Monday, April 19, 2010

Pomaire: A Theater District treasure

Pomaire (371 W. 46th St., Midtown)

Faced with the challenge of arranging a restaurant birthday party for a cherished friend, the factors to consider are seemingly countless.  When said friend is Pete, one of my longest and best in New York City, the stakes are upped significantly.  Pete is one of those guys who has sampled some of the most delicious and exquisite foods the city has to offer.  He's also the guy who's house parties last for twelve hours, and he slaves away at the stovetop for several days in advance in preparation.  In addition to a cornucopia of gourmet dishes and freshly cut floral centerpieces, his beautiful Polish friend, Kinga, might bring along her delicious homemade pierogies, or the cabaret chanteuse, Tori, might add her famous corn salad to the feast.  His are the parties with a colorful pilgrim table spread about which people rave for weeks and weeks, long after the last cheese board has been washed and put away until the next occasion for celebration.

Needless to say, for Pete's most recent birthday, I wanted to find a unique restaurant gem that would be unfamiliar to most of the guests, centrally located for accessibility, yet boasting a cuisine and ambiance worthy of the quality his friends have come to enjoy and expect.

Quietly perched near the three Yum Yum Bangkoks on the corner of 46th and 9th (yes, you read that correctly) sits New York City's oldest Chilean restaurant, Pomaire.  While I generally steer my recommendations away from Times Square and the Theater District in general, Pomaire is not only a Restaurant Row exception, but inarguably one of my favorite kitchens in the entire city.

Having recently undergone a beautiful renovation, the casually elegant dimly lit dining room is decorated with a stunning collection of oil paintings by various Chilean artists.  Mingling among the extremely friendly and warm staff, almost every night of the week you will find owner, Denic Catalan, himself accompanied by his cheerful and lovely companion, Nancy, as well as a number of their family members performing various roles throughout the establishment.  Almost instantly, you are overcome with the comforting sense that you have stepped into a family home.  Although Chilean cuisine may not be the most familiar, Denic and his family will literally sit down with any guest to explain the components and flavors of each dish, and even recommend specific selections based on the freshest ingredients available that day.

From the leather and brass menus to the refreshing pisco sours (a national drink of Chile, made from grape brandy, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, and egg whites) each facet of the restaurant is made with pride, love, and a commitment to excellence.

One of my secrets to dining at Pomaire is to arrive between the hours of 8 and 10 o'clock.  Because of its location in the Theater District, pre and post theater can tend to be extremely busy (although Pomaire does take reservations on OpenTable.)  If you want to try the 3-course prix fixe for $24.95, I would definitely recommend booking a table in advance.

For Pete's party, we arrived at 8:00 and were seated immediately, with pisco sours (they're refreshingly delicious, and extremely potent) waiting on the table in honor of the birthday boy, which we supplemented with pitchers of delicious sparkling wine sangria.  Though I recommend starting with one of their unique Chilean cocktails or sangrias, be sure to take full advantage of their impressive wine list, featuring some of the most celebrated vineyards of South America at extremely reasonable prices.

As soon as we made a toast, we were served baskets of an assortment of traditional Chilean breads, accompanied with a dish of pebre -- a particularly addictive condiment composed of coriander, chopped onion, olive oil, garlic, and pureed aji peppers.  Though we generously spooned it onto the golden pastry squares, pebre is also delicious on the selection of various meats and seafood.

The boyishly charming and tender Denic walked around our table, offering helpful suggestions based upon the likes and preferences of each guest.  He enthusiastically shared that he had just received a delivery of scallops that someone absolutely had to try, as well as a few other recommendations based on his purchases at the Greenmarket in Union Square (Pomaire sources its protein and produce from local markets and butchers, with only free range and organic ingredients).  We took all of his recommendations, and ended up raving about what resulted in a perfectly festive and delicious birthday dinner.

Ceviche of corvina with fresh lemon, cilantro, onions, and peppers.  Their shrimp, scallop, and mussel ceviche is also one of my favorites.

Palta Reina (a whole avocado stuffed with shredded organic chicken salad, with watercress, extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt)

Pomaire bakes my favorite empanada in the entire city.  This jumbo stuffed pastry is loaded to bursting with a blend of seafood, served with winter baby greens.

Sauteed jumbo shrimp with graneado rice, market vegetables, and micro greens.

Pan roasted diver scallops on a bed of cauliflower puree, topped with a leek and granny smith salad.

My personal favorite for a long time has been, and remains the chupe de mariscos.  Pomaire is actually named after a small town just west of Santiago famous for its earthenware pottery.  Served in one of these traditional clay pots, the chupe de mariscos is an extremely hearty shellfish gratin of shrimp, scallops, crabmeat, and cheese, all baked to golden bubbling perfection.

At the end of our meal, Denic personally presented a piece of merengue cake with lucuma cream.  Lucuma is a subtropical fruit native to South America, which tastes a like a combination of sweet potato and maple syrup.

My favorite Pomaire sweet ending, however, is their extraordinary thousand layer cake, filled with walnuts and manjar (Chilean caramelized milk sauce)

I owe a very sincere thank you to the entire team at Pomaire for what turned out to be a simply perfect evening.  I could not more highly recommend a unique New York City experience with a more gracious and hospitable family.  If you get a chance to treat yourself to this New York treasure, be sure to ask for Denic, Nancy, or Pia, and tell them Bradley sent you.

Pomaire on Urbanspoon

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