Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

This fish story whopping good

Citizen Staff Writer
Review: La Costa Brava



If you wondered just how separate La Costa Brava restaurant is from Rodriguez Seafood Wholesale & Retail Market, the answer greets you when you open the door.

One whiff and you know you’re in a fish market.

The initially overpowering smell has you immediately thinking you may have trouble eating in such a place, but you acclimate after a few moments, and by the time the complimentary chips and salsa arrive, you might as well be at any other restaurant.

That you’re not at any other restaurant hits you when the seafood starts arriving, as La Costa Brava serves the kind of quality stuff that would cost twice as much or more at a joint that doesn’t smell like fish when you open the door. They don’t mess around with fancy garnishes or complex preparations here. They keep it simple and let the fish do the talking. And these fish tell some entertaining stories.

The Tostada de Ceviche ($3.50) comes on a standard-issue, flat, hard corn tortilla. They could serve it on a 2-month-old matzo cracker and I’d still order it, because this ceviche was that good. It was loaded with thick chunks of shrimp and fish that were offset by an excellent balance of crunchy, diced celery and onions. They apparently drain off a good bit of the lime juice here and add a little Clamato juice, with the tomato flavor kept in check. As with everything we tried at La Costa Brava, the flavoring is simple and direct, with cut limes and notably spicy salsa on hand for those who want to customize.

We didn’t feel the need to add a thing to the ceviche or the bowl of 7 Seas Soup ($10.50). The light, clear broth had a slow-cooked, delicate quality along the lines of Vietnamese Pho. The broth’s close-to-the-vest nature was the ideal base for the bountiful collection of seafood. The bowl (you can get a larger one for $12), contained at least a dozen large shrimp, four mussels, two large clams, and nearly as much diced fish, octopus and squid as shrimp.

A lot of places impress you with great starters, then let you down with the entrees. Not so at the fish market.

The Cabrilla Scampi ($12.95) was the highlight of the evening. The fillet, about twice the size of the fist-sized portion of protein you’d expect with an entree, was glistening with butter, flecked with coarse-grain black pepper and gave off a healthy yet polite essence of garlic. The fish was dramatically fresh, the jiggly layers separating like cards in a deck, and the simple salt, pepper, garlic and butter excellently showcasing the rich, creamy, near-sashimi succulence. This plate was served in customary Coastal Sonora style, with a mound of white rice; a large side of fresh-cut fries; a small salad of lettuce, paper-thin sliced tomatoes, cucumber and onion; and a side of fresh corn tortillas.

Our other entree, the Shrimp Rancheros ($14.95) surprised me with the lack of oomph in the Ranchero sauce. At first, it tasted overly restrained and downright watered-down. After a few bites, I began to appreciate the way the lack of heat, salt and tomato base gave better prominence to the husky chile powder in the sauce.

It has an earthy, slightly sweet profile that paired with the 14 slightly sweet sauteed shrimp the way the notes and essence in the right wine can echo the flavors in the food with which it’s paired.

The only thing even remotely disappointing about La Costa Brava is that it doesn’t serve dessert, and I’m talking nada, as in – no flan, no fruit chimis, no Choco Tacos, not even so much as a fortune cookie. They’ve got fish to sell at this place. They’re a huge supplier to restaurants here and abroad (including scores of eateries in the Los Angeles area), so just be thankful they even bother with the restaurant.

The service is a little slow, but in a good way, as you realize that just about everything on the menu here with the exception of the ceviche is made to order. If you’ve spent hours staring for signs of movement in a bobber that attracted nary a nibble, you’ll have no problem waiting a few extra minutes at La Costa Brava for seafood so fresh and good it tastes like you just pulled it out of the water. And that’s no fish story.


Address and phone: 3541 S. 12th Ave., 623-1931

Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays

Prices: Appetizers $3.95 to $14.95, soups from $8.95 to $12, entrees from $12.95 to $19.95

Bar: Beer and wine

Vegetarian options: Forget it, unless you count Quesadillas from the children’s menu ($1.50) and complimentary chips and salsa

Desserts: None

Latest health inspection: A “good” rating Sept. 18, 2007. Critical violations were reported for potentially hazardous foods not held at proper cooling temperature and for food contact surfaces and equipment not cleaned frequently and properly to prevent food contamination.

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