Photographs by Gus Cantaver
It’s small and kind of hard to find but CILANTRO, the latest Stamford dining treasure, is well worth the hunt. Just head to the Palace Theatre, look across the street up one flight of stairs in Landmark Square, and you’ve found a slice of Latin fusion that merits sampling.
Before we get to the food, let’s talk about the space. It’s intimate, but the tables are perfectly placed so you don’t feel as if you’re eavesdropping on your neighbor’s conversation. There is seating at the bar for eight too, which is always an option for dinner. In the summer there is a large front patio that more than doubles the restaurant’s capacity. Our advice for now: Make reservations and arrive on time.
We were late—hate to do that but the traffic the night we visited was crazy—and by the time we arrived our table was taken. No problem, though. The friendly staff treated our party to some stellar Spanish wine, and by the time we finished our drinks, our table was ready. This was the perfect way to handle an inconvenience.
Huachinango: Seared red snapper on a bed of fava beans, wild mushroom risotto and saffron-red pepper coulis; right: A casual but intimate table
Now for the food, starting with the salads; of the three offered, we sampled two. The fennel, frisée, arugula and pear salad sprinkled with dried cranberries was elevated to something bright and extraordinary with its passion fruit vinaigrette. Watercress always adds a kick to any collection of greens and Cilantro’s version, mixed with red onion, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado and feta cheese with a black olive/cilantro vinaigrette did not disappoint.
It was clear from the start that presentation is key here, and each dish is a tiny masterpiece, served on stark, angular white plates. Servings are large, so bring your appetite, or better yet, plan on taking leftovers home so you can enjoy your food another day.
On to the appetizers, which honestly, if ordered with a salad, could make a meal. The lobster bisque was rich and creamy, and pleased the bisque connoisseur in our party who proclaimed it “masterful,” not at all the gummy concoction that he finds all too often in other restaurants. The guacamole was flavorful and the accompanying plantain chips so good we wished there were more. Two must-haves are the smoky empanadas—chicken and beef—served with a rich guajillo chili sauce, and the ceviche—shrimp, mussels, clams and fish—bathed in a lovely blend of soy, ginger and citrus. We’ll be back soon to sample the ten appetizers we didn’t try.
This brings us to the entrées, and our only regret is that we weren’t a larger party so we could taste each offering. Our waiter steered us to the seared red snapper—his favorite fish offering, and now it is ours as well. The flavorful fish was moist and flaky, exactly as it should be, and served atop a delightful fava bean/wild mushroom risotto. It was like spring on a plate. The saffron, red pepper coulis that accompanied the display provided the colorful element that made this dish sing.
An artful cup of cappuccino
Meat lovers should consider the Steak Cubano, which gets its kick from a lovely red chimichurri sauce. The accompanying yuca and sautéed Brussels sprouts proved to be perfect partners for the beef. For melt-in-the-mouth short ribs, you won’t go wrong with the Costilla de Res, served with a soft cilantro polenta and covered with a flavorful red wine/thyme sauce. It is the perfect antidote to the chill of a day. We’re all also still talking about the Chuleta de Cerdo, a double dose of pork—a tequila- and agave-brined chop served with guava barbecued pulled pork—that really is spectacularly delicious and so moist.
We were stuffed but managed to pass around the bread pudding, a warm white-chocolate bread concoction spiked with a topping of dark rum sauce and served with vanilla ice cream. It was heaven. My editor raves about the Tres Leches cake. Says it reminds her of home.
Tresh Leches cake with fresh berries
As we left, we all vowed to return again and again because there are so many more Latin dishes that we firmly believe need discovering—ten appetizers, fifteen entrées and a few more desserts, to be exact!
60 Atlantic St. 2nd floor
Daily, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.