Monday, December 5, 2011

Raw and bloody

Just east of Crenshaw on Pico Boulevard, in the Byzantine-Latino Quarter of Los Angeles, amid a clutch of tire shops, a night club, and a carniceria, there's a narrow storefront, safely armored with iron bars and a metal screen door, that serves up some of the freshest seafood in town.

La Cevicheria is owned by a Guatemalan family. All they serve here is seafood - there are no burgers or chicken for the squeamish. As its name indicates, a specialty is ceviche - raw seafood marinated in citrus juice and spiced with chiles. The acid citrus juice causes a chemical process that denatures the protein in the fish - "cooking" it.

All throughout Latin America there are versions of ceviche, and La Cevecheria serves several types - Guatemalan, Peruvian, and the typical Mexican version most Angelinos are accustomed to. Ceviche can be made with white fish like snapper, with octopus or squid, shrimp - or you can find more exotic versions, with abalone, crab, or scallops. Here at La Cevecheria, they make it with blood clams.

Also called mangrove cockles, conchas negras, black clams or patas de mula (mule's foot), blood clams are shellfish in the genus Anadara; the species A. grandis, A. granosa, and A tuberculosa. Their ribbed shells are called "ark shells" by collectors. Because the mollusks inside the shells have a high level of hemoglobin in their bodies, blood clams ooze with a dark, maroon juice - hence the gruesome name.

Pull up a stool and have some ceviche
I have to confess - I'm not fond of clams, generally. I love seafood - adore oysters on the half-shell - but for some reason clams don't really entice me. And raw clams are even less to my taste than cooked clams. Throw in the detail of gory-looking juices and that makes it even more off-putting.

But the reviews for La Cevecheria's blood clam ceviche are so positive I really had to check it out.

We ordered the "Concha negro ceviche" and chose a mix of seafood that included the blood clams, shrimp, octopus and squid. It was served in a huge, footed glass bowl you might expect an icecream sundae to be served in. Whoa! Chopped tomatoes, onions, and herbs piled high atop a thick purple-black mixture of seafood.

A stack of crisp tostadas was served alongside, and also packages of saltines - a typical accompaniment in Guatemala.

Spoon a generous heap onto a tostada and crunch. The dark juices run down your arm, and in your mouth a burst of flavor blooms - onion, lime, salt, tomato. There's a fresh bite of mint here - I've never had mint in a ceviche before, and it was perfect. The juice is rich and vinegary with Worcestershire sauce - another Guatemalan touch, I'm told. The seafood is delicious - chewy, sweet, and ocean-flavored.  Here a shrimp, there a chunk of octopus, there a darkly succulent hunk of clam.

[The Man I Love] had ordered mariscadas Caribena for us to share - a mixed seafood stew made Caribbean-style with coconut milk.

When it came, four perfectly cooked New Zealand mussels surrounded a timbale of rice, bathed in a golden curry sauce swimming with shrimp and rings of squid. Nicely spiced, it was rich and tasty.

At the last minute, I jumped up and placed an order for fish tacos - two came with the order.

When they came to the table, the crispy fried fish within were still hot from the fryer. Garnished with shredded cabbage, cilantro, chopped tomatoes and avocado, they were dressed with sour cream and hot sauce. Biting into the cool crunchy vegetables to the hot crispy inner core of fried fish was amazing.

Since our son has been living overseas for a year, and only visits during holidays, we've come to categorize places as to whether they're worthy of sharing with him or not. We will definitely be taking him to La Cevecheria when he visits - if nothing else, so that we can try out other dishes on the menu - how about that Peruvian style ceviche with the yellow chiles?

La Cevecheria accepts cash only, and it doesn't serve alcohol. The waitress kindly mentioned that we could bring our own beer or wine on our next visit, if we wanted it. That's good to know - because we'll be back again.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

The waitress kindly mentioned that we could bring our own beer or wine on our next visit, if we wanted it.

That's a great bonus, because you can spend your alcohol markup on more ceviche.

Anonymous said...

I read this before breakfast, so while I like clams very much, I am going to have to take a pass on the bloody ones. However, I would gladly trade my oatmeal with fresh pears for that seafood stew! And those fish tacos sound amazingly fresh and delicious.
Great review, Aunt Snow! You truly are a travel and food writer -- someone should be paying you for your services!

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

That looks so good! I am partial to the Peruvian ceviche, with plenty of
maĆ­z cancha on the side.

Becky Brown said...

Holy cow - that sounds AWESOME! Thanks for sharing!

cactus petunia said...

Oh my gosh! I think I just drooled on my keyboard!