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September, 2010, Page 182
Summer sizzles on, so grab a refreshing blast of ocean spray with these standout seafood dishes.
Babaloos Cuban Café
1241 E. Chandler Blvd., Ste. 127, Phoenix, 480-460-1528
For chef/owners and mother-son team Robert and Mayra Gonzalez, Ahwatukee isn’t so far removed from Cuba – thanks to recipes Robert collected from his grandmother and great-grandmother, then tweaked to charm contemporary palates.
In authentic Cuban style, all seafood shimmers with breezy tropical flavors but turns modern with unexpected Caribbean spark. “Our family in Esperanza, Las Villas, would make seafood in salsa verde during the warm summer months,” Gonzalez explains of his signature sautéed shrimp served over rice with tostones. “The fresh herbs, lemon juice, garlic and wine really give a refreshing taste, even for a dish that’s served hot.”
Ceviche is naturally cooling, too – the ocean-pure shrimp and mahi mahi are cooked through the acids of their tomato, pineapple, lime and habanero marinade, then scooped up with mariquitas (crispy-thin plantain chips). Dorado is also a bestseller. First, Robert blackens mahi mahi filets. Then he drizzles the fish in homemade sauce, a luxurious blend of sweet-sour guava that’s deglazed with wine, reduced and finished in cream.
Photos by Heather Hall
Oscar’s Pier 83
18589 N. 59th Ave., Ste. 111,
For their café’s aquatic bounty, owners “Captain Ron” and Leslie Skehan troll the deepest waters of the Pacific Ocean, from the northwest blue of Oregon, Washington, Canada and Alaska, all the way to the Asian Pacific Rim. For their filets, they choose only center cut premium loin. All of their breaded recipes – light-as-air tempura-style soft shell crab, thin and crispy batter fried fish-n-chips, calamari, overstuffed oyster po’ boys – are crafted in-house with homemade batter mix, then flash fried in zero trans fat, soy-based oil.
Decadent as it may sound, nearly every dish in this casual, nautical-themed spot is under $10 (splurge, if you must, on the $13 Oscar’s Ultimate: jumbo shrimp, jumbo sea scallop, oyster, fish, chicken, a quarter pound of clam strips, French fries and coleslaw).
For un-fried favorites, the classic shrimp Louie is crisp and bright, while Baja tacos appeal with crunchy shredded cabbage and creamy chipotle sauce atop broiled seafood. And ahoy – sometimes Captain Ron and crew reel in particularly highbrow catches, so keep your eyes peeled for periodic specials that might include butterfish, marlin, Ono, Eastern bluefish, or rainbow trout.
Taste of the Caribbean
219 E. Baseline St., Ste. H001, Tempe, 480-275-5334
It doesn’t get much more authentic here – Chef/owners Paula Smith and her mother Cecily Fontanelle hail from Georgetown, Guyana, in South America. When they opened their cozy store last February, they decided that Tempe was ready for some real Caribbean-centric fare (cow heel or “cook-up” rice, anyone?), so most fresh catches get a healthy dousing in zingy, lime-vinegar marinade.
The real secret, though, Smith says, is in her arsenal of herbs and spices – and a secret it shall remain. “Zing” aptly describes snapper or tilapia curry, while brown fish stew simmers to an earthy richness thanks to ample use of tomato and onion. For diners who like their island experience fiery, the red snapper escovitch does the deed, pan-fried in a vinaigrette flurried with onion, peppers, habanero and Scotch Bonnet chiles.
When Smith and Fontanelle can get their hands on conch, there’s Bahamian conch chowder, while everyday favorites include spicy jerk shrimp and fish. But what rivets most appetites is the uncommon “bakes and cod fish,” an entirely addictive creation of homemade flatbread, dried codfish, onions, peppers and other tasty island goodies.
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