There are few dishes out there that have veered so liberally from their original incarnation than the culinary pride of Peru, ceviche. You will be hard pressed to find an order of ceviche that has strictly raw fish accompanied with bright orange chunks of sweet potato, thumb knuckle-sized kernels of corn, a molehill of raw onions and a pool of lime juice with long board-shaped plantains on the side. But the basic formula for the dish – assorted raw fish bathed in an acidic juice – has left it open for wide interpretation, a prevalent practice even around Lima’s cevicherias.
In Houston, Liberty Kitchen touts itself as an oyster bar, but the half shells only occupy a small percentage of the restaurant’s menu – a relatively low percentage of the larger seafood theme for the popular restaurant on the corner of Studewood and 11th. Ceviche is mixed into the menu’s eclectic initial page of offerings that include gumbo, shrimp cocktails, caviar, smoked and steamed seafood and wood-grilled oysters.
Leader Eater is always intrigued by the different incarnations of ceviche and picked it out of this collage of seafood creativity. The dish came out to my table on Liberty Kitchen’s petite patio, the perfect setting for midday al fresco dining on a cloudless day. Advertised as a shrimp and market fish ceviche, the shrimp’s partner this day was Mahi Mahi. Both appeared lightly cooked, more so with the Mahi, and were doused in a Jamaican ginger beer and lime wash, giving it the classical sour taste with a raspy Caribbean current running through it. The chiles and cilantro rounded out the sharp tangy flavor of the dish.
On the other half of the rectangular plate sat a half an avocado, neatly sliced into symmetrical green portions, a couple lemon slices and a modest stack of tortilla chips. Pulling off a piece of avocado and sharing some space on a chip with some of the ceviche (think campechana-style) is my suggested approach of indulgence. Despite its deviation from the original, Liberty Kitchen’s simple method to creating ceviche keeps the stripped down essence of the dish’s beginnings.
Even before the fish came out, I knew the relatively-bitter taste needed an equalizer and I snagged an order of the self-proclaimed crazy wood grilled oysters (the place is an oyster bar, after all) with a layer of bacon jam, jalapenos and butter. They proved to be a diminutive treat next to the ceviche, and the bacon jam was an appropriate candied substitute to Tabasco and a cracker. The bacon-based breakfast spread also made an appearance on the side of my order of rolls (yep, I needed a hint of carbs in the meal, too). Leader Eater can’t help but think about bacon’s gimmicky, overly-ironic invasion into American dining when I see it on a menu. But Liberty Kitchen’s refreshingly diverse yet welcoming menu, warm service and darn good food don’t have to rely on bacon jam to carry the place. And you will be hard pressed to find spreadable bacon accompanying seafood anywhere in Peru.
Liberty Kitchen Oyster Bar
1050 Studewood St.
Oysters and Starters: $4-$16
Off the Grill: $17-$40
Kid Friendly: Bringing The Bomber here outside of brunch, lunch or late-afternoon dinner might be tricky
LE’s Favorite: Shrimp & Market Fish Ceviche