Saturday, March 15, 2008

La Jaiba: Eat Here and Get Crabs

We'd heard how good this seafood restaurant is, but until Thursday, hadn't eaten there. There's another location, somewhere out near the Panteón Municipal, but it has been elusive. The one we found is at Blvd García de León # 937, north side, close to a TelMex office and parking lot. Parking is where you find it, on the street. There's a wheelchair ramp of sorts at the door. Tel: (443) 315 57 57. The rooms are fairly simple but well lit and spacious, as befits a marisquería. The menu fits on two sides of a folding carta.

We were immediately brought an attractively arranged platter of chopped onion, cilantro leaves and chopped chile perón; a small loaf of crusty bread, a dish of the popular, orangey colored spiced mayonnaise, and a small mound of what I call "ensaladilla Rusa; cubed cooked potatoes, peas and carrots in mayo. This has never attracted me, but it was actually quite good. There were two collections of popular bottled salsas; that the labels were gone added a frisson of daring to the meal.

Our drinks orders were taken promptly. There's a pretty good selection of cervezas and mixed drinks. I treated myself to a vodka and mineral water. The Absolut Vodka, poured generously at table, was what I need after having just spent an hour plus in a dentist's chair.

Our group of four began with a pair of Rollos de Jaiba and Rollos de Mariscos; sort of semi-formed Spring Rolls. They were "ok" but not great, with mushy, undistinguished fillings and not very crisp wrappers. They came with more ensaladilla Rusa. Being hungry, we ate them with no problem.

Choosing a main course was pleasantly challenging. The list of interesting preparations is extensive and inventive, such as Camarones Cocos. Camarones al Tequila, Camarones a la Salsa Mango, etc. They also offer cocteles de mariscos, of course. We saw a couple of men receive Cocteles Campechanas, a
large "Chabela" goblet, beautifully layered with fresh oysters, shrimp and octopus. The cocteles were very tempting, but fortunately, we'd already eaten, and I didn't violate my "Oath of No Raw Oysters in Mexico" that I swore in 1980, when I was ill for two weeks after an oyster cocktail in Tuxpan, Veracruz.

My wife, Susan, had some beautiful and tasty Brochetas de Camarones, presented with grilled orange wedges, sweet yellow peppers, onion and bacon on actual wooden skewers. (So often "brochetas" or "alambres" means a stir-grilled melange of tasty bits that once upon a time, might have been served on a skewer.) A small plate of so-so rice accompanied it, as well as some limp, somewhat greasy French Fries. Our two visitors split an order on Mango Shrimp. It was nicely done, 3 shrimp per diner (you can order as many as you want. The waitresses are very accomodating.) The sauce was a thick, puree of mango with a hint of chile. Not exactly my kind of thing, but the taste of sauce I had was pleasant.

I wanted a filete de pescado, as I wasn't up for tackling a whole fish. (During our meal, we saw a whole, raw fish presented to another diner on an iced platter for his approval. It stuck out over the sides of the platter. We were impressed.)

I hadn't had a proper Pescado a La Veracruzana in a long time, so I ordered that. I anticipated that the filet itself would be bland and very soft textured. I think that tilapia is very popular with restauranteros. It's by no means my favorite fish, as it's usually nearly devoid of any interesting texture nor taste, but on this occasion it suited me.
The sauce was very good; let me tell you:

*What are some signs of a good Salsa a la Veracruzana?*

• Fresh tomatoes; onions, a little garlic, certainly.
• Cooked Chiles Jalapeños, cut lengthwise.
• Green olives, hold the pimento stuffing.
Alcaparras (capers) lend a salty tang. (In another Mexican restaurant, in the U.S., I was once served the dish with peas as a stand-in for the capers.)
• Bay leaves. (Remove before tucking into your fish.)
• Juices are liquid, not thickened with tomato puree.
• A lightly fried chile güero on top is a classic touch.
IMO, the Veracruzana at La Jaiba met and exceeded these standards, except for no chile güero. Big deal. It was delicious anyway. I cleaned up all the sauce with the fresh bread.

Desserts are mini-individual cakes or flan. The cakes are cute, but nothing special really; the flan was a little firm, which is ok, and our Pennsylvania born friend jealously guarded it from me. Coffee was IMO, passable, but our Louisana-raised friend thought it was bad.

Summing up: I'd give La Jaiba 3 1/2 stars, moving toward 4, out of a possible 5. The service is excellent, the room is fine, the chairs comfortable. As to the food, the cocteles de mariscos looked magnificent and well made. (Did not try them.). The shrimp in Mango Sauce were plump, fresh and tasty. The Brochetas also. The Veracruzana, an A-.

The Fry Cook needs retraining, with special attention to oil temperatures.
In general, worthy of a special visit, and we would certainly eat there again.

Really, I didn't spot any crabs on my once-over-lightly scan of the menu. I could have titled this blog post; "Shrimps Served Here", but that wouldn't have gotten your attention as quickly.

We went to Morelia last Tuesday. The mid-day and afternoon heat was powerful.

A small group protesting on Blvd. García de León jammed traffic, but we were able to extricate ourselves and park about 4 or 5 blocks from Mariscos La Jaiba. Once inside, we found the overhead fan very welcome. We ate lightly, a shrimp cocktail for Doña Cuevas, and one of pulpos and camarones for me. They were delicious; among the better ones we've had. It wasn't that the shrimp were so much better; it was that the clear broth in the glass was tastier. I also like the platter of chopped cilantro, cebolla y chiles with which to garnish your food al gusto. We were also very thirsty, and we drank a pitcher of limonada and a michelada con Clamato.

At an adjoining table, a large family/friends group came in and ordered mariscadas, platters heaped with cold, boiled seafood, including what looked like a part of a langosta. It was very attractive and tempting. Our waitress explained that the price started at about $100 MXP per person, and went up, depending on the selection, and I suppose, the market price of some of the seafood. A mariscada is on our priority list for our next visit.

La Jaiba is located on Blvd. García de León near the corner of Calle Battalla de Cerro Gordo, but east of the Telmex Building. The next street to the west is Batalla de La Angostura.

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Steve Cotton said...

Michael --

It all sounds great. If I may be so gauche to ask price, how expensive is it?

Don Cuevas said...

Steve, how gauche of me not to mention la cuenta.

Overall, moderately priced, to U.S. standards. A meal for 4 persons: of 2 apps, 3 main courses (one was split), 5 cervezas, a vodka, three desserts and 3 coffees, $810 MXP, IIRC. Plus a better than average tip.