September 1, 2002, Sunday
NEW JERSEY WEEKLY DESK
RESTAURANTS; Seaside in the Ironbound
By DAVID CORCORAN
“NEWARK — CERTAIN restaurants exist on their own planet, far removed from their earthly address. This is doubly true of Seabra’s Marisqueira.
To get there, you must leave downtown Newark and enter the Ironbound section along Ferry Street, the vibrant, noisy, traffic-clogged artery that retains such a distinct Iberian character that it feels like part of another city. You thread your way down a couple of nondescript side streets, park your car (a lot across the street offers free parking, with a sternly enforced two-hour limit) and enter the restaurant. At this point you may want to be sure your passport is up to date.
Marisqueira is Portuguese for seafood emporium, but that term only begins to describe this 13-year-old restaurant, for many years one of three capitals of an Ironbound food empire built by the Seabra family. (The others are Seabra’s Rodizio, the venerable all-you-can-eat meatery, and A. J. Seabra’s, a supermarket.) The owner, Americo Seabra, recently sold the marisqueira to three longtime employees. The change of ownership doesn’t seem to have dampened the mood at this restaurant, which has the pulsing, hard-edged and slightly frantic qualities of a seaside carnival.
You enter through a narrow corridor that fronts on a long, lively bar, where about 50 people are seated, many of them smoking, all of them eating fresh fish and talking and gesturing lavishly. Just beyond the bar is a glass-fronted open kitchen where a troupe of cooks whirls through a nonstop ballet, shouting orders and flinging seafood into cast-iron pans over fierce flames; the action is so hypnotic that many patrons pause to watch.
Most of the dining takes place in a large back room with closely packed tables — an ordinary space, something of a letdown after the bar. The service has a generic quality too; while the all-male crew is efficient enough, its members tend to be brusque and reserved, at least with English-speaking diners. Requests for guidance about the long, varied and largely unfamiliar menu are greeted with a shrug and a monosyllable that translates roughly as ”You might like it.”