Mexico + California: The Inventive, Engaging, Stunning Food at Californios [Review + Pics]

Thanks for the update. I still dream about my last meal there. Very inspired, delicious and unique.

Looks like reservations are sold out through the end of November. Or they pulled them all if they are going to move to a different platform than Tock.

Reservations are available again and they opened up dates until December 16. Menu price has gone up another $20 to $177/person before tax and service.

Chefs Val and David at it again. Definitely the best bites for me were the 2 tacos: 1) mushroom taco on blue masa tortilla (matsutake, maitake, morels, shredded fried scallions) and 2) squab breast on sourdough tortilla with mole. The matsutake’s pine note and the mushrooms’ smokiness were great with an '89 Sercial Madeira. Very complex moles with the right spice notes. Chanterelles were excellent. I didn’t think the caviar was really necessary in some of the other preps. I’d love it if they did an aguachile/ceviche, abalone soup, or carne asada / barbacoa again. I’ll have to visit again soon. Grabbed a same-day res 3 hours ahead - so check Tock for chef’s counter if you’re at all interested!

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Agreed. The shroom taco has incredible depth of flavor for something so simple. In fact, it’s probably my best bite of taco ever.

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Went twice in the last 1.5 months or so. Very similar menus to yours and as always a truly excellent meal.
Brought my own bottle of sake for the first meal, and the 2nd did the wine pairing of which there were quite a lot of great out of the box selections. You already named one of them, which was the Madeira with the smoked mushroom taco (one of my absolute favorite dishes, the umami alone from that was brilliant with a Junmai).

I enjoyed the lamb quite a lot as well, though they said the season is almost over. I had it twice, the first time they poured me a Rioja Alta 904 Gran Reserva 1997 to go with it (mostly to give me an idea of their wine pairing, and they were quick to realize the sake was at that point not as happening with the protein course for obvious reasons), and the 2nd time they ran out of that vintage, but poured us something 2005 or younger (forgot to take a picture) from an Alta Gran Reserva 809 that also worked. Though the 97 was phenomenal with its ultra fine and silky tannins, and a very thoughtful gesture on their part.

They ran out of uni for the mini taco dish one time, so I got toro as a substitute.

The strawberry ice dessert at the end was paired with a Marco Porello Birbet that was particularly refreshing and tasted like a sweet dessert sparkling sake.

I also went to their Cinco De Mayo celebration (tickets only appeared a few days before through Tock, most attendees were regulars), and it was a blast with fantastic food (or as they say in millennial speak, “lit as fuq”). I’ll have to dig up the photos for that one.

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Hi @BradFord,

Great report back! :slight_smile: The new menu sounds delicious and I can’t wait to go back next time we’re up there. The mushroom tacos sound lovely as well. (Thanks again for the great recommendation; there’s nothing like that in L.A.)

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Food looks great. I’m sure the mushroom tops my local mushroom taco at BS Taqueria!

Interestingly I recently had both the 1997 LRA 904 and the recently released 2009 in the same tasting with @brritscold and some others. Since we tasted them blind, the 1997 came up first and there’s no way I thought it was the older of the two! Incredibly youthful tasting, this wine has years and years ahead of it. I haven’t had any of the 890 yet though.

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Thanks so much for your feedback on the 904! I’ll definitely pickup some of the 2009s before they disappear and try some soon and then cellar for the future. I don’t recall the exact specifics of the 890 and at the time I didn’t realize 890 and 904 were different, but the 904 '97 was the clear winner. I also want to say I popped open a 904 2010 Alta Gran Reserva a few years ago at a Spanish restaurant and it was stellar, even though it was quite young to drink.

If it was a 2010, it was probably the LRA Vina Alberdi. The youngest vintage available on the 904 is the 2009. Some people actually prefer the Vina Alberdi to the bigger gun 904 and 890 wines because it is less expensive and because it sees less oak during aging (therefore less vanilla flavor on the nose and palate). If I’m only having one heavily oaked wine in the night and it is with a rich beef dish, it tends to bother me less. Last year I had the 2007 904 with a ribeye at home and it was great, though the buttery oak seemed to go with that meal. You might also try the Vina Ardanza which is around $30-35 retail. It is between the Alberdi and the 904 in terms of oak and aging. The 2008 Vina Ardanza has been out for some time, not sure if they are planning to release the '09 or '10 soon.

That is to say, LRA provides pretty good value for money anywhere in the range.

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agree that LRA, and Rioja in general, is great value. those gran reservas are beasts when young, it looks like they can go for decades effortlessly. Great posts, guys.

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Very nice @Chowseeker1999!

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Thanks @TheCookie. I think this is a place you’d really enjoy the next time you’re up in SF. A really special evening. :slight_smile:

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I love Californios! The missus likes it more than Manresa, Benu, or TFL.

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@Chowseeker1999. Thanks for sharing, the meal looks amazing!

Wonder how Californios compares to the heavy hitters in Mexico city like Pujol, Quintonil etc?

Hi @Sgee,

Thanks. :slight_smile: Have you been to Californios yet? Or did you try Pujol and Quintonil?

Unfortunately never been to any of them.

The only “fancy” Mexican dinner I’ve had so far is Taco Maria. I tried to book the Pujol pop-up dinner earlier this month at Cosme, however the reservations were literally gone in 60 seconds :pleading_face:

I believe Californios has hosted the chefs from either Pujol and/or Quintonil for collaborative dinners in the past, and Chef Cantu has also traveled to Mexico to dine and/or collaborate there as well.

Californios has an absolutely incredible team, and they make it look so effortless throughout dinner and have fun while doing so, and appear passionate and energetic. I’ve been once or twice when Chef Cantu was not there, and the current chef de cuisine David Yoshimura is amazing at what he does (his past experience is quite impressive), in addition to the rest of the kitchen staff and chef de partida, and delievered a world class dining experience. It looks like the previous sommelier Wendy Shoemaker has left (she was awesome too). Definitely world class service; they really give you personal attention and care, and it doesn’t come across as pretentious, no stuffiness, and very very genuine. Plus their interactions are very enjoyable especially if you also engage them and try to pick their brain on wine, sourcing, techniques, pairings, flavors etc.

Pretty much most of the major Californios staff (including kitchen folks) have their wine somm certifications, so they are already thinking about how food and wine go together. That is quite an accomplishment for the restaurant.

There was one time they couldn’t get uni, so they substituted it with toro (and it was not a great piece). Glad you got Hokkaido uni, mine was Santa Barbara when it was available.

Kudos to Chef Cantu for trying to use 30 day dry aged rib eye, too bad it was too lean and chewy. When they did buffalo, squab, a very specific breed of lamb when it was in season, as the animal protein course, it blew away any A5 they tried to use before. Did you give the management feedback about the beef being too dry? We want them to improve and they would be more than happy to listen.

Looking forward to when I return again next!

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Hi @beefnoguy,

Well said! :slight_smile: Yes, the service at Californios is so good; truly world-class, and not stuffy nor hovering, etc.

Yah, we ended up emailing the restaurant afterwards. That was the only miss of the night, even though it was well cooked (as you can see in the pic).

And thanks for pointing out their Chef de Cuisine, I just looked and saw that he served at Michelin 3 Star Ryugin in Tokyo (impressive), as well as Asador Etxebarri (Spain).

Thanks for the rec again. :slight_smile:

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