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Monday, October 19, 2009
La Palmera:Sinaloa's Pescado Zarandeado and Shellfish Frontier in Tijuana
Sinaloan seafood seems to be best under a big thatched roof joint by the beach,in rustic stands on the sides of dusty roads in Sinaloa, street carts, or shacks. You can find nice sit down places in Los Mochis, or Culiacan, but this style of cooking needs no pomp and circumstance.Just a great grill man, expert cocktailers, and some Sinaloan style sauciers to handle the cooked seafoods.
Tijuana has some great sit down restaurants like Don Pepe's, La Costa, of El Farrallon de Mazatlan featuring Sinaloan style seafood, but they seem to lose a little edge in their four-walls-and-a-roof approach.
La Palmera is more like what you'd expect in Sinaloa.More or less plywood nailed to two by fours held up by posts, with a grilling area as you walk in and an open feel all around. It's the kind of place you can hose down when the day is done, and they have the cement floor with the grate style drain to prove it.It was opened three years ago by Eliazar Diaz, from Guamuchil, Sinaloa.
They're strategically located in Tijuana's fish market district just a short walk from Avenida Revolucion.The availability and variety of fish and shellfish is what really separates a place like La Palmera from its north of the border Sinaloan restaurants.
The menu consists of raw shellfish, seafood snacks, pescado zarandeado with 7 different fish to choose from,seafood cocktails, soups,and traditional seafood plates.A bucket of beers is a good way to start.
From the cocktailer's station, located in a little shack acroos the parking lot come the bounty of the Pacific. Pata de Mula(mule's foot), or mangrove cockles, are firm and strong tasting shellfish. They are naturally messy and prepared only with a dash of Maggi seasoning.If you can handle its pungent taste, you will come to love this as a regular selection.
There are reina(queen clams), pismo, and chocolata here, so named for ther chocolate colored shells.
The chocolata is prized among Mexican seafood aficionados.Their flavor is meaty and they are so beautiful when fresh. They have red, white, and brown flesh.Her I ordered them au natural along with some pismo clams prepared with vegetables and hot sauce.
Reina clams have a much milder flavor and are recommended with vegetables and Sinaloan sauces, or cooked.
The Sinaloan raw seafood mirepoix of cucumber, purple onion, and tomato are the standard flavorings in prepared shells.
Aguachiles, the Sinaloan delicacy of raw shrimp flash cooked in lime juice is even more tempting served in a well-seasoned molcajete. The chiltepin, a firey-hot little ball of dried chile favored in Sinaloa and Sonora, is the catalyst in this version.The molcajetes give aguachiles heightened flavors of volcanic rock.Fresh shrimp from Sinaloa doesn't hurt either.
Two have a great great callo de hacha,raw scallops, one has to cross the border, and Palmera is the northern outpost of this royal serving of "Mexican sashimi."
Dried chile chiltepin, salt, and pepper season the scallops beautifully topped with red jalapeno and purple onion.The dish is given a quick bath of lime and Maggi sauce prior to serving.
Callo de hacha can be ordered on a tostada. Sinaloans make wonderful tostadas with a variety of seafood combinations.They're wet and wild with Sinaloan essence.
Towards the entrance lies the grill. This type of grate grill that is flipped by two grill men is the preferred set-up at the beach restaurants in Sinaloa.Mesquite imaparts its character to the pescado zarandeado, a Sinaloan regional dish of grilled butterflied fish with a marinade of fat(mayo, olive oil, or butter),lime, soy or Maggi sauce,and seasonings.But, there are as many marinades in Sinaloa as there are fish in the Pacific.
In addition to the common zarandeado choices, snook and sea bream, Palmera also does sea bass(cabrilla), red snapper(huachinango),salmon,stripped mullet(liza),and corvina.The menu lists all the choices, but Palmera only carries what is fresh and in season. On this day during a trip with friends Javier, Pat, Josh,Brian, and Abby we ordered the corvina.It was tender, deftly grilled, and had a sensational flavor, very different than the snook and sea bream I'm more familiar with.
On weekends, Palmera sells seafood and has the cocktail station across the parking lot in full swing.
This is the place in Tijuana to get pescado zarandeado and shellfish. There are excellent raw seafood carts all over Tijuana, mostly run by Sinaloans and some Nayaritans, and some fine sit down restaurants that are solid, but Palmera is a day on the beach at Playa Maviri, Sinaloa.