“Would you like your Coke with a lot of ice or not much?”
With that first question from Sara, my server at the barely month old Fort Worth Mexican-seafood eatery, Mariscos La Marea, the restaurant immediately establishes a new high water mark for server solicitousness. That generosity of server spirit extends to just about every aspect of Mariscos La Marea, starting with its sprawling menu choices — where dozens of items take a patron from breakfast through dinner, mainly covering the seafood waterfront from octopus and shrimp, oysters and crab, to calamari, catfish and tilapia.
Mariscos La Marea cannily also caters to those land-lubbers reluctant to wade into its seafood waters by integrating chicken and beef into several of its fish dishes, but also offering poultry on its own in its flautas and quesadillas as well as serving short ribs, not to mention at least a half-dozen grilled steak dishes.
But as its name, La Marea (or “tide” in Spanish) suggests, this restaurant — one of four La Mareas in DFW — is most comfortable plying the sea-influenced cooking of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.
And it can all start with the shrimp nachos ($9.99), featuring plump and juicy miniature shrimp sitting atop a tortilla chip throne and all but bathed in a rich Monterey Jack cheese sauce. It’s a starter that packs the girth of an entrée.
Building further culinary momentum towards its main dishes, La Marea’s mixed seafood soup ($11.99) is a brothy affair, filled with healthy chunks of tilapia, hulking tiger shrimp, carrot slices and a little rice mound. It’s the Mexican equivalent of a Jewish grandmother’s chicken soup (if your Jewish grandmother carried a fishing rod).
The very solid starters give no clue as to the dramatic presentation of one of the house specialties: The Super Molcajete Marisqueno ($11.99 for an individual portion). It’s a sprawling surf-and-turf involving fried and grilled shrimp, fish fillets, beef and chicken fajitas and beef short ribs. All of the proteins mingle with onions, peppers, avocado, sour cream and pico de gallo. But it is the vessel in which they arrive to the table that vaults this dish into the realm of high culinary theater: A sizzling, volcanic stone bowl — a Macbeth-worthy sorcerer’s cauldron, heated to 600 degrees — that imbues the entire dish with primal drama.
The next emissary from the La Marea’s aquarium almost rivals the diva-like entrance of the Super Molcajete. A whole catfish ($10.99) — a minimum of 20 ounces — arrives marooned on a reef of French fries and covered in a Veracruz sauce composed of olive slivers, a scattering of baby shrimp and a thick coating of peppery spices, garlic and chiles. This famous ugly duckling of the sea boasts a flaky and moist flesh and is, miraculously, almost completely devoid of pesky bones.
In keeping with La Marea’s home-made cooking philosophy, it is fitting to end the meal with a wedge of its made-from-scratch chocolate cake ($3.99). Thankfully liberated from some stifling blanket of frosting, the cake’s moist interior is allowed to shine.
La Marea, with its playful interior motifs of anchors and oars, along with an authentic Latin soundtrack of Spanish-flavored funk and hip-hop, plus Mexican soap operas on its 10 flat-screens (occasionally replacing La Marea’s normal diet of local sports and soccer) is clearly determined to put its best foot forward.
The restaurant will need every bit of that steely determination as it has chosen a north side Fort Worth location notorious for sampling then spitting out new eateries like so many stale fried calamari. If it can manage to maintain its high level of authentic Mexican seafood cuisine, along with the kind of service that caters to your beverage’s ice requirements, then La Marea could become a long-lasting member of the north side’s restaurant fraternity.