A seafood tower of salmon and rockfish ceviches over a quinoa mix with diced veggies and rocoto red chili sauce
Anecdotally, I can tell you that four out of five ceviches have shrimps in them. For those of us with shellfish allergies, that means, “No ceviche for you!” at least 80 percent of the time. I can further attest, nothing makes you crave ceviche more than watching your friends eat it, again and again, while you sit by, nibbling on corn chips. And that’s why I drove out to Otay Ranch last weekend.
Photograph by Ian Anderson
1610 Millenia Ave #102, Chula Vista
Because there’s a new fast casual spot there, Ceviche Craft, that promises custom ceviche. It’s modeled after the myriad poke bowl shops that have appeared all over San Diego over the past five years, except rather than building on the Hawaiian tradition of poke salad, it makes custom bowls out of Peruvian ceviche. And there’s just the one shop: Ceviche Craft isn’t a chain, at least, not yet.
But, positioned in a large shopping center, next door to a Starbucks, it’s plain that’s where the concept is going. “We bring an exotic genre of seafood to a neighborhood near you,” says its web site, knowing full well Otay Ranch isn’t a neighborhood near anybody other than the people of Otay Ranch.
The custom order, fast casual model, applied to ceviche
But, it’s not a bad place to start, as evident by the line I encounter. When you get to the front of it, you can see all the toppings ready to go into your ceviche bowl: corn and hominy; diced cucumber, tomatoes, and carrots; mango and pineapple. More importantly, you may see the options for lime-juice cured proteins. There is shrimp, for sure, but then there’s octopus, ahi tuna, salmon, and “white fish” (on this occasion, they told me rockfish). There’s marinated heart of palm, should you be after the even more rare vegan ceviche experience,.
Pricing is by the number of proteins you choose, so $13 for two, $14 for three, and so on (I guess vegans need to double up on heart of palm). For that you get as many toppings as you like, served over a choice between causa, a Peruvian mashed potato flavored with yellow aji peppers, or a grain mix of quinoa, wild rice, and barley. All this is finished off with a choice of sauce, including augachile (serrano pepper and lime juice), Sinaloa black (squid ink and red chili), tamarind glaze, and traditional Peruvian sauces of tiger’s milk, yellow aji, and rocoto pepper, a red Peruvian pepper, similar to bell pepper but with a bit more heat.
Ceviche Craft, next to a Starbucks in Otay Ranch
We don’t see a lot of rocoto anything in San Diego, so I chose that sauce to flavor my rockfish and salmon ceviche. I skipped the bowl to embrace the shop’s alternative presentation: a seafood tower.
The food doesn’t wind up being any different than if you order it in a bowl. It’s all the same ingredients, they’re just compressed into an upright cylinder shape using a steel mold. I thought my meal more impressive to look at (and photograph) this way, plus it helped shake the poke bowl comparison.
Though, only temporarily. The experience is little different, in terms of quality of fish and the easy ability for that fish to be lost in the excess of add-on sauces and toppings. In effect, the results taste less like soy and sesame, more citrus and chili pepper. It’s not the best ceviches in the world, or in San Diego, or probably even Otay Ranch. But it was all mine, and it sure tasted a lot better than all those shrimp ceviches I didn’t eat.