SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — Chef Zachary Ladner wasn’t always planning to be a chef. In college, he was studying theoretical mathematics. But his love of cooking for others prevailed over his devotion to number theory so he transferred to the Culinary Institute of America.
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“I get to tell people that I was the math major who went to the other CIA,” he says.
After graduating and working at various restaurant, Ladner landed at Giovanni’s, where he impressed owner Carl Quagliata. In fact, he so impressed him that he was quickly promoted to head chef, a position he has remined ensconced in for 13 years.
Now business partners, Ladner and Quagliata have gone on to open Smokin’ Q’s BBQ and The Village Butcher in Mayfield and, soon, Paloma Mexican restaurant at Van Aken District in Shaker Heights. Located in a prominent 4,400-square-foot property on the public green, the restaurant can seat 132 guests in a bright, colorful dining room featuring a stunning mural, open kitchen, and 24-seat oval bar.
Growing up in Texas, Ladner has a deep-seated fondness for Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking.
“I've loved tacos since I was a little kid,” he says. “It’s definitely my food of choice."
At Paloma, the kitchen fills house-made flour tortillas with chef-designed fillings starring vegetables, fish, seafood and meats. The food and vibe definitely are a few notches above the generic chain taco shop.
There are fajita-style combos starring chicken or beef and onions, peppers, guacamole and salsa, but also duck carnitas with radish, fennel, cracklings and hot citrus vinegar. The all-day-roasted lamb is paired with mint, garlic crème fraiche, lime, red onion and jalapeno. Others feature oxtail birria, barbacoa-style beef cheeks, crispy walleye, citrus-marinated salmon and roasted cauliflower.
In the starter category, there are personal and shareable dishes like nachos, chips and dips, Oaxacan-cheese queso fundido, snapper ceviche, grilled octopus with chorizo-potato "hash," and crispy street corn.
Of course, there will be a top-flight beverage program starring various renditions of the Paloma, the popular tequila-based cocktail.
To learn more about the restaurant and explore their menu, visit their website, here.
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