Bahia–A love affair with good chips

Bahia–A love affair with good chips

By Mike Leifheit

By Mike Leifheit

Restaurant Critic

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Norte (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit, reviews locally-owned restaurants who make it “from scratch.”

The little American flag atop the Faust has been blowing straight north for more than a month. I can see it from my bed at night. It’s there in the morning when I awake to let me know that another beautiful day is in store. Whoever saw a November like this? A few years back, we had one like this when the daytime highs never went below the forties. That was the year I rode the 900 BMW I had bought from Paul Kegel to Mexico. I left in early December and came back before Christmas. Looks like we’re going to have another winter like that. If I could get away, I would leave tomorrow. One of my favorite places is Matamoros, just across the border.

Short of that, let me take you on a ride for some Mexican style right here in good old River City. The Bahia, 1135 Broadway, bills itself as the King of Mexican seafood. They are located on one of my favorite streets in the city. Nowhere else do you see such cultural diversity. There is a large Southeast Asian community, a number of Mexican establishments, and a church associated with Louis Farrkahn, all within a couple of blocks.

When I pull up to The Bahia, I am torn. My favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Café Tam, is right next door. I hesitate for an instant, and then decide to take a little walk while I decide. There are some great junk shops and antique shops in the block, and I take a little time to look around. I am in the process of looking for an antique sofa, but no such luck today. I return to the Bahia and move inside to sit down.

The same young woman always waits on me when I go there. She is there with her two children today. The kids are sitting at the bar watching Spanish language television cartoons. The mother yells at her son ,”Juan, come here and help,” and he obligingly moves to the front of the restaurant while looking over his shoulder at the cartoons. He returns carrying a bowl of salsa and a dish of jalapenos from the table where customers have just left.

I look at the menu. I want to eat fairly light, and for a second I am considering having one of the many seafood cocktails. My favorite is the campechana, or combination that has both shrimp and octopus. They also have a Seven Seas or Sciete Leguas version, and I wonder if this is like the Come Back To Life I had in Veracruz. That was a combination of shrimp, octopus and conch. Having one of these cocktails is like sitting on the beach in Veracruz.

I decide instead on having soup. For my own needs, I would probably order the Pescado, or catfish soup. But since I am planing on doing an article, I get the Scieta Legues version. Nancy (I learned her name in the process of getting the article info.) brings me chips and salsa.

I have had a love affair with good chips and salsa since I lived in Sacramento Calif., and first experienced Guadalajaran-style Mexican food. There was an area of Sacramento they called Alkali Flats. It was on 12th St. between the RC Cola plant where I worked and downtown Sacramento. My favorite Mexican restaurant there was called the 524 from its location on 12th. It was owned by Michael and Pepe Gomez. To this day, I use recipes that I learned from Pepe. I used to go there and inhale mass quantities of chips and salsa. Amazingly, I lost weight. I judge all chips to this day by theirs.

The chips at Bahia are excellent. I even thought they might be fried in lard, and I asked, but Nancy said no, vegetable oil. The salsa is also very good. It has a smoky taste, and I thought it might be a Chipoltle base, but again the answer was different than I expected. It was Chile Arbol. There must be as many different types of salsa de arbol as there are Mexican families in the world. They are all different, and all delicious.

My soup arrives, and it is chock full of snow crab legs, large shrimp, catfish steaks, a large clam, and some firm white fish not unlike Chilean Seabass. All of this is in a natural broth with just the right amount of chile sauce. I wade through this, getting as much on myself as in myself, I crack the crab legs and suck the meat out. There is a joy to eating a dish like this. It makes you feel adventurous.

The Bahia is owned by Rocio and Manuela Lopez. I think they are Nancy’s parents. It is open seven days a week. Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.: Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.: The telephone number is 965-5920.

I get done with my meal, and I tell Nancy that I am going to write an article about the restaurant. I tell her it will be a very nice article. She asks what do I do if I don’t like the restaurant. I answer that then, I just don’t write anything at all. When I get back to the Irish Rose, the little flag is still pointing north. I had better catch a nap and a shower. I have to go cook at Norte.

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