By Heather Hoch
By Eric Schaefer
By New Times
By Rachel Miller
By Eric Schaefer
By Heather Hoch and Lauren Saria
By Robrt L. Pela
By Heather Hoch
Is the nearest body of salt water hundreds of miles away? No problem--we can still fly in fish from the farthest corners of the globe. So what if it generally greets us as a dull, ineptly prepared slab on a restaurant plate?
The most interesting seafood dishes, I'm convinced, are not served at typical seafood restaurants, the kind with "buoys" and "gulls" rest rooms and enough nautical equipment hanging from the walls to outfit the Pequod. Instead, the best-tasting fish often shows up in ethnic joints or kitchens featuring some sort of regional fare. Anyone who's ever sampled bouillabaisse, sushi or gefilte fish knows what I mean. I put this insight to the test at Bahia Kino, a new South Phoenix Mexican seafood place where you don't find burros, tamales or a chile relleno-chimichanga combo plate on the menu. If it doesn't swim, it's not here. You won't get any piscatory thrills from the decor. The whitewashed walls are lined with framed, street-corner art. A reproduction of Leonardo's "The Last Supper" is a happy exception, although a somewhat disconcerting one for superstitious restaurant patrons. Bahia Kino avoids the dreary Basic Joint atmosphere through bright, fluorescent lighting, flowers on the oilcloth-draped tables and sheer authenticity: We were the only gringos here. If you don't speak Spanish, be prepared to do a lot of pointing at the bilingual menu when the friendly young waitresses take your order. And as a sort of festive bonus, you're likely to encounter strolling mariachis, who spend their evenings wandering in and out of South Phoenix's Mexican restaurants. We got our money's worth--$5 a song--from the three talented musicians who entertained us. Of course, it's easy to be generous with mariachi money when most of the restaurant's substantial dishes top out at less than eight bucks. And it's even easier to be in a generous mood when they taste so good.
Meals start off with a basket of fresh chips and a fiery salsa that hasn't been tempered for gringo palates. But the best way to prepare your taste buds for Mexican seafood entrees is to treat them to Mexican seafood appetizers. At Bahia Kino, that means wonderful seafood cocktails, served in "chico" and "grande" portions. The small size should be plenty for two. Ceviche, bits of shrimp and fish "cooked" with lime juice and seasoned with cilantro, onions, tomato and cucumber, was a perky delight. And the first-rate octopus was tender enough to yield to only gentle chewing. Scoop up either cocktail with a tablespoon, or spread it across fried corn tortillas. The main dishes sport a simple, unmistakable, south-of-the-border taste. The recipe for the whole fried fish in garlic sauce, for example, isn't very complex: Take one tilapia, a popular, bony, white-meat, farm-raised fish; dip it in bubbling oil until cooked and crusted; and smother with onions and garlic. It's not for the squeamish--lots of bones and intrusive body parts make unearthing the moist flesh a difficult, time-consuming process. But it's satisfying, in a primal way. If you prefer fish in a state not quite so close to nature, the filete de pescado Veracruzano is a terrific alternative. A big, meaty fillet comes drenched in a flavorful, but not spicy, sauce of olives, tomatoes and onions. This may be one of the best $8.50 fish plates in the Valley. Want to light a fire in the belly? Try the shrimp endiablado as kindling. It's a generous portion showcasing a dozen firm crustaceans in a "devilishly" slow-working, hot chile sauce. You may eat three or four creatures before feeling the effects, but by the time I downed the last shrimp, I was trying to massage my insides from the outside. All the main dishes fill in the cracks with a bit of salad, routine beans, pleasing, pea-flecked rice and steaming flour tortillas. If you're looking for something to take the sting out of a chilly winter evening, opt for the lovely fish stews, meals in a bowl. The seven seas version comes stocked with shrimp, scallops, octopus, squid, a bit of crab and a single clam. They swim in an appealingly briny broth made even more fragrant from infusions of onion, celery and green pepper. And incorrigible diners who refuse to eat Mexican food that doesn't come stuffed in a tortilla shell can find solace in the fish tacos. Marinated, minced fish occupies two crispy corn tortillas, accompanied by a thick mound of guacamole.