A fashionable crowd has flocked to Contramar since Gabriela Cámara and Pablo Bueno opened the restaurant in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City at the end of 1998, focusing on seafood and high energy vibe. On my trip to D.F. in the fall with Street Gourmet LA founder Bill Esparza, we planned to keep our trip fairly fluid, but two restaurants seemed to beckon us: cutting-edge Pujol and sea-centric Contramar, which translates from Spanish as “against the sea,” a strange name considering the fact that its core mission is to promote the ocean’s bounty. Maybe it was reverse psychology, but we found some success.
A massive blue mural of fish (and fish skeletons) resides behind the bar. The space sorts separate crab and prawn murals. An open kitchen topped with decorative bamboo. Blue and white awning. Basket lantern wrappings.
Chef Andrés Barragán, originally from Puebla, presides over a massive menu, with categories devoted to entradas, tostadas, aguachiles, cocteles, ensaladas, sopas, pastas, tacos y sopes and platos fuertes, and that’s just the beginning. They also featured 26 daily specials that fall under the Sugerencias (suggestions) banner. There were only two of us, and it was nearly impossible to decide between options like callo garra de leon al chipotle (“lion’s claw” scallops seasoned with chipotle), carnitas de pescado (fish cooked in lard), tacos de machaca de mantarraya (shredded manta ray tacos) and albondigas de robalo en salsa de chile morita (sea bass meatballs in morita salsa). Those dishes all sounded good, but we ordered none of them because there were even bigger temptations.
We received an interesting array of salsas to start our meal, including salsa verde with serrano, tomatillo, onion and cilantro; escabeche with cauliflower, cippollini, zucchini and garlic cloves; and a second escabeche with green habanero and onion.
Ceviche Contramar (95) centered on sierra, a variety of mackerel indigenous to Mexico. The firm, white fish absorbed a marinade of lime juice, chile serrano and chile manzano and supported a garnish of red onion, cilantro and crunchy, multi-colored bell pepper. This was a pretty good ceviche, with fresh fish and a decent dose of heat, but as it turned out, the portion size was probably too big, as the flavor became fairly one-note by the end.
Tostadas de Erizo Estilo Guerrerense (82 pesos) was a clear nod to an Ensenada legend Sabina Bandera at her ceviche stand, La Guerrerense. It’s funny; the chef did swing by our table at the end of the meal, and he said that Jair Tellez, a famous Baja chef who opened a restaurant called Merotoro nearby in Condesa, suggested the tostada, but he didn’t know the dish’s specific origin. Despite that fact, he still made a pretty solid approximation, with cooked urchin blended with a similar base of tomato and herbs. Sabina’s version has no avocado, but no complaints about fresh-cut avocado.
Tacos de Charal (77) involved a heaping plate of corn tortillas brushed with earthy black bean paste and piled with tiny dried fish with beady eyes and chewy-crunchy texture that weren’t as salty or oily as anchovies. Cilantro, onions, an avocado and several spoonfuls of the aforementioned salsa completed the challenging but still rewarding dish.
My favorite plate starred Lubina en Salsa Verde con Verdolagas (195), a juicy white fish filet in tangy tomatillo and purslane sauce (leaves and stems). The fish appeared with black beans topped with queso blanco and a spine-free and grilled nopal that was too slimy for me.
Contramar had a pretty bumpin’ bar scene, but since we already drank mezcal in the afternoon and cocktails were up next, I limited myself to a refreshing cucumber agua fresca.
Considering all of menu options, ordering turned out to be pretty overwhelming, and we were limited to selecting a small fraction of Contramar’s compelling dishes. My best advice: arrive at Contramar in a large group and go on a menu rampage. That’s my plan for the next visit.