CALL ME SWEET POTATO PRINCESS - I was having dinner with my friend Hunter White the other day, explaining my family tree and he very seriously looked at me and said: “Oh. Yes. I know what...
Friday, November 26, 2010
Mi Costa, Playa Maviri, Los Mochis Sinaloa: Topolobampo Might be Where the Guide Book Sends You, But Playa Maviri is Where the Locals Eat
Just a twenty minute drive from beautiful Los Mochis, Sinaloa, located in the northern part of the state, lies the tranquil beach destination, Playa Maviri. Nearby Topolobampo is more well known outside of Sinaloa as a tourist destination, a commercial shipping port,and that its name was taken by Rick Bayless for his restaurant of the same name. But if you ask the locals in Los Mochis where the best place to get some of their famous Sinaloan seafood they'll tell you,"uh don't go to Topolobampo, the best food is at Playa Maviri.""Unos Buenos mariscos!!"
In town, at Los Mochis, you'll find mostly seafood restaurants that have a barra fria(cold bar), and a barra caliente(hot bar), but not grills. The outdoor style grills used for Sinaloa's state dish, pescado zarandeado, which means shaken fish, are either by themselves, or on the outskirts of town. But on the beaches, the tradition of cooking pescado zarandeado is widespread and it just feels right. Pescado zarandeado was created in the state of Nayarit, but Sinaloa has its own version, and both states are revered in Mexico for this dish.
In Playa Maviri, there's a seafood restaurant row, competing for the hungry throngs of families from Los Mochis that come out on the weekends. Each joint, covered by a thatch roof or other such humble shelter, has ice cold Pacificos, the local beer, a mangler wood fired grill, a barra fria, and a barra caliente.
Mi Costa is a top restaurant for mariscos at Playa Maviri, since 1987, and you'll get no argument from any natives. If you say you're going to Mi Costa," Oh si,...es excelente!" Everybody knows this place.
I imagine the beach gets pretty full on the weekends, but on this day, it's calm, the weather is perfect, and you might want to grab a beer and have a walk around while your fish is on the grill.
The grill is a traditional pit style zarandeado set up with a grilling cage. It's a two man operation to turn this beast, and the dish gets its name from all that shakin' going on. Pescado zarandeado is what brings everybody out, I mean, this is where you need to go for this, just a minor sacrifice of a twenty minute cab ride. It's worth it, and any less of an effort will haunt you forever.
Aluminum foil is used to keep the fish from cooking too fast, gotta have that tender, flaky fish. And, a two man operation? Yes, this job is ostensibly performed by men. It's a Man's World....
but it Wouldn't be Nothin'...without a Woman.The other two kitchens in these restaurants are a cooking station for all the hot dishes which is matriarchal, and a cocktailing bar for the raw shellfish preparations,seafood cocktails, ceviches, tostadas, aguachiles(raw seafood in lime and chile), and botanas(snacks). Cocktailing has traditionally been the realm of men, but a little woman's lib has crept in the seafood biz, and I'm seeing more and more female cocktailers here and there.Our cocktailer at Mi Costa was a woman. Viva la coctelera!
Barra Fria(cold bar)
While you wait for the much anticipated pescado zarandeado, you need some bites to go with your chilly Pacifico, or michelada(beer cocktail). Pata de mula, or mangroves cockles, also known as bloody clams is a bold starter. It translate to mule's foot. The pata de mula has its own liquor, that gives it an intense flavor. This is the shellfish that separates the men from the boys. Its firm texture can also be strange to the uninitiated, so please take the time to chew.
Almeja chocolata preparada, or prepared chocolate clams, of the venus clam variety might make you switch loyalties from the oyster to the clam. They only are found in the Sea of Cortez, and in Central America. They have a great texture when fresh, as the freshly cut live chocolata tenses up as it's being cut. Some lime, tomato, cilantro and onion and you have mini-clam cocktails. Or, you can have them au natural. There are a variety of oysters and clams available on this extensive cold bar menu.
