The Cortez Seafood + Cocktail, the newest venture from the owners of Jose and Sons, is close to bringing its chef-driven seafood menu to Glenwood Avenue.
Owner Charlie Ibarra said the restaurant will have a soft opening this week but a date hasn’t been set. He advises diners to turn to the restaurant’s Facebook page for an opening day.
Ibarra, 31, and Chef Oscar Diaz, 35, who runs the Jose and Sons kitchen in the Warehouse District, have wanted to open a restaurant with an emphasis on seafood for some time.
“In creating a concept, we ask, ‘What do we just crave that we can’t find locally?’ ” Ibarra said.
He said while there are plenty of seafood restaurants that embrace their Southern roots with fried seafood, he adds, “We don’t see enough seafood that’s chef-driven and a more eclectic approach, where you’re drawing from different styles of preparation.”
The challenge was finding the right space. When Helios closed, they decided to join the bustling Glenwood South as part of a conscious effort to be part of the city’s thriving downtown restaurant scene.
They have transformed the former coffee shop, located in a mid-century building, into a sleek space with a contemporary feel. They wanted a tropical theme, but one that’s more subtle. Some of the seating is a lush teal leather, and a shiny diver’s helmet overlooks the bar, which is covered in marble scales reminiscent of a mermaid or fish.
They plan to serve beverages at an outside bar in front and have an idea of painting a mural on a blank wall of the exterior – something “palmy, nostalgic-visit-to-an-island kind of theme,” Ibarra said.
A menu without limits
The space is relatively small – about 40 seats inside with another 20 on the patio. Because of that, along with their efforts to be responsible consumers of seafood, the menu also is smaller. The menu will continue to evolve depending on what seafood is available.
While Jose and Sons combines the Ibarra family’s Southern and Mexican influences, and both Ibarra and Diaz are Mexican-Americans, the only real theme of the menu is seafood, Ibarra said.
The restaurant’s inspiration comes from Ibarra’s trips to Baja, Mexico, which launched the initial conversations about opening a seafood restaurant. Ibarra went with his brother, Hector, who is one of Jose and Sons’ owners, a few years ago. He returned with Diaz for another trip.
“We saw a huge bounty of seafood in a different way, seeing Mexican food prepared in a little different format than what we’re used to from where we’re from in Mexico,” Ibarra said. “This is one place we want to explore those flavors. Seafood is the premise, but the flavor profiles will be more varied.”
The result is a menu divided into three parts. The “Raw-ish” section contains tartare, carpaccio, smoked oysters and two ceviches. One ceviche is more Mexican-style, or cured in lime juice, with tomatoes and jalapeños. The other will be more South American, or Peruvian-style, with a cold fish broth. It’s often called Leche De Tigre.
Another part of the menu will feature daily raw selections with three or four varieties of oysters.
The third section will have small plates and entrees. There also will be a vegetarian option and a meat option.
“This is a place where we can get out of our comfort zone,” Diaz said. “We take everything, not just the Mexican aspects of our lives, but everything I’ve ever eaten, and everything I’ve ever cooked, every experience I’ve had that’s worth paying homage to.”
Emphasis on sustainability
Ibarra and Diaz believe in being responsible about what seafood they use. They don’t want to waste seafood or use fish that’s oversourced or endangered. It also means using fish that are considered invasive species. Ibarra said an example is the lionfish, a predatory fish that’s made its way to the Atlantic Ocean from the South Pacific and Indian oceans. Diaz recently smoked some lionfish and used it in a gazpacho.
“One way we can address the problem is being a responsible chef and putting that on the menu,” Ibarra said. “They’re tasty fish, but they’re not sexy fish.”
That philosophy means there may be occasions where the kitchen runs out of a type of seafood. The restaurant’s staff – and guests – will be educated about that possibility.
The Ibarras have deep roots in the Triangle restaurant landscape. Jose Ibarra, Charlie and Hector’s father, owns La Rancherita, a Mexican restaurant with multiple locations. They moved Jibarra, a contemporary Mexican restaurant, from North Raleigh to the Warehouse District in 2010, one of the first restaurants in the now-blossoming neighborhood. Jibarra was revamped in 2013 as Jose and Sons.
Diaz joined Jose and Sons after working for Alizé in Las Vegas, which he describes as “old-school French with modern techniques,” and the Patina restaurant group in Los Angeles. Both are Michelin-star restaurants. He grew up in Chicago and says his style is influenced by where he has lived and the food and ingredients he has tried.
“(Jose and Sons) was a cool way to start our path,” he said. “This is furthering our identity of who we are in the culinary landscape and who we are as people.”
Info: 413 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh. facebook.com/CortezRaleigh or cortezraleigh.com (website is in the works)