209 E. 49th Street
City: New York, NY
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Chef: Richard Sandova; Josefina Santacruz, chef de cuisine
2nd Cuisine: Mexican
Area: East 40s
For the most part, New York is not a great seafood lover's town. (Well, it certainly doesn't compare to Boston). But the exception to the rule is definitely Pampano, the chic Midtown spot where chef Richard Sandoval puts some truly remarkable Mexican-accented spins on fish. While dining inside on either of the restaurant's two tropical-accented floors is decidedly romantic, you may want to take advantage of Pampano's charming second floor terrace during the summer weather. And give yourself plenty of time to enjoy both the view and the meal, because you won't want to rush. Start the fiesta slowly with a fabulous margarita on the rocks – in such unusual flavors as hibiscus, blood orange and pineapple – and the house's chunky, perfectly spiced guacamole. Then let the seafood frenzy begin. Raw bar selections such as oysters, clams and shrimp are fresh as can be; ceviches, including shrimp, tuna and mackerel, are bracing; and if the chef's special "el trio" is scallops, go for it. It was hard to decide which preparation was best: seared, ceviche or raw. Even people from Maine would approve of the lobster in the lobster salad, which sits atop a bed of baby spinach napped in a wonderful hibiscus and mango dressing and topped with a tangle of crunch sweet potato. Days later, I am still dreaming of perfectly prepared orange-glazed salmon, accompanied by chunks of chayote, cremini mushrooms and oversized kernels of white corn. And if you're lucky enough to find soft shell crabs on the menu, don't hesitate. One of my dining companions had never felt brave enough to try them before, and now she's completely converted. I warned her that not every preparation is as crunchy, meaty and downright delicious as this one. One finally takes a break from seafood with dessert. While both the chocolate flan (which is actually more like a chocolate cake topped with flan) and the caramelized banana pudding were pleasing, my table unanimously voted the shockingly moist corn cake (served with a scoop of coconut ice cream) as our favorite finale. Like much of our experience at Pampano, it was surprising and sensational.
Review By: Brian Scott Lipton