Back to my old haunt: South 1st Street. When I wrote my neighborhood guide to this rich area, two painters had a ladder propped against what used to be El Chile. With a sinking feeling, I watched as they painted a giant white octopus on the newly-blue building.
Fortunately, however, El Chile has not disappeared—not exactly, anyway. The South 1st location now houses their newest concept: Alcomar. The menu is full of tapas, featuring primarily seafood, and each dish is delicately crafted with interesting and varied ingredients.
Sea Breeze Atmosphere in South Austin
Reminiscent of a house by the sea, the atmosphere at Alcomar is open and inviting. A cement floor provides an unassuming air, while beautifully knotted rugs akin to the thick white ropes used at sea line the large, east-facing windows.
Wooden baskets hang upside down around the ceiling lights and a large ship’s wheel is mounted above the bar. The contrast between wooden white washed and sea green tables with other aspects of the careful, finished decor maintains a delicate balance in the restaurant, welcoming everyone to enjoy it – whether dressed up or in breezy beach pants.
As you take in the sprawling teal octopus painted across the entire far wall, enjoy the large tostada chips brought to your table in lieu of a basket of tortilla chips. They are served with the bright orange salsa de la mesa, which stays on the table throughout the meal, and a small jar of spicy and vinegar-soaked vegetables.
More than a Margarita
My (extremely knowledgeable) server at Alcomar suggested three popular drinks to try: the Te Amo, Alcomar and Xalarita.
The Alcomar is a margarita that exemplifies right at the beginning of the meal what its namesake restaurant does so well: combine unlike flavors to to exceed your initial expectations. Although I don’t typically like pineapple with my alcohol – too sweet – the Alcomar surprised me.
The pineapple used is grilled, injecting a smokiness into the drink that deepens the taste. I nearly asked for no salt, but the chunky Bolivian pink salt that lines the rim has a markedly different personality than your typical fine-grained white salt. The tequila used is Dulce Vida reposado.
The Xalarita is a frozen margarita with a cucumber and jalapeno puree, while the Te Amo is a Tito’s vodka drink with St. Germaine-soaked berries, agave, lemon and mint. Personally, I have my eye on the Brandy Alejandro to try next time: an alcoholic horchata drink with El Presidente brandy, cinnamon and spices. This drink, along with the Xalarita, is available during happy hour for $6.
An Experience in Taste and Color
Most of the menu follows the tapas tradition of small plates, which you can buy for the table to share. I noticed many trending food ingredients on the menu, such as beets and goat cheese, as well as those that seem far ahead of the curve. Cauliflower flan, for instance, needed an explanation. Our server assured me that with a food item as strange as that, the chef has to be pretty confident to put it on the menu.
The entire menu seems to echo that confidence. First, the Cebiche Peruano impressed not only in taste, but also color. Vibrant pink ahi tuna was presented with pink pickled onions, squares of orange sweet potato, a raw onion pico where the spice was hiding and, of course, corn nuts.
A bowl of yucca chips accompanied the plate, a neutral-tasting balance to the splash of tangy flavors. The yucca chips weren’t as crunchy as I would have liked, and their flavor may be enhanced by some pink sea salt from your Alcomar margarita. The corn nuts, however, provided a salty crunch to texturize a bite of the soft fish.
More Tapas to Explore
A huge fan of guacamole, I was pleased with Alcomar’s rendition. The block of guac was situated on a pool of avocado puree sauce, real crab meat piled on top, and finished off with pineapple pieces. Hearty and satisfying, the sweet pineapple rounds out the fishy taste of the crab.
The biggest surprise of my Alcomar visit were the mushrooms. I like mushrooms, but the Mushroom Gorditas were more complex than any fungus dish I’ve yet consumed. The mushrooms are blanched in a three pepper sauce, using chipotle, guajillos and anchos for a smoky taste. They are stuck to flower-shaped sweet potato cakes with refried white beans that add a thickness and texture to the bite. A little lettuce adds a sprig of freshness to the experience.
The mushroom plate also comes with an orange sauce that I immediately, confidently declared had carrots in it. I was very wrong, but I did learn about episote – an unassuming green herb from Mexico that fills your entire mouth with a full, savory flavor.
Cooking Is Art at Alcomar
The Butternut Poblano Relleno came out of the kitchen like an art piece, draped in curling strips of brightly colored beets. The grilled pepper was tightly stuffed with yams, goat cheese and spinach, and nestled in a rich pistachio cream sauce.
Although a sweeter meal as a whole, the spinach added a streak of subtle bitterness to balance that out. Like the tuna, this dish almost seems designed for color as much as taste, with celebratory beets, dark green poblano and bright yellow saffron rice.
The relleno is a vegetarian plate, and our server recommended the Bolivian potato soup as another popular and tasty vegetarian dish.
Sweet, Simple and Sinful
Buñuelos are a sweet and simple dessert. But, as with everything else at this restaurant, Alcomar chefs have made it their own. The fried dough covered in cinnamon and sugar is accompanied by an innocent jar of what appears to be whipped cream. This whipped cream, topped with raspberries and resting on a bed of sliced strawberries, is made with coconut milk and tequila. The faint tequila aftertaste of the sauce creates a poignant moment as your meal comes to an end.
Alcomar Stands Out with Mexican Influenced Seafood
Designed as a more high-end restaurant than El Chile, this Mexican influenced seafood restaurant takes inspiration from interior Mexico while striving for a fresh, unique style all its own. At that, I believe, Alcomar succeeds.
Come to Alcomar when you want to splurge on a quality meal, or visit during happy hour when certain drinks and tapas are discounted, to dip your toes into the experience.
Happy Hour from 3-6 PM daily – 1816 S 1st Street – Website
@erinmayyyy wants to know:
Have you visited Alcomar yet? If so, how was your experience?
Disclosure: Alcomar covered the cost of my meal for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.
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