern continues to build upon his success in providing good food and good service in a comfortable dining environment.
A native of Bogota, Colombia, who was raised in Queens, N.Y., Palomino turned his love of food and skill at cooking to become a leading chef, honing his skills with such culinary greats as Larry Forgione, Charles Palmer at the River Café in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Michel Guerard in Eugenia-les-Baine, France.
Black Rock Tavern -- located at 2320 Black Rock Turnpike in the former Uno Chicago Grill -- is the latest in Executive Chef Palomino's family of restaurants that include his flagship Sonora on East 39th Street in Manhattan, which New York magazine voted "One of the Best Places to Eat" in the city in 1999; Sonora and Pacifico, both in Westchester County; Greenwich Tavern in Greenwich; and two other Pacifico restaurants in New Haven and Center Valley, Pa.
When he's not traveling among his restaurants to oversee the staff and service and demonstrate his culinary talents in the kitchen, he authors cookbooks, including his latest Fiesta Latino: Fabulous Food for Sizzling Parties, which is available at Black Rock Tavern. He also runs a successful catering business, teaches cooking and plays soccer with his two children at home in Bedford, N.Y.
When a patron walks into the Black Rock Tavern, it could be that Flexible Flyier sled propped up near the entrance and the large American flag hanging on the wall along with other symbols of Americana throughout the restaurant that project clues about this restaurant and the mindset of its proprietor. Palomino wants patrons to feel welcomed. He wants patrons to feel comfortable, and ready to enjoy the food, the service and the ambiance. As he likes to say, "Anyone who knows me, knows the best way to find out about me is through my food."
Above all, with the trappings of this American culture, he signals the success this country has provided him, an immigrant who grew up and tapped into his family's roots and culture, and all this country has to offer.
"I want to send the message that you will have good food and value," said Palomino, in a telephone interview, as he took time to discuss his new restaurant and his philosophy in creating its setting.
He is sensitive to the economic conditions and the fact that this country is fighting a war, so against the backdrop of the patriotic touches, like framed black and white photos of families, he wants people to feel welcomed and to enjoy their meal at the tavern.
With the goal of good food and a comfortable setting in mind, Palomino designed the interior with a variety of settings. Instead of one big dining room, he installed room dividers to provide intimacy and privacy for patrons. The restaurant accommodates 170 patrons in the dining area and 25 patrons in the bar. There is also a patio for dining Al Fresco (Well, maybe not just yet, but spring and summer aren't too far off).
"I want people to be pleased and satisfied with what we create. I enjoy cooking and creating menus and having people pleased with what we do," Palomino said.
General Manager Sonny Bello described Palomino as someone who "loves food and loves people. He loves going into the dining room to meet people," he said.
Black Rock Tavern offers a traditional menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, pastas, pizza and entrees. There is also a children's menu, with the traditional choice of macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese, chicken fingers and pasta.
For example, soups range from Tavern Onion Soup and Lobster and Butternut Squash Bisque, to Jackson Hole Rib Eye and White Bean Chili, and Palomino's Truffled Mac `N' Cheese. Sandwiches range from the Tavern Burgers and Angus Beef and Chorizo Sliders, to a Cuban or Vegetarian Panini. The entrees offer traditional selections of Fish `N' Chips, Maryland Crab Cakes, Salmon, Sea Bass, steaks and ribs.
At the bar, patrons can enjoy a variety of draught beer, domestic beers from Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Nantucket, California and Colorado, to imports from Germany, England and Belgium. Also, the bar menu includes a variety of cocktails and and an impressive wine list, both by the bottle and glass.
In addition to Fiesta Latina, Palomino is the author of Viva la Vida: Festive Recipes for Entertaining Latin Style, Nueva Salsa: Recipes to Spice It Up and Bistro Latino: Home Cooking Fired Up With the Flavors of Latin America. His next book will be Palomino's Latin Grill -- all published by Chronicle Books with co-author Arlen Gargagliano.
Also, he produces his own products with the Latino Chef label. Patrons can buy a jar of his Chimichurri, Sun-Dried Tomato Chimichurri. This is a dipping sauce. "Just dip the bread in the sauce," Palomino suggested. Also, he added, the sauce is good as a condiment with grilled steak or grilled portobello nushrooms.
George Laughlin, who has lived in Fairfield for 42 years, sat at the bar one recent afternoon. A frequent patron, he enjoys stopping by for lunch two or three times a week.
"It's nice. The staff is friendly," he said. "It's a nice family place. That's important to me," said Laughlin, who recently brought 10 people to the restaurant to eat.
Black Rock Tavern is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, with a brunch on Sundays. For more information, call Black Rock Tavern at (203) 372-2909.