ON GOLDEN PRAWN

A guest from Minneapolis stayed with me recently. We went out to eat a few times. Over dinner, she told me she distrusts restaurant critics. "I almost always assume they're on the take," she said. "Or else, if they rave about some place, it's because that restaurant is an advertiser."

Excuse me while I guffaw.
You see, while it is true that I review restaurants that advertise in New Times, it is not true that these same restaurants will receive favorable reviews just because they happen to generate ad revenue which, in turn, pays my salary. The funny thing is, advertisers don't always understand this. Ad reps don't always understand this. The publisher and director of advertising understand this but don't always like the consequences.

And so, some restaurants get angry because I review them and find more on the minus than the plus side. They are angry that I don't take their advertiser status into account and give them a break.

Hey, this may not be the most serious profession in the world, but I take it seriously. As a restaurant reviewer, I'm objective and critical and I park my preconceived notions outside the door. Sometimes I like a place, sometimes I don't. But, as Martin Scorsese's "GoodFellas" are wont to say: It's business, not personal.

Which brings me to the point of this lengthy preamble. Two weeks ago I gave a less-than-favorable review of two pseudo-south-of-the-border seafood restaurants. One of them wanted to cancel its advertising contract with New Times--despite the fact that I praised the look of the new restaurant and said that it seemed like a great place to hear live music.

Okay, okay, okay.
In this same story, I said what I always say: I don't understand why someone would take the time and money to go to an expensive ersatz Mexican restaurant when there are so many authentic joints around. I stand by those words.

And today I'm gonna tell you where you can find some of that authentic Sea of Cortez-style seafood. Places I like. Get your notebook ready.

I have seen the future of authentic Mexican seafood and its name is Las Glorias. Is Las Glorias an advertiser? Yes. Does that matter to me? No. What matters is that Las Glorias serves wonderful, marvelous mariscos: stews to expire for; cocktails to kill for; garlic shrimp to go ga-ga over. This is a place to come when you want to refresh your taste buds, to relive your last trip to the Gulf of California or to remember just how good this kind of food can taste.

Las Glorias, located on Central Avenue in South Phoenix, is a nightclub as well as a seafood restaurant. In the evening, people come here to dance. Live or recorded music plays constantly, even when no one occupies the dark, mirrored dance floor. One night we enjoy the music of a raucous all-acoustic band. The musicians change instruments and places with men at a nearby table so often, it's hard to tell who's really in the band and who's just sitting in.

Large red hearts, sprinkled with glitter, hang from the ceiling of the cavernous, high-ceilinged dining room and twirl slowly in the air-conditioned breeze. The restaurant has no windows, but there is a lengthy wall mural that reminds me of the view from the balcony at Vina del Mar in Rocky Point. The plastic covers on the tables are pock-marked with cigarette burns. It doesn't matter. I love this place.

Specifically, I love the food. The citrus-tart, mildly spiced seafood cocktails, tasting of tomato and onion and cucumber, packed with flavorful, attractive, medium-size shrimp, are the best I've ever eaten--north or south of the border. I am tempted to drink the cool, tomatoey liquid remaining in the soda glass, but I restrain myself.

A ceviche tostada is similarly spectacular. A bowl of shrimp stew has a light tomato broth flavored with fresh cilantro and features an abundance of tender, flavorful shrimp. A plate of garlic shrimp is generous and mouth-watering. Even the traditional go-withs are outstanding: The rice is buttery, the refrieds are dark and remind me of those at Carolina's, the crinkle-cut fries beneath the shrimp soak up all that good garlic sauce.

In fact, the only items I try here that do not please me are the fish tacos and the marinated fish fillet. Interestingly, both are pargo, a common type of Pacific (not Gulf) snapper or rockfish. My complaint? The seasoning in both the taco mixture and the fillet is oversalted.

But the good at Las Glorias definitely overwhelms the bad. Why, there are at least five different kinds of bottled hot sauce (as well as ketchup) on every table! What more could you ask for?

Good service? Las Glorias' is sincere, but barely bilingual. I do not hold this against the restaurant. I am embarrassed that my Spanish isn't better. But make sure yours is up to snuff if you go.

Las Glorias isn't inexpensive. The better purveyors of mariscos aren't. Still, after all the mediocre shrimp cocktails I've picked my way through in the last year, I'd gladly plunk down eight bucks for a good one.

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