Showing posts with label ceviche. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ceviche. Show all posts

Eat Drink Style Mariscos Chente, Los Angeles - A Shrimp Morgue in Mar Vista

Mariscos Chente Camarones Aguachiles

It was a Saturday afternoon and I sat patiently hunched forward with hands crossed on a table with a lazy susan. Jeni was by my side and so was Eddie, Rickmond and Javier. Eddie, also known as the ultimate predator and every animal's/insect's worst nightmare had invited us to a day of adventurous eating. Just before, we had stomached a Filipino duck egg in its nascency – eyes sheathed with very thin veiny skin, claws just firm enough to give you a nice prick in the throat and enough feathers to remind you that you were in fact, consuming a dormant mammal. We had also just finished live spot prawns that jumped out of the pot brought out by the server. About 10 minutes before, they had added a Chinese rice wine and covered the shrimp with a lid, intoxicating them to a lethal state. We picked up the shrimp with our hands the second we their antennaes became limp. We took off their heads, exposing their brain and pulled off its shell. The shrimp was so sweet and fresh, and a few times, I thought I felt the pulse of the once alive shrimp on my tongue. It was exciting and unexpecting.

And now, we were up for the final dish, live lobster... sashimi. All of us looked at each other with confusion and excitement. Eddie saw the server coming through the double doors with a large platter, rubbing his hands together in sheer joy. When the server laid down the platter, we saw not one, but two lobsters. They faced each other on a bed of ice, with antennaes in full motion and making contact with each other. In between the two lobsters, was a small pile of light gray flesh resembling that of red snapper sushi. But then, there was something that caught out attention. The lobsters were moving, but it was only their head that remained. The thorax, abdomen and tail were nowhere to be seen. For a moment, there was an eerie silence. The server even looked at us to get our reaction, almost asking us through ESP, "are you really sure you want this?" We hesitated for a few seconds, and one after the other, we straightened our chopsticks and grabbed a piece of the flesh. I saw the lobster staring at me as I reached my chopsticks into the flesh pile in front of them, even brushing their antennaes. I dipped the lobster sashimi in the provided soy sauce and wasabi, which is not a typical condiment in a Chinese restaurant. I then put the piece of lobster in my mouth and looked at the lobster still alive and kicking. For a second I felt it was a bit wrong, but that quickly changed once my palate approved of the sashimi. My god, it was delicious. Sweet, beautiful texture and reminiscent of sweet shrimp (ama ebi). Once we had finished the sashimi, we cleaned out the heads of the lobsters and by this point, they had fortunately died. I wondered if they could see me eat them alive and I certainly hope they didn't. I felt as though I had walked away with murder and I'll never forget this delightful meal. Note: the lobster is very well dead upon being cut up and Eddie quotes that the remaining nerve or muscle reflexes will still be in effect for a little while.

Almost a year later, I was reminded of that occasion with the live lobsters the second I walked into Mariscos Chente in Mar Vista with my coworkers. With its white walls, green tables, blue-tiled floor, stainless steel metal and open dining area, I was mildly reminded of a morgue – a shrimp morgue to be exact. But I knew this place, much like any other humble Latino-run restaurant, was not about decor or adornments. They had something very delicious in store for us.

Mariscos Chente is run by Sergio Eduardo Penuelas and his wife, Maria. ("Chente" is short for Vicente (Vincent) in Spanish, which is Maria's fathers name – the original chef of MC's dishes.) They come from the Western Mexican states of Sinaloa, and Nayarit respectively – both of which offer an extensive list of seafood dishes. According to Street Gourmet LA's great discussion and review on Mariscos Chente, "it's Nayarit cuisine with a Sinaloan chef." I had eaten ceviche a dozen times, but had never tried Nayarit or Sinaloan-style food. Let's go.

