This week, Jonathan Gold hones in on not one but four restaurants as he trails Sergio Peñuelas, also known as the “Snook Whisperer.” Peñuelas has made a name for himself on the blogosphere as the man behind pescado zarandeado, a Sinaloan dish of grilled snook, a challenging gamefish that is “apparently as difficult to cook as it is to catch.”
If you’re familiar with pescado zarandeado, it may be because it tops many an iconic LA dish list, and for good reason. Thankfully, it hasn’t been all too hard to find in LA, as Peñuelas first made the dish available at Mariscos Chente in Inglewood before moving to Mariscos Chente on Centinela Avenue. Perhaps its most iconic iteration, however, was at Coni’seafood, where the nomadic chef stayed for a good few years before moving on to Cheko El Rey del Sarandeado in Long Beach.
Peñuelas is currently manning the grills of Mariscos Chente on Centinela, but the Goldster decided to make the valiant quest to “discover whether Peñuelas’ actual presence was demanded or whether his influence was enough, whether he was the Snook Whisperer or merely the Johnny Appleseed of Snook.”
The Times critic first completes a comparative analysis of the shrimp dishes:
The restaurants, all four of them, had splendid aguachile, big, head-on shrimp arranged like an Esther Williams troupe inside a ring of sliced cucumbers and onions, sharp and tangy and very hot. Were the shrimp at Inglewood’s Mariscos Chente perhaps both firmer and creamier, and the ones at Coni’Seafood more elegantly presented? Perhaps. I liked the creamy chile-cheese sauce on the camarones a la Culichi at Cheko better than I did the slightly grainier versions at the other restaurants, although the shrimp at Coni’Seafood and the Inglewood Chente were slightly more plump and crisp. Chicharron de pescado, fried chunks of marinated fish, were irresistibly crisp-edged at the Centinela Chente and pleasingly chewy and oversalted at the Inglewood Chente. The composed ceviches of clams, abalone and crab at Coni’Seafood were delicious and elegant, as were the crunchy, terrific tacos stuffed with smoked marlin and cheese. (The marlin was a bit mealier at the Centinela Chente.) I liked them all. [LAT]
Apparently all the restaurants have great shrimp. What about the pièce de résistance?
I am prepared to tell you that the snook at Cheko was excellent, crisp-edged and full-flavored if a little dry, the one at the Centinela Chente restaurant was perhaps better but a bit chewy, and that the juicy snook at Coni’Seafood is best of all. [LAT]
Ultimately, the Goldster concludes that you can’t go wrong at any of the restaurants (except the Inglewood Chente, which no longer sells snook). Most interesting, though, is the fact that Coni’seafood is the winner, not Centinela Chente, where Peñuelas most recently took his talent.