Jarocho Pescados y Mariscos draws all kinds to KCK

Can there really ever be too much of a good thing?

Yes, although in the restaurant universe, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to complain about portions that are too generous, booths that are too comfortable, service that’s too attentive or a menu with an abundance of choices.

And that’s the quandary for Jarocho Pescados y Mariscos, the cozy seafood-and-shrimp shack with a spectacular view not of the Caribbean but of Kansas Avenue. The full-bodied menu, celebrating the culinary staples of the Gulf Coast’s seaside cities, is, for the landlocked, an embarrassment of saltwater riches. This may be the only local restaurant with ties to Mexico and South America but virtually no flesh from four-legged animals to be had. (Deep breath, people: There is a plate of carne asada on the lunch menu, and that old American standby, fried chicken tenders, is on the kids’ menu.) It’s an unlikely menu for this stretch of Kansas Avenue, but a refreshing alternative to the plethora of Tex-Mex or classic Mexican restaurants in KCK.

The name Jarocho Pescados y Mariscos translates, more or less, as seafood and fish prepared in the style of southern Veracruz, the state on the Mexican side of the Gulf of Mexico. “The Jarocho, they are country people,” says a friend of mine who has traveled there. Country people with a growing KC following: Customers arrive steadily, having maneuvered around a one-way street to find Jarocho’s parking lot and get their fix of fresh oysters, ceviche, spicy shrimp, seafood paella and sautéed octopus.

Jarocho opened 17 months ago with little fanfare (the building previously housed a branch of the local Taqueria Mexico chain), but the novelty of an all-seafood restaurant in the heart of the plains has morphed into strong word of mouth. The restaurant’s dishes, prepared by chef-owner Carlos Falcon, are enticing enough that on each of my recent three visits, my fellow diners were predominantly gringo. And, more specifically: rico gringo.

“It’s already happened. The Mission Hills contingent has found this place,” whispered one of my dining companions as we looked up to see a tiny blonde of indeterminate age (but carrying a Prada bag as large as a suitcase) wobble over to our table. “Isn’t this place divine?” she cooed to the person at the table she recognized. (It wasn’t me.) “Everything tastes fresh, fresh, fresh.”

This isn’t surprising: Two neighboring restaurants, El Pollo Rey and Carcineria y Tortilleria San Antonio, have long been known to the cooler, hipper members of the country-club set. Are they adventurous eaters or just making a show of slumming it a bit?

Chef Falcon’s creations aren’t the adventure, though some items aim for that feeling and miss. A golden trout stuffed (crammed might be a better word) with shrimp, blue crab, octopus, onion, peppers and cilantro had so many conflicting flavors competing for attention that none could shine; the cacophony came off as merely muddy. His food is best when it remains relatively simple: On one visit, my tablemates and I were each served a single white bowl with a plump, uncooked scallop lolling in a perfumed brew of fresh lime juice and chopped cilantro. This was followed by crispy fried softshell crabs tucked into soft tortillas with a delicately seasoned chipotle cream. These are the dishes that lure suburbanites, for good reason.

Oysters are a big deal at Jarocho Pescados y Mariscos (where the prices are reduced on certain days of the week), also for good reason. The briny bivalves I tasted here were chubby and succulent in their raw state and hot and sexy served baked in a bubbly cream sauce.

After indulging in a number of small plates, I found myself carried away enough to order a jumble of oversized, fiery red shrimp. They arrived still encased in their translucent crispy shells, poised to be ripped apart bite by a savage bite, the better to savor the chili heat. There were too many to finish, but Falcon had made his point, as he does more often than not.

The prices are reasonable enough here to order a few entrees to share and sample a few of the less familiar options — octopus sautéed in its own ink, for example, which definitely lacked visual savoir faire — or a pan of a robust paella brimming with shellfish. Some of the spicier dishes can be washed down with cold beer (or a Mexican Coke), and if the dessert list is pequeñito, there’s typically some kind of packaged pastry to purchase up the street at the San Antonio Market. That part you can eat in the car on your way back to your own zip code. •

Categories: Food & Drink