| Attack of the killer tomatoes: nothing tops a pizza like oven-roasted tomato sauce. |
If shimmering sands and swaying palms aren’t on your immediate horizon, how about a trip out West Commerce instead? Granted, the only proximate body of water will be Our Lady of the Lake’s namesake, but at El 7 Mares, scintillating ceviches and super-scale seashell art await. Toss in a cerveza such as Sol and you’re set — no sunscreen required.
7 Mares is one of those places that seems to keep, er, evolving; each time I return it seems some, uh, improvements have been made. New to me, at least, is a wall
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El 7 Mares Seafood Restaurant
3831 W. Commerce
10am-10pm Sun-Thu; 10am-midnight Fri-Sat
featuring fabricated, framed seashells in a size I assume not normally found in nature. They’re fantastic, though a nearby mural featuring ships, from sail to steam, is a close contender.
The menu, on the other hand, tends to stay much the same, though it is currently touting a new ceviche costeño of shrimp and octopus. Also new to me was an appetizer called aguachiles verdes o rojos. As described by our waitress, the green version consists of cucumber and serrano blended together to form a bed for raw shrimp. As described by the table of appreciative eaters: Fantastico! There must have been a squeeze or two of lime in the mix, resulting in a yin-yang blend of perfume and pizazz. The signature Ceviche 7 Mares is no slouch either, counting on fresh white fish, stuffed green olives, and shards of carrot for much of its considerable appeal. Eat it with the supplied saltines if you must; we preferred the just-sturdy-enough house chips.
Another appetizer worth your consideration — and here’s especially where the Sol, Pacifico, Modelo Especial y más come in — is the charales. The deep-fried — and I mean really deep — charales come bedded atop shredded romaine for a touch of color and class. Crunchy and not the least fishy, they’re the perfect sit-around-and-sip snack, though you would hardly be faulted if your idea of a palate perker were one of 7 Mares’ opulent seafood cocteles. One can be modest here and go for a straight shrimp model, but where’s the fun in that? Plunge right into a campechana; it has everything from pseudo-crab to shrimp, octopus, and oysters. The tall, soda-fountain glass in which it’s served further highlights the assortment, which is bathed in a loose tomato sauce with undertones of catsup and tomato juice. The house’s equally tall michelada (derived from “chela,” slang for beer, and helada, or frozen) is of the classic kind, with not much more than beer, lime, and ice, but it matches the coctel sip for slurp.
It’s almost impossible to sit down at a Mexican seafood restaurant without at least contemplating a soup, and not just because names such as levanta muertos (raise the dead) and vuelve a la vida (return to life — step aside menudo, here’s the real hangover cure) are so compelling. Again, why not go for broke with something from every sea imaginable? 7 Mares has added its moniker to the classic levanta muertos, and the bowl brims with smelt, surimi, octopus, white fish, shrimp, and ceviche, all in a tomato-fish broth bobbing with bits of tomato and celery. The oysters aren’t overcooked, the fish is plentiful, the flavors subtle yet full. Melville take note: The essence of the sea can be found in a bowl.
All is not paradise with palms, of course; nobody liked the oily, sautéed fish tacos with tomato and onion, though they may be perfectly platonic somewhere. And the filetes a la veracruzana also foundered, despite the dutiful inclusion of olives, bell peppers, and tomatoes. Too soupy, was the verdict, and simply not flavorful enough. However, the filete de mojarra (sheepshead) in a new, borracho beer sauce, garnered almost universal raves for its taste, texture, and larger-than-life presentation with rice and tomatoes bigger than baseballs. Fries accompanied other entrées, and restaurants not set up to do them right should simply not bother — which goes for all of you out there. The house’s complimentary fish caldo, on the other hand, is just the ticket, despite being loaded with pre-fab garlic. And despite not seeming especially Mexican, the shrimp stuffed with surimi and mozzarella, wrapped in bacon and deep-fried, are appealingly crunchy on the outside, good and melty on the interior. (Otra chela, por favor.) The pseudo-crab gets lost in the equation, but it’s not really missed.
Like any good vacation destination, much remains to be explored upon departure. The successful borracho sauce also bathes shrimp; shrimp or octopus can be had with a chipotle sauce; whole fish grilled, fried, or with a mojo de ajo await; and the restaurant has even served decent mollejas (sweetbreads) a la plancha in the past. As we left, the dueling mariachis (no sooner did one group finish than another picked up the gauntlet) were warming up with occasional bleats from the bar, suggesting either a tentative farewell or a future vuelvan a la vida costeña. Within driving distance.