>> Mariscos Doña Mary | Eat the World LA

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Mariscos Doña Mary

MÉXICO 🇲🇽
NAYARIT

It is not hidden per say, but it is certainly not advertised. Instead, what happens in the backyard of this Watts house is passed on to neighbors verbally between friends and family. But everyone around here seems to know the secret. Showing up at the address scribbled down in notes and probably looking tentative, a man calls out from his running truck:

"You looking for mariscos?" Pointing through the gate in the photo above, he waves in the direction of the backyard and the destination.

Grape Street is four streets over from busy Wilmington Avenue and in this neighborhood a sleepy and quiet set of blocks. Along with "Watts" in general, the two words "Grape Street" often stir the imagination of non-Watts residents, partly thanks to reality and the reality depicted in Menace II Society, but mostly just because people do not get out enough. The smiles of neighbors and finding your way to Doña Mary's backyard is a far cry from all of that though.


Once you make your way down the narrow walkway to the right of the house, three fairly large tables shaded by umbrellas are waiting. A tent structure with many folding tables and chairs stacked up are evidence of how much of a crowd the place can handle if necessary. The standalone unit at the back that acts as Mary's kitchen also has a large table in case the weather is not appropriate for outdoor dining.

If you are the first to show up in the morning, they might switch the radio to a talk show, but come later in the day when guests have already arrived before you and music is most likely heard before you see the back. Neighbors wander in and out, and those that do not appear to be local might be asked how they found out about the place. Seeing as how Doña Mary has been making mariscos here for well over a decade, this is a fascinating occurrence.

The day's spread starts growing.

According to a KCET article from a couple years ago, the matriarch Mary Melin has connections to the family that runs the Chente and Coni'Seafood restaurants around town, but has been doing her own thing with private operations long before that. After cooking in their kitchens for some time, she went out on her own and South Los Angeles is better for it, her Watts backyard is putting out some super mariscos.

Under the shade of the trees and umbrellas, none of those parting reasons matter, especially once the dishes start arriving. Mary has three sons but it is her daughter-in-law Leslie that runs the backyard and brings things like the ceviche mixto (below) to the table. Without having tried a lot of the menu, this is the star so far, a mountain of shrimp, octopus, and imitation crab with onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes.


The crab is no liability here, but instead adds an enjoyable sweetness to the whole ensemble. The thinly sliced octopus is somehow melting right in your mouth and does not even come close to a hint of chewiness, the mark of high quality ingredients and a very talented chef.

Mary is from a small town in Nayarit a bit south of Sinaloa, but dishes make their way up and down the coast like the camarones culichis (below), named for the Sinaloan capital and inland city of Culiacán. The signature of this salsa is roasted poblano peppers and crema, but there are hints of serrano in there and the grated cheese melts when cooked to create a thick stringy mix that coats everything thick.


A plate of these shrimp are served with her excellent and aromatic rice, the lightness of which combines perfectly with the heavier sauce once all the shrimp have been eaten.

A bathroom break inside is the perfect opportunity to say hello to Mary, who will be toiling away in the kitchen. Just a few seconds is enough to see her deft touch. Be sure to thank her though, as the genuine joy on her face when her cooking makes people happy is a real treat.


🇲🇽🇲🇽🇲🇽
Z

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