Earlier this year, Gilberto Cetina Jr. opened Holbox (pronounced HolBOSH), a seafood counter located next to Cetina’s longstanding family market stall, Chichen Itza, which is famous for its Yucatan dishes like Salibutes, which we are totally addicted to. Last weekend, The LA Beat was invited to share a relaxed dinner with Chef Gilberto around the Holbox counter in the Mercado Paloma, a community-focused food hall located in a former garment factory near USC.
My favorite dish was Aguachile de Callo de Hacha. Raw half moon scallops marinated in lime juice, cilantro and serrano peppers. Although the dish is not as unusual as others on the menu, it was expertly balanced with a strong emphasis on the citrus and served with perfectly ripened avocado. The Crudo de Jurel y Almeja Generosa – raw yellowtail & geoduck with habanero vinegar emulsion & trout roe – was also fresh and beautiful.
The chef’s “Camaron a la Talla” charmed everyone. The dish consisted of a single Wood grilled Santa Barbara spot prawn on top of “chiltomate,” a housemade combo of roasted tomato & habanero salsa. This batch of camarones also happened to be ripe with strawberry-red roe, making it especially glamorous.
Speaking of roe, we were also served a dish that uses all parts of the scallop. The “Scallop al Carbon” showcased a whole wood-grilled diver scallop, with grilled roe, which comes in a neat little orange package with the consistency of congealed lobster blood. I tried to make that sound better, but deal with it, you are a gourmand, and delicious food is not always pretty. The third and most exciting part of the dish was the scallop frill, coated in maseca and deep-fried to look like coral. The frill rested in a chile x’catic sofrito, morita sauce & homemade mayo and was reminiscent of clam strips. FYI, X’catic is a blond chile indigenous to the Yucatan.
The piece de resistance was a Taco de Pulpo en Su Tinta, Braised and fried Meditteranean octopus on top of calamari ink sofrito on handmade corn tortillas. The calamari ink in these dishes is never fishy and overwhelming as it is in Italian squid ink pastas, leading me to believe those pastas are actually intensified by a broth reduction. Mexican octopus cannot be imported into the USA, so the chef uses Mediterranean octopus, which he manages to get unbelievably tender by cooking it in a pan separate from the sofrito. The cooking method caramelized the suckers, making them enjoyably chewy and sweet.
Chef Gilberto will be co-hosting The Taste’s “Flavors of LA” event on Sunday, September 3rd, and showcasing dishes from both Holbox and Chichen Itza throughout the festival (Might we suggest salibutes?).