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Monday, October 8, 2007

The hottest sauce in Atlanta

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I have no idea why this Mexican seafood (mariscos) restaurant is called El Veneno (5082 Buford Highway, 770-986-9568). Veneno means "poison" and I'm alive and well after dinner there. As best I can figure, "El Veneno" was the nickname of the restaurant owner's father.

The cooking here is in the style of Nayarit, which is on the Pacific coast of Mexico. We had a great meal there recently, starting with a complimentary tostada heaped with ceviche (above). It arrived with an incandescently orange hot sauce that half the staff told us was almost unbearably fiery. For once, this wasn't the perfunctory warning gringos always get in Mexican restaurants. I have honestly never tasted anything so hot. A couple of drops kept my mouth burning for 20 minutes. A server told us it was a habanero sauce but we were guessing scotch bonnet.

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I ordered the entree shown at top, a pineapple hollowed out and filled with shrimp, octopus, squid and shrimp, under a thin layer of bubbly cheese. The marriage of the pineapple's juices and the piquant seafood's sauce was awesome. Wayne ordered a whole fried snapper (left), hot, crispy, sweet and very spicy, topped with shrimp.

Even the side dish of rice on both plates was better than usual, somewhat garlicky and slightly oily.

El Veneno is located in the former all-you-can-eat sushi spot, Toyotaya, and is next door to El Taco Veloz, whose chile relleno burrito is one of the city's low-cost culinary pleasures. El Veneno's staff speaks very little English but with patience you'll be able to communicate fine.

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