But it does come at a price
We non-native Oaxacans have our rules…don’t drive outside the city after dark, never eat fresh unpeeled produce, be cautious feasting on the street or in markets. For me, after less-than-orgasmic culinary experiences, there was “wait ‘til you’re on the coast to eat fish or seafood.” Thankfully all changed after starting to dine at Veracruz a few years ago. For over a dozen years owners Leo and Rosita have been serving up some of the best seafood I’ve ever eaten, anywhere. Perhaps because as native Veracruzanos, mariscos is in their blood. Perhaps because they take pride in their fresh, and exquisitely prepared and seasoned dishes, as is abundantly evident when you see Leo continually seeking assurance from his patrons that all is well.
Located a few kilometers out of Oaxaca proper, Veracruz has a quaint coastal flavor to it, one side simple marine décor and the other a palapa. I prefer the atmosphere of the beachy palm leaf roof with walls of reed construction, so for this comida we dined in the palapa.
Friendly and attentive staff promptly present an array of complimentary starters foreshadowing the rest of the meal….each dish distinctly flavorful, not too spicy, light, cold when it’s supposed to be, and hot when that’s what you would expect!
Crisp tostadas appear almost as quickly as you are seated, with sides of green and red salsas and requisite mayonnaise and saltines. Next a meaty crab leg salad in a light spicy vinaigrette with chopped tomato and green pepper, lime and chile. Your intermezzo is steaming crab leg and pincer tomato based soup ready to give your teeth and fingers a workout.
We decided against the cocktails (octopus, shrimp, crab, etc) which come in 50 and 90 peso sizes, and the larger meal sized broths and bouillabaisses ranging from 85 to 150, opting for cold seafood platters. First came the lightly dressed shrimp salad with sliced red onion, lime and habanero chiles, followed by large triangles of sea scallop combined with white onion, chile and orange slices, each of these plates having been prepared with attention to color and flavor combinations. Finally appeared a tray of still steaming succulent cracked crab pincers over a bed of citrus slices and ice.
Entrees, ranging from 125 pesos, arrive appropriately garnished, together with baskets of sliced oven-fresh baguette style bread. My husband’s giant split-shell shrimp were served in a chipotle sauce, almost in defiance of the traditional strong flavor of this chile, alongside a healthy dollop of melted Oaxacan string cheese. Our daughter opted for shrimp in a semi-sweet white wine marinade, with sides of cooked cubed veggies, and undressed mixed salad. My whole sea bass, Veracruzano style, was served in a savory sauce with tomato, olive, caper, carrot and chile. The red snapper of Fernando Gonzalez our culinary cohort for this meal, still enveloped in aluminum and extending well beyond the edges of the plate, was baked with pureed green tomato and spices, the steamy aroma of hierba santa filling the air upon the foil being stripped away.
After a feast of such Bacchanalian proportions, which included several copas of the best house mezcal any of us had previously tasted, coffee and dessert were out of the question, although we yielded to temptation and finished off with the sweet Spanish liqueur, “43”, chased with soda over ice.
From noon, 7 days
Margen Izq. Del Rio Atoyac #250, Col. El Pilar tel: 51-27610
Arlene Starkman together with husband Alvin operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast. Arlene is an English teacher and psychotherapist, and occasional restaurant critic.