- 1850 S. Hurstbourne Parkway, Louisville, KY, 40220
- (502) 365-1777
- Overall User Rating:
- (0 ratings)
- Monday, 5-9 p.m.; Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday, noon-10 p.m.; Sunday, noon-8:30 p.m.
- Official Web Site:
Breeders, bettors and pundits use the Dosage Index — a mathematical calculation based on the performance of a thoroughbred’s ancestors — to analyze how a horse will perform at a given distance — like the 10 furlongs of the Kentucky Derby.
Close observers of Louisville’s restaurant scene have long been aware of what might be called the Grisanti Index — which measures how closely a restaurant is connected to the legendary Casa Grisanti, which closed its doors in 1991. The number ebbs and flows, and chefs, general managers and owners move around, retire or open new places. But some years ago, when I first wrote about the Grisanti legacy, some two dozen Louisville restaurants had Grisanti connections. Today, examples include Vincenzo’s, Corbett’s, Majid’s, Irish Rover, Stevens & Stevens, Ditto’s, Mozz, Z’s Fusion and many more.
I’m starting to think that 20 years from now diners may be using a new measure. By then, the Havana Rumba Index may be one of the defining elements of Louisville’s dining scene.
From the beginning, Havana Rumba’s Cuban cuisine was a smash hit in Louisville (HR now has two locations — one in St. Matthews, another in Middletown). Havana Rumba’s sister restaurant, Mojito Tapas Restaurant, has been wildly successful as well. Habana Blues, with locations in New Albany, Ind., and Louisville, can trace its lineage to HR. A couple of months ago, Fernando Martinez (a founder of HR and Mojito) opened the fantastic Mexican restaurant Guaca Mole.
And now a veteran of Havana Rumba — Miguel Garcia — has partnered with Jose Esparza, another experienced restaurateur, to open a Latin-style seafood restaurant: El Marlin.
It’s the right idea at the right time. Lots of folks take seaside vacations in Latin America and get hooked on the boldly flavored fresh fish and seafood dishes they ate while gazing at the beach. El Marlin’s setting (in the former Cocos Lokos space) is bright and casual, comfortably furnished, and done up with just enough whimsical seaside flair to drive home the marine atmosphere. And El Marlin’s chef, Manuel Ortega, has a very fine command of seafood.
As dinner begins, diners are presented with a wooden platter that holds a few crisp corn tortillas and dipping bowls filled with not merely salsa but also chilled wafers of spicy carrots and a bowl of ceviche.
Drink offerings include Mexico’s iconic beer cocktail, the Michelada (and not only is this the spiciest Michelada in the city, it bears the perfect garnish: a tender steamed shrimp, draped on the spicy rim of the glass. And if your taste runs to colorful cocktails, the El Marlin bar makes all sorts of fresh-fruit concoctions.
There are a few examples of land-based cuisine, but it’s the call of the seafood that makes El Marlin special: appetizers like sauteed octopus with pico de gallo ($3.99), peel-and-eat shrimp ($7.99 a half pound, $13.99 a pound) or shrimp seviche ($7.99).
We started a recent meal with perfectly sauteed butterflied shrimp ($10.99) served on a pale green bed made from minced and slivered serrano and jalapeno peppers and a colorful spray of red onions — a spicy, saucy base that lit up our mouths with enough heat that even that red-hot Michelada gave me relief.
Lovers of seafood soups will find grand concoctions made from catfish, tilapia or shrimp and things like Mexican squash, carrots, potatoes and plenty of spices; the grandest concoction of all, Seven Seas Soup ($15.99), is stocked with oysters and octopus, crab legs and mussels, scallops and tilapia — and shrimp, if you’re counting.
A seafood paella (with most of the ingredients you’ll find in that soup) serves two ($31.99, but allow 45 minutes for preparation). And it’s easy to imagine that the seafood-filled pineapple (manhar de pina, $14.99) comes straight from a resort menu: shrimp, scallops and crabmeat are cooked in a cream sauce, covered with mozzarella and stuffed into a fresh pineapple.
If signature dishes like brochetas de marlin (marlin skewers, $14.99) and El Marlin (marlin that’s baked, then crisped in a pan, $18.99) aren’t quite that colorful, they’re still superb — and the two skewers that make up the brochetas, which are adorned with red bell peppers, yellow squash, green zucchini and chunks of onion, could serve as a shared entree for two diners.
But if you’re exploring the menu, you’ll want more. You can build your own entree — mixing and matching your choice of seafood, sauce, etc. (depending on your choices, somewhere between about $12 and $16).
Or you can order a grand dish that’s popular along the west coast of Mexico: pescado sarandeado. Choose between catfish and red snapper (I opted for the latter), and after 30 minutes or so (the dish takes a while), you’ll see spread before you a slab of fish that’s been marinated in chimichurri sauce, grilled to a crisp finish and plated with rice, beans and salad ($15.99).
After all that, dessert might seem optional — but maybe not, if the kitchen has some chocolate flan on hand ...
You can email freelance restaurant critic Marty Rosen at email@example.com.