The project is a collaboration among Tim and Mike Dedja of The Boiling House in Cherry Hill, designer Aurora Vojnika, and Chef Jorge Reyes of taqueria Orale in Blackwood.
By Matt Skoufalos | June 13, 2023
For Mark Smith and Lydia Cipriani, the decision to close The Tortilla Press after more than 20 years of operation in Collingswood was a difficult one, and long-considered.
By comparison, within an hour of putting the restaurant space on the market at the end of May, they’d struck a deal with a new tenant.
“We’ve been waiting for Collingswood for almost four or five years,” Imer “Mike” Dedja said.
“When [Tortilla Press] closed, it took only 20 or 30 minutes to make a deal.”
Dedja is the architect of a new restaurant concept that includes his son, restaurateur Tim Dedja of The Boiling House in Cherry Hill, Tim’s fiancée, designer Aurora Vojnika; and Chef Jorge Reyes of taqueria Orale in Blackwood.
Together, the group is working to remodel The Tortilla Press for a late summer opening as the 80-seat Paloma. Spanish for “dove,” and the name of a tequila-based cocktail, the eatery also shares a name with Mike Dejda’s daughter.
“We’re happy to see it,” Cipriani said. “It helps us continue the tradition there in Collingswood. Collingswood needs a really great Mexican restaurant, and I’m just excited that it’s happening.”
Tim Dedja, whose plans for a contemporary seafood restaurant fell through during the novel coronavirus pandemic, sees the opportunity as a chance to join the vibrant Haddon Avenue dining scene.
“Collingswood is Restaurant Row; it’s the big leagues,” Tim Dejda said. “I’m ready for a new challenge.”
Vojnika, a brand designer who operates the digital fashion boutique West Main, will design the look and feel of the 80-seat restaurant. She said diners can expect the interior to be “super-bright, with light and airy vibes,” taking its style cues from modernized restaurants the couple recently toured in Mexico.
Tim Dejda believes dining is trending smaller, in terms of tapas and shared entrees, “and not a grand dinner.” He wants Paloma to emphasize family-style dining with an affordable menu that will include lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch.
“Chef Jorge’s an amazing guy, an amazing chef,” he said. “I’m confident that he can come up with a beautiful menu, and I can come with a beautiful look for the front.”
For Reyes, who was last in Collingswood as the chef at Casona (now OBA Mediterranean Grill), Paloma represents a homecoming of sorts.
He is eager to return to “a beautiful neighborhood” with a sophisticated restaurant scene.
“I like the spot, especially because the name that Mark [Smith, of the Tortilla Press] made in Collingswood,” Reyes said.
“There’s a lot of good competition in Collingswood, so we’ve got to be at the level with what Collingswood cuisine is.”
To that end, Reyes will incorporate flavors of modern Mexican fine dining from throughout the country.
The menu won’t be overstuffed — Reyes said no more than 25 items — but it will be long on taste.
“In modern Mexican cooking, they use fewer ingredients,” Reyes said. “We want to catch more flavors, so the menu’s going to have different stuff.
“I like to travel to different regions of Mexico to bring some of the ideas back, and get that explosion.”
Traveling to Yucatán gave Reyes a firmer grasp on dishes like cochinita, a slow-roasted pork dish, and sopecitos, a masa-based dish with savory toppings. He picked up chili techniques in Oaxaca, birthplace of the seven mole sauces, and steak and ceviche recipes from his native Monterrey.
Fans of birria, a meat stew that shows up more frequently these days as a taco base, will enjoy Reyes’ take on the dish with short rib. Ribeye steaks might pair nicely with chipotle-infused mashed potatoes, or cornbread soup with goat milk. Aguachile, a sort of shrimp ceviche that’s a bit hit at Orale, could also make the move to Paloma, he said.
Reyes’ fusion approach will also be apparent in the dessert menu: think corn mousse, tres leches cakes, or a cheesecake buñuelo with ice cream and blueberry compote.
Like The Tortilla Press, Paloma will be a BYOB establishment, with servers recommending dishes to pair with their guests’ wines.
Although the restaurant can’t serve alcohol, guests who bring their own spirits can add them to a mix for table service.
Reyes’ mangonada, which includes mango and tahini, is a popular choice at Orale.
Most of all, the chef emphasized that what he’s pushing to achieve with his fare won’t be all spice and no subtlety.
“It’s going to be Mexican a different way,” Reyes said: “don’t lose the flavors; maybe a little more chic with the presentation.
“At the end of the day, cuisine is the experience that you have eating as a customer,” he said.
“As a chef, I want the people to know who I am from the flavor there.”
Paloma will operate Tuesday through Friday, 12 noon to 9 p.m., from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Stick with NJ Pen for updates.
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