This week a fellow City of Ate friend recounted his experience at Cyclone Anaya's spurring some debate as to the authenticity of restaurants south of certain Dallas boundaries and quadrants. I personally contend that wonderful restaurants can be found across all city lines as Dallas is chock-full of wonderful dining experiences for those willing to seek them out.
From the unique family run Asian restaurants in Richardson, to the adoring taquerias to the south and all things in between, there is a bounty out there for those that desire great cuisine.
During the short debate, several mentioned that dining in the suburbs, and chain restaurants, might be cause for concern. Specifically, long time commenter luniz said, "There's plenty of reasonably priced, good Tex Mex (even moderately Mexican-ish) north of Mockingbird; the problem isn't the longitude but the fact that you ate at a chain." only to be followed up by Twinwillow adding "Hah! Lunch at Seafood Shack today. Two fabulous shrimp tostadas with extra sliced avocado and, a delicious shrimp gumbo and Iced tea. Stuffed! Total cost: $12.39!"
This seems like gauntlet time to me.
Could a restaurant as well known and cherished by many such as Uncle Julio's defend itself against a mom and pop operation such as Twinwillow's Seafood Shack? That is the focus for today's Toque to Toque challenge.
For this challenge I spent the day visiting several locally owned operations that served ceviche, not only since this was the dish in question, but in deference to Cinco de Mayo. Then I visited several multi-location, corporate owned operations to see if the quality could be maintained and the recipes executed with the same flair as their local counterparts.
For the Cinco de Mayo challenge I offer the Toque to Toque: The Ceviche Slam.
Slicing fish into bite-sized morsels and marinating them in fruit juices, peppers, spices and salt dates back to the Incas who preserved their catch of the day using this method. The Spaniards later introduced limes to the concoction that gave us what we know in modern times as ceviche. The lime contains enough acid to actually "cook" the fish rendering it edible.
This cooling appetizer can be found on many Mexican influenced menus locally. Each restaurant has their own take on the dish, but most are similar, with differences generally found in the quality, freshness and variety of the fish included in the recipe.
Some recipes might include white fish, scallops, shrimp and even octopus.
After sifting through several versions, I landed at Twinwillow's recommended Seafood Shack that is located on Webbs Chapel just south of Forest Lane in Dallas. Situated in a renovated Dairy Queen, Seafood Shack has a huge following. Most days you will find the tiny operation completely packed with patrons seeking out the freshest in seafood at bargain rates.
Not sure if the words bargain and seafood should be used in the same sentence, but there are certainly great specials to be found at Seafood Shack. The bilingual signage in the store boasts 1.95 shrimp and ceviche tostadas on Monday's, and twenty-five cent oysters on Tuesday's.
I visited the Seafood Shack on a Tuesday, so I missed out on the ceviche special, but was pleased to find that a full order is a mere 7.95 and a half order (one tostada) was 3.95. I grabbed the half order and a cold horchata, the rice and cinnamon beverage.
Although it was late in the afternoon, the restaurant was packed full of people so I sat at the bar and waited for my order to arrive. It took about 15 minutes before my food was ready, so I spent that time gawking at the tables nearby and their bounty of grilled tilapia, shrimp tacos, and tables and tables of the twenty-five cent oysters.
My ceviche was served on a crisp, homemade tostadao that was slightly on the brown side. The ceviche was shredded tilapia marinated in lime juice and sprinkled with onion and chopped cilantro. The tostada was incredibly fresh and made me smile, wanting more.
Alas, I was on my mission and had to run to the next destination: Uncle Julios.
There are many locations of Uncle Julios around Dallas and Fort Worth, and I settled across town from the Seafood Shack in the more remote location in Allen.
I sat at the bar and ordered a Negra Modelo beer that I find pairs pretty much with anything, especially with the requisite squeeze of lime.
I was presented a steaming basket of chips and a salsa, and I ordered my ceviche. I asked if they could serve the ceviche atop a tostada, but was turned down on the request. Instead they served their ceviche with a surrounding of chips.
It was mere moments before my ceviche was sitting before me in all its glory. This recipe wasn't just a simple ration of white fish, but also included scallops and shrimp. Sounds nice for 8.95. The order came with 8 chips, and that seemed to be the perfect portion for the amount of ceviche given, probably enough of the appetizer for two people.
I dug quickly into the ceviche, toppling each chip evenly with a small mound of of the fish. My first taste was telling. The fish seemed somewhat fresh and of good quality, but a bit overcooked. This would mean that the ceviche had been made long in advance and they probably didn't sell a terrific amount of what they had. The lime would continue to cook the fish as it sat waiting for a patron to order.
Another note on the taste of the dish was the inordinate amount of garlic used in the recipe. Unlike other recipes I have tasted that included a prominence of lime, all I could decipher was the garlic. I finished up my beer and took off in search of another challenge.
Seafood Shack definitely comes out on top for several reasons. First the ceviche was much fresher, probably because they serve a great amount. Secondly, I really enjoyed the extra crisp tostado that had a nice bite to it. And the gratuitous amount of avocado was simply an added bonus.
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When it comes to battles that involve mom and pop operations versus corporate giants, the outcome is not always as clear as we witnessed today. But in the Toque to Toque: Ceviche Slam, Twinwillow speaks the truth.
Bragging rights and full ceviche honors to Seafood Shack.
11625 Webb Chapel Rd Dallas, TX
190 East Stacy Rd. Allen, TX