SANTA FE, N.M. — Mariscos La Playa is just about my favorite place for seafood in Santa Fe. It’s not an elegant place, but it is cheerful and inviting. Best of all, it offers several classic Mexican seafood preparations that I love – and that you don’t usually find anywhere except at this type of restaurant.
Chief among my favorites is a “cocktail” of shrimp, octopus, scallops and oysters that I first encountered under the name “levantamuertos” or “raise the dead.” It’s touted south of the border as a hangover cure but, on the Mariscos menu, it appears under the more respectable name of “cocktel especial la gloria” and it comes in four sizes, from small to large and then “ballena,” or whale-sized.
Of course, I ordered the largest version ($16.95). It was everything I expected: smallish shrimp, plenty of chopped up octopus, small bay scallops and a couple of raw oysters, all in a sauce that the waitress said was a combination of ketchup and tomato juice. Diced onion and bits of chopped jalapeño lent more flavor, and the top was garnished with diced avocado and a scattering of cilantro.
I was more than pleased, although I would have been just as satisfied with the large-sized offering; as it was, I took the last third of the “whale” home in a take-out cup. Note that Mariscos does serve another version of this dish under the rubric “Vuelve a la vida,” or “Come back to life,” which is billed as a caldo, or soup, served hot.
My guest was Calamari Person, as I have come to call her. Since Mariscos does serve breaded, fried calamari ($7.95), of course we had to try some. I gave these points for failing to be the totally uniform rubber bands and tangles you get other places. Instead, various differently sized rings and chunks arrived, nicely fried with a breading that was a little thicker than elsewhere, but nevertheless crisp, and served with what we took to be a mayonnaise-thinned version of that familiar red cocktail sauce. It might not be to everyone’s taste (my guest enjoyed it!), but I liked that it was a little different than aioli, now a ho-hum standard.
As her entree, my guest chose the shrimp Santa Fe, served in a cream and green chile sauce ($14.95). It was quite good: the shrimp were a nice size, the sauce was indeed thick and creamy, and flavored with not-too-hot green chile and sautéed mushrooms.
We topped off this seafood orgy with a dish of flan ($4.95), the Mexican version of creme brûlée. It was dense and creamy, packed with vanilla flavor nicely offset by the burnt sugar syrup poured atop.
It would take the best part of a month to munch through all the offerings on the Mariscos menu. At the top of my agenda on a return visit, after spotting a plate delivered to the next table, would be shrimp kebabs (agujas de cameron), a generous double serving of grilled shrimp, peppers, squash, onion and bacon, billed as a diet dish at Mariscos. It looked yummy.
But what about a small, whole snapper or trout, marinated in garlicky sauce and quickly flash fried? Shrimp tacos? Shrimp enchiladas? Or Mexican sushi, described as shrimp marinated in lemon juice? Mariscos serves fajitas, of course, prepared from the standard beef or chicken or, more intriguingly, with shrimp or shark filet.
Service at Mariscos La Playa was attentive, and the staff knowledgeable about provenance and preparation of all the dishes we asked about. Better yet, you don’t have to live in Santa Fe to try them – Mariscos also has opened restaurants in Albuquerque and Española.