Californios is a small place that has been around just 3 years but already has 2 Michelin stars. They serve only a surprise tasting menu of around 16 courses, and they will give you a list of what you had at the end. Portion control is outstanding – there’s enough to taste but no one course fills you up so you don’t want the others and you are satiated at the end of the meal. There are a few seats at the bar and a number of small tables. We were lucky to get some counter seats where you get to watch the cooking and have a chance to interact with the chefs, but it’s best to ask for these seats when you make your reservation if you want them. It is a lively, fun vibe with all the staff being really friendly and helpful.
The staff seems to genuinely enjoy what they’re doing and it carries over to the patrons. The food is creative and well-flavored and certainly worth a visit. It is based loosely on roots of Chef Val M. Cantu whose early years were in Texas where his father had a Mexican restaurant. His menu changes with the seasons and he tries to source the best of ingredients at the height of their season to present contemporary Mexican cuisine.
I liked that they started the meal by presenting you with a moist cloth to wipe your hands – a nice courtesy. We started with a refreshing cucumber beverage which was a light green liquid in a small glass that I didn’t photograph but the taste was true and it was a nice beginning. Tostada Kampachi was next which was chips and dip. The chips were thick and the dip had some goat cheese and something spicy. It made a fun snack.
Chicharrón – Chilhuacle Amarillo was a rice tortilla with ceviche that was spicy, crunchy and tart. It was a great rice tortilla and it all worked into a tasty bite.
Hongos or Mushrooms was a smoked mushroom taco with mushroom mole. This was really different and quite tasty.
Cangrejo Crab was Dungeness crab on a tostado with blood orange and radicchio. It was lovely.
The Guava sorbet was a palate cleanser that was sweet, fruity and delicious.
End of the season mandarin was with honey and other spices. It was sweet, fun and vibrantly colored.
Tasmanian sea-trout was used for the ceviche and was wrapped in apple ribbons with a dashi sauce and a bit of fresh chervil. The main taste here was the apple which overpowered the mild fish. It was still quite pleasant, though.
Asparagus were the first of the season and grilled. They were served with a garlic emulsion and some trout roe. They were strongly flavored and I could have eaten a pile of them.
The Santa Barbara uni was served on a yuca chip crunchy taco with avocado and pine nuts. The avocado had a good strong flavor and the pine nuts must have been toasted to bring out their taste so well. It was a great combination of flavors and textures – smooth and buttery.
The broth course was a smoked chicken broth with spring onion and flowers. It was meant to be drunk not spooned. The smoky essence was wonderful; it was very reminiscent of Texas.
Three beans was 3 beans in 3 ways. Royal Corona beans, bean liquor and cranberry beans were topped with White Sturgeon caviar. The top portion was creamy but hidden underneath were delicious bits of texture, which all were perfectly accented with the caviar. I licked up every bit of this one.
Salsa Verde pescado was a fried black cod on salsa verde with green grapes and olives underneath. The fish was sourced from the Bay area and it was perfectly cooked and wonderful. Moist and crisp it went perfectly with the salsa which didn’t overpower but instead enhanced it. A tiny piece of chayote lime was on top of this terrific combination. All the components really added and were important to the fantastic end result of this dish.
Carne Asada was made with Japanese A5 Miyazaki Wagyu beef. On the side were Black Perigord truffles shaved onto a potato. They had a wonderful earthy taste that went perfectly with the potato. The beef was fantastic, perfectly rare with a good sear to the edge. You didn’t need the fancy knife, you could cut it with a fork and then the rich outstanding flavor just melted in your mouth. A total winner here.
The squab and mole were served with house fermented sour dough tortillas. The mole had a lovely denseness and a little spiciness that went well with the smoked squab breast. The breast itself was a nice rare and very tender. Alongside were fermented and grilled pickles that also got a nice smokey flavor. Another really good course.
A churro was served alongside a chocolate drink with vermouth (rather than tequila). The churro was sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and then topped with a foie gras mousse. Crispy, cinnamon flavor and foie gras – how could you lose? This was amazing – yum x3!
Bartlett pear sorbet was served with dulce de leche for the next dessert. Macadamia nuts provided a bit of an accent here. It was good but hard to compete with the one before.
Pecan was the last dessert and they had tried to use California pecans but found they couldn’t compare to ones from San Saba, Texas