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Thursday, October 15, 2009
Mariscos Ruben: Gourmet Sonoran Seafood From a Truck?Tijuana,BC
Sonora is well-known for its famous steaks and typical northern Mexican cuisine, but it also lies on the Sea of Cortez, making it possibly the greatest surf n' turf state in Mexico.Its seafood is often overshadowed by Sinaloa to its southern frontier, but try telling that to Ruben and Mirta Rodriguez.For the past 20 years they've been parked on the corner of 8th St. and Quintana Roo,where downtown meets the Zona Rio in Tijuana.
Sonorans make up the second largest migrant group in Tijuana and there steakhouses are all over town.There aren't many Sonoran seafood places in Tijuana, but Mariscos Ruben can pretty much hold down the fort on their own. Their truck is a mobile gastronomic unit.
The menu looks similar to most seafood stands and restaurants, but don't be fooled by the simply titled dishes. They serves seafood cocktails, botanas(snacks),tacos,tostadas, and soups that will truly engage all of your senses.
Customers squeeze in and look for a place to dine in a small tented area in between the parked truck and a permanent shed that houses a storage area and grill where they cook several plates over mesquite.
Mirta is a cocktailer, cook, and supervisor a staff of about 3-4 others in the truck.It's a family operation and some of their preparations are sourced from home cooks in their family.Her husband Ruben, not pictured here, takes orders, mans the grill some times,brings out drinks, and keeps everything running smooth. This kitchen didn't even get slammed today when I brought a group of 13. They were full of customers when we arrived and still the dishes came out faster than we could photograph and eat them.I've been stopping here for more than a year, but only in the last 5 months did I realize how deep is the cooking in this truck.
The salsas like this chiltepin, typical of the state of Sonora,are an indication of what's in store for you. They are rich, creamy,gourmet concoctions, the kind you rarely come across even in Mexico. Similar in texture and complexity to the great salsas of La Guerrerense in Ensenada.
The salsas line the back wall of the tent, with mole-like richness, some thickened with generous amounts of oil.
This smoky salsa of dried chiles has a dark,nutty deliciousness that has to be enjoyed by itself, but I can think of a few things you can do with it,like dollop some onto Sonoran crab claws.
I had manitas de jaiba(crab claws), the first time I went to Mariscos Ruben, and always ask about this dish when I visit. They only get fresh crab here, and when it's not available it's not on the menu.Ruben doesn't like to talk about his recipes, so, let's just talk about how amazing this tastes. The crab is lightly sweet and delicate, seasoned by magic hands, and served in a savory, citrus blend that is masterful. Her style of seafood style shows a command of saucier technique, but that which comes naturally, not from any formal institution.
They also do an aguachile(fire water)of crab claws served in a molcajete(earthen mortar and pestle).The volcanic rock molacajete gives this aguachile a suggestive quality that is primordial.You may only want to eat seafood out of a molcajete from now on.
The taco of camaron enchilado(chilied shrimp) is another dish that shows Mirta's art in blending and balancing rich flavors. They use a house salsa to cover the shrimp and then fry them in butter. The shot of cream on top pushes the loaded taco into narcotic status.
Perhaps the taquito de marlin, so innocent sounding, is the best dish on the menu. There never has been a better marlin taco or taquito than this, period. The mesquite charred shell, reminiscent of a firm, yet giving flatbread,doesn't just deliver the freshly pink,smoked marlin, but is an integral component. Two secret sauces made by a family member top the taquito along with clean cabbage.
Not a morsel shall be spared, nor a single drop of voluptuous sauce. One is a homemade Thousand Island, the other.......well, just enjoy, no one's going to tell you a thing.
Another fine crab offering is the crab tostada accented by purple onion and other vegetables whose sole purpose is to let this delicious crab hit its mark.
The callo de hacha(scallops)used for raw preparations are of the finest quality and taste.Mirta showed these off proudly like a favorite grandchild.
Cahuamanta is a soup that is unique to the state of Sonora. It was made with turtle in the past, but when turtle meat ended up on the endangered species list, manta ray took its place. The name of this dish is a combination of the old and new.Mirta makes a heavenly soup, amply flavored with natural seafood flavors.As a bonus, the caguamanta comes with aleta(tuna fin), gelatinous and buttery bits thrown in for textural enhancement.Their flavor is mild.
The outdoor grill housed in the storage shed really gives this truck's kitchen an edge.When Mirta suggested I try her clam au gratin, I thought, ok, maybe another time.I was a little full and wanted to save some space for later.She gave me her pitch and that look that says,"you don't know what your missing if you walk away now." Just when you think you've mastered this menu.......
Pismo clams are shucked, repacked with the clam meat, shrimp and octopus, cheese, and Maggi seasoning, and then sealed shut with foil.Cooked and flavored by mesquite, these clams add another dimension to this humble seafood truck.
One of Mirta's cooks carefully opens the still hot clams and carefully splays it open prior to serving.
One side cups the dipping sauce and the other smoky clam, cheese, octopus, and shrimp.
There's no end to the gourmet selections at Mariscos Ruben. All dishes have a commonality of richness, freshness of ingredient, and balance.Sonoran tradition, expert cooking, and the power of umami mexicano.
There are Sonoran specialties like caguamanta, and dishes that are common in other parts of this region of Mexico, but Mariscos is pure Sonoran "sabor" and style.Seafood cuisine that is traditional home cooking, but with a command of various culinary disciplines that makes you scratch your head in a state of disorientation. How could food this special be found in a truck parked near a noisy strip of sidewalk surrounded by traffic?This place could be cutting edge in Manhattan or Downtown LA.
During the Expo Tequila 2009, 13 of us descended upon Mariscos Ruben for a taste of Sonora and all were blown away by this place. Make this a stop on your next trip to Tijuana and discover the wondrous pleasures of Sonora.
Parked on the corner of 8th and Quintana Roo
7 days a week