Cocina del mar
Seafood is the star at new Mexican restaurant
Chico, CA 95926
Mariscos Ixtapa is a new Chico restaurant that serves seafood dishes (along with some steak and chicken) inspired by flavors from the popular beach resort city of Ixtapa on the southern coast of Mexico.
It’s that simple. And it’s very delicious.
I made two trips recently to the restaurant, situated in a corner spot of La Dolce Piazza, on East Lassen Avenue. Inside, the restaurant has a colorful, sea theme and outside features an airy patio with a European vibe. For both visits, I ate inside.
For lunch on a recent Tuesday I was greeted and seated by a charming server who introduced herself as Hannah. I waited no time at all before she brought me a menu, and freshly cooked tortilla chips with a dish of zippy house-made salsa.
To an ambiance-setting backdrop of cheery, recorded Mexican music, I perused the menu featuring many intriguing-sounding seafood dishes such as a Veracruzana-style, bacon-wrapped brochetta de camaron ($12.95); pez vela, a grilled swordfish steak topped with a citrus relish ($15.95, on the dinner section of the menu); and enchiladas de mariscos, filled with fish, shrimp, crab and spinach ($11.95). I had, though, already decided on my way in that I was going to have the “Taco Tuesday” special advertised just outside the front door: two tacos, my choice of two of four side dishes, and a drink ($7.95).
I chose fish tacos (other choices included shrimp, steak, chicken or veggie), Ixtapa black beans and cilantro-lime rice for my sides, and freshly brewed iced tea, which included the nice touch of a wedge of orange.
My food arrived quickly. As a former waitress and cook, I really appreciate an efficient, friendly server—which Hannah was.
The large, blue-flecked, white oval plate was loaded with pretty food—the lime-splashed white rice, dotted with yellow kernels of corn and bits of cilantro, looked particularly inviting.
Verdict: deliciousness and freshness across the board. The rice had a wonderful, gentle taste, punctuated by the periodic crunch of corn; the tasty black beans topped with two melted cheeses were tender, yet maintained a pleasing firmness. And the tacos, made with savory diced tilapia cradled in soft corn tortillas and topped with avocado and chunky salsa (less spicy than the one served with the chips). ¡Tan delicioso!
I returned the following evening, with my 8-year-old daughter, Lydia, for dinner.
We sat in one of three tables in a cozy “cubbyhole” section of the restaurant with windows looking onto the patio, next to a wall-hanging of scallop shells topped with a little starfish.
Lydia ordered a bean-and-rice burrito from the kids’ menu ($3.25). I ordered the mojarra frita ($11.95), or pan-fried tilapia, with corn salsa and Ixtapa vegetables, the remaining two sides that I hadn’t tried the previous day.
I was offered the choice of whole or filleted fish, and I chose the whole fish—eyes, tail and all.
The fish, served with wedges of lime, was delicious—juicy and earthy-tasting, like good tilapia should be. The vegetables (carrots, broccoli and squash) accompanying it were sublime—buttery, black-peppery and cooked with a delicate touch. And the corn salsa was a crunchy, fun accompaniment.
It was so tasty that my daughter—who was intrigued by the large, cooked fish staring up from my plate—ate almost half of it in addition to her burrito (which was filled with the Ixtapa black beans and lime-cilantro rice).
In Mexico, every restaurant has its own signature flan, and the flan made by chef/owner Gil Ortiz—a former chef at local restaurant Christian Michaels, who hails from the Mexican state of Michoacán—is really, really good. Served on a plate criss-crossed with red-wine reduction and caramel sauce, the wedge of flan we shared was dense, creamy and disappeared way too quickly.