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Few restaurants fit as seamlessly into a neighborhood as Paloma does in Greenpoint. Open since late May, the eatery attracts the spillover of Williamsburg’s young artists who want to live and dine in a like-minded community, but can’t afford the trendier neighborhood’s tab.

Paloma, named for owner Darius Rivera and executive chef Camille Becerra’s daughter, resembles a not-too-glitzy gallery space that happens to be perfumed with grilling meat. The setting - high ceilings, cement floors, a few modern faux-leather banquettes and a drive-in sized movie screen on one wall - serves as a local art gallery with monthly exhibitions, musical performances and film screenings.

Paloma’s bar serves innovative cocktails, some concocted with "42 Below Vodka" from New Zealand that the house infuses with fruit. The refreshing Kaffir Gimlet - Kaffir lime-infused vodka with a splash of Cointreau and fresh lime juice - is a must to try.

Paloma is an ideal venue for diners who crave sophisticated fare at affordable prices.

"We’ve coined the phrase ’Urban American Cuisine,’" says Becerra, who created the dishes. "Our menu is simple, focusing on regional and seasonal ingredients." Each day’s offerings include just six appetizers, six grilled entrees and two specials. While Becerra still oversees Paloma’s kitchen, she has hired Edward Martinez to execute her recipes and add his own touches to the lineup. Martinez, formerly of Manhattan’s San Domenico, and bistros in France, spins out greenmarket fare that scores big points for flavor, with a few mishaps here and there.

One simple appetizer that demonstrated a light hand in the kitchen was a fresh pea, spinach and feta cheese salad. A sprightly vinaigrette barely moistened the ingredients, but it was enough to add spark to the clean taste of the vegetables and underscore the saltiness of the cheese. Slices of grilled peaches and country bread "crostini" topped with bleu cheese sounded great on the menu, but had no chemistry on the tongue.

The earthiness of a rich, creamy cauliflower sauce heightened the sweetness of a special entree of crusty sea scallops, while pleasantly chewy, vinegar-tinged oyster mushrooms underscored the velvety sea creatures.

A buttery mound of monkfish, another special on this night, deserved a more exuberant partner than the surprisingly flat "bouillabai­sse" sauce that accompanied it.

A sweet-fleshed, moist, head-on, grilled brook trout also made good eating if you peeled away the fish’s over-salted skin. Coupled with the trout was a luxurious pool of lemon-laced sweet potato puree with the texture of a silken mousse.

The humblest of dishes, a grilled chicken, was just as satisfying as the delectable scallop dish. From the grill, Martinez pulls three large pieces of a juicy, vibrantly seasoned, free-range bird. He tops the meat with cilantro, lime and jalapeno peppers that crisps the skin and permeates the chicken with tart, herbaceous heat. A pile of big, crumbly, perfectly salted onion rings reminded me of just how good they can be.

Each evening there are two vegetarian entrees. On this night, it was grilled market-fresh vegetables and figs with house-baked summer squash and cheddar bread; the other vegetarian dish was a special of crisp, sweet potato pancakes drizzled with tangy creme fraiche and scattered with halves of small, red and gold heirloom tomatoes, that were like the sun shining on the tongue.

Judging from the two desserts I tried (four are offered; on this evening, two were sold out), the sweet end of the menu needs some rethinking. The waitress described the "Moroccan date nut torte" as "sort of like a cookie." It was sort of like a cookie, but not crisp; and sort of like sweet bread without the moist crumb. The only thing it wasn’t sort of like was a satisfying finale.

The "spicy chocolate torte" had all the makings of a great, Mexican-inspired brownie: bittersweet chocolate laced with dried chili that left a little tickle of heat in the back of the throat, a moist center and a crisp top. But too many nuts in the batter were a distraction.

As we left, a few diners ordered another round of cocktails and settled against their banquettes for a screening of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," one of the movies the staff runs on late, weekend evenings. Like the film’s hero-turned-heroine, a German-born transsexual finding her place as a woman and a wannabe rock star in America, there are rough edges to smooth out. And like Hedwig, there’s plenty of talent, too.

 

Paloma (60 Greenpoint Ave. between West and Franklin streets in Greenpoint) accepts American Express, Diners Club, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $7-$13. The restaurant serves dinner Tuesday through Sunday, and brunch on weekends, from 11 am to 4 pm. Closed Mondays. Starting Oct. 1, the restaurant will offer lunch. For more information call (718) 349-2400.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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