An Especially Memorable Meal at Manantiales Fish Market

Parents meeting boy, a strange melange of accents and ideas, mutual concessions both forced and strangely natural, an exciting but stressful exchange to moderate. We needed a spot that would ease the excess anxiety like bread soaking up a spicy sauce. Fish Market Manantiales was the one.  Chill sidewalk terrace alongside a sloping road which leads to the beach, whitewashed creamy green picnic tables hinting at eternal summer, miniature long koi pond and tall, sparsely planted, long-stemmed plants separating the restaurant from the road. In the center, what I recall was an open grill sizzling away and a small bar with stools. The backside of the place looks like its almost dipped in the sea, with what is no doubt the freshest daily seafood dragged into the place after being caught nearby. A bottle of white to ease the tension. Ordering left up to the local, small dishes to share and to learn about each other over, some of which I unfortunately don’t remember too well as my attention was too focused on the situation and not as much on the food. Nevertheless, what I do remember was delicious.

First came the gambas a la plancha, deliciously charred grilled shrimp  stabbed onto a skewer and sprinkled with spices but otherwise left alone. On the side was a small bowl of sickly-sweet, zingy jam-like chutney which went fantastically with the slightly smokey shrimp. I noted and appreciated the fact that while the heads were left on for aesthetic purposes and the tails as well, in case the guest likes a crunch, the juicy little curved middle-loop of flesh connecting these two parts was de-shelled, allowing the spices sprinkled on this part to come into contact with the meat instead of being discarded with the shell. It also made taking the heads and tails off a much cleaner job…well for those who do this. I tend to enjoy eating the eyes, brains, whiskers and tail, the whole durn bug.

Next up were the croquetas de pescado, crispy gold fried coating breaking into shards when bitten into, and soft mushy, nicely seasoned, white fish (brótola??) on the inside. Creamy, slightly garlicky and citric dipping sauce on the side. I knew my mom would like this one as sharing crab-cake app plates (pretty similar to this in texture) in Boston used to be kind of our thing. It was nice to remember that.

Buñuelos de verdura (veggie fritters) with spinach, carrot and a bunch of other stuff I can’t really remember. The inside was pillow-soft while the outside crunchy. Very little excess oil. A wonderful treat to share.

The star of the show, hands-down, was the cebiche mezclado, hearty chunks of flaky soft and tender white fish, rings of only slightly chewy calamari and a bit of shrimp tossed in with plenty of red onion. The zingy, lip-poutingly acidic “cooking liquid” (ceviche is raw fish cooked in acid from citrus, for those of you not fortunate enough to have ever tried this) contained a two surprising ingredients – chiles and a splash of coconut milk – which made the dish wonderfully complex in flavor, a bit of fire added to the acidity and a bit of sweetness mellow these out. The ceviche came in a generous portion and was served with a bit of cool, crunchy corn and thick rounds of baked sweet potato on the side, both of which went wonderfully with the fish. The sweet potato, especially, was a nice touch as it added a much-appreciated firmness to the otherwise generally loosey-goosey texture of the ceviche as well as something warm to balance the coolness of the rest of the dish and thus add contrast. This was one of the dishes I did remember in full detail, zoning out of the table convo and into enjoying every bite for a few seconds at lest.

For dessert, gooey-soft chocolate browny cake topped with tart raspberries (chocolate-raspberry combo is one of my favorites) and a drizzle of raspberry jus leading to a scoop of light vanilla ice cream with a hint of lemon flavor. The cool, grainy texture of the ice cream contrasted very well with the mushy comfort of the browny, a truly delicious way to end a great meal.

The boy was not satisfied with just one dessert to show off the versatility of this place to my parents, so we ordered another, the mousse de maracuya. A wonderfully creamy, velvety soft mousse with not a very intense maracuya flavor, only a slight one, which actually made it nicer than I thought it would be (maracuya ice cream is generally a bit too intense in flavor for me). The mousse was topped with a drizzle of the same tart raspberry jus that appeared on our brownie dessert, and a humble heap of chopped strawberries, kiwis and maracuya on the top to mix into the mousse and give it a more intense flavor.

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