Wilmington – For Emmanuel Ibarra, building a concept around fresh Mexican-style seafood seemed to be a good next step in his 31-year career building a restaurant group with his family. El Mariscal, now opened in the Landfall Shopping Center, focuses on the bright flavors of the sea, sparkling with citrus and nourishing with chile.
Depends on the flavors of Nayarit, Mexico, Pacific Rim.
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“I felt like Wilmington was ready for it,” Ibarra said by phone, while vacationing in Mexico with his family.
It’s restaurant number seven for Ibarra and his family – Abel Bravo, Manuel Ibarra, Junior Zarate and Gustavo Ibarra. While their three Mexican-American restaurants, El Cerro Grande, and two Taquerias, El Arriero, are more casual and fast, Zocalo and Mariscal are a step up in the Mexican dining experience.
Mexico’s Pacific Coast flavors are gaining popularity in restaurants nationwide — a trend he’s been following over the past few years, Ibarra said. Especially in Wilmington, note that vacationers and travelers are often foodies who want authenticity over the two-course burrito and taco meal that has become the norm in Mexican dining for many years.
“I think social media has helped a lot,” he said. “I like the way everything is developing at the moment.”
Located in the former Venezuelan restaurant Churrascco, El Mariscal serves items not easily found around town, such as whole-cooked shrimp chowder with potatoes, carrots, and celery (a shrimp head adds the most flavor, which for the adventurous, its juices absorb, as it is in many cultures). Pulpo al ajillo is made with octopus cooked with garlic, crushed chile guajillo, white wine, and a touch of lime.
El Mariscal consists of traditional coastal fare as well, such as shrimp (headless), scallops, mahi mahi, tuna, lobster, oysters, salmon, lobster, and whole red snapper. The setting of menu items over 30 is different.
“Seafood is served as ceviche, but we also fry, drink and grill,” Ibarra said.
Sauces go from light and fresh, with fruity and citrus flavors—mango, lemon, orange, and raspberry—to earthy, rich, and smoky chili. Ibarra said the heat in most dishes is medium, with a variety of hot peppers being used — jalapeños, serranos, guajillos, and de arbols.
“But you can always be more hot,” he confirmed.
For lovers of non-sea food, diners will find beef and chicken in street tacos, chimichangas, tostadas, and quesadillas. Beef entrees are also served.
“Not everyone likes seafood, we understand that,” Ibarra said.
About 14 tables and a small four-seat bar—patio seating soon—may make the squeeze tight, and so will the flavors coming from the fresh juices. The craft cocktail menu reflects the innovation of El Mariscal cuisine.
The citrus drink – the “cantaretto,” which is served in a traditional clay cup, or the “caszuela,” which comes in a Mexican bowl – is made with grapefruit, oranges, and lemons, topped with grapefruit soda, and a pinch of salt and cayenne pepper. It can be enjoyed as a non-alcoholic treat or with tequila.
“We have at least 30 different types of tequila,” Ibarra said.
Since the restaurant opened seven days ago, Ibarra said he’s been waiting: “It looks like people really like it.”
The restaurant is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner at 1319 Military Cutoff Rd. Menu prices average about $25 for appetizers, although the scale ranges from $5.99 to $149 (the latter is priced family-style Mexican seafood boil of a type called “charolas”).
Ibarra revealed that this might be his last restaurant for a while — well, at least until the next concept forces him to reverse it.
“If something comes up,” he said, “I won’t refuse it.”
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