Hot baked fish at Marco Polo

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So my maniacal devotion to Rick Bayless continues, and I am going through his Oaxaca list of recommended restaurants like a pilgrim on the trail to a sainted relic. Monday was my day to eat fish, to give my body just a bit of a rest from the picadillo I ate on Sunday and the big pot of quinoa, chorizo, potato, and carrot I made on Saturday. So off I went to Marco Polo.

The restaurant has several locations, but it’s generally accepted that the best one is on Pino Suarez, the east side of El Llano or Parque Juarez, as it’s known on all the maps and to no one else. Given how far inland Oaxaca is, seafood is very popular, and the restaurant was crowded at four in the afternoon.

My first regret, as I looked at the menu, was that I was alone. So much I wanted to try, and yet how much could one woman eat? Shark (cazon) quesadillas, shark tostadas, shark all kinds of things, not to mention a whole section for cebiches and pulpos. I took a deep breath, told myself I could come back, and calmly ordered one dish: a filete de pescado al horno, or a filet of red snapper baked in their outdoor, wood-burning oven.

Honestly, when it finally arrived and I had already eaten half the bread basket, it didn’t look like much. But then I took my first bite and smiled. The fish had real flavor, its own flavor and more. I could taste the fire in which it had been cooked, the slight bite with the ground chiles sprinkled on it, and when I smeared a bit of chipotle mayonnaise on it, the fish just took off into outer space. It wasn’t at all undercooked, and of course, it wasn’t overcooked, just the perfect texture to give you something to chew, even as it melted away.

The little mound of rice it came with was very good, too, and I was sorry there was so little of it. Instead of tortillas, there was a dry bolillo, or torpedo-shaped hard roll, that did nothing to change my mind about Mexican bread, and then some flat tostadas, crispy and perfect for dipping into the darkly spicy salsa.

Sadly, because I had scraped every last bit of fish off its foil, I was too full to try the platanos baked in their oven, drizzled with a little crema. I am going to strong-arm my friends Mimi and Alex, who arrive this Saturday, into going with me again.

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