October 21, 2022

I was so excited to try a 2-star Michelin Mexican restaurant! Mexico has a rich cuisine that is often short-shrifted with simple tacos and Americanized "Mexican" fare. Unfortunately, Californios fell short.

Overall, the food was quite good. Very well thought out and executed. Most plates were quite delicious! While there were no dishes I would beg you to go try, it was an excellent meal start to finish. Standouts were the ceviche flight, the banana and the tomato/lobster tostada. The non-alcoholic drink pairing was off the charts terrific. If you go, get that one. Wines were good, but the non-alcoholic pairing was truly special. 

The big miss of the restaurant was in the service. There were deeply substantive misses, such as being presented with dishes, drinks, the wine list, an introduction and rushed first drink pairings - all within 5 minutes of sitting down. There was no time to settle in and zero context for what you were about to enjoy. 

I was truly looking forward to an education in Mexican cuisine. "Let's talk about moles..." "Here are various ways masa is utilized throughout the country..." "This dish is from the northwest where they use XYZ techniques..." There was none of that. Like, none. The menu had detailed descriptions of each dish (which I have included in the captions), most of which I have no ability to recognize or understand. What is an aguachile? What is salsa verde? A mole? An arepa? I am no further in my understanding of Mexican cuisine following this meal than I was before it. And that is such a missed opportunity for a restaurant such as this!

Service was all over the place in other ways. Teresa dropped one of her first bites on the charger and it was messy. A few more courses (and servers) went by before a server (who was clearly the star) saw it and replaced it for a clean one. Some dishes were quickly whisked away from under us as we were still chewing. I requested a list of the non-alcoholic beverages I was enjoying and it was tossed on the table next to me mid-course without so much as a comment. 

Or the truffles. You can see in the photo below, they bring out a box with 2 sets of 3 truffles. (See the photo below.) After describing each of the 3 types, he asked Teresa which she wanted. She picked one (thinking they were clearly NOT giving you all 3...?) to which he replied "Are there any others you might like?" Talk about awkward. I just wanted to ask "What are we discussing here?? Are you trying to save these for another table...?" 

Oh - I must give a nod to the music. Their playlist was eclectic and outstanding. But the volume varied loud to disturbingly loud, except for about 10 minutes when it went away altogether. Seemed to match the plastic flowers on the table, which also made me raise an eyebrow. Two stars, right?

Californios has a long way to go for me to agree with its Michelin grade. It's 1, maybe 1.5. But the experience overall was deflating rather than elevating. And with such rich depth in the cuisine and culture, the missed opportunities to educate its audience and elevate our understanding of this food prevents me from recommending a return visit. 

Chillapita: masa cracker, jalapeno smoked sturgeon mousse, caviar...
It was plated on corn grinder. Really nice touch. Flavor was definitely elevated Mexican. Exciting start.
Hamachi taco. A Bolita Azul Masa shell with Hamachi, Habanada Vinaigrette and a Shinko Pear
Tostada. Xocuyul Rosado Masa Tostada topped with Maine Lobster poached in Sun Dried Tomato & Chile Puya Butter, and Early Girl Tomato. Really delicious and well conceived bite.
Arepa. Venezuelan Arepa made with Harina PAN, Crazy Curds Cheese from Achadinah, Jamon Iberico from Castro y Gonzales and Black Arkansas Apple Butter.
Sope. Black Masa Sope, Hokkaido Sea Urchin glazed in white soy and piloncillo, Camote Salsa, Chile Japones, and Royal White Surgeon Caviar. Yum!
Hielo. Lonely Mountain Farm Gooseberry Sorbet with Tomatillo in a Lemon Verbena infused Jimmy Nardello Juice.
Ceviche flight. This was really outstanding...
Kombu cured, cold-smoked local Halibut in a Thai Chili and Lime Coconut Aguachile...
Santa Barbara Spot Prawns in a saffron and kumquat aguachile, fresno chili oil, kumquat and aji lion...
...and Sustainably ranched Mexican Blue Fin Tuna, wraped in Jicama in a pomegranate and esplette aguachile
The non-alcoholic drink pairing was off the charts good. This was incredible...
Thai Iced Tea Milk Punch. Clarified milk punch with ritual spirit free rum replacement.
Banana. Grilled Cavendish Banana with savory dulce de leche topped with cold-smoked Kaluga Caviar. Incredibly yummy, but...
The plating was beautiful with the banana leaf, but the bowl made no sense. It required a lot of awkward digging to get at the food inside.
Escabeches: Salsa verde, fresh lime cheeks, lime-pickled onions, fermented carrots
Another incredible non-alcoholic drink: Puro Passion. Passionfruit, habanada chile, sel de gusano. For the 3 tacos that came next...
Berenjena. Hickory King Masa Tortilla with Japanese Eggplant with smoked King Trumpet Mushrooms, Mole Verde and Fig Salsa. Needed some lime and salsa verde but that lifted this to a terrific bite.
Pescado. Alfonsino Fish Tao (red snapper) brushed with a Chile Negro Paste on a HIckory King Masa Tortilla with Demi Sec Tomatoes, Currant Tomatoes from Tucker Taylor and Chile de Arbol Salsa. Outstanding.
Quesabirria. Bolita Azul Masa from Tierra Vegetable Farms with Chantrelle, Queso Oaxaca, and Burgundy Truffle....
Served with black truffle consomme. I didn't understand why this was here, though it was delicious.
Squab. Smoked squab served with grilled radicchio and grilled muscat grapes finished with mole manchamanteles. Perfectly done. I asked how this was Mexican and was told it was about the mole underneath.
Tamarindo. Ritual spirit free whiskey replacement, verjus mousse. So impressive.
Asado. Kozatsu olive fed wagyu from Shodoshima Island dressed in salsa macha jus. The steak was under so it ate fatty rather than unctuous. Served with...
Zuckerman Farms marble potatoes in chintexle paste and...
Patty Pan squash in a jalapeno & watercress vinaigrette. Beautiful presentation, but a bit tough to eat as it was all one ribbon.
Concha. Central coast creamery goat gouda and blackberry jame filling topped with black cocoa...
A look inside. Could have used more filling - ate a bit doughy.
Raspberry & Tomato Raspado with queso fresco ice cream, nixtamalized sun gold tomatoes and resh golden raspberries. Beautiful dish.
Another beautiful non-alcoholic pairing. Jamaica Coco. Hibiscus tisane, ancho chile, chef Sophie's vanilla, cocoa nib dust. Wow!
Nicuatole. Plantain and shared cultures cashew miso ice cream, whipped popcorn atole, 66% chocolate ganache, and a popcorn crumble. Served with a plantain and zacapa rum sauce.
The interior was truly beautiful. One of my more favorite dining rooms, for sure.
Fun pumpkin on the way in, though I find there is a inverse relationship between a restaurant's exalting of their star(s) and its delivery on the plate. I thought this was cute, but it also worried me. :)

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