La Cevicheria– Los Angeles, CA
I love hole-in-the-wall finds; the grimier the better! And of course, there’s that awesome feeling of walking out of a restaurant with your stomach full of delicious food and your wallet only a few bucks lighter. La Cevicheria is one of those special places.
Located in a seedy neighborhood a few blocks east of West Pico and Crenshaw Blvd, La Cevicheria stands tall and proud. With a turquoise blue facade and kooky nautical embellishments strewn across its dark blue interior walls, the restaurant almost looks like a three-year-old started on the decorations and stopped halfway. Just the way I like it.
I perch myself on one of the stools near the entrance and glance over at the all-familiar menu. Over the past year I’ve made it a point to try nearly everything on the menu, from plump mussels cooked in garlic butter, to richly flavored seafood stews, to various seafood tostadas. They’re all very good, but today my heart was set on La Cevicheria’s signature dish: Bloody Clam Ceviche.
It arrives in a large cocktail glass about the size of half a grapefruit along with some saltine crackers and lime. A dark, brooding liquid conceals most of the dish– a healthy mix of diced tomatoes, onions, mint, cilantro, shrimp, squid, octopus and of course, bloody clams. To date, this is the first and only restaurant I’ve tried bloody clams at. Simultaneously chewy and crunchy, bloody clams are named for the red juices that drip out of their thick shells– apparently the result of an abundance of iron and hemoglobin. They taste deeper and richer than any other clam I’ve had– almost as if a clam swallowed a ribeye steak then promptly guzzled a keg of dark beer.
One spoonful and that addictive flavor rushes in. A hint of tomato and onion, followed by that unmistakable texture and flavor of bloody clams, all bathed in a pungent ceviche juice of lime, Worchestire sauce, and mint. The seafood is undeniably fresh. The bloody clams, never frozen, are imported fresh from Mexico. Everything melds harmoniously, unlike many other ceviches where the lime often masks the freshness of the seafood. It is quite possibly the best ceviche in the mid-city.
As I greedily scoop spoonful after spoonful of the ceviche into my mouth, I stare down and can’t help but laugh. With the bloody clams, it definitely looks like a morgue of seafood down there, with bits of chopped up shellfish covered in an inky liquid the color of clotted blood.
I’m just about done with my ceviche when Julio, the friendly owner and husband of the chef, stops by my table to chat. He always stops by to crack a few jokes, see how things are going, and makes sure you’re taken care of. Julio convinces me to stay a bit longer and I do. Alright, one order of the Mariscadas Caribena!
Mariscadas Caribena is an orange-tinged seafood stew. A small mound of rice is surrounded by mussels, shrimp, and squid all swimming in a glorious sauce that is reminiscent of spicy bouillabaisse with a slug of coconut milk. It’s not heavy in the least, perfect after my large serving of ceviche. The seafood is all very sweet and tasty; you can tell each item was cooked individually as nothing is overcooked, undercooked, or gummy in texture. The sauce, made of tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and seafood stock, is slightly sweet, and habanero peppers add a mild lingering heat. It’s warm, comforting, and perfect with rice.
I slurped up the last of my Mariscadas Caribena, paid my bill, and prepared to set off when it hit me again: that immensely satisfying feeling of being full of cheap delicious food. Julio waved me goodbye and told me to come back soon. I’m sure he knows I will.