One of Justin Hemmes most recent arrivals seems to have somewhat of an identity crisis. That being said….you won’t get any arguments from me about the food!
Papi Chulo is, at its core, a barbeque restaurant……I think. Although, I am not really sure. It has a lot of seafood on the menu – none of which gets anywhere near a barbeque. It has American deep south style burgers and sandwiches, and an array of ‘slow and low’ barbequed meats, a few tex-mex numbers, a Cuban décor and treatments of seafood that range from Japanese to South American and everywhere in between. Not to mention the kim chi and the san choy bao. It is equal parts fine dining as it is casual meat served on butcher’s paper. This was not my first visit to Papi Chulo either. At my last visit & in the same meal I had a Cuban sandwich and a distinctly Asian chicken rice. The old Greek maxim, “Know Thyself”, could not have been given a more difficult assignment. Perhaps it is just a bar that does food – the length and brevity of the cocktail list would seem to support this theory. Perhaps, after all my hypothesizing, I should remember that some riddles are better left unsolved – after all…the food is pretty spectacular.
And so to the food. A casual new year’s lunch with friends turned into basically us ordering half the menu such is the number of interesting (and quite frankly good looking) dishes available. The main affair really is the barbeque which has the sort of cuts that you expect to see (brisket and pork belly chief amongst them) – however it is hard to go past the maple glazed pork belly. The meat is well seasoned, although some more maple wouldn’t go astray, and is beautifully tender. The accompanying house made barbeque sauce is everything a barbeque sauce should be and the soft rolls had that sweetness that you expect with this fare.
The seafood is prepared with the same care and attention to detail – an entrée of tuna sashimi was so much more (have a look at the photos if you don’t believe me) and the calamari, bacon, potato combination was spectacular as well.
Another star was the mixed salad with avocado and the surprisingly exciting tofu crouton. We spied the pea guacamole one table over and thought we had better order a serve for ourselves. This proved to be a good move – though don’t expect anything revolutionary – it is in essence a very well made guacamole with the addition of peas.
As I have alluded to, the drinks menu is extensive and the cocktails thoughtful and well made. I, again, could not pass up the Bloody Maria (with prawn garnish) which is a highlight. However, be warned (and if you are reading this Papi Chulo take note), if you feel like a glass of ice tea be careful. The menu has two variations (both named Papi’s ice tea); one with alcohol and one without. Despite the two shots, the alcohol isn’t totally discernible, so you may inadvertently put yourself over the limit. Which happened in our case and meant we had to stay a little longer and suffer the view below. Yeah, so not all bad. You could always take the safe option and stick with one of a very decent list of wines and beers.
I should say that while the atmosphere as a whole is great, the service was a little lackluster. Though I believe this may be the exception rather than the rule as the rest of the staff seemed very vocal and helpful.
In short, Papi Chulo offers a great location and fantastic food. The rest is unfortunately a bit of a mixed bag. While I can’t see it getting over its identity crisis anytime soon, you are not going to leave there dissatisfied….although you might leave a little confused.