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.
Replying to Steven Smith
What do you think? I'd love to hear from you.