Like any newcomer to a neighborhood, Bahia Caporales is taking time to settle in. This Mexican-style Mexican restaurant opened recently on Beverly Boulevard east of Western Avenue, a crosstown jump from its other branch on Atlantic Boulevard.
Customers are trickling in, a bit shy, perhaps, of something new. What they find is not the "touristy" food common to Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles but an interesting menu that includes excellent shrimp dishes, great, meaty tacos, wonderful beans--and more.
Bahia means bay. Caporal is a ranch foreman. The conjunction of the names indicates the division of the menu into seafood and meat, or what a gringo might call turf and surf. A combination plate here is not the usual sauce-soaked collection of starchy foods but an assortment of seafood or meats or both brought to the table sizzling on a grill. For those who insist, a conventional platter of taco, enchilada, chile relleno, beans and rice is available.
The combination plate is all right, but it's more rewarding to explore the seafood because that is the restaurant's specialty. For an appetizer, try the little tostadas topped with ceviche, the marinated fish as simply seasoned and fresh-tasting as that I remember from the wharf at Veracruz.
Bahia Caporales does a very good job with shrimp, cooking them carefully so they remain succulent. In camarones a la veneciana, large shrimp are baked with cheese, butter and wine, each wrapped in a foil packet so that the plate holds a cluster of sparkly packages. The red sauce for camarones a la diabla (deviled shrimp) is made with devilishly hot arbol chiles, tamed to a level of heat that is tolerable. Arbol chiles are also used in the house salsa that accompanies tortilla chips at the start of the meal.
Camarones a la cascada (waterfall shrimp) have plunged from whatever waterfall the name represents into a pool of tomato, onion and cheese sauce. And camarones jardineros (gardener's shrimp) come in a dark brown sauce with vegetables, a blah description of a dish that surprises with its distinctive flavor. The popular camarones al mojo de ajo (shrimp with garlic sauce) are here, too, the butterflied shrimp topped with bits of browned garlic (and perhaps a bit chewy in this treatment).
A house specialty is the parrillada de mariscos ($28.95 for two), a mixed seafood grill that includes lobster, shrimp, fish, scallops, squid and crab. The parrillada looks spectacular, arriving at the table on a box-like grill. But perhaps this is not the place to order lobster. The taste was not pleasing. Another flaw was the use of imitation crab, which simply doesn't belong in a seafood restaurant. What should have been luxury fare was, to be honest, a rather lackluster dish.
No Fancy Trimmings
On the other hand, I raved for days about the tacos de carne alambrada. ( Alambre means wire, and I don't know what that has to do with the tacos.) The shells are soft corn tortillas stacked two to a taco and topped with cubes of grilled New York steak mixed with cheese and mushrooms. There are no fancy trimmings, just the plain, dark brown meat mixture. But what great flavor. The carne asada tacos are prettier, thanks to the spoonfuls of guacamole and salsa alongside the steak.
Other worthy dishes include huachinango Azteca, which is a whole fish baked in foil with red wine, onions and tomatoes, and carne asada, a thin, well-done New York steak topped with grilled green onions and accompanied by rice, cheese-topped beans that are startlingly good, chopped fresh salsa and guacamole. There is a nice seafood brochette and an odd but interesting dish of carnes en su jugo (meat in its juices) that consists of beef strips and whole beans floating in sauce.
Seafood dinners come with soup, salad and white rice that includes vegetables. Mexican entrees come with soup and red rice. Sample prices are $8.25 for camarones a la veneciana ; $7.95 for camarones a la diabla , $6.95 for carne asada. The taco plates, which consist of four very filling tacos, are $5.95 for the carne alambrada and $5.25 for the carne asada. Lower-priced specials are available at lunch.
Bahia Caporales, 4430 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 665-9228. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Accepts Visa and MasterCard. Park in the lot behind the restaurant, which opens onto Hobart Place. The original Bahia Caporales is at 630 S. Atlantic Blvd., Los Angeles.