Mexico mare

Last night, my husband and I went out do dinner. You wouldn’t think it, given what I do, but that’s actually a rare treat. His work hours don’t allow for late evenings. Even more rare was the fact that we drove all the way to Haleiwa for our “date,” to try out Luibueno, a newish Mexican restaurant that’s in the old Rosie’s Cantina spot at 66-165 Kamehameha Hwy.

Luibueno opened last March and it was hoppin’ Sunday night with a nice mix of locals and tourists; there had been a festival in town yesterday. The specialty here is seafood and I was delighted to find a Mexican restaurant on O’ahu that goes beyond the usual taco/tortilla/quesadilla complex.

Our first course, Queso Fundido, was a riff on the Italian crostini: garlickey baguettes and a mini skillet of manchego and goat cheeses ($11.50). It wasn’t too exciting; the manchego was pretty tasteless; you had to get a smidge of goat cheese to make it work. However, our second starter was worth the drive and then some. It’s called Callo de Hacha Aguachile, slivered scallops, onions and cucumber in an outrageously palate-perking marinade of lime juice, salsa and chilies ($10.50). We ordered extra baguettes to soak up the marinade; it was that delicious. The only thing they could improve is the presentation; the rather unnatractive soupy mixture comes in a plain, shallow white dish. A bowl or colorful dish would have been much more inviting. There’s a shrimp version but I was wary because shrimp can so easily be mushy or grow hard in a marinade, and, anyway, it’s a rarity to find scallops on a menu. The outgoing hostess who stopped by to check on is said she prefers the scallops, too. Definitely worth a try. My husband loved it with his beer.

When it came time for entrees, I was already pretty full but wanted to try a few more dishes. Husband ordered the Caldo de Siete Mares, soup of the seven seas, a kind of Mexican bouillabaise. Good but not great, partly because it was neither truly hot nor truly cold.

My choice was a nightly special, a whole fish, rubbed with garlic and deep-fried, market-priced a t$23.95. It arrived perched on its bottom, head and tail on, fins flying, a very attractive presentation. (I can’t remember what the fish was; red snapper? It wasn’t too huge; just right for one.) The fish was well-flavored and well-cooked, the sides slashed so the inner flesh was cooked through. It came with raw onions and a couple of tomato slices that made no sense to me. Some salsa or a sauce would have been much better. The fish was served with what they call paella (it isn’t paella, it’s just Mexican rice, nicely done but still just Mexican rice) and black beans with a bit of Manchego grated on top. On the whole a nice dinner.

For dessert, we ordered flan, my husband’s all-time favorite; it was the usual small disc of egg pudding in a thin syrup. Good, but it can’t compete with the homemade flan we so enjoy ($5.95). I made a big mistake and ordered churros, deep-fried ropes of sweet dough with a small smear of chocolate sauce; they weren’t properly done, the oil in which it was fried was too cool and absolutely soaked the confections so that they were inedible. I told the waiter and he took them off the bill, which made me happy. I wish now I’d gone with first instinct (ALWAYS go with your first instinct in ordering, ALWAYS) and had the fried ice cream. Oh, well.

$80-something for Mexican food is a bit steep but I would happily go back for a pupu meal of the agua chile with scallops any day. (BTW, they do offer tortillas, tacos and quesadillas, most made with seafood but also my favorite slow simmered pork, gotta try that sometime).