Questioned briefly about the shrimp (vis-à-vis the gulf oil spill), our waiter said, “We grow them ourselves on the Pacific, right in Culiacán, and air-freight them to the U.S.” I don’t think he meant to say that they farm-raise the shrimp in Culiacán; the statement seemed instead to imply that Los Arcos has a major seafood-processing facility in Culiacán that supplies all their locations, the way that Anthony’s has here in San Diego and the Fish Market has in Monterey. I’d been deeply tempted to order some simple grilled fish, but this information reminded me that we weren’t in some fishing village with seafood caught that very morning; no entrée would taste like a spontaneous creative reaction to that day’s catch. Oh, Dorothy, I told myself sadly, you’re not in Guaymas anymore.
So we ordered several upscale house-special creations to let the chefs, the sous-chefs, and the pan-men do their thing. The menu doesn’t offer a choice of fish species — presumably, it’s whatever is freshest that day. No hope of a reunion with my old darling, Corvina. By now, he’s moved up in the world and become a high-priced fella. I’d guess what we had here was some species of rockfish. Fishmongers sometimes call it “red snapper,” but it isn’t — snapper has become semi-endangered, rare and expensive.
The most interesting entrée was Torres Fillet, baked fish wrapped around shrimp, calamari, octopus, tomatoes, and onions — lots of textures and varied flavors to enjoy — a lot like that great Ensenada tostada, but with the seafood cooked, not raw. We also savored the luxurious Filete Doña Reyna. Baked and sauced with shrimp, mushrooms, celery, onions, bacon, and cheese, it was resort food, your romantic evening in Acapulco on a plate.
Culichi-style shrimp are baked au gratin with a sauce of poblano chili cream. I wished I hadn’t tasted so many appetizers — this dish would be lovable to anybody who still wanted to eat, a beautiful balance between the luxury of a Frenchie cream sauce and the liveliness of the mild but deep-flavored deep-green poblano chili.
The one clunker was Crab Delight, no fault of the recipe or the cook. It’s crab meat mixed with shrimp, mushrooms, and celery, served au gratin with creamy aurora (tomato-tinged cream) sauce. The problem: bland crabmeat, same as I complained of recently at Wellington and Smoking Goat. Suddenly, crab flavor has vanished. (My guess: pasteurized lump crabmeat is proliferating, as it has an extended refrigerated shelf-life, but the pasteurization may remove the sweetness and savor along with the bacteria.)
With Mexican food, I usually favor margaritas over wine. (Better with hot peppers, and I don’t much like beer unless I’m traveling someplace exotic and horribly hot.) My ordinary margarita-rocks was…ordinary. That is, in addition to the basic and never-bettered tequila-lime-Triple-Sec-ice combo, it included some icky sugary bar-mix. Two of my friends tried the Cadillac. Usually that designation indicates the substitution of Grand Marnier for Triple Sec, but here it’s the regular margarita with a shot glass of the sweet liqueur served on the side, to pour in the drink and/or sip straight up.
Los Arcos offers lots of desserts in addition to the usual flan. I was tempted by tres leches cake, not a bit so by banana cream pie or other offerings. But really, we were all too sated to consider a sweet.
I admit I was disappointed by Los Arcos, but that was probably inevitable. They do a decent rendition of upscale Mexican seafood, with many crowd-pleasing luxury dishes. They didn’t overcook anything we tried, except for their special ceviche. And yet, I hope that someday we’ll have a stand-alone, non-chain Mexican seafood restaurant with a passionate chef dedicated to showing off Mexico’s maritime bounty, one who also manages to get it to the kitchen in fresher condition — preferably as whole fish, or at worst only minimally processed. (We’ve probably got lots of expert Mexican fish-cutters from Baja here who’d love to exercise their skills doing fish-prep for a serious seafood restaurant, instead of slaving away at routine restaurant jobs.) A chef who’ll seek out Corvina and identify it by name when he serves it. This is not quite that. ■
★★½ (Good to Very Good)
80 Bonita Road, Chula Vista, 619-934-3617; grupolosarcos.com
HOURS: Daily, 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m.
PRICES: Appetizers, soups, salads, $3.60–$24; seafood entrées, $17.50–$20 (Nicaraguan spiny lobsters “market price,” $40 up); meat entrées, $18.50–$28.
CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Upscale Mexican seafood dishes. Cocktails, beer, short but usable wine list.
PICK HITS: Tacos Gobernador; smoked tuna-stuffed caribe peppers (very hot!); Torres fillet (stuffed fish); Doña Reyna fish fillet; Culiche shrimp. Good bets: Puerto Rico shrimp (with coconut and orange sauce); Ceviche de Camarón; camarones rellenos (stuffed with smoked tuna).
NEED TO KNOW: Large, informal, family-friendly; reservations advised for weekends and large parties. Website has directions (travel time about 11 minutes from start of SR 94 after rush hour). Portions run large; don’t fill up on appetizers because entrées are generally better. Website menu difficult to read. Tijuana and Mexicali branches may have different menus and lower prices.