I chowed this weekend like the Cubs. Lost the opening game (Fat Willy's), but came back to win the series with Johnnies and Las Islas Marias. Before getting to the report, let me digress a bit on the subject of spin and perception and such.
I'd love to get into the PR business. Spin fascinates me, and I firmly believe that perceptions can be manipulated. And this has anything to do with Mexican seafood? Well, somehow in my head, remained an impression that Las Islas Marias was so-so based on a spate of reviews about a year ago. Thus, I always wanted to try, but it never reached the top of my list. Of course, after our great meal last night, I raced upstairs to read the old posts, and my recollections, my perceptions, were a bit off.
I had put ReneG as ambivalent on the place. Wrong. We sure were not after our visit last night. We arrived around 6, and the place bustled. Too be frank, I do not remember a Mexican place besides Frontera where I had to give me name. Of course, at Frontera the hostess knows enough English to spell Rob. The wait gave me just enough time to let the chowhounditas climb up the stairs to see the railroad right of way and the Condiment Queen to go nuts looking at all the dishes going by.
Every table gets a basket of tostadas, that would later prove to be insufficent; a small bowl of shrimp cerviche, another small bowl of salsa--a very hot green sauce, heavy with lime and tasty nearly Thai, a ton of sliced lime that also proved not enough, and about five bottles of hot sauces, enough to distract you as you stew over the menu. ReneG's report (linked below), mentions the abundance of shrimp dishes. We found a lot of shrimp but also a few other things. No meat. No taco's. No nothing else, so if you do not like seafood, do not go.
But. But if you like seafood, seafood cooked in the style of Nayarit state, on the Pacicific coast of Mexico, If you like big, sloppy, gosh darn sweet raw oysters for a very reasonable price, go; if you like fish and shrimp "cooked" in lime, go, and if you like a red pepper flecked masa encassing plain old shrimps, you would like Las Islas Marias.
We originally ordered six oysters, but impulsively and fortunately, changed to twelve. Pacific oysters, not for the squeamish, dripping in their liquor, demanding that you chew not just swallow whole. It was a blast customizing. Just lime, lime and a hot sauce, especially that thick green Yucatan one, the spicy green salsa, plain, they tasted good. The oysters and our other cold dishes came first, and then our only hot selection, the empanada's.
A few other notes. Unusual for me, cucumber garnished the fish cerviche and carrots garnished the shrimp cervice. These vegetables added very pleasant contrasts and flavor elements to these dishes. They were also mild cerviches on the surface, but again, endlessly customizable. The coctails are also a bit different that the standard red concoction seen around town. Briney almost to the extreme, you taste the ocean with your seafood instead of the sweet ketchup/orange juice mix typical.
You can spend not too much on the ample tostada's and coctails, or you can spend $25 on big, bright, pink langostino's. We avoided that big ticket item, but coveted them each time they went by us from the kitchen (where we had the luck of sitting near). I also constanlty coveted the whole fish, tilapia, under a vampire's nightmare's worth of minced garlic.
The feel of Las Islas Marias is of Mexican *restaurant*, a destination place, not a place people go to when they do not feel like making dinner. Lots of families and large groups. The fast moving servers handled the crowd perfectly.
If your perception of Las Islas Marias, was like mine, mixed, give it a shot. Because Ms. VI and I were wondering what took us so long.
Las Islas Marias
4770 W. Grand Ave (at Cicero)