Seafood lovers, rejoice -- Anchorage now has an alternative to greasy fish and chips, dime-a-dozen sushi restaurants and big-ticket items like crab legs.
Situated between a hair salon and a law office near Fourth Avenue and Barrow Street, Coctel Oasis serves up salads ($5.90-$11.90) and ceviche ($4-$13.95) in a clean, no-frills setting. Freshness is the name of the game at this blink-and-you-might-miss-it eatery: Goblet-size cocktail glasses hold halibut, shrimp, octopus or oysters (or a combination thereof), along with tomatoes, onions, cilantro and avocado.
Popular in Central and South America, ceviche is made by marinating raw fish and/or other seafood in citrus juice. This warm-weather treat may seem out of place in Alaska, but considering we consume more ice cream per capita than any other state, it should find a loyal following. As a bonus, ceviche is low in fat and calories, gluten-free, Atkins diet-friendly and chock full of muscle-building protein.
A friend and I decided to check out Coctel Oasis on a recent Friday. The eatery was empty save for the two of us. It didn't take us long to decide what to order, as the only items on the menu were four salads and five types of ceviche. We decided on the tostada de ceviche ($4) and camaron pulpo (shrimp and octopus ceviche, $12.95), as well as two orders of strawberry aguafresca ($2 each).
The owner, Humberto Cortez, served not only as the chef, but as our waiter and cashier as well.
The food was delivered to our table in short order. We started with the tostada de ceviche, which consisted of ceviche salad atop a toasted corn tortilla. For the uninitiated or those leery of raw seafood, I suggest starting with this dish. The ceviche was tender, meaty and not at all fishy. The tortilla provided a sturdy platform while the mild corn taste let the ceviche take center stage. Considering $4 won't even get you a plate of french fries at some restaurants, the dish seemed a steal.
The camaron pulpo was a winner as well. The octopus, which tends to turn to rubber when cooked, was pleasantly chewy. The brine was light and refreshing, if a little too subtle for my taste; a few splashes of hot sauce and a squeeze of lime juice helped kick it up a notch. The ceviche contained both tiny bay shrimp and medium-size prawns. I preferred the bay shrimp, as they seemed to have absorbed more of the briny flavor. Finely-chopped onion, tomatoes, cilantro and avocado lent flavor and textural interest.
Not to be overlooked was the aguafresca (made fresh that day, according to Cortez). Thinner and more thirst-quenching than a smoothie, the drink consisted of pulverized strawberries, ice water, sugar and a little lime juice. It was pleasantly sweet and the perfect accompaniment to the acidic ceviche.
Coctel Oasis is not the type of restaurant that begs to be noticed -- seafood lovers will have to seek it out. Those that do will be rewarded with fresh flavors at a reasonable price.
By Carly Horton Stuart
Daily News correspondent