Local Dining: Marathon fish taco adventure leads to a ratatouille effect


Grant Achatz, chef owner of Alinea in Chicago, was correct. Considered a demigod in the culinary scene - uber meister of chemical gastronomy and avant garde presentations - Achatz once said in a Netflix documentary that “the small real estate of the mouth… so much is riding on what happens inside…what chemistry is there is deep memories to access.”

Eating food that evokes happy warm memories is called the “ratatouille effect”. The phrase came from the Disney movie “Ratatouille” where a harsh food critic gave a Paris restaurant raving reviews because its ratatouille brought back childhood memories of his mother’s cooking.

Last October I tried to recreate the ratatouille effect by eating fish tacos from four different places in one day. The memory I was trying to recreate was eating fish tacos at Via- Mar Seafood Restaurant in Los Angeles

Via-Mar is a small eatery in North Figueroa Street at Highland Park, a working class neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles, population 70-80 percent Latino. Gentrified “North Fig” is home to artists and trendy shops mixed with older establishments like Via-Mar. At Via-Mar you order from an outside window - it can be cold in the winter, warm in the summer. There is a covered patio on the side where you eat your food from a foam plate. Nothing fancy about this place. Some tables are greasy, some have not been cleared.

Via-Mar is a favorite pit stop for workers. I especially notice many working Latino men spilling out of trucks and vans. Angelenos love their fish tacos, ceviches and tostadas – they are cheap, quick and yummy good.

I first had fish tacos at Via-Mar a few years ago dur