First Taste

La Fisheria looks great, tastes less so: New celebrity chef restaurant brings jumbled confusion

La Fisheria looks great, tastes less so: New celebrity chef restaurant brings jumbled confusion

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The grilled octopus taco was a solid (and pretty!) starter. Photo by Sarah Rufca
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Chef/owner Aquiles Chavez La Fisheria/Twitter
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At lunch, you can eat the ceviche on chips rather than Saltines — or, in this case, on cucumber shells. Photo by Sarah Rufca
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The house specialty — pibil red snapper — tasted old and fishy. Photo by Sarah Rufca
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Dos leches Photo by Sarah Rufca
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News_La Fisheria_chef Aquiles Chávez
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When it comes to aesthetics, La Fisheria has plenty of charm. The space is open and airy, with lots of white and a smattering of soothing aquatic blues and greens. The front porch even has a rocking chair or two, and the tiny, verdant patio tucked in the rear is an entrancing escape.

From the buoy on the wall to the panama hats worn by the servers, everything looks just right.

If only that perfectionism carried through to the menu. Even figuring out the categories on the lunch menu is confusing. There are sections for tacos, tostadas, cocteles, ceviches ("lo fresco") and soups — but are each of them smallish, non-entree portions? There's an oysters section, which doesn't include the oyster dish listed under "the big shots," a group of proteins served with special sauce and dark beer.

 I would have been happy to eat several more bean tacos, but for over $7, a lobster taco better taste like lobster. 

But isn't that more similar to a ceviche or a shrimp cocktail? And what exactly is the distinction between "los imperdibles" and "las de tierra y cielo," which both seem to include more entree-like plates?

For dinner, I started with the red snapper ceviche, a fresh and acidic mix of large chunks of fish along with thin slivers of onion, radishes and cucumbers — one of the better versions in Houston, with one large caveat. The ceviche was served with packets of Saltine crackers.

I don't care if Saltines are an authentic nod to the way it's served in coastal Mexico. The salt on the crackers unbalances the acidic tang, and the texture quickly becomes soggy and falls apart. I quickly gave up on them and ate the ceviche with a fork — much better. It's a bizarre choice, in part because the restaurant offers tortilla chips with various sauces at lunch. During lunch I tried the cayuco, a fish cerviche with avocado, onion slivers and lots of spicy lime marinade served in a cucumber shell. For me the cucumber was a bit too thick for the texture to work properly, but it did give the ceviche a clean, mild tone.

Lunch is also the only time that Fisheria serves a trio of noteworthy tacos. I loved the grilled octopus taco, served in a lovely, slightly grilled corn tortilla with a healthy dose of a mild chipotle mayo plus some pretty, pink pickled radish and onion to keep the flavors fresh and light. The shrimp taco, served in a beer-battered spear, was just as good, though slightly heavier. I also liked the lobster taco although the sweet lobster flavor was almost entirely hidden by some really tasty, decidedly un-lard-like refried black beans.

I would have been happy to eat several more bean tacos, but for over $7, a lobster taco better taste like lobster.

As befits the casual beach house decor, the light ceviches and mostly unfancy tacos are what La Fisheria does best. The composed entrees suffered in comparison, and sometimes in general. The forgettable habanero salmon carpaccio was piled high with ribbons of carrot and onion but lacked any of the heat or punch of the pepper. A pibil-style red snapper tasted a day old — it had an unpleasant, fishy taste throughout and didn't mesh well with the mashed sweet potato or the strangely Americanized peas and carrots on the plate.

My friend pointed out that we could have had two of each taco — including the pricy lobster — for the cost of the entree. Tacos FTW.

 As befits the casual beach house decor, the light ceviches and mostly unfancy tacos are what La Fisheria does best. 

At dinner, a lobster and shrimp margherita pizza tasted limp, if not unpleasant, while the angel hair pasta with crab and a filet of salmon on top was weighed down by a creamy alfredo-like sauce that held the salmon flavor in every bite. I love salmon, but I don't love eating pasta that tastes like salmon.

The dessert menu contains the curious "dos leches" cake. I asked the server what happened to the third leche, and he said something about not being able to find it in Houston, which I'm sure will be a surprise to the vast Cordúa tres leches empire. The dos leches was served in a huge portion with slice of fresh strawberry and strawberry ice. Despite not being dry, exactly, it certainly didn't have the springy, spongy texture one associates with tres leches cake, and not for the better.

The churros, served in six mini-sticks with a side dish of rich chocolate sauce, were much more enticing.

There's so much that's cool about La Fisheria, from the relaxed vibe to the perspective that chef/owner Aquiles Chavez brings as an itinerant celebrity chef. And yet La Fisheria feels like a concept in search of a location, uninterested in Houston's varied take of Latin American cuisine. I can't tell if Chavez is deliberately trying to be "different" or if he just hasn't done his research.

Despite some promise, La Fisheria just doesn't make sense.