Have I ever mentioned how much of a pain in the neck these food reviews are? No? Well, they’re a pain in the neck. I have not been blessed with the culinary description skills of my dining critic peers. How do you describe taste, in detail, without sounding incredibly hackish? If you read these things regularly, obviously I have yet to figure that out. Writing one of these things, as short as they are, is always a grind, and it leaves me feeling drained and worthless.
It ain’t all bad, though. This particular aspect of my job does have its perks. For example, it allows me to eat at places I may otherwise never have noticed. Case in point: Puerto Nuevo Restaurant. Hidden in a random strip mall along Saviers Road in Oxnard, right next door to one of those “Oriental Spa” joints (creeps, y’all know what I’m talking about), it is rather inconspicuous, despite the big-ass sign out front. It specializes in Mexican seafood, and anyone who frequents this part of Oxnard would probably assume getting seafood from this area would not be the wisest decision.
They’d be wrong. And while I may not possess the most flowery verbiage to express it, I do know what I like, and I liked this place. A lot.
Granted, it didn’t start too promisingly. First of all, I came in during what should be, for any respectable eatery, rush hour — noon on a weekday. Other than me, there was a single group of people sitting at a table in a corner. Not a good sign. Then, I was seated at a table that gave me about two inches of thigh room. As someone who, as I type this, is snacking on a brick of Christmas fudge and whose daily physical activity is the walk from the office to the car, this was not a comfortable situation.
So, as I perused the menu, I braced myself for the worst. After some deliberation, I went with the camarones a la Veracruzana, shrimp prepared, I can only assume, in the traditional manner of the coastal city of Veracruz, Mexico. But first, the chips. I don’t know if it was because I was starving and hadn’t eaten all day, but the customary pre-meal chips’n’salsa blew my friggin’ mind. The salsa had a chunk to it — as opposed to the watery crap you get in most restaurants — and the chips themselves tasted as if they had just come straight out of … well, whatever machine produces chips.
This heightened my expectations for the actual meal. Once it arrived, it blew even my modest hopes away. It was a somewhat unusual platter. Along with the shrimp, which came slathered in a sauce made of tomatoes, bell peppers, olives, onions and “special seasonings,” it came with French fries, rice pilaf and a salad. Fries and rice? Is this a common pairing?
Well, whatever — the whole thing was tremendous. The shrimp were mouthwatering. If this is how they do it in Veracruz, I’m getting a passport tomorrow. They gave me tortillas to make a burrito out of all this stuff, which normally seems like a lot of work to me. Why would I want to construct my food myself? Here, though, with the rice and shrimp and olives and tomatoes all rolled together … as I said earlier, I don’t have the words to describe it. A simple “Wow” should suffice. n