By Gina Ruccione, Cuisine and Restaurant Writer
Well, that’s it. I’m no longer single. I just fell in love with a restaurant. I know that’s so unlike me. I don’t typically swoon at the promise of being swept off of my feet. But something happened the other night. Padre has essentially changed all of that. So, here’s the deal — Long Beach, brace yourself. It’s about to get real serious in the food and beverage industry. I’ve been ranting for months that I am often underwhelmed by restaurants in general.
When I walk into a restaurant, I don’t want to order anything safe. I want to take a bite out of something and be transported to another place. Padre, the new Latin gastropub in downtown Long Beach, exceeded my expectations in every way.
The dishes are thoughtful, absolutely delicious, and not obnoxiously overstated. It is the next best thing in the Harbor Area (or maybe even beyond). Period.
The staff is gracious and accommodating — nothing short of genuine. Everyone who works there is incredibly passionate about food, cocktails and outstanding service. I had a wonderful tour from the general manager, Timothy Wetzel.
He explained some of the future plans for the restaurant and what is to be expected after its grand opening: brunches, al fresco dining upstairs and even a VIP room. I also chatted with the executive chef, Frank Deloach, who made it his mission that I try almost everything on the menu. Frank is nothing short of a creative culinary master.
Let’s talk about some of his masterpieces: Charred carrots: A more dynamic approach to roasted carrots, this dish was one of my favorites. They were crunchy, not overcooked by any means and plated over fresh salsa made from carrot tops. The salsa is a game changer; I would eat it with a spoon by itself. Garnished with fresh herbs and grated Abuelita chocolate. I was totally blown away. Mac and cheese: I typically find mac and cheese bland and disappointing, but their mac and cheese is hands down the absolute best.
Served in a cast-iron dish, this spicy take on a Peruvian cheese sauce with garlic bread crumbs came oozing over al dente maccheroni noodles. Al dente is key here. Soggy just doesn’t do anything for me. I’m Italian, so if you want to play with pasta or noodles, you still need to come at me with something hard. Brussels sprouts: Been there; done that — bored and over it.
OK, no, I changed my mind. Perhaps I vacillate too much, but I’m a woman. I am entitled to change my mind. If you’re going to eat them at all, then order them here. I won’t name any names, but I actually watched a friend of mine lick the bowl clean. And who am I to throw someone under the bus? Banana leaf fish: I am not kidding when I say that I still dream about this dish.
Out of the oven comes this branzino, wrapped in a banana leaf and butterflied (sliced in half down the middle) open with the head still intact. The plating and presentation was on point. The fish was only lightly seasoned with salt and pepper but the way Frank incorporated fresh herbs as a seasoning element was inspiring. I’ve yet to see any restaurant play with herbs the way Frank dazzled me with his herb game.
Tacos: I ordered one of each, because let’s be honest, I needed to assess the situation. I do it for the greater good. I do it for my readers. The Kraken was very unique: a grilled octopus taco with black olives, roasted pepper, cucumber, mint and feta.
I have a soft spot in my heart and soul for octopus. It’s nostalgic. It reminds me of high school in Sicily. This was by far my favorite taco on the menu. Dad’s Taco, which is also excellent, is their version of a skirt steak taco but with salsa de aguacate. Not sure what’s in it — ask for more.
The Picnic was also pretty good. I mean, it’s a fried chicken taco with a buttermilk dressing. Do I really need to explain that?
Order two. Cocktails: We’ve had this conversation before. If you can actually make a cocktail that pairs well with my dish, then my hat is off to you. If I’m enjoying my beverage, I’d like it to accompany my dinner. I don’t want to have a cocktail and then have to order a glass of wine to enjoy with my entrée – can’t we kill two birds with one stone? Here’s what I appreciate about Padre—the chef helped develop the bar program, so that he could ensure the food and drinks paired well. The LBC, which is their take on a Negroni, is a showstopper.
Amaretto and Mexican chocolate? Stop the press. I had more than one. Margaritas are served in a martini glass—need I say more? Padre, thanks for not doing me dirty. In Padre, I trust. The grand opening is set for sometime in mid- to late-July but they are accommodating patrons in the meantime.
Details: (562) 621-4951
Venue: Padre, 525 E. Broadway, Long Beach
Gina Ruccione has traveled all over Europe and Asia and has lived in almost every nook of Los Angeles County. You can visit her website at www.foodfashionfoolishfornication.com.