Mariscos Chente Dos Equis Beer

Cubeta de Cerveza (Bucket of Beer)
Eating a Mexican seafood meal without some sort of alcoholic drink is simply immoral. Even more immoral than eating the flesh of a live lobster. The food gods will make sure you spend more time in the purgatory rather than ascending to heaven. Chef Sergio knows that, and that's why he endows you with your very own cubeta de cerveza... 6 beers for $15. Salud!

Mariscos Chente Marlin Tacos

Grilled Marlin Tacos
I watch a lot of Discovery Channel and National Geographic, especially the ocean related stuff. If there's one fish I do want to catch and cook up before I die, it's a marlin. Pretty easy stuff considering it'll only take 4 hours and rip off all the skin from your palms. This is one TOUGH fish and tough fish means tough meat. Right? Wrong. Leave it to Chef Sergio to give you some of the tastiest, smokiest marlin tacos you'll ever have. The meat has a consistency of pork and its super moist. A simple dip into the hot, cucumber-infused green hot sauce and you can relax knowing that Chef Sergio just saved you 4 punishing hours of skin-tearing pain on your palms. Guys will be grateful.

Mariscos Chente Shrimp Ceviche

Ceviche de Camaron
Your standard dish at any Mexican mariscos restaurant. But you'll notice a large portion of cucumbers are mixed in – that's because Nayarit and Sinaloa use it heavily in their cuisine. This ceviche was done very well. Just the right amount of lime and not too sour. The shrimp was well balanced with the cold tomato and cucumber cubes – altogether it was very refreshing. I would get this again and maybe even request an octopus (pulpo) version.

Mariscos Chente Coctel de Camarones y Pulpo

Coctel de Camaron y Pulpo (Shrimp & Octopus Cocktail)
Another standard dish that comes in a glass, rather than a plate. It's almost the same as ceviche only there is ketchup added. In addition to the freshness of the shrimp, octopus and vegetables, there was a nice smokiness in the juice and I can't quite figure out its origin. FYI, this is also the Mexican version of the "hair of the dog" and I believed it as we passed this along to everyone at the table. You will be completely sober after eating/drinking this. I have to say, I am now a huge fan of lime juice that is mixed with seafood, ketchup and veggies. Mmm, Sea Juice anyone?

Mariscos Chente Pulpo Camaron Coctel

Mariscos Chente Camarones Aguachiles

Camarones Aguachiles
And here is the reason why I deem Mariscos Chente as a shrimp morgue and why I am reminded of the "Day of the Living Lobsters". The server brought this out to us and we were immediately attracted to the dish. The shrimps were all facing outwards, staring at each one of us. Their bodies had been butterflied beautifully, and the flesh resembled a cape behind their heads. And they weren't flying anywhere else but into our stomachs. The plating of the butterflied-Shrimp with heads still attached and the combination of gray, green and purple colors immediately hit our brain as true food porn. It was naked. It was sexy. And it was true Mexican seafood. Aguachiles refers to the stellar sauce that Chef Sergio makes – a little lime, chiles and cucumbers are blended together in this harmonious sauce that accents the sweetness of the shrimp. Not quite as sweet as Spot Prawns but still delicious. I love the texture of raw shrimp.

Mariscos Chente Camarones a la Diabla

Camarones a La Diabla
The server set this down and immediately reminded of a massacre. The shrimp, some beheaded, lay on the plate amongst fallen comrades in their own blood pool. It was beautiful. Considered to be the spiciest of Chef Sergio's dishes, this is simply fantastic. Chef Sergio serves up the perfectly sautéed shrimp in a sauce made of two types of chili (Nuevo Mexico and Chili de Arbol), cooked onions and butter. I think I tasted a hint of beer but that could be from my cubeta de cerveza. I have never found a Mexican seafood sauce as spicy, buttery and smoky as this and we made sure to lick that plate clean. We added the rest of the sauce into the shrimp cocktail and jokingly told Sergio to check out our invention: Ceviche a la Diabla. He laughed and then walked away muttering... "pinche chino." Just kidding.

Mariscos Chente Camarones a la Diabla

Another Gratuitous View of Camarones a La Diabla
If Chef Sergio bottled this sauce up, he would make a fortune and shrimp would hate him forever.

