Seafood lovers across the country are falling for the raw power of seviche, the cocktail of Nuevo Latino cuisine.

By Paige Porter
January 10, 2003
Ralph Anderson

At Las Ventanas al Paraiso in Los Cabos, Mexico, a well-tannedfoursome gathers around the seviche bar--a spot that rivals thehotel's famed infinity pool in popularity. While tequila lessonspack the shaded nook overlooking the Gulf of California, this groupfocuses attention not on shot glasses but on lavash. Theseflat-bread crackers serve as a means to chef Marc Lippman'sscrumptious end: shrimp seviche. Dressed in tomato and citrusjuices, spiked with serrano chile, and freckled with freshcilantro, the healthful concoction debuts here with a bang.

But seviche is nothing new. While the raw-food craze has juststarted sweeping across the United States, for centuries LatinAmericans have been enjoying seviche (pronounced "seh-VEE-chay" andalso spelled ceviche and cebiche). Cooks in kitchens from Centralto South America prepare simple versions, bathing seafood in anacidic marinade such as lime juice or vinegar. This process curesthe fish--firming its flesh and turning it opaque in theprocess.

"In Mexico, every state has its own version," Marc says. "Wedon't classify ours by region. It's all about using the freshestfish and pairing each with the right seasonings. Cabrilla worksnicely with tomatoes, while tuna performs well with coconutmilk."

In San Francisco, Johnny Alamilla has popularized thedish--first at Che, where he premiered Nuevo Latino cuisine in thecity, and now at Alma, his celebrated Mission District restaurant.Johnny deems seviche one of the most delectable pure foods. "TheBay Area has an abundance of seafood and therefore a surplus ofgreat sushi restaurants," he says. "Some people can't handle 100percent raw fish; seviche's the perfect alternative."

Many chefs serve it in martini glasses, elevating the seafoodarrangements and surrounding them with such dipping tools astostadas and corn tortillas. Johnny serves his sampler--highlightedby wild striped bass with sparkling wine and grapefruitjuice--alongside popcorn, yuca chips, and crostini.

Here in Los Cabos, a waiter brings out a second round--thistime, lobster with orange segments, red onion, cilantro, and mintin a pool of lime. Attractive enough to be a centerpiece, thisflavor-filled martini glass demands diners make it a double.