Seafood Paradise

La Costa Brava Brings A Taste Of Mexico To Tucson.

By Rebecca Cook

LA COSTA BRAVA, which translates roughly into "the wild coast," is an intriguing moniker for a Tucson restaurant. The nearest coastline is hundreds of miles away, making any intimation of the sea a quixotic proposition.

Levi Rodriguez, who's been importing and exporting seafood from the Sea of Cortez for the last few decades, has never forgotten that the one thing missing from our near-perfect city is a steady supply of fresh fish, a deficit he's dedicated his life to mitigating.

Chow The L.H. Rodriguez Fish Market is a Tucson staple. Although over the years additional Rodriguez markets have opened and closed on North Campbell Avenue and East Broadway Boulevard, it's the 12th Avenue location that's remained a constant. Continuing to sell fresh fish, as well as a few other canned items, the market is still one of the best places in town to pick up a bundle of Guaymas shrimp or a nice fillet of cabrilla, either of which can make an elegant supper.

Perhaps seeking an additional outlet for his catches, Rodriguez decided a few years back that it was time to open a restaurant right next to the warehouse-like market. The division between the two is a makeshift island of shelves, booths and a glittering jukebox, which allows the briny smell of the ocean to permeate the space. Those who profess not to like seafood will no doubt wrinkle their noses upon entering La Costa Brava. But those who adore aquatic fare and live for their next glimpse of the ocean will inhale deeply and sigh with contentment: Short of a jaunt to Rocky Point, it just doesn't get any better than this.

Although La Costa Brava is far from plush, it's a restaurant with an abundant supply of ambiance. In many respects resembling a seaside village pub, the white tables and orange chairs are accented by numerous maritime objects, including glass balls, fishing nets, the brass wheel of a ship, a large ironwood-carved shrimp anchoring the bar, a bell helmet à la 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and several brightly colored wood fish dangling from the ceiling. A table is set up in the front corner with two grizzled, yellow-mackintoshed mannequins perpetually locked in animated conversation about the latest exploits of Davey Jones.

The CD-sparkling jukebox plays only mariachi music and Mexican ballads, which serve to enhance the general impression of having crossed the border for dinner.

And what a dinner it is! The menu at La Costa Brava features primarily shrimp or cabrilla in various preparations. But if you're looking for food to satisfy that undeniable fruit-of-the-sea craving, this is the spot for you.

Why not begin with a zesty seafood cocktail? Shrimp is perhaps the most traditional ingredient to go into the cooling appetizer, but maybe it's time to trawl other waters. Let the folks at La Costa Brava toss some oysters, octopus, scallops or abalone into the deliciously chilled tomato and chile-accented broth.

If the weather has turned inclement, let a bowl of warm soup begin your meal. La Costa Brava offers a few different varieties, including an awesome Seven Seas potage. Less exotic but equally delicious are the shrimp, cabrilla and mixed fish soups, which are particularly well-suited to a basket of warm, freshly made corn tortillas, a squeeze of fresh lime and a few shakes of hot sauce.

As mentioned earlier, entrees generally feature shrimp or cabrilla, although steamed clams, crab legs, raw oysters on the half-shell and a selection of Mrs. Friday's frozen battered seafood are also offered. Depending on the results of the latest fishing expedition, specials are also featured--you might be able to order a fresh salmon, swordfish, tuna or lobster dish.

We opted for the shrimp rancheros, tender, butterflied crustaceans served in a heady red chile sauce; and the cabrilla Veracruz, a large fillet swimming in a sea of mild red chile, tomato, slivered red and green bell peppers and onion. Everything tasted as though it had been pulled from the ocean that very day, imparting not even a whisper of "fishy" flavor or the barest indication of toughness. A serving of yellow-hued, chili-flecked rice accompanied our entrees.

An unspectacular iceberg lettuce and tomato wedge salad and, occasionally, homemade wedge-cut fries are also included.

Regrettably, there's no dessert to conclude the meal--though I must say that this time, at least, my remorse was transitory. I was full but not stuffed, and I'd managed to sustain a two-hour illusion that I was vacationing without a care in the world on some distant Mexican shore.

If you're in need of a little R&R, love seafood and like a restaurant with character, check out the wild coast of Tucson. La Costa Brava is a pearl.

La Costa Brava. 3541 S. 12th Ave. 623-1931. Open 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Full bar. V, MC, checks. Menu items: $6.95-$14.95. TW

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