Mariscos Chente Camarones a la Pimenta

Camarones a La Pimienta
I think these are in my top 3 of Sergio's shrimp dishes. I am a black pepper freak.

Mariscos Chente Camarones al Mojo

Camarones Checo
All you're going to taste in this is garlic, tons of spice and butter. You will love.

Mariscos Chente Camaron Borracho

Camarones Borachos
These shrimp are deep-fried, and then sautéed with Worcestershire sauce (Salsa de Ingleterra) and tequila. Wasn't my favorite because the shrimp was way overcooked. It was nothing like Japanese deep fried shrimpheads.

Mariscos Chente Carnage

Mariscos Chente Pescado Zarandeado

Pescado Zarandeado
And this is probably Sergio's most proud dish – the pescado zarandeado. The verb zarandear means to shake or stir, but it has nothing to do with this dish that requires grilling with a special robato tool. He uses a fish called Snook and after filleting it in half butterfly style, he adds a sauce made of soy sauce, limes and mayonnaise. The fish is then folded back into its original form and sent to grill hell. And this beauty is served upon a turquoise tray – I love it.

Mariscos Chente Pescado Zarandeado

Mariscos Chente Pescado Zarandeado

Mariscos Chente Chef Sergio Eduardo Penuelas

Chef Sergio Eduardo Penuelas
Here is the shrimp mortician himself. Everyday, he probably sacrifices over 3,000 shrimp. He is the nicest guy and I have to say, probably the best Mexican seafood chef I had ever met. My biggest problem with ceviche in general has been the overuse of lime more as a way to mask older seafood, rather than 'cook' the seafood. But Chef Sergio has helped me realize my love for Mexican seafood once again. His sensibility of adding just the right amount of everything is exhibited in every dish we tried.

Compared to your "standard" Mexican restaurant, there is a lot to be learned about Nayarit and Sinaloan cuisine as there are huge differences. We didn't get to try the Nayarit specialty, pescado zarandeado, which is a whole-grilled Snook fish marinated in soy sauce, lime, chipotle and mayo. It's supposed to be the most popular, if not best dish at Mariscos Chente. Nor did we get to try the many variations of sautéed shrimp in various sauces such as pepper and oil, butter, garlic and tequila. The good thing about Mariscos Chente is that the menu is small enough for you to complete in about 4-5 visits and it's comforting knowing that anything you do try will be made by a very talented, warm chef that will have you coming back more than once. Thanks for reading.

Mariscos Chente, Los Angeles

Mariscos Chente Carnage

Mariscos Chente
4532 S. Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90066
(310) 390-9241

Mariscos Chente reviews on Los Angeles Times, Street Gourmet LA and Exile Kiss.

Eat Drink Style A Fall Soiree - Man vs. the Wood Fire Beast

Fall Decor

We all have our fears, whether or not we're willing to admit them. But we're all human beings, and it's one of the many things that sets us apart. I've got a whole list of them. For example, I loathe the glaucoma machine at the optometrist's office. You know the one that blows AIR into your eye at like 528 mph. It takes me a good 4 minutes per eye and I wish I was a pirate or cyclops so I'd only have to endure the suffering for 4 minutes total. Another thing I fear is anything in tiny dot patterns. Blackheads, blueberry pies and bad 80s polka dot clothing. I'm not sure why but I think it might have to do with this cartoon I've watched before... where this character had 18 eyes on his face... all blinking at different times. Weird I know. And finally... my apparent condition of bakephobia. I've talked about it in my pizza posting a few weeks back and just can't get myself to appreciate baking because of the necessary precision and limitations set by recipes. I own about 30 cookbooks and because of my short attention span, rarely follow all the directions in them. I use cookbooks merely for the ingredient listing and I adjust accordingly to my own tastes. I also leave out measurements in my cooking posts because not everyone out there trying the recipe will like it. Some may want it spicier, sweeter or saltier. And you can't please everyone, especially when it comes to catering.

