Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rio Mar

Long before La Boca revolutionized the New Orleans steakhouse and A Mano began curing salumi in house, Chef Adolfo Garcia had his one and only: Rio Mar. Labeled as "a seafood destination," Garcia's flagship is perhaps best known for serving Spanish fare adapted to the bounties of our local waters, as well as ceviches native to Garcia's homeland of Panama. While the majority of the menu does feature seafood, carnivorous offerings such as grilled hanger steak and blood sausage fill out a menu of a restaurant to which there is much more than what meets the eye.

Rio Mar is truly a tale of two restaurants, depending on what time of day you dine. During lunch they offer a strictly tapas menu that lists upwards of 30 items which diners check off on a sheet of paper, similar to ordering at a sushi bar. Favorites include the aforementioned blood sausage (morcilla) with its rich, beef flavor and cake-like texture, the fruity and slightly acidic piquillo peppers, crispy patatas bravas topped with a mild aioli which you simply cannot get enough of, and the small pressed sandwiches called bocadillos. If dining with a large group, the $25 "Feed Me" option is a no brainer with its never ending parade of courses, which range from the excellent (bacalaitos - light and airy cod fritters) to the average (shrimp al ajillo sauteed in garlic).

There is some menu crossover between day and night - like the tuna empanada served with a garlicky sweet romesco sauce - but for the most part, the dinner menu is broken down into conventional appetizer, salad, and entree sections. In the summer heat, the best way to start your meal is with an order of refreshingly acidic ceviche. Meat lovers can then progress to the Latino-style roast pork or the sliced hanger steak served over fried yuca and dressed with chimichurri. Of the four Calasparra rice dishes, I enjoy most the one featuring littleneck mussels and chorizo. But if you (a) came here for seafood or (b) simply want to eat the second best dish on the menu, then look no further than the pan-roasted Louisiana black drum. Cooked till perfection when the flesh of the fish flakes away from the slightest pressure of a fork, this filet is served atop fried eggplant rounds and crunchy green beans with a deliciously smoky cumin-honey vinaigrette drizzled over the entire plate. This dish gives trout amandine a run for its money as the best fish dish in town.

So if the drum is the second best dish, the obvious question is: ¿Cuál es el número uno? The answer: A simple plate of ham. The ultimate indulgence at Rio Mar is 5 thin slices of jamon Iberico, an off the menu specialty which is usually available everyday. You can almost taste the acorns which those noble pigs feed on. Best $20 you will ever spend.

The Rankings

Food - Birdie. Chef Adolfo and his team headed by Chef Miles Prescott at night and his longtime tapas chef during the day know their food inside and out. Tapas at lunch are simple yet delicious, while dinner is a full blown array of Spanish flair and flavors augmented by local ingredients. The menu is full of dishes which are either only served at Rio Mar or only worth ordering at Rio Mar. There is no replication.

Bar/Wine/Service - Birdie. The entire floor staff is friendly and very well versed in the food and wine. Service is swift unless overwhelmed by an unexpected lunch rush on any other day but Friday. The wine list offers a number of Spanish selections at affordable prices; my only suggestion is that the vino tinto spend a bit more time in the chiller. The bar is an underutilized aspect of the restaurant and is perfect for sharing a few Estrellas or a bottle of txakolina amongst friends; if only the full tapas menu was available at night.

Overall - Birdie. Rio Mar is still the best Spanish restaurant in town, with a well executed menu which is diverse enough to warrant extensive exploration both at lunch and dinner.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would highly recommend Rio Mar to anybody who lives or is going to New Orleans! The food is EXCELLENT! Staff is friendly and very helpful!!! 5* to them!!!