Tostadas are neglected here in the US, even at many of the Sinaloan and Nayaritan restaurants we have in Los Angeles. So, you might overlook these treasures on the appetizer menu, but when in Sinaloa, tostadas should be on your mind. The tostada mitotera, or gossipy tostada, consists of cooked octopus and shrimp, and shrimp ceviche heaped upon a tostada and finished by a callo de hacha(scallop). Mitotera, which means gossip, but also the person who sets off the party, is the sauce, likely a combination of lime, soy sauce or worcestershire sauce, spices, and seasoning.
The tostada itself is not functional with these heaped piles of seafood, as it will fall all over the place if you attempt to pick it up and eat it, but no worries, there are plenty of baked tostadas and crackers at your disposal. The tostadas themsleves are amazing, usually house made, or from a tortilleria.
The tostada embarazada(pregnant tostada) comes with cooked crab legs and shrimp, and beautifully adorned with a whole cooked peel and eat shrimp. This tostada has a touch of spice, but the emphasis here is on the pure sweetness of fresh crab and shrimp.
There are also seven different molcajetes full of seafood:scallops, sea snails, shrimp, octopus, oyster, and clams. The maleficio en molcajete(evil spell), with spicy raw shrimp and scallops, the agasajo en molcajete(banquette), or the molcajete V.I.P., raw scallops and shrimp, octopus, oysters in mitotera sauce, with a touch of shrimp stock. The maleficio and the agasajo are Sinaloan seafood traditions, but the restaurants will make up their own creations with intriguing titles.
Barra caliente(hot bar)
The hot bar includes regional tacos like marlin tacos, shrimp cooked about twenty different ways, fish chicharron, fish filets and plates, and the mignon de camaron, shrimp in the form of a filet mignon, wrapped with bacon with a cream sauce, which I'm tempted to order ALWAYS!
Camarones rellenos are single shrimp wrapped in bacon and stuffed with cheese. Coastal rice, a perfect guacamole, and the "I Love the 80's" steamed vegetables. At least the vegetables are cooked very nicely. Bacon, melted cheese, and shrimp, does this combination require any explanation? What a fantastic triple alliance. This is also known as camarones costa azul.
La Parilla(the grill)
Pescado zarandeado cooked on manglar wood on the beach. This is why you're here. Mi Costa serves seven luxurious versions of pescado zarandeado. The tradicional uses a Sinaloa marinade, a fat, either butter,olive oil, or mayo, lime, perhaps soy or worcestershire sauce, spices and vegetables, the tipico estilo nayarit is done with spices, chilis, and lime. They also do a la talla(to size) from the state of guerrero and estilo Mi Costa , whole butterflied fish covered with shrimp and octopus, julienned chilis, with a bath of mild chipotle sauce. Oh, and the fish used are seasonal here, only the best quality seafood items are offered at this beloved beach institution. Pescado zarandeado is usually done with sea bream or snook, but it can be executed with any number of local catch: snapper, sea bass,etc.
We ordered the tipico estilo nayarit. The grilling was expert and performed with ease. Always check the protruding spine on the left side of the dish, if it's as tender as the fatty center, you've got yourself a top notch grill man.
The moist, supple fish, in this case sea bream, known as pargo, is made from fresh local catch. It doesn't get any better than this. Pure fish flavors, and a complementary spicing are the way it's done in Nayarit, just to the south of Sinaloa. It's not an easy task to cook this dish without using fats, but the guys at Mi Costa are pros.The fish is sublime.
Pescado zarandeado, while being a state dish of Sinaloa, isn't so common in town, the beach is the destination for this style of dining. A cold bar, a hot bar, and beach grilling before a night at the clubs or before catching a concert at the palenque(concert venue) is 100% sinaloense.
Follow the signs for Topolobampo and keep right on going to Playa Maviri, where Sinaloans go for the best mariscos.
Los Mochis, Sinaloa