Inside the former Tortilla Press on Haddon Avenue, Chef Jorge Reyes presents a contemporary Mexican menu that draws inspiration from modern and classical recipes in an updated setting.
By Matt Skoufalos | September 26, 2023
Chef Jorge Reyes hasn’t been this excited to go to work in Collingswood since the days when he was heading up the kitchen at Casona (now OBA Mediterranean Grill).
However, with the launch of Paloma, which replaces the long-tenured Tortilla Press at the corner of Haddon and Collings Avenues, Reyes believes his take on contemporary Mexican fine dining will stand out among alternatives in the region.
“I’m super-happy to be back to Collingswood,” Reyes said. “I love this town. We always have big expectations and big dreams, especially in Collingswood, and we’re bringing new flavors; breaking the rules from other places.”
“Opening the doors here is a big challenge,” Reyes continued. “We’re taking Tortilla Press from what Mark [Smith] made, and keeping things at that level, so people can try to taste something different and see what happens.”
Reyes, whose popular Blackwood taqueria, Orale, offers authentic Mexican fare, is eager for guests at Paloma to experience Mexican flavors with which they may be less familiar.
“Right now there’s a lot of fusion from everywhere to get Mexican flavors, but we never lost the roots: modern techniques the traditional way,” he said. “That’s the main idea of the concept we want to create here.”
To that end, the menu at Paloma features recipes built around fresh seafood, like the tuna tostada with peanut-salsa macha, a dried chile oil that hails from Veracruz.
Or the ceviche tatemado with recado negro, a char-flavored seasoning paste from Yucatan.
Shrimp aguachile is served Sinaloa style: cooked quickly in a highly acidic chiltepin water bath, and served with cucumber, avocado, red onion, and cilantro.
There’s fresh guacamole, but for those who want to delve a little deeper, there’s also sikil pak, a Mayan pumpkin seed, tomato, and habanero hummus, served with homemade blue corn and yellow corn tortillas.
Among the entrees, seafood paella, a favorite from Reyes’ Casona days, lands alongside Norteño-style steak, street-style rotisserie chicken, and salmon chino-poblano: pan-roasted with chilies, vegetable stir-fried rice, and squash salad.
In a nod to the Chinese influence present in the fare of the Mexicali border regions, Chef Tim Dedja of Boiling House in Cherry Hill, Reyes’ partner in the business, also brings some of his most popular recipes to Paloma. Shrimp, fried rice, and noodle dishes get a special shout-out here.
For the less adventurous diner, there’s also a taqueria menu with seven different preparations, from the crowd-pleasing birria (a standout at Orale) to chicken barbacoa, carne asada, cauliflower, tempura fish, bang-bang shrimp, and slow-roasted pork. Any dish can be prepared vegan or vegetarian style, Reyes said, and several are gluten-free, as well.
Although Paloma is BYOB, the kitchen serves alcohol-free versions of popular cocktails, including margaritas, ninas frescas, and Palomas, plus Mexican favorites like mangonada.
Desserts will change seasonally, and include traditional flan, tres leches with blueberry sauce, and cheesecake buñuelo, a fried dough reminiscent of a stuffed fritter.
“The main idea is to get contemporary Mexican cuisine,” Reyes said.
“We want people to try the flavors and really love the food.”
Dedja said Paloma has received an instant welcome since opening its doors last week.
“I’ve never been on a main street where people support the restaurant immediately,” Dedja said. “In other places, it’s been a lot harder.”
Dedja said his vision for Paloma is not only to stand shoulder to shoulder among the eateries on Restaurant Row, but to join the ranks of elite Mexican restaurants in the state. His fiancée, entrepreneur Aurora Vojnika, who designed the interior at Paloma, said the couple, which grew up in Albanian restaurant families in Maple Shade, toured top-tier dining destinations throughout New Jersey and New York City as they refined their concept for the Collingswood space.
“We didn’t want very standard things you would see anywhere,” Vojnika said. “I wanted a lot of textures and depth into the space.”
To that end, she outfitted Paloma with details that would set it apart not only from the brightly colored interior of the Tortilla Press, but from other Mexican restaurants in the region.
Gone are the festive magentas, oranges, and yellows that once colored the walls.
(As Reyes said, “no sombreros, no pinatas.”)
In their place, Vojnika selected a muted, dusty color palette, with softer hues drawn from a recent trip to Tulum. Where she wanted to add depth and texture, Vojnika selected three-dimensional artwork, like the hand-woven palm bread baskets that appear over one wall in the main dining room. Other surfaces were given over to greenery, whether in the form of the succulents that top the benches in the party room, or a faux ivy offset wall in the main dining area.
A previously closed-off server station was retooled into a cat’s eye wall fashioned from wooden panes of different heights, and the same pattern was repeated on one of the walls in the main dining room with comparable effect. Ceiling lights in the same room are suspended from a floating wooden beam framework anchored to the ceiling.
Taken together, these choices — like the menu itself — represent a dramatic departure from the typical atmospherics found in most of the taquerias and cantinas throughout South Jersey. Vojnika hopes it will help Paloma to stand out in the Instagram era of fine dining.
“We wanted to be super-different,” she said. “We want people to share pictures of their experience; we have to think what people want to share.”
With seating for 75 guests, Paloma offers dine-in service for dinner six days a week, with brunch on weekends; Reyes said lunch will be added as the restaurant finds its footing. Takeout and delivery options are immediately available through all major third-party services.
Paloma is located at 703 Haddon Avenue in Collingswood. Hours are 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 856-869-0890, or visit palomanj.com.
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