Blood and Ceviche
Photo by James BunoanSinaloa is home to drug families that make the Calí and Medellín cartels seem like Quakers. It's the birthplace of narcocorrido messiah Chalino Sánchez, a land where violence isn't just a way of life; it was the miracle of choice for unofficial patron saint San Jesús Malverde, who'd rob and kill the rich and give the bounty to his believers.
The best description of the infamous Mexican state comes from its anthem, Severiano Briceño's piece of braggadocio, "El Sinaloense." In it, the singer boasts of his proclivity for bedding beautiful women, then breathlessly declares, "I'm from the one and only Sinaloa/Where the waves break." Mujeres are important, but never forget the sea.
Indeed, among Sinaloa's finest products are its marine platters, powerfully spiced-and-soured extracts from the ocean, each of its 400 miles of Pacific coastline yielding up its own delicious marvels. Mariscos Licenciado #2—#1 is in the 909—sells Sinaloan seafood but lies landlocked in the same decaying commercial pocket JC Fandango calls paradise. Nevertheless, a coastal breeze flows through the simple eatery. It starts somewhere in Mazatlán, sweeps past the tiled counter where men in tejanas sit and curse at televised soccer matches, and cools giant vats of boiling octopus and shrimp with a salty Sinaloan soul.
There's ceviche here, of course, the dish with which Wahoo's could conquer the world if they ever discover it. Sturdy tostadas buckle under onions, tomatoes, slices of avocado and fish or shrimp chunks marinated in lemon juices. Most restaurants content themselves with an additional douse of sour over their ceviche. The lemon juice in Mariscos Licenciado's version, however, cascades off the tostada and pools on the plate, resting there until a tongue sweeps it clean.
You'll find cocktails aplenty, as well. The restaurant serves its shrimp and octopus cocteles in a glass goblet that, if filled with water, could extinguish a small fire. The cocktail sauce has the consistency of mushy frost, perfect for spreading on the saltine crackers provided. There's lemon-tinged mayonnaise on each table as a condiment, and once added, the dish sings of tart and tarter. Salsa substitutes ketchup in the campechana variety of cocteles. The results: pucker and sweat.
The ceviche and cocteles are exemplary. But people come for the agua chile, one of the more remarkable seafood combos harvested from the deep blue. It's ceviche made amazing: scores of shrimp, cucumbers, red onions and tomatoes crammed onto a large molcajete—the mortar-and-pestle contraption used by Mexicans since before Jesus that gives agua chile an earthy tone rare to marine cuisine. Agua chile is an incredible contradiction: light yet debilitating, intensely sour but curiously cooling, burrowing itself into the recesses of the palate yet its redolence remaining immediate. The crustaceans are pale, swollen by the soup's lemony broth. The callos de hacha (scallops) type of agua chile could cleanse the dirtiest pores.
You could imagine enjoying agua chile in a seaside village hut. But the mariscoco is a palm tree dream. A chilled soup of abalone, squid, octopus and shrimp fills a hollowed-out coconut with chunks of coconut left inside to give everything a sweetly pungent taste. The extracted coconut water served alongside the mariscoco is an ideal chaser.
Tapatío is available but unnecessary. Mariscos Licenciado instead provides five different types of hot sauces, each accentuating a particular dish. Musky Huichol goes best with any of the ceviche tostadas; the two bitter types of Guacamaya are perfect toppers on the agua chile. The stoplight-green Yucateco could burn through a safe.
El Licenciado also sells such Sinaloa specialties as machaca, the dried-beef classic that's the Adonis of the beef jerky world, and a pork concentrate known as chilorio. Then there's the music blaring from a jukebox, nearly all artists from Sinaloa. It's a one-day dangerous drive from here to the state, but why bother? Mariscos Licenciado #2 is a sublime re-creation of the real deal.
Mariscos Licenciado #2, 1052 N. State College, Anaheim, (714) 776-3415. Open Mon.-Sun., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Beer and sangria. Dinner for two, $8-$44, food only. Cash only.
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