First of all, let me say that I’m not a huge fan of fish.
There are reasons for this. To start, I grew up in the landlocked Midwest. The closest my family ever got to fresh fish was same-day purchased Mrs. Paul’s frozen fish sticks. And when I was younger, I had some allergies related to certain fish, too. You get the idea.
That being said, I can’t ignore it when I hear a lot of buzz about Jarocho Pescados y Mariscos, 719 Kansas Ave. in Kansas City, Kan., that’s cooking up authentic Mexican seafood. So I put it on my list of places to go. Finally, Gay and I set a date with some friends to go experience it ourselves. We could all be first-timers.
When we walk in, I’m actually surprised how spacious the restaurant is. And the reason I say that is that from the outside, this little hideaway looks tiny. But of course, looks can be deceiving. There’s a great energy level inside. Staff and patrons all seem to be upbeat and enjoying themselves.
Then who do we run into? James “Tomato Whisperer” Worley and his wife, Jennifer. But that’s another blog post. They are also there with friends, so now, our party of four becomes a party of eight.
The menu has options of small plates, soups, various seafoods in lobster broth, ceviche, entrees and lunch. But it’s a Monday night, and Mr. Tomato Whisperer suggests that we order Omakase style: A multi-course chef’s choice menu. If you’ve read my Dining Tips blog posts, you know that we LOVE eating this way. Why? Because most chefs that we encounter prefer to put their best foot (or food) forward when offering these types of menus. And I can assure you that this chef is no exception.
Our first tasting of the evening is baby cuttlefish. That’s a new one for me. I know what they look like, but what was on my plate didn’t look anything like the huge creatures I’ve seen on the BBC’s Blue Planet series. Instead, they almost look like tiny octopi. The whole table digs in. The cuttlefish has a tender, firm texture with a mild taste. I could see how in some hands, these might be an exotic-looking yet bland dish. But not in the hands of Carlos Falcon, chef/owner of Jarocho Pescados y Mariscos. The cuttlefish were bursting with classic, clean flavors from Mexico with a hint of spiciness. Now I’m starting to understand what authentic Mexican seafood should taste like.
The evening just gets better from there. Course after course of interesting, flavorful seafood arrives at our table: Sweet shrimp with cilantro, langostinos, Hamachi collar, octopus, spicy prawns and soft shell crab (better than what I’ve had in Baltimore). Even a flash-fried whole drumfish. Every dish was fresh, distinctive and just darn delicious. It was almost too much food, but Gay and I hung in there for the Chow Town team. We had to taste every dish.
Over the years, I’ve tried various seafood restaurants here in Kansas City and along the East Coast. I’ve had some excellent fish in those places, but nothing quite prepared me for the range of flavors we experienced that night. Heaps of butter, garlic, spices and irresistible flavor. Sometimes the sauces were sweet, sometimes they were spicy, but they always seemed to complement the fish. Certainly a far cry from my mom’s “special sauce” of ketchup, mayo and sweet pickle relish (a fishstick exclusive). No, my friends, this is truly elevated seafood.
As our table was winding down from this memorable feast, Chef Carlos came out to check on us. This unassuming, humble chef wanted to make sure we had enjoyed the dishes he prepared for us and that no one was still hungry. Mission accomplished on both accounts there.
After this experience, I can confidently say that I’ve broken through my “fish barrier.” Especially when it’s prepared by Chef Carlos and his team.
So the next time you get the urge to get your fish fix, head over to Jarocho Pescados y Mariscos, and be prepared to have seafood as you’ve never had before. And don’t expect to see mom’s “special sauce.”
Craig Jones is a live-fire cooking expert, the Grill Mayor for Food Network (2012), and owner of Savory Addictions Gourmet Nuts. He’s also a certified KCBS barbecue judge, a student of pizza crafting and an enthusiastic supporter of the greater Kansas City food scene.