I baked a few weeks back, and I can honestly say that baking is an uncharted sea for me to navigate through. I want to learn how to bake. There is an inherent art and beauty behind the combination of eggs, flour, salt, sugar and yeast. Every country in the world has some sort of baked food, with bread being the most basic form of sustenance. In the wonderful book, Sauces, the author talks about the usage of bread as dinnerware. Wood and metal plates were just too expensive to mak during the 13th century in Europe, thus came the idea of bread bowls and flatbread. Not only would you not have to hold 300 degree stew in your own lap or hands, you could eat it afterwards! Genius. Imagine if we had to eat paper plates. This book by the way isn't entirely about making sauces, but explains how food has come to be over time. It's awesome. Did you know that Europeans actually used a form of fish sauce back then?

I started working with a group of nice people that run an event planning group called Fresh Events Company. Through a friend, we were brought together for this fall-themed party in Hollywood Hills. The client requested pizza made with their wood fire oven. It's tough enough dealing with an oven in a gig because you have to parcook food for holding, now I have to battle a monster: a wood fire oven.

Setting up a wood fire oven is similar to building a campfire. You set one large log in the oven as a 'backstop' and rest smaller pieces of wood on it, making sure that air is allowed to ventilate under the wood. You can't do more than two big pieces at a time otherwise the wood to fire ratio is knocked off balance and you're left with a slower temperature increase. It's hard to explain and I found myself scratching my head and swearing as I tried it out before the event. The client and I met again on another weekend before the event to practice the wood fire oven. In about four hours, we reached the temperature of 600 degrees. It's not the internal temperature of the oven that needs to be 600 degrees, it's the bricks that form the oven floor that need to be heated. I smiled when I saw the glowing embers of what was once wood. In the four hours it took, I had to come back every 15-20 minutes and feed it some more... much like a baby that wants to keep eating. Once you reach 600 degrees, the next goal is to make as much floor space as possible. Using a long metal spatula, we pushed all the coals to the left side, including the large backstop log. The client than grabbed a wet towel and wrapped it around the spatula and 'wiped' down the oven floor. It's ok if you get a little bit of ash on the bottom of the pizza, it only makes it look more rustic.

I quickly ran into the kitchen and pulled out my pizza dough from the fridge. Threw some flour on the counter top, rubbed my hands together like a gymnast, without the tights of course, and started massaging the ball of dough. After making a disc shape, I did a few rotations using my knuckles to stretch it. This takes skill because if you pull too hard, you'll tear the dough. No no no. For rookies, the rolling pin is still the best. I used my asian style rolling pin, which is smaller than the standard rolling pin, but without the handles. The smaller ones are used for making dumpling skins. Once the dough was as thin as it could be, I carefully laid the dough on a wooden pizza paddle with some flour beneath it. Flour works better than cornmeal in the case of the wood fire oven because it has a higher cooking temperature. If you're making pizza in a conventional oven, cornmeal on a pizza stone will be fine. I then added olive oil (vs. using tomato sauce), two kinds of cheese (a container of four cheese and mozzarella) and the appropriate accoutrements – the client requested portobello mushroom, white truffle oil and thyme. I carefully held the paddle and handed it to the client. He carefully guided the paddle into the oven mouth as if he was feeding a big monster. As soon as he pulled the paddle from beneath the pizza, I heard the most beautiful sound ever: the searing of fresh dough on hot oven bricks. 30 seconds later, the left hemisphere of the pizza was already bubbling... as high as 1.5 inches. The edge of the crust slowly blistering with dark spots. Another 30 seconds later, we used the spatula to rotate the pizza so that we could cook the other side. For a total of 2 minutes in the oven, something extraordinary comes out of the oven. He pulled out the pizza and set it on a table. I almost shed a tear because it was so beautiful. The cheese was bubbling quietly and the crust so fluffy and 'pillowy'. We all took a slice of pizza and sank our teeths in for that familiar and nostalgic food we've all grown up with. As I ate, I watched for the client's reaction and they loved it. I felt so much better doing a practice run and knew things would work out nicely on the day of the event.

Fall Decor

This catering event was very different than many others I've worked. For the first time, I was working with an event planning group. Not only did it mean that there would be decorations and invitations being taken care of, I had people to take care of the front of the house, meaning the wait/bar staff. It is HARD working the kitchen AND front of the house. I could focus more on cooking the food vs. running around like a lunatic.

Although it rained the night before, the dampness had evaporated and left a nice waft of cold air. I couldn't imagine cooking during the heatwave we had two months ago. Many of the decorations used by Fresh Events had orange, brown and yellow leaves, which were really nice.

Fall Decor

Woodfire Oven

And there she is, the wood fire beast. Inside the cavity, there's about 3 sq. feet of space, not very big. That's why it's important to slowly burn wood vs. stuffing it. Four hours to get it going, 2-3 minutes to cook your food. As it sounds, it's a lot of work, but the results do not lie.

Woodfire Oven

A close-up of the wood fire oven. Here, it's at about 425 degrees. By the time you're ready to cook, you shouldn't have any flames at all.

Wood Fire Oven

I gave this thing more attention on that day than I do with J. She wasn't happy with me, but she was very happy about the pizza.

Scallop, Shrimp & Avocado Ceviche

Scallop, Shrimp & Avocado Ceviche
I love love love ceviche and was dying to serve some food on white spoons. Whenever you can get the client to interact with the food, versus picking it up with greasy fingers and napkin, you whet their appetite. I "cooked" 32-40 size shrimp with baby scallops in lime juice for about 4 hours. Any longer, you may risk the chance of having no taste whatsoever. I added tiny-brunoised cuts of red bell pepper for color, green jalapenos for spice and put a small wedge of avocado and cilantro leaf on top. For some additional flavor, I added one of my favorite ingredients, smoked paprika. Client loved this.

Bacon Wrapped Dates with Parmesan & Goat Cheese

Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Parmesan/Goat Cheese
AOC and my friend Immaeatchu have made me love this appetizer more and more. The combination of sweet dates, goat/Parmesan cheese and salinity from the crispy bacon make it one hot kid on the block. There are two main types of dates out there: medjools and deglet noors. If you're going to use medjools, you might want to cut them in half lengthwise because they are huge. Dates may not appeal to everyone because they've got that sticky chew. I prefer deglet noors because you can pop them in one bite and are actually very easy to work with. There are recipes that call for goat cheese or Parmesan, why not bring the best of both worlds and do a 50/50 ratio? You can use a toothpick or skewer (put 7-8 of them on one stick) to secure the bacon if you're worried about them falling apart. Bake for 5 mins on one side at 400, then flip over and bake for another 7-10 mins until bacon is somewhat crispy... just don't burn the bacon. I saw guests take 2-3 at a time, popping them like they were tater-tots.

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus Bundles
Everyone loves bacon and everyone loves prosciutto. For this dish, I cut the asparagus into 7" lengths and bundles of three using the prosciutto as 'tape'. Lightly spray some olive oil on the bundles and add a TINY bit of salt only on the asparagus. Fresh black pepper and lemon juice for a kick. These were very fun to eat.

Portobello & White Truffle Oil Pizza

Portobello & White Truffle Oil Pizza
And finally, the product of four hours of constant nurturing, arguing and making up: the portobello mushroom, white truffle oil and thyme pizza. These came out beautiully and guests kept requesting more and more truffle oil. Whoa, too rich.

By the end of the night, everyone had so much to eat, including my staff. It's too easy to get pizza'd out, but it was the crust that we kept coming back to. So soft and pillowy.

Great clients, excited guests, wonderful event planning group, loving gf and sister, loyal friends and one angry, tempermental 600 degree oven. That's the best way to sum up one of the smoothest events I've ever worked. Thank you to the McK's, Fresh Events, staff and to you for reading.