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Paradiso lost
Downtown Disney goes in search of street-food cred

Photo by Jason Greene

In theory, it’s an interesting concept – offer diners the very best street food the Americas have to offer, and do so in a place where most of your patrons are from other countries. That’s the thought behind Pleasure Island’s boisterous Paradiso 37, the latest initiative by E-Brands, the restaurant conglomerate that brought us Timpano Chophouse, the Samba Room and Salsa Taqueria. The “37” in the restaurant’s appellation is a reference to the 37 countries in the Americas, though that figure may or may not be entirely accurate. And if you’re expecting to find at least one dish from each of the 37 nations, better lower your expectations. It was difficult to hide my disappointment when my beloved Canadian poutine was nowhere to be found on the menu. If French fries lathered in gravy and cheese curds is too exotic for Downtown Disney, then any hopes of finding Trinidadian bake-and-shark, Puerto Rican bacalaítos or Jamaican beef patties in coco bread are all but dead.

Still, the restaurant’s menu did pose some interesting options, like Central American “crazy corn” ($7.99). The quartered cobs of sweetness were made muy loco with melted cheese, spicy yellow pepper sauce and zesty lime. I surprised myself by polishing off the whole dish. Also decent (though not spicy as advertised) were the chorizo-and-beef skewers ($14.99), a starter big enough for a meal and nicely flavored with cherry tomatoes, caramelized mushrooms and onions, served with doughy rolls of chimichurri pita bread.

From the list of mains, I bypassed the burgers from North America and settled on the Colombian-style whole crispy hen ($17.99), which was about the size of my fist. The skin was crisp, to be sure, but the meat, marinated with onions, garlic and lemon, wasn’t as flavorful as I’d hoped. The accompanying arepa and roasted vegetables were fine. From the Mexican section, be sure to skip the trio of soggy enchiladas ($13.99) stuffed with beef and weighted down by a guajillo sauce that tasted like it came out of a can. The only redeeming item on this platter was the cilantro rice. You’re better off downing a pint of the world’s coldest beer – a temperature gauge reading “30.1°F” dangled above the beer kept below, and I was assured it would get down to a frigid 29 degrees. Those with a predilection for tequila will be impressed by the towering display of tequila bottles behind the bar; needless to say, margaritas are a specialty here.

On the sweet side, the chocolate stack ($7.99) felt like it weighed five pounds, and cutting into it required some modicum of effort. This is one dense, thick wedge of chocolate overload, not to mention that it sits on a bed of warm caramel sauce and is crowned with vanilla ice cream and rainbow-sprinkled whipped cream. A trio of tres leches ($5.99) towers was more thick and spongy than milky, which is the way I like it. The meringue topping was a nice touch, though, as was the serving of finely diced seasonal fruit.

Sadly, Paradiso 37 is but one of many restaurants on Disney property that are decent enough to visit once, but not offering a compelling reason to return.

dining@orlandoweekly.com
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