This happened recently when Teri Rogers decided to close Feast, one of the early ground breaking eateries in Decatur. The door that opened is MAR, co-owned by international restaurateur Humberto Bermudez and local Decaturite Michele Dehaven. MAR with its coastal Mexican food offerings is a welcome addition to Decatur’s emerging identity as a fine dining destination. The menu focuses on fresh seafood that is prepared in minimalist style as it is in many of coastal villages along the Yucatan. Heading up the kitchen is Executive Chef Joey Zelinka (Sound Table, 4th & Swift, Café Circa) whose simplistic approach to cooking allows foods to retain their true identity instead of being masked with heavy sauces and spices. Don’t get me wrong; the foods have that distinctive Latin flair but the main ingredient is always front and center which is often not the case at other like restaurants.
With the recent resurgence of tequila, especially small batch bottlings, mixologists are becoming more adventuresome in their creations. MAR’s beverage team has taken advantage of this trend by creating some intriguing cocktails using quality tequilas and mezcals from its extensive selection. To taste the classic characteristics of high-end tequila try the El Vocho, it’s an instant thrill - a shot of the award winning Milagro Silver that’s served with a cool chaser made of fresh pineapple, mint, and jalapeño. If this doesn’t liven ones spirits, I don’t know what will. My favorite is the La Flor made with the biodynamically farmed mezcal Fidencio Clasico known for its alluring smokiness that’s derived from roasted agave hearts, which are only harvested during a new moon. It’s mixed with a housemade sour, cucumber rock syrup, a splash of St. Germain, and a touch of basil – be forewarned, this potion is somewhat addicting.
While sipping on the libation of choice, start the nibbling with the crispy housemade chips and salsa that has a mesmerizing smoky character that makes munching hard to stop. To keep that smoky mouth feel thing going, the smoked Swordfish Tostada is a nice follow-up to the chips. Before the fish is smoked with hickory wood, it’s brined for 12 hours giving it a unique tenderness that’s uncommon in swordfish. This highly aromatic fish is finished with a delectable saffron coconut cream, spicy black bean salsa, and tangy pickled red onions - yum! The other starter that is a must is the empanada. This offering doesn’t quite fit into the MAR’s seafood theme, but it is oh-so good. A light yet crispy dough is stuffed with a velvety Foie Gras and pickled cabbage that has been deep-fried in duck fat and topped with a sassy mango peach sauce. The cold bar offering that is a “not to be missed” is the Pickled Oysters. Plump gulf oysters are pickled in a red wine solution for 24 hours and topped with Fresno chili peppers and red onion. This dish is the perfect match for the Summer Fling – Herradura silver tequila with ginger rock syrup, lime and mint.
When it’s time to take the palate for a tango, consider one of the imaginative, well-constructed tacos. The Arrachera taco is a juicy skirt steak that’s marinated in a soy, Worcestershire, and Tecate beer mixture that’s given a nice char. This flavorful tender meat is folded into a soft shell tortilla with nopal cactus (prickly pear), cilantro, parsley and a tangy ancho chili-allspice vinaigrette. Then there’s the Shrimp and Bacon taco, and you know everything tastes better with bacon - grilled local shrimp and crispy Beeler’s bacon served on a tortilla with a dab of a creamy avocado aioli. MAR’s signature taco is the Lobster JoeyZ. A crispy shell made with Maseca corn flour and squid ink is stuffed with poached lobster, a cotija-mornay sauce, and a frisee-roasted corn salad – this taco is amazing in every way and shows Chef Joey’s creativity. There are a number of large plate items on the menu worthy of sharing with your tablemates. The Spicy Tuna Steak is an ahi grade tuna loin that’s seasoned with pasilla powder, black sesame, and toasted coriander and seared to perfection. This beautifully prepared tuna is served with a mouth pleasing papaya coulis and fresh slices of avocado. Then there’s the exhilarating yet sassy Tequila Shrimp - large heads-on shrimp sautéed in a Jimador Reposado tequila, limejuice, and garlic. This mouth-watering shrimp interpretation is as good as it gets.
There is no dessert menu of sorts –no worries here, as there is an assortment of the most delectable cupcakes made by the Cupcake Queen. These baked mounds of ecstasy were inspired by Chef Joey’s menu. There are six different yet diverse cupcakes to try. If available the Patron Key Lime, Mango Jalapeño, and the Fireball Whiskey Red Velvet are all musts - just get one of each, you won’t regret it. When in need for a meal with swagger, MAR has all of the goods to ease the day into that relaxing coastal feel except one- the beach, but with its open-air patio and a thirst quenching MARgarita, you will surely get there. ENJOY!
LGTG FRIENDLY *****