Restau­rant Re­view Mariscos La Playa

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

Mariscos La Playa is a fun spot to have in your ro­ta­tion if you’re crav­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent.

Years ago, I was on a charter fish­ing boat off the coast of Venezuela, and some­body on board caught a big, beau­ti­ful mahi-mahi. Later that day, cooks on shore fil­leted it into strips that they bat­tered, fried, and served with lime, hearts of palm, rice, and salad. It was so good that I stared into space, think­ing, “Oh, so this is how fish is sup­posed to be.”

Many peo­ple have had a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence, which can be a bless­ing and a curse. You go forth know­ing what fresh fish re­ally looks like and tastes like — and that, in most restau­rants, you won’t get any­thing that comes close to it. Mariscos La Playa, the pop­u­lar Mex­i­can seafood restau­rant on Cor­dova Road, of­fers a very briny menu, fea­tur­ing (among other things) trout, tilapia, red snap­per, shrimp, scal­lops, crab, and oc­to­pus. How does it stack up?

I’d say not bad, but not out­stand­ing, ei­ther — that is, about what you’d ex­pect from a fam­ily-style seafood restau­rant in a land-locked town, where ob­tain­ing fresh fish is a dif­fi­cult lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenge. There are good of­fer­ings here along with av­er­age ones, but it’s a fun spot to have in your ro­ta­tion if you’re crav­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent.

Mariscos La Playa sits on the west­ern edge of a com­mer­cial cen­ter at the junc­tion of Cor­dova Road and Don Diego Av­enue, which houses a CVS and nu­mer­ous small busi­nesses and restau­rants. It’s hard to miss Mariscos La Playa, be­cause the space is so vi­brant — a burst of bright col­ors, coastal im­agery (like a huge wall-mounted mar­lin), and cheer­ful fur­ni­ture, in­clud­ing carved painted chairs dec­o­rated with tou­cans and so­lar faces. As is typ­i­cal in many of Santa Fe’s Mex­i­can restau­rants, the menu is long. One page alone — de­voted to ap­pe­tiz­ers, sal­ads, seafood cock­tails, and soups — con­tains more than two dozen selections. The en­tree list fea­tures some in­ter­est­ing and un­usual dishes, in­clud­ing filete

marinero (tilapia fil­let stuffed with scal­lops, shrimp, oc­to­pus, and cheese and wrapped in foil) and lonja de pescado (grilled red snap­per fil­let with a mus­tard sauce).

We started with a good, am­ple serv­ing of gua­camole and chips, a beer, and an agave-wine mar­garita. These wine-based mar­gar­i­tas turn up of­ten at Mex­i­can restau­rants that don’t have a li­cense to serve hard liquor, and they can be ex­cel­lent. This one, though, was be­low par: It was cloy­ingly sweet. If you de­cide not to or­der guac or some other ap­pe­tizer, you’ll still be well served at Mariscos. The restau­rant pro­vides a com­pli­men­tary bas­ket of chips and three dips: bean, salsa, and a creamy blend of salsa, av­o­cado, and half and half. This is a very tasty bonus.

I or­dered the trout in gar­lic sauce, a head-on fish that’s but­ter­flied and pan-fried, flesh side down. It’s served skin side up, and the skin is a mot­tled gray, which isn’t par­tic­u­larly ap­pe­tiz­ing. Flip it, though, and you’ll see two chunky por­tions of trout meat that flakes eas­ily with a fork. Though it didn’t match the mahi-mahi gold stan­dard, it seemed rea­son­ably fresh and had a nice texture. It was served with heap­ing por­tions of rice, a corn-and-car­rot mix, and po­tato wedges that were too dry.

My din­ing com­pan­ion wasn’t hun­gry enough for a heavy meal, so she snacked on a cheese quesadilla jazzed up with side or­ders of av­o­cado and a roasted vegetable med­ley con­sist­ing of zuc­chini, bell pep­pers, and onions. This com­bi­na­tion was only so-so: She asked for a corn tor­tilla and got flour in­stead, and there was very lit­tle zuc­chini in the veg­eta­bles.

On a sec­ond trip, for lunch, I tried what the restau­rant bills as “fresh le­mon­ade.” It tasted generic, and there was no pulp, so I’m doubt­ful. We shared a trio of tostadas de ce­viche — three crisp corn tor­tillas smeared with mayo and topped with citrus-mar­i­nated chunks of shrimp. This was the best thing we had on that visit, and my guest said he’ll go back to get it again. I or­dered fish tacos, which were on the bland side. You get four soft corn-tor­tilla tacos, which is nice, but the fill­ing inside is mild, partly be­cause there’s a lot of wa­tery-tast­ing let­tuce and tomato in there. My din­ing com­pan­ion or­dered the rib-eye steak, a plate-cov­er­ing piece of meat that was about a half-inch thick and some­what tough. The steak came with very good mashed pota­toes and very blah steamed broc­coli, cau­li­flower, and car­rots.

None of these things were very ex­pen­sive — for ex­am­ple, the steak only cost $15.95, and there are restau­rants in Santa Fe that would bill you twice that for a sim­i­lar piece of beef. Mariscos La Playa is a friendly, wel­com­ing place, and I’d also give it a thumbs-up for af­ford­abil­ity.

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