La Perla del Pacifico in Watsonville
After tomato picking at Mariquita, Nathan, Alice, and I had worked up an appetite and had timed our return trip to be in Watsonville for lunch. We considered going to Los Molcajetes on Riverside (a small Oaxacan joint), but decided on another place that had been reviewed in the Metro and that Nathan had tried once: La Perla del Pacifico on Main St. in the downtown area.
The interior is a long room with 4-tops against each wall and a string of tables in the middle that can easily be reconfigured to fit a large group. While it's a casual place, it had a relaxing airiness about it and is decorated in ocean themes to highlight their specializing in fruits of the sea.
We were warmly greeted and chose a table. Menus, chips, and salsa were quickly provided. I liked the look of the fresh limes in the bowl, but they weren't the small Mexican limes. The salsa was a fiery red and def. carried a building heat punch.
Photo of chips, salsa, and limes:
The menu has a number of selections which made it difficult to choose. We eventually settled on sharing two tostadas de ceviche (one topped w/ fish and the other shrimp), camarones al tocino (shrimp w/ bacon), and comal de mariscos which Nathan praised from his last visit.
The tostadas ($3.50ea) arrived, and we really appreciated that they gave us an extra tostada and plate since they knew we were sharing.
It was hard to tell which was which at first because the seafood was surprisingly minced. While the ingredients were fresh enough and the tostada crispy, I really wasn't crazy about the pulverized texture of the fish and shrimp. It was refreshing and light, but we all found it underseasoned. I prefer the ceviche tostadas from Las Islitas. Next time I'd like to try one of their cocteles to start as long as the seafood is kept in whole chunks.
Photo of my individual tostada:
The shrimp with bacon dish ($10.50) came out hot. While I wasn't expecting the shrimp to be wrapped in bacon, I didn't object upon seeing the crispy, deep-fried nuggets. The shrimp was overcooked and rubbery, but the bacon was nicely fried. I still liked the overall flavor combo and consumed tail and all. The fried potatoes were satisfying, but the rice and beans were plain and underseasoned.
Photo of camarones al tocino plate:
Just as we are digging into the shrimp, the comal de mariscos ($12.50) comes out and absolutely steals the show. Sizzling and steaming hot on a cast iron comal is a cornucopia of seafood tinted in a burnished chile-red. A breathtaking sight! Overflowing w/ octopus, shrimp, scallops, and mussels, it was served simply w/ a basket of housemade corn tortillas. We were puzzled by mystery chunks of seafood which reminded me of the abalone at Fiesta Tepa Sahuayo, but not quite. The waitress said it was a mock abalone made of (correct me if I'm wrong, guys) pressed fish.
The flavor of the sauce was outstanding! The oil (and maybe some butter?) were infused w/ dried deep burgundy chiles which the waitress simply called "Mexican chiles". The sauce was smoky, fruity and so lively that my mouth couldn't get enough! The seafood was good and I really liked the octopus and shrimp, but there was not much scallop. The mystery seafood was firm and a good vehicle for that amazing sauce. We used the tortillas to wrap around the seafood and then to smear up all the last bits of sauce at the end. I like this seafood comal better than the ones at Fiesta Tepa, but FT's tortillas are better IMO.
Photo of comal de mariscos:
Photo of corn tortillas:
Overall, a very enjoyable lunch in Watsonville, which I'm finding has so many more chowish options than Santa Cruz. The service was warm and generous, prices were reasonable, and space was cozy. I look forward to trying their pescado frito and exploring more of the menu. Thanks for suggesting this, Nathan!
La Perla del Pacifico
458 Main St.
Dear CL thanks so much for your post! I've missed you on this board... Still haven't had a chance to get down to Watsonville but looking at your photo of the comal de mariscos makes me want to hop in the car right now! La Perla del Pacifico sounds like a nice place to try!
I'm sure there are even more good places in Watsonville just waiting for a hound to discover...
Glad everyone liked La Perla. The comal is what I ordered the first time and I am already thinking about another round. I think it may have been a touch better the first time with just a bit more char on the seafood (the 'comal' was hotter as evidenced by the extreme sizzle caused by a squeeze of lime). I love this sort of simple seafood/chile/lime/tortilla combo. I'm not sure I would say it is better than Tepas versions (they have 4 or 5 similar items), just different.
Review of one of my other faves, Los Molcajetes in the Metro this week. I still have yet to find a truly amazing taco place. Anyone???
re: Nathan P
While Tepa's sauces are wonderful and complex, they have a tendency to cook their seafood and meats to a crisp IMO. La Perla's seafood had a life and vibrancy that really stood out. Tepa's accessories like beans, rice, tortillas, quesadilla are superior IMO.
I saw that review of Los Molcajetes and when we go, we're getting the chapulines!