This post first appeared on San Gabriel Valley Tribune - El Monte on . You can read the original article here.
For most of us, ceviche is, like poke, a seemingly new creation — a dish that popped into our consciousness within recent memory. But of course, as ever, it isn’t.
There’s evidence that ceviche was first prepared in Peru some 2,000 years ago, using fermented juice from passion fruit, rather than lime juice. By the time the Spanish conquistadors intruded, it was already a significant part of the diet in coastal Peru — where it still is to this day, with Lima’s shoreline lined with dozens of ceviche stands and sit-down restaurants.
Other historians argue that ceviche is both a Moorish word, and a Moorish concept, brought to Peru by the Spanish. Peruvian master chef Gaston Acurio says, yup probably true. Spanish master chef Ferran Adria says, nope, it originated in Peru. Which should keep culinary archaeologists busy writing doctoral theses for years. While the rest of us happily knock back scoop after scoop of seafood cooked in the acid of citrus fruit, one of the most pleasurable of all uncooked fish preps.
And even there, the variations in ceviche are many — too many to keep track of.
In Peru, the fish traditionally used is corvina or sea bass, served with corn on the cob and cooked sweet potato. But even in Peru, the styles are many. Some fish is marinated in fish bone broth. Some ceviche are marinated for hours. Others for minutes. Some include a small glass of marinade for you to add as you wish, called leche de tigre.
Meanwhile, next door in Ecuador, shrimp ceviche is made with tomato sauce. In Chile, halibut is marinated in grapefruit juice. There’s a variant called Alaskan ceviche made with halibut and serrano peppers. And in Mexico, ceviche is traditionally served in cocktail cups with tostadas, or as a taco filling. As it is in one section of the very large full-color menu at Mariscos Nuevo Estilo #1 in El Monte. It’s an optimistic name, for far as I can tell, there isn’t a #2…yet.
Mariscos Nuevo Estilo is the oddest restaurant, sitting pretty much by itself on a busy street taking commuters from here to there. It consists of two very large rooms, the first with a view of the semi-open kitchen, the second in the back with many long tables, and many overhead TVs showing everything from the sports of the moment to music videos from back in the day.
To listen to “Born to Run” and “Heard it Through the Grapevine” while eating ceviche is a collision of cultures that pretty well defines the San Gabriel Valley.
There are eight ceviches on the menu, every one of them enough for two persons, along with three seafood cocteles and 14 seafood dishes. Nothing made here is for a small appetite — even the tacos are oversized, topped with lots of cabbage, salsa and some sort of thousand island-like dressing.
Though the staff speaks English with nary an accent, the menu is in Spanish, with no translation. Thus, the ceviche Culichi turns out to be ceviche in the style of Culiacan, where the local specialty is sauce made with roasted poblanas and crema. Callo de hacha are scallops. The “toque magico” mentioned in the Caldo 7 Mares is a hair product. Which I don’t think is a soup ingredient. I sure hope not.
The ceviches all vary in terms of the seafood involved, the levels of spice, and the sundry other ingredients. But it’s still veerry hard to decide which one to order. Heavily marinated shrimp is clearly not heavily marinated sea bass. But that citrus tends to blend the sense of the dishes together.
Order several different ceviche, and you may find yourself befuddled as to which one you’re gobbling at any given moment. Indeed, without the chunks of shrimp and squid, it can get downright befuddling. This is not a complaint; ceviche always tastes wonderful. But it inspires you to dig in without paying a lot of attention.
By contrast, it’s easy to parse the shrimp in the dish amusingly called “cucarachas secas” — dry bugs — for they are clearly shrimp, still in their shells. Ditto the sashimi-like slices of fish in the seriously spicy aguachiles rojos and aguachiles negros. Now how an order of Cajun shrimp wound up on the menu is a mystery. But then, it fits just fine. More seafood to make us happy.
There’s a single-page menu as well of guacamole, hamburgers, chicken nuggets and chicken wings, even chicken salad.
What there isn’t…is beer. Which is a pity. This is the very essence of beer food. Especially with a football game on one of the big screens. Or even with some Michael Jackson. Should it be crucial, there’s a liquor store across the street. Nothing “nuevo estilo” about that. Just lotsa beer.
Mariscos Nuevo Estilo #1
- Rating: 3 stars
- Address: 2352 Mountain View Road, El Monte
- Information: 626-522-1747.
- Cuisine: Ceviche-intensive Mexican Seafood
- When: Lunch and dinner, every day
- Details: Soft drinks
- Atmosphere: An oversized space, with lots of TVs in the backroom, and long tables for groups who show up for ceviche and more ceviche, along with a full selection of classic Mexican dishes.
- Prices: About $25 per person
- Suggested dishes: 8 Ceviche ($10.99-$32.99), 3 Seafood Cocteles ($19.99-$25.99), 14 Oversized Seafood Dishes ($19.99-$36.99), 15 Mexican and American Dishes ($2.99-$31.99)
- Credit cards: MC, V
- What the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth a trip from anywhere!), 3 (Most excellent, even exceptional. Worth a trip from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (A good place to go for a meal. Worth a trip from anywhere in the neighborhood.) 1 (If you’re hungry, and it’s nearby, but don’t get stuck in traffic going.) 0 (Honestly, not worth writing about.)