Though it's only been open a few weeks, Maradentro* was bustling and crowded when we arrived for our Friday night dinner. The second outpost of their popular Studio City Mexican seafood joint, Maradentro is shaping up to be quite the popular scene for the Brentwood-Santa Monica crowd. But lest you think it's all scene and no substance, don't fret; Maradentro backs up this popularity with a fresh, flavorful menu that focuses on local, seasonal ingredients. We were impressed by the bold flavors and the careful balance between classic Mexican dishes and contemporary influences, undoubtedly the work of partners Jesse Gomez and Jose Acevedo (of Mercado fame). In terms of the space, it is a bit small, but bright and woody, and the outdoor patio was a bit awkward in placement (but still a great choice to sit outside on a nice evening). With a great bar program, excellent food, and a casual-cool environment, it's no wonder why this spot is heating up quickly.
The restaurant has a good selection of wine and beers, but we both decided to opt for cocktails. I ordered The SMP, one of the few drinks without tequila, due to my tequila issues (*gasp!* *sacrilege!*), but I'm really glad I did. The mango juice was a great, fruity foundation that provided the perfect counterpoint to the added spice from the shishito and chile salt.
Bacon lobster guacamole? Yes please. Even though I'm typically a guacamole purist-- I love simple preparations that bring out the natural flavors of the avocado-- the crispy, fatty bacon added a nice salty element, while the lobster was fresh and delicious. The avocado itself was creamy and chunky, and surprisingly wasn't overpowered by the bold flavors of the bacon and lobster. The chips were also great: crispy, salty, warm, and substantial but not too thick. Overall, a completely addicting combination.
The Hamachi Three Ways was a surprising menu item for a Mexican restaurant, but made much more sense when we actually tasted it. Each slice was really tender and fresh, and we really loved the version with the avocado wasabi. The middle slice had a solid portion of an onion cucumber relish, which was tasty, but could've been implemented more as a garnish. Overall, it was a light and tasty appetizer.
I was definitely a bit taken aback when we ordered the Chile Relleno and were presented with a seafood soup. The chile itself was a bit buried underneath the broth, so we're not sure we would classify this as Chile Relleno. But we still really enjoyed the flavorful broth and fresh fish. We could've made a meal of just the broth and toasted ciabatta bread, which formed an incredibly satisfying bite.
A fabulous ending to the savory portion of the meal, the carnitas were ridiculously tender and flavorful. Shredded up into the substantial (but not too thick) corn tortilla with a dollop of guacamole, the carnitas were a perfect example of the marriage of classic Mexican flavors with a contemporary feel. We particularly loved the sweet-savory balance of the dish.
For dessert, we got the bread pudding, which was moist and tasty. It definitely boasted a fairly strong cinnamon flavor, which recalled the taste of churros and Mexican hot chocolate. A great ending to a great meal.
Overall, we really enjoyed our dinner at Maradentro. The meal was fresh and flavorful, and we have to give a shoutout to the great service. Not only did everything come out really quickly, but we also appreciated how attentive and enthusiastic our server was. It's always a pleasure to have a server that has a passion for the restaurant and the food, and will take the time to walk you through the menu and give you substantive suggestions. Between the great food and drinks, attentive service, and upbeat atmosphere, we think Maradentro is the ideal spot for a casual-yet-delicious Friday night meal with friends.
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