Mahopac locals were delighted when Ramiro Jiminez brightened up the dreary month of February by opening Ramiro’s 954 Latin Bistro on the main drag. Unofficial online reviewers pronounced it “a must” from the get-go. In June, M.H. Reed of the New York Times was so enthusiastic about the place, she employed almost all the descriptive words in a food critic’s lexicon, calling the cuisine “fiery, fruity, smoky, rich, sweet, sour,” “inspired” and “exciting,” and rhapsodizing over the “voluptuous” corn soup, “luxurious paella” and “knockout” stuffed plantains. (She wasn’t wild about the tacos dorados, but mentioning it gave credence to the raves.)
Jiminez grew up in Mexico City and cooked at Manhattan’s Positana and Patria before opening Noche in Times Square, the big, lively eatery that Clubplanet called a “Latin lovefest.” More recently, he was executive chef at La Puerta Azul, the colorful, popular spot near Millbrook, where Zagat surveyors pronounced his fare “zesty” and “complex.”
After more than 20 years of commuting to work from Westchester, where he lived, Jiminez decided to move his family a few miles north to Putnam County, and launch a restaurant close to home. He found the ideal spot in Mahopac — a former doctor’s office, which he renovated from scratch. The spacious dining room is now aglow with mango-colored walls, a beamed ceiling, a small fountain, and a view into the open kitchen. There’s an inviting bar and lounge, too. “If you want mojitos and a good time, downstairs is the place to be,” Jiminez declares. Upstairs, there’s a more formal dining room and a small art gallery displaying the works of Latin American and local artists. Mojitos and a good time are available there too, but the mood is quieter.
Jimenez of Ramiro’s 954
Jiminez describes his fare as Nuevo Latino, incorporating “the classic dishes of Central America, the Caribbean, and Spain, of course — the mother country.” Entrées might include tilapia with habanero-horseradish cream sauce and crispy yucca, Ecuadorian shrimp in saffron-roasted garlic, or coffee-crusted sirloin steak with brandy-cumin sauce. A mainstay is pernil: slow-braised pork shank served with tomatillo-avocado sauce and garlic mojo. “I make two Mexican dishes from my grandmother’s recipes: empanadas de picadillo, and arroz con pollo,” Jiminez adds. “You can’t get more traditional than that.” The dishes may originate as classics, but, as Reed’s review suggests, Jiminez lifts them into a different realm. “I’ve kept the traditional techniques, but taken a contemporary approach,” he insists. “It’s more about presentation. It doesn’t look the way my grandmother would serve it.” And would Grandma agree that these newfangled ways improve the fare? “If you asked her, she’d probably say not, but I’m pretty sure it’s better,” Ramiro replies, laughing. “It’s part of my job as a chef to keep looking for something different. I challenge myself to find different techniques, ingredients, ideas, to see what’s out there.”
If the allure of the menu isn’t enough, there are daily attractions: small bites on Tuesdays (like mini paella); Ladies Night on Wednesday, with half priced drinks for women; ditto for men on Boy’s Night Out Thursdays when you can also sample roast suckling pig.
Bottom line: Appetizers $8 to $10; entrées $19 to $25. Chef’s tasting menu on Sundays: $49
Crowd pleasers: “Both Mexican dishes are favorites, and the signature pernil — that’s pretty good!” reports Jiminez
Diners’ verdict: “Outstanding” and “perfect if you’re looking for something different”