Barnacles were on my bucket list.
Chef Carlos Falcon had been telling me the crusty sea creatures that cling to the sides of ocean vessels or craggy rocks were a must-try. But I hadn’t been able to get to Jarocho Pescados y Mariscos in Kansas City, Kan., on the days they were available.
As I settled into the chef’s table — 10 seats at the marble countertop looking into the open kitchen (requires reservations 48 hours in advance) — at his new Kansas City location Jarocho South, Falcon offered to cook up a batch of goose barnacles. The restaurant opened at the end of April.
In Portugal and Spain, barnacles are considered a delicacy. A greenish “claw” anchors the foot, a meaty cylinder that reminds me of a recent encounter with geoduck (pronounced gooey-duck), only in miniature. “We call them dragon’s toes around here,” says Falcon, who was wearing his trademark straw Panama hat.
Falcon quickly sauteed the curious-looking arthropod (related to crabs and lobsters). The barnacles were bathed in lobster broth, olive oil and preserved lemon, then finished with butter ($28).
“They look like ‘sea cucumbers,’ i.e. sea slugs we ate in China: rubbery and bland,” my pig snout buddy Ardie Davis told me when I texted him a photo of my latest odd edible conquest. But these were much closer to escargot, and not chewy. The lobster broth gave flavor to the meat-textured barnacle. The butter, typically served with lobster, plus a concentrated note of lemon, made the barnacles a delicacy worth seeking out.
Being a Monday — $1 raw oyster night (minimum order six, also available Wednesday nights) — the station was busy. The guy next to me, a regular from Lee’s Summit making his first trip to the new restaurant, recommended I try the fresh-shucked, charbroiled oysters (available in multiples of four; I ordered four at $9.95).
They arrived with a seductive stuffing of shrimp, octopus, blue crab meat and Monterey Jack cheese. The combination was vaguely reminiscent of my Nana’s clams casino I gorged on every summer as a kid. Falcon’s slurry of seafood in a light spicy sauce is a good gateway dish for those who are leery of eating oysters raw.
Falcon, who grew up in the seaside city of Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, has been feeding a rising tide of Midwest seafood lovers by featuring fish and seafood rarely seen in Kansas City — everything from octopus tacos to omakase, multi-course “chef’s choice” reservation-only dinners. His 10-course seafood experience for Gastroclub, a Kansas City Star-sponsored event, featured grilled live scallops, abalone and caviar royale, and blood and sea urchin tartare.
“This has all happened in the last 2 1/2 years,” Falcon says of his meteoric rise.
“Jarocho” is a term used to describe the people of Veracruz, Mexico. The original Jarocho location, which opened in 2014 and remains as busy as ever, has quickly become the talk of the town among both foodies and chefs. The Kansas City, Kan., restaurant has a dive-y taqueria feel, and that is definitely part of its charm.
The new strip mall space features aqua walls, tall ceilings, a handsome bar and outdoor patio, as well as a more spacious kitchen with room for a live lobster tank. Like I needed an excuse to order lobster (the market price changes weekly; mine was $29, which is on the upper end, Falcon says).
It was dispatched from the tank and placed on a cutting board in front of me. A line cook stared it down and then quickly did the work. It was on the grill and then on my plate in a matter of minutes.
The lobster is served whole, splayed on the plate with a pool of drawn butter, a rustic cabbage slaw and a pile of skinny French fries on the side, making the dish just the sort of “high-low” Falcon has made his signature.
Charboiled lobster is a treat, and I prefer it over steamed or boiled lobster, although eating it whole takes a bit of patience and prying to get each morsel out of the shell. Attention to neat extraction is rewarded tenfold when a chunklet of succulent, snowy white meat (less “fishy” and stringy than crab) is finally on the fork — or in your fingers — and dripping in butter.
At this moment, a glass of bubbles was worth considering, although a premium margarita offered more acidic flavor to cut through the decadent richness.
Both Jarocho locations have their merits (I favor the original), but it is definitely worth going south to sit closer to the action.
For instance, on a recent Sunday afternoon, Falcon demonstrated how to prepare a spiny sea urchin. He carefully cut through the spines and scooped out the uni, turning the shell over to create a Space Age-looking serving receptacle. I did not order uni that day, but I have tasted it before at the Kansas City, Kan., location. While the spiny exterior can be tricky to work with, the meat is similar to raw scallops, with a texture like pudding.
Of course, not everyone is up for deep-sea adventure. Falcon is known for his whole fish preparations, but he plans to have more fillets on Jarocho’s Missouri menu. One recent night the special was sea bass fillet with local greens and paper-thin slices of radish, both grown by Tomato Whisperer James Worley, and served with a marvelous squid ink risotto ($24.95).
The squid ink is mostly for coloring, and most people say it tastes slightly briny. But my palate registered the flavor as umami. On further research, I discovered that squid ink is glutamate-rich, a compound found in mushrooms, an umami-rich food.
If shrimp (America’s most popular seafood) is your thing, start with Falcon’s famous cucarachas (whole prawns sauteed in a slightly spicy chili sauce, $19.95-$28.95), aguachiles (raw shrimp submerged in a seasoned liquid of chili peppers and lime juice but not “cooked” like ceviche, $12.95-$21.95), or the shrimp roll, a shrimp and mayo salad served on a hoagie roll ($15.95), available for lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Chances are you will not need dessert. Oh, wait, there’s no dessert menu, at least for now. But, really, no one seems to mind.
What to drink: Jarocho South has a bar. Order margaritas, white or red sangria or tap beer.
Jarocho South is at 13145 State Line Road. 816-402-7118. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday for brunch. jarochokc.com