Californios

Dinner – Saturday, April 1, 2017

Californios caught my attention when we were still living in San Diego, but we were unable to make it here until our fourth wedding anniversary loomed. The restaurant is odd – dark surfaces dominate a very lounge-like atmosphere. Nevertheless, we were here for the food, and we opted to sit at the long chef’s counter. The team of 4-5 (or 6?) young chefs serve a single seasonal menu – Mexico through the lens of Northern California.

Chayote
Jicama, salsa, trout roe, watercress, creme fraiche

“Enfrijolada”
Black bean masa, shrimp ceviche, aerated black beans

“Sope”
Wagyu tartare, black truffle emulsion

“Quesadilla”
Cactus, farmer’s cheese, sorrel

In the previous two courses, the heirloom masa used at the restaurant was rather overwhelmed – here, it was finally allowed to shine. The filling was creamy and gooey and mild, allowing us to taste the corn.

“Flauta”
Smoked duck barbacoa, sourdough tortilla

“Hielo”
Tamarind sorbet, mango, tequila ice

“Ceviche”
Shima aji, shiso, lime, jicama, cranberry

“Aguachile”
Santa Barbara uni, fava beans, achiote, dashi

Arguably my dish of the night, and with only minimal contribution from the sea urchin. The stars were the fava beans and achiote-infused dashi – intense!

“Langosta”
Poached Maine lobster, chayote, viola flowers

“Yerba Buena fruit cup”
Fuji apple, goat cheese mousse, hazelnut butter, fennel

Very delicious, but the goat cheese and hazelnut butter produced a relatively heavy mouthfeel, which is not what I associate with fruit cups – I think of acidity and crunch.

Monterey Bay abalone
Epazote broth, cilantro, nasturtium

Another strong course – slices of binchotan-grilled abalone sitting in a hot, spicy broth prepared a la minute and poured tableside. Salty, herbal, vegetal.

“Frijoles”
Rancho Gordo beans, hackleback caviar

Scallop, salsa verde, koji-fermented turnip

10-day dry-aged duck
Charred cinnamon mole, blood orange, candied walnuts

Excellent gaminess on the duck – and the slightly chewy, dried-out texture was appealing. The thick, whiskey-infused mole was also strong enough to pair with the fowl.

“Carne asada”
A5 Miyazaki wagyu, mustard greens, leeks, fermented chili

Key lime semifreddo, white chocolate, lime zest

Peanut ice cream, candied peanuts, dark chocolate
Great balance of sweet and salty in a relatively simple dessert.

“Fresa”
Strawberry, agave wine, vermouth, absinthe, tarragon

The chef-owner, Val Cantu, was named a 2017 Food & Wine Best New Chef the day after we dined here. It’s nice to see a relatively unique tasting menu get some recognition. We’d like to return to see how the restaurant changes with the seasons.

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