Nothing says summer quite like ceviche, especially when you're eating it while lounging on a warm beach with a Pisco sour in one hand. OK, so the closest beach here is Galveston, and it's not exactly a tropical paradise, but there is definitely Pisco and ceviche to be found in Houston, and the best of it is at Latin Bites.
Chef Roberto Castre is celebrating National Ceviche Day, June 28, all this week, Monday through Sunday, with five new ceviches on the menu. At Peruvian restaurant Latin Bites, ceviche is spelled the Peruvian way, "cebiche," and that style of the dish is almost always served in a milky leche de tigre sauce.
Rita Castre, sister of Roberto and part owner of the restaurant, explains that leche de tigre is so named because it's so strong that it can cure a hangover. I wouldn't want to waste any of these wonderful cebiches on my alcohol-numbed taste buds though. These gourmet versions are best enjoyed in the coolness of the restaurant.
OK, and maybe with a Pisco sour.
Tuna Cebiche The tuna cebiche has a distinct Asian influence, which Rita says is what separates her brother's style of preparing the dish from other chefs. The menu does feature more traditional cebiches, but Roberto's addition of elements like wasabi, masago (fish eggs) and dehydrated seaweed make some of the specialty versions--like the tuna--really stand out. Not only is this tuna version tasty, rife with fresh citrus and earthy, sinus-burning wasabi, but it's also beautiful, thanks to Roberto's masterful addition of purple sweet potato purée, drops of chile oil and the stiff seaweed leaves that now look like gothic dead trees sprouting up from the colorful pile of fish and vegetables.
Watermelon Salmon Cebiche Like cebiche, watermelon is also a summery food, so it makes sense that they'd pair well together. You might think the salmon would overwhelm the watermelon, but it's been cooked sous vide to bring out the flavor more prominently. The basil-accented leche de tigre in which the salmon is cured gets textural elements from chunks of crisp jicama and starchy choclo. The choclo, a type of Peruvian corn, tastes a bit like popcorn, making the watermelon and salmon mixture reminiscent of a childhood snack, only much more sophisticated.
Lobster Cebiche Summer is also the most popular season for lobster, so Roberto chose to combine the seasonal seafood with soursop fruit leche de tigre and puréed sweet potato. Roberto's ceviches are so involved that when you read the descriptions, you might think there's too much going on. Apples, green onions, poached lobster, sweet potato, mint avocado oil--the ingredients tend to sound like they'd conflict rather than cohere. But Roberto works magic, and each bite of his ceviche--particularly the lobster--reveals new dimensions of flavor. The lobster is sweet and succulent, and the fresh green apple and soursop fruit add a pop of acid that enhances the normally subtle lobster.
Roberto has also made two other cebiches that I haven't yet tried but which sound just as intriguing as the three I sampled. A scallop cebiche features sous vide scallops, blackberry leche de tigre, avocado aioli, choclo, cucumber, sweet potato puree and thin yuca chips. A more unusual hot duck cebiche is made with sous vide duck leg meat, slices of sweet potato, choclo, green peas, rice, carrots, and a hot aji amarillo leche de tigre.
These specialty cebiches are on the menu now at Latin Bites for $14 each.