At Las Ventanas al Paraiso in Los Cabos, Mexico, a well-tanned foursome gathers around the seviche bar--a spot that rivals the hotel's famed infinity pool in popularity. While tequila lessons pack the shaded nook overlooking the Gulf of California, this group focuses attention not on shot glasses but on lavash. These flat-bread crackers serve as a means to chef Marc Lippman's scrumptious end: shrimp seviche. Dressed in tomato and citrus juices, spiked with serrano chile, and freckled with fresh cilantro, the healthful concoction debuts here with a bang.
But seviche is nothing new. While the raw-food craze has just started sweeping across the United States, for centuries Latin Americans have been enjoying seviche (pronounced "seh-VEE-chay" and also spelled ceviche and cebiche). Cooks in kitchens from Central to South America prepare simple versions, bathing seafood in an acidic marinade such as lime juice or vinegar. This process cures the fish--firming its flesh and turning it opaque in the process.
"In Mexico, every state has its own version," Marc says. "We don't classify ours by region. It's all about using the freshest fish and pairing each with the right seasonings. Cabrilla works nicely with tomatoes, while tuna performs well with coconut milk."
In San Francisco, Johnny Alamilla has popularized the dish--first at Che, where he premiered Nuevo Latino cuisine in the city, and now at Alma, his celebrated Mission District restaurant. Johnny deems seviche one of the most delectable pure foods. "The Bay Area has an abundance of seafood and therefore a surplus of great sushi restaurants," he says. "Some people can't handle 100 percent raw fish; seviche's the perfect alternative."
Many chefs serve it in martini glasses, elevating the seafood arrangements and surrounding them with such dipping tools as tostadas and corn tortillas. Johnny serves his sampler--highlighted by wild striped bass with sparkling wine and grapefruit juice--alongside popcorn, yuca chips, and crostini.
Here in Los Cabos, a waiter brings out a second round--this time, lobster with orange segments, red onion, cilantro, and mint in a pool of lime. Attractive enough to be a centerpiece, this flavor-filled martini glass demands diners make it a double.