Mariscos Chente. This modest little mom-and-pop restaurant in Mar Vista, on the west side of Los Angeles, specializes in the seafood dishes of the states of Sinaloa and Nayarit, on the west coast of Mexico.
They are known for the freshness of their seafood, which is brought in from the ports of Mazatlan. We went for the first time last month, and had two wonderful dishes. Since then, we've come back twice, and have decided to work our way through the menu.
Last week we stopped in for lunch, and as soon as we sat down, we were brought a basket of fried tortilla chips and a bowl of fresh green salsa. This salsa is fresh-tasting and bright, mouth tingling and delicious.
We ordered a couple of beers and split a shrimp and octopus cocktail, or coctel de camarones y pulpo. It came in a huge goblet, filled to the brim with seafood and sauce, garnished with slices of avocado. If you aren't familiar with octopus, here's a good way to try it - they've prepared it so its texture is firm and chewy but not rubbery. The shrimp are small, but sweet, and the sauce is filled with diced cucumbers, chopped onions, and tomato juice - delicious and refreshing.
The size of the coctel was impressive - and we were splitting it! We didn't finish it, wanted to leave room for our main courses.
camarones culichis, or shrimp in the style of Culiacan. Shrimp, this time without the heads, are napped in a thick sauce made of sour cream and cheese, flavored with jalapenos. It was rich and mellow-hot, with a great flavor. [The Man I Love] ordered camarones chipotles, made in a similar fashion with sour cream and cheese flavored with chipotle chiles - the smokiness of the sauce was great with the rich creamy texture.
Some folks don't like combining seafood with cheese. I do, but it makes for some rich eating. After the coctel, we could only eat half of the dozen large shrimp on our platters. In retrospect, we should have chosen only one rich dish, and gone with a second, lighter dish, and split them both. But that's water under the bridge - we took our leftovers and the remaining cocktail home for a delicious late night meal.
The next time we went, we passed on the cocktail. [The Man I Love] ordered a shrimp dish called camarones checcas - shrimp in a special sauce with tomato and sliced garlic, garnished with sliced red onions. The sauce was a bit spicy but not too hot, and had a citrusy tang.
By now you may have noticed the prevalence of cucumbers on these plates. Apparently, cucumbers are a traditional garnish in this regional style. It's a smart idea, actually - the coolness is wonderful to staunch the heat of the chiles.
I ordered something I'd been curious about since reading the reviews. It was called camarones cucarachas - or cockroach shrimp. Shrimp in the shell, complete with their heads were flash fried, and dusted with a salty, garlicy pepper spice mixture.
Hmm. How do you deal with them? Jonathan Gold, in his review of Mariscos Chente, said to crunch them up, shell and all, and suck the meat out of the heads.
Well, I'm not much for shrimp heads, but after pulling off the legs - I can't take bristly little fried shrimp legs going down my throat - I gave it a try.
The shrimp shells were crispy-crunchy, and it was impossible to peel them off the succulent meat. But because they'd been fried so fast and so hot, they were easy to crunch up. The shrimp inside the shells were sweet and had a good deep extra- shrimpy flavor from the shells - just like the flavor you get when you use shrimp shells to strengthen broth. Eating them was a real hands-on job When I was done with the dozen shrimp on my plate, my fingers were tinted orange from the chile seasoning.
[The Man I Love] shared some of his. I'd suggest camarones cucarachas for a good salty-crunchy appetizer to share with a big table and some beers.
There are still at least six shrimp dishes on the menu that we haven't tried, let alone the restaurant's masterpiece, whole snook grilled in the style of Nayarit, pescado zarandeado. For that we need a larger party.