Food Fight: Battle Ceviche

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Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
In keeping with our recent trend of expanding the weekly food fights to encompass more than just burgers and donuts, this week's battle pitted two restaurants against one another to see who could craft the finest fish dish.

Ceviche is made differently from country to country. Although originally from Peru -- and you can certainly try Peruvian ceviche yourself at restaurants like Lemon Tree or Charivari -- the kind of ceviche that most Houstonians are more familiar with is Mexican ceviche. The difference lies not so much in the ingredients (fish, shellfish and more fish) but in the marinade. Although the fish and shellfish used in ceviche is raw, the acidic marinade quickly "cooks" the pieces so that any harmful bacteria is neutralized -- this is the most important part of any ceviche, obviously, as no one likes salmonellosis. With Mexican ceviche, the marinade is heavy on lime juice -- which is where the acid comes in -- as well as tomatoes, cilantro, onions, olives and chiles.

Mexican ceviche is typically served the same way that one would receive a shrimp cocktail in a restaurant, and it ends up tasting very similar if all that you order is shrimp ceviche. But that's boring. We recommend getting a Vuelve a la Vida whenever you see it on a menu. A combination of octopus, fish, oysters and shrimp, the Vuelve a la Vida is a perfect medley of briny sea flavors and brisk tartness.

But does price matter when it comes to ceviche? It's just as easy to get a cheap, high-quality Vuelve a la Vida over on Airline as it is to splash out for an expensive ceviche elsewhere. We headed out to find out for ourselves...

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Connie's Seafood Market, 2525 Airline Drive

We've raved about Connie's in the past for things other than their Vuelve a la Vida. They also mix up a wicked michelada and serve succulent whole red snapper that's among the best in town. And if you want fried rice and egg rolls with your Mexican food? Connie's beats neighboring Tampico's hands down.

The brightly-lit, nearly neon interior of Connie's is part circus, part seafood market, all spectacle. On the weekends, it's completely packed with customers and the occasional dueling mariachi bands. Weeknights are a better bet to enjoy the inexpensive seafood over a margarita or michelada and take in the sights (such as the family we once saw feeding a child ketchup on Saltines while they sucked down enough beer to drown the Mayflower; that same child had a grill on, but that's a story for another day).

The Vuelve a la Vida at Connie's comes in two sizes. The small costs $8, and the large costs $13. For splitting between two people, the small will do just fine. Despite the festive appearance of the cocktail and the high price, it's clear that these have been made ahead of time and stuck into a refrigerator. The pieces of fish and shellfish have been marinated separately, so that only the octopus tastes of lime -- or sometimes only the white fish -- and the rest tastes purely of cocktail sauce. Although the oysters are always good, the octopus tends to be overly tough and the shrimp is of the puny, frozen popcorn variety.

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