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Heat from the Sea

7 Mares was doing Mexican seafood right long before it was trendy

7 Mares' soups are a delight in terms of both taste and cost, with the small bowl serving equally well as a light lunch or an appetizer, while the larger bowl is a meal in itself. The soups come in shrimp, fish and crab versions in addition to the mixed caldo siete mares, and all are served with a toasted half-loaf of bollito and a mound of the saffron rice that accompanies practically everything on the menu. Standard procedure is to, every few bites, sprinkle a spoonful of the rice into the soup. The regulars do it. Learn from them.

7 Mares is, and always has been, a restaurant with a predominately Hispanic clientele, and the waitstaff reflects this. Although Anglos usually wind up with the most bilingual waitress on duty, language barriers sometimes must be surmounted. That's more likely to be necessary when your dining companion finds it cute to change her (or, I guess, his) mind three or four times while ordering. Though, admittedly, a certain degree of indecisiveness is almost inevitable. The menu at 7 Mares is extensive, ranging from the familiar to the intriguingly exotic. Everything sounds delicious (well, the shrimp in tequila sauce may be an exception), and most of it is.

Not that there aren't disappointments, as I discovered when sampling the langosta Veracrunazo. It took only one experience to realize that ordering lobster at 7 Mares is more of a status celebration than a culinary event. Go ahead and do it if you're in the mood to splurge, but 7 Mares' lobster tail convinced me that much better celebratory fare could be found by revisiting the camarones rellenos, delightful in their unabashed, bacon-wrapped excess.

7 Mares, 4602 Irvington, 692-7776.

7 Mares:
camarones rellenos, $12.95;
caldo siete mares, $3.75 (small) and $4.75 (large);
filete almendrado, $9;
camarones ranchero, $8.25.

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