Bringing the sea home
Carlos Falcon was born by the sea. In Veracruz, Mexico, where he spent the first part of his life, food is a collaboration of cultures as ships bring new flavors into the port town, creating a type of easy, natural fusion to its cuisine. With Falcon’s passion projects, Jarocho and now Jarocho South, he’s bringing the flavors of the sea to the middle of the country and turning Midwestern expectations of what seafood can be on its ear.
In Kansas City’s recent past, there were few choices for seafood—the occasional trip to Red Lobster or maybe some fried catfish. Now, with one-day shipping across an ever-shrinking world, our options are widening with establishments such as Jax Oyster House and McCormack and Schmick bringing the seaside to the prairie. Jarocho is doing the same but with a different flair.
The original Jarocho opened three years ago in Kansas City, Kansas. Falcon had always been passionate about the flavors of the ocean but traveling with his wife, who is from Okinawa, Japan, impressed upon him the opportunity to create an oasis of seafood in Kansas City. He works directly with suppliers all over the world, including the Tsukiji market in Tokyo and oysters and clams from the Baja peninsula. He’s cooking with fish and shellfish that were pulled from the water the same day.
That freshness makes a huge difference. Jarocho daily specials, dollar oysters, Sunday brunch, and a huge variety of fish and shellfish options from flash-fried smelt to stuffed cherrystone clams to geoduck to whole fried snapper and pompano enjoy a cult following. Winning the trust of loyal gourmands, he expanded south and opened Jarocho South in Kansas City, Mo., at 13145 State Line Road.
The menu varies a bit from location to location. At the Kansas restaurant, diners will find more whole fish, but Falcon anticipated more demand for fillets in the southland. He’s been pleasantly surprised by the acceptance of the whole-fish concept at Jarocho South but continues to offer fillets, as well.
The space at Jarocho South is simple but festive—bright turquoise walls evoke the sea while the day’s catch chills on ice. The full bar, which includes a few signature cocktails like the Ginebra (a gin-based take on the mojito with mint, lime, and gin, topped with coconut water) is also home to a serviceable wine list.
The appetizer menu could be a multi-course meal in itself. Mussels, shrimp in myriad ways, oysters, clams (both on the half shell and stuffed), and octopus all make an appearance. Don’t worry. For the timid, there is also guacamole.
I started with fried charales, or whole smelt. The tiny fish are dipped in rice flour, a nod to Falcon’s appreciation of Japanese cuisine, and flash fried. The crispy bite-sized morsels are then sprinkled with chili powder and lime. It’s a simple, satisfying combination of flavors. With an additional squeeze of fresh lime, one can almost imagine eating them out of a paper bag on the docks in Veracruz.
For those who are squeamish about eyeballs, move down to the ceviche section of the menu: fish, shrimp, bay scallops, and conch. The fish and shrimp are both served Mexican-style with a smidge of homemade ketchup. The addition makes them taste a bit more like seafood cocktail, but the onions, cilantro and lime juice still take center stage. The Ceviche Jarocho also features lobster broth for a hit of additional richness. Want more of that brothy tomato flavor? There are also four takes on a seafood cocktail, including one with blue crab meat.
The dinner menu dives deep into a variety of fish preparations. All are served with a cabbage and lettuce salad, like a light, mayo-free slaw, as well as rice and a choice of flour or corn tortillas. If you miss the traditional trappings of a ‘Mexican’ restaurant, refried beans, chips, and avocado slices can all be ordered as sides.
Fillets and whole fish, ranging from tilapia to golden trout, to red snapper, pompano or the day’s catch, as well as langostines, shrimp, and Spanish octopus are grilled and steamed and sautéed. There’s even paella. But don’t miss the whole snapper.
The snapper is flash-fried, creating a perfectly crispy skin and tender, flaky flesh. Served with a choice of garlic or chipotle sauce (hint: always go garlic), this is the epitome of beachside dining. No one will look askance as you tear into it with your fingers if need be. Pro-tip: Don’t skip the cheeks. Some of the most tender, flavorful nuggets are found there.
Want to try something that rarely appears on a Kansas City menu? Be adventurous and order the Spanish octopus in ink. It’s a seamless fusion of Mexican and Spanish cuisine. The octopus is sautéed with fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro, and just a pinch of oregano. Add a teaspoon of octopus ink imported from Spain, as opposed to the more typical squid ink, a touch of butter. Et voila! The jet-black concoction is briny but fresh, the octopus tender, while the fluffy rice soaks up the resulting sauce. The dish is somehow comforting, yet exotic.
For dessert, fried ripe plantains are the perfect slightly sweet finish. Sliced and served with a bit of crema, the plantains have just a little kick from the addition of house-made chipotle seasoning. Falcon plans to expand the dessert menu to include Mexican flan. As a self-confessed lover of all things savory, he’s introducing desserts that incorporate that passion.
If you want it all, come for the Sunday brunch. The buffet holds traditional Mexican favorites, such as chilaquiles, pork Roja, potatas bravas, and eggs with peppers and onions. But the real reason to come for brunch is the seafood. The brunch price includes all-you-can-eat oysters on the half shell, ceviche, and whole fried red snapper. Add an all-you-can-drink option (for a separate charge) that includes sangria, margaritas, bloody marys, and mimosas, and this could be the start of an epic Sunday Funday.
Chef Falcon also offers an omakase, or chef’s choice, with reservations. The omakase starts at six courses and features his most creative treatments of the day’s freshest catch. Drink pairings are available as well but not included in the price.
Falcon says that he settled in Kansas City because the people are so warm and welcoming. Jarocho and Jarocho South are a thank you of sorts from the home that he left to the home that he found—bringing the sea to the prairie.
Jarocho South is located at 13145 State Line Road, Kansas City, Mo. For menus, hours, and reservations, visit jarochokc.com.