The snook whisperer? He’s cooking in an Inglewood backyard

Amid the lush outdoor setting of 106 Seafood Underground, Sergio Peñuelas stands front and center in a semi-outdoor kitchen located in a small structure near the restaurant’s entrance. He moved between a small counter and the stove, sculpting a pyramid of ceviche for a minute and then tossing the shrimp in unsalted butter.

He just left to attend a charcoal-fuelled barbecue a few feet away outside the kitchen to prepare the restaurant’s destination dish, pescado zarandeado.

Peñuelas uses róbalo – a firm-fleshed fish also known as snoring fish and caught in the Pacific Ocean – to pre-cook before cooking to make it look like a bivalve. its own reflection. He sweeps the mixture of mayonnaise, condiments, and sauces. The swirl turns pink-orange but invisibly soaks down after the fish lands on the grill, which is held tightly in a wire basket.

Repetition and intuition guide his timing. When finished, the surface of the snore looks like a burnt T-bone, scored and sung and blacked out in all the right places.

Pescado zarandeado on plate and fish grill

Pescado zarandeado from chef Sergio Peñuelas at 106 Seafood Underground.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Before the waiter brought the fish to the table, Peñuelas slid it onto an oval plate large enough for a turkey on vacation. He adds a garnish of sliced ​​cucumbers and tomatoes and a handful of caramelized onions that are tinged with charcoal purple from things that taste like Maggi seasoning enhanced with a bit of soy sauce.

Pescado zarandeado is an ecosystem of taste and texture: serrated, soft, sweet and smoky, with hidden gulls laden with flesh to be excavated. Among family groups, I have noticed that women with a matriarchal temperament are often endowed with a precious head, the cavity of which is filled with the richest slender pieces.

When I fell in love with the main flavor of fish, I went to cornbread and started making banh tet.

Angelenos already familiar with the hobby of pescado zarandeado may know Nayarit, Mexico, the best specialty from Coni’Seafood in Inglewood. Peñuelas, a native of coastal Sinaloa, worked at the restaurant in the late 1990s and 2000s alongside owner Vicente “Chente” Cossio. The restaurant was then called Mariscos Chente; The name changed in 2011 when his daughter, Connie Cossio, took ownership and execution on a menu of ceviches, seafood tacos and countless shrimp stir-fries.

A man in aloha shirt stands in front of a wall painted with colorful vertical stripes

Chef Sergio Peñuelas of 106 Seafood Underground.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Peñuelas’ masterful grilling technique has earned him the nickname “The Snook Whisperer” among Los Angeles foodies. In 2017, Jonathan Gold tracked his influence across the metro area as chefs moved from kitchen to kitchen (including returning to Coni’Seafood at one point). In 2019, Peñuelas no longer roams: He set up an under-the-radar restaurant in his backyard in the Lennox section of Inglewood.

Three years on, 106 Seafood Underground is no longer a secret. Google lists the address. You may have to scour many nearby blocks to find parking. You’ll know you’ve wandered down the right-hand driveway when you see a handwritten sign that says, “No drinking outside / no alcohol. Thank you.” It speaks to the growth of the business – and the loyalty of Peñuelas’s managers, who have grown in popularity since the restaurant’s wider inception.

Check out the barbecue at 106 Seafood Underground.

Check out the barbecue at 106 Seafood Underground.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Marinero ceviche and camarones borrachos from 106 Seafood Underground.

Marinero ceviche and camarones borrachos from 106 Seafood Underground.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

I arrived in early 2020 on a day where 106 was advertised as open but ended up being closed. (It happens occasionally, especially on weekdays; follow the restaurant’s Instagram account.) The transformation of the space in the brutal two years since suggests a word I rarely use. used as a writer: magical.

The wooden slats lining the outdoor kitchen, once painted black, now brighten the surroundings with beachy red, orange, green and blue stripes. Between nature and nurture, foliage has thickened above and around the perimeter of the yard. Synthetic grass covers part of the pitch; the rest is tiled patio or dirt. It’s a kind of verdant scene where you’re tempted to find a smartphone app to help you name all the plants. Most tables are covered under umbrellas, trees or a tarp.

Even on weekends when people take up every seat, this is a place to take a breather and retreat from the world.

Diners who know the menu at Coni’Seafood will realize the meaning of many dishes. Diced mango, shaped exactly like a string of pixels, covers a slice of shrimp bread that is also dotted with chopped cucumbers and tomatoes. A rumbling heap with lemon and Worcestershire sauce. Peñuelas also craft a novelty ceviche dotted with green apples; Its spicy sauce, hot lemon, is especially refreshing on a warm afternoon.

Many works based on shrimp have the creature’s body shell removed but its head intact. Beards reach and bead eyes protrude in military lines from pearls; They are placed along the edge of a rectangular plate, immersed in a pool of strongly acidic water, shimmering with citrus and green peppers. They stare at each other in a wild, splendid jumble ignited with tequila – the beloved borrachos – or sautéed with a generous amount of raw black pepper and lime. If you prefer the completely peeled option, look for shrimp in a chipotle cream sauce or stuffed in a dial sauce tacos.

Left: A colorful decorative painting on the wall. Right: Marlin steak from 106 Seafood Underground.

The colorful marlin on the wall at 106 Seafood Underground, left, and the restaurant’s marlin tacos.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

A hand using tongs to hold a crustacean over a pot of hot liquid

Inside the kitchen at 106 Seafood Underground.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

I love the banh tet filled with smoked margarine, their flour tortillas are deep fried and covered with stretchy white cheese. If your table of three or four is ordering a ceviche or two, borrachos, some marlin tacos, and pescado zarandeado, that’s probably too much food. This is probably a good place to mention that the restaurant doesn’t list prices on its menu. The last time I ordered the giant snook, it was $50, which feels more fair. The server is ready to fill in any related questions.

If you go with a good group of sailors, sipping a straight Pacifico or in a crimson michelada, you can go a few hours until the fish is gone. You can create a taco with the last crumbs of butter scraped from a bread, or experiment with how many strands of caramelized onions are enough. You look up and squint at the sunlight through the leaves of a flower.

Just then, a Delta jet roared through the sky, swooping down to land on LAX. It clears every bit of quiet for a few seconds, and then the calm returns quickly.

A man looks out the window of people having dinner outdoors.

Chef Sergio Peñuelas surveys the scene and talks to customers at 106 Seafood Underground.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

106 Underground seafood

4302 W. 106th St., Inglewood, (310) 980-3893,

Price (approximate): Ceviches and aquachiles $20, tacos $12, shrimp dishes $22, pescado zarandeado $50.

Details: Open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. Beer. Street parking.

Recommended dishes: pescado zarandeado, searo ceviche, green apple ceviche, camarones borrachos, smoked marlin tacos. The snook whisperer? He’s cooking in an Inglewood backyard

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