Friday, October 05, 2012

It's Not Easy Being Green

Amphibious Exercises at Mariscos La Güera

From the New Yorker Magazine
Sunday, September 30, 2012, we joined friends for another comida at La Güera, our favorite restaurant in Pátzcuaro. It was after 2:00 p.m. on  Sunday, the busiest day of the week. The day before, I had requested a special dish not on the menu: Guatape Verde de Camarones. Judith Melgoza, the owner and our friend, agreed to make it. There were some doubts as to whether my wish would be realized, but after a confused exchange with our waitress, we suspended our hopes and ordered regular apps. 

Then, suddenly, Judith appeared with a smile, and a chowder cup in hand with two spoons, to give us a taste of a green, herbal sauce. We approved, and our waitress served the six of us two large plates of Guatape. The dish was good, although lacking much of the desirable anise-like taste of hoja santa. 

When I had made Guatape a few years ago, I overdosed the dish with too many pungent herbs as well as a strong shrimp shell stock. That error was compounded by overthickening the sauce. See the recipe below.

Guatape Verde de Camarones "La Güera"
Guatape Verde de Camarones. Adapted from "Mexico—The Beautiful Cookbook".

3 chiles poblanos, quitan las semillas y membranas

4 tomates verdes, sin cáscaras

2 tazas de perejil fresco

3 hojas pequeñas de hoja santa

4 tazas de agua o de caldo de camarón

1/4 taza de aceite de olivas o de manteca

1 cebolla grande, finamente picada

1 1/2 cucharas soperas de Maizena, suspendida en un poco de agua tibia.

sal y pimienta blanca

1 kilo de camarones crudos, preferemente con sus cabezas intactas

jugo de un limón 

Modo de hacer

En licuadora, haz puré de los chiles, tomates verdes, perejil y hierba santa con el agua. Pase por un tamiz y pon al lado.

Caliente el aceite en una cacerola grande, pon la cebolla y acitrona. Añadie el puré de chiles y hierbas, freir hasta que llega a hervir, añadie la Maizena suspendida en agua. Cocine hasta que se espesa.

Pelar solamente los lomos de los camarones y añaden al la olla. Los cocinen 5 minutos. Sirvelos calientes, con arroz blanco si quieres, unas gotas de limón sobre el guatape. 
We appreciate the efforts of Judith and her staff. When the cuenta arrived at the end of the meal, we were surprised and pleased that we had been given the Guatape "cortesía de la casa".
Gracias a la muy generosa y amable Sra. Judith.

Judith Melgoza, left
What came next might serve as a caution. It’s best not to go to your favorite restaurant at peak times. Not only were we there at the peak hour on Sunday, it was also the festive weekend of the Founding of Pátzcuaro. So, we'll give La Güera the benefit of the doubt.

Less than a month ago, we tried the Ancas de Rana (frogs’ legs) at Mariscos La Güera in Pátzcuaro. They were tender, perfectly seasoned and cooked. The time was around noon on a Friday.
But yesterday, they were dry, stringy and tough. You can compare them in the photos.

August 31
September 30
Similarly, our friend Ron’s Filete de Salmón was thin and overcooked. It was a real contrast to the first time we’d tried it, a couple of months ago, when it was thick and moist. (Another factor may be that on the earlier occasions, we’d ordered the large portion and this time the smaller).

Mark’s Coconut Shrimp, though, was satisfactory, if a bit pale in color. Mariscos La Güera does best what it knows best. That is, tostada appetizers, shrimp dishes, cocteles de mariscos, and pescados. (Except salmon, apparently.)

Perfectly cooked Coconut Shrimp- on another occasion
I suppose it was the frogs’ legs that started our conversation on achoques, or neotenic Lake Pátzcuaro salamanders. They are used by the Dominican nuns of the convent of Nuestra Señora La Virgen de Salud to make a syrup, Jarabe de Achoque. It’s said to be sovereign in soothing coughs and sore throats. Later that evening, there followed an email exchange on achoques and the more common axolotl. Mark and I both reminisced briefly on the use of the word, “axolotl” in early issues of Mad Magazine. Mark’s wife, Nancy and their friend, Nancy H. both tasted the Jarabe de Achoque and said it was good. There is even axolotl poetry.
Axolotl/achoque is not on the menu at La Güera
As we finished our meal and paid our bill at the restaurant, I again admired the sharp and snazzy uniforms of the waitstaff. They are modified white tunics with rows of buttons topped by a Mandarin collar. While the ones with white buttons are nice, the black buttons really snap to attention.

Waitress at Mariscos La Güera Campestre
I also glanced into the kitchen, where the cooks were wearing the bright orange Mariscos La Güera T-shirts. It must have been hot as well as busy in there, and none I saw were wearing what I call the “surgeon’s” uniform, swathed in whites with skullcap, but of course, they were wearing surgical masks to protect the customers’ health.

So here's updated ratings on Mariscos La Güera. Matriz at Federico Tena at Libramiento Ignacio Zaragoza, Pátzcuaro. Open every day except Christmas and New Years, 11-6, approximately. Ideal time, between 12 and 2.

(A branch location, Mariscos La Güera Campestre, at kilometer 46.6, carretera Morelia- Pátzcuaro. Huge customer capacity, the size of aircraft hangars. Good food, service a bit more leisurely, as servers have farther to walk from kitchen to table. Rarely as full as the matriz, in our experience. Salon de eventos available. Plenty of free parking; cars washed.)

RATINGS (Applies specifically to la matriz.)

Food: ***1/2 sometimes, ****+

Service: ****+

Ambience: informal, casual, cozy.

Price: -$-$$

Hygiene: ***** (To my knowledge, best organized and probably best hygiene of  any Pátzcuaro.)

Other: Regrettably, a 10% service charge is now included in the bill. We prefer to tip more, so we do.

Best menu items: cocteles de camarones o pulpos, ensaladas de mariscos, micheladas, tostadas, aguachiles de camarones (lime "cooked" shrimp salad), brochetas de camarones with bacon, onion and sweet peppers, camarones empanizados, camarones para pelar, camarones empani-cocos, pescados enteros al mojo de ajo, al ajillo; filetes al gusto. 

Odd items: any fish a la Veracruzana. Not really bad, just a starkly, minimalist interpretation of a lush classic; crema de camarones: AVOID! Tacote de mariscos: great concept, but unfortunately, the seafood filling is under seasoned and tasteless. Caldo de Huauchinango: only if you enjoy slowly and carefully picking tiny bones out of the fish and your mouth.

Torta de filete empanizado: this may have improved over the years due to an upgrade from tilapia to mero (grouper). The tilapia was soft and tasteless, the mero fairly meritorious. Any dish prepared "a la diabla" may be a hit or a miss. I have had good ones but also really bad ones, with a thick, floury, cheesy tasting sauce.

En fin: we love Mariscos La Güera, its staff and its friendly, gregarious owners. We have to continue to adjust to certain occasional inconsistencies in the food. Go during the week, or go early. Stick with the regular menu items. Nearly any shrimp or whole fish dish will be good to great.

Clockwise, from upper left: Camarones y Pulpos a la Diabla; Camarones Empani-Cocos; Mojarra Al Mojo de Ajo
Entradas for a group; ceviches, guisado de marlin (****!) and tiritas de pescado. These are among by favorite apps.
A beautiful Ensalada de Mariscos; presentation varies. I don't eat raw shellfish in México, but you can request it without.
Approximate location of Mariscos La Güera matriz

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Steve Cotton said...

And I did not get there on my trip last month even though I drove by numerous times. Maybe on my next visit.

jennifer rose said...

Today's frog legs were plump, meaty, and delish at Mariscos La Güera, which was packed with customers.

DonCuevas said...

That's good news. Thanks for the comment.

Saludos, Don Cuevas

Andean said...

Ceviche is one of my favorites, but not the dry one. Different names in different Latin countries.

DonCuevas said...

I have never tried the South American (especially Peruvian seviches.) It's on my Big List.

Saludos, Don Cuevas

Andean said...

With your culinary skills, sounds like you would take it to a T.

One of the best I had, was actually in Puerto Vallarta, but A place in Melaque does it quite well for my taste, that is.