Res­tau­rant Re­view

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Alex Heard

Puerto Peñasco

If you’ve ever ex­plored the restau­rants and taco trucks on Air­port Road, you know that many of them serve food as­so­ci­ated with the Mex­i­can state of Chi­huahua. An ex­cep­tion is Puerto Peñasco, which, as the name sug­gests, serves a lot of seafood. The city of Puerto Peñasco is lo­cated in the state of Sonora — specif­i­cally, it’s in that nar­row strip of land, just south of the Ari­zona bor­der, that con­nects Sonora to Baja Cal­i­for­nia. It’s on the north­ern end of the Gulf of Cal­i­for­nia, where seafood is plen­ti­ful, and it’s a pop­u­lar tourism des­ti­na­tion for U.S. trav­el­ers, partly be­cause it’s close enough for week­end trips.

Puerto Peñasco (the res­tau­rant) is a long way from any salt­wa­ter, so the first thing you may ask is whether you can trust the qual­ity of the fish, shrimp, and oc­to­pus served there. I didn’t set foot in the kitchen, so I’m only guess­ing based on taste and smell, but I think the seafood is be­ing han­dled well enough, whether that in­volves freez­ing or just re­frig­er­a­tion. But don’t ex­pect the kind of off-the-boat fresh­ness you’d get in a port town. This is a fam­ily res­tau­rant with fairly mod­est prices, housed in an out-of-the-way strip shop­ping cen­ter in North­ern New Mexico. Ask­ing too much from its sup­ply chain isn’t re­al­is­tic.

The in­te­rior at Puerto Peñasco is ca­sual, with warm light­ing, padded booths lin­ing the walls, and square-top ta­bles in the mid­dle of the room. The menu is large and is bro­ken into cat­e­gories for ap­pe­tiz­ers, sal­ads, shrimp plates, fish plates, steaks, Mex­i­can plates, spe­cialty plates, tacos, and kids’ plates. There are some ex­otic com­bi­na­tions, like filete a la Ver­acruzana (“Red snap­per fil­let served in a spe­cial aphro­disiac sauce”) and piña car­naval (“Half grilled pineap­ple stuffed with shrimp and oc­to­pus”). If you want some­thing more fa­mil­iar, the res­tau­rant can sup­ply it: The menu of­fers a wide range of tacos (fill­ings in­clude beans, carne asada, chicken, pork, sir­loin with ba­con, shrimp, fish, and oc­to­pus) and Mex­i­can stan­dards like en­chi­ladas, flau­tas, and fa­ji­tas. Puerto Peñasco doesn’t serve hard liquor, but it does of­fer beer, wine, and an agave wine mar­garita. There are also var­i­ous juices (like pineap­ple, straw­berry, tamarind, and ap­ple) and aguas fres­cas, in­clud­ing hor­chata.

For din­ner one night, we started with tostadas de ce­viche, three crispy, flat corn tor­tillas piled with tiny white shrimp, some kind of white fish (the menu doesn’t say what it is), diced red onion, tomato, cu­cum­ber, cilantro, le­mon juice, and slices of av­o­cado. A thick smear of may­on­naise shows up in this dish unan­nounced, which is only a prob­lem if, like me, you don’t care for the taste of mayo straight up. As for the rest of it: Some­thing in the mix cre­ated an un­pleas­ant af­ter­taste — I think it was a blend of le­mon juice and seafood juice — and much of this ap­pe­tizer was left un­eaten.

We sam­pled three en­trees: grilled salmon with pico de gallo, the snap­per with the mys­te­ri­ous aphro­disiac sauce, and a steak-en­chi­lada com­bi­na­tion. All three fea­tured a side that is nearly ubiq­ui­tous at Puerto Peñasco, but­tery­tast­ing rice with corn ker­nels mixed in. The steak and en­chi­ladas were av­er­age: a some­what tough piece of seared steak and a flat en­chi­lada with a generic red chile sauce. The salmon, perched on a bed of rice, had a slightly fishy taste and came with a small ice­berg-let­tuce salad and a pile of so-so steak fries. We asked our wait­ress about the aphro­disiac sauce, but she said (with a smile) that its se­crets couldn’t be re­vealed. What it most closely re­sem­bles is a Louisiana-style shrimp Cre­ole sauce, con­sist­ing of tomato sauce, sauteed onions and green bell pep­pers, green olives, and spices that add some (but not much) heat. The sauce was very watery, not hav­ing spent nearly enough time sim­mer­ing down.

Dur­ing a sec­ond vist, for lunch, we tried more turf than surf, with an or­der of carne asada tacos and a siz­zling dish called dis­cada es­tilo Chi­huahua, a combo of grilled beef, ba­con, and pico de gallo. My friend said he would or­der this again, mainly be­cause the ba­con added a hearti­ness that he liked. I was less im­pressed with the carne asada, which didn’t taste like it had spent much time in its mari­nade. Both dishes came with the ever-present rice, ice­berg greens, and more of those steak fries.

The take­away: Puerto Peñasco has an am­bi­tious menu, but it’s not sweat­ing the ex­e­cu­tion enough, as ex­em­pli­fied by a sauce that is more of a soup. More at­ten­tion to that kind of de­tail could make this a port worth check­ing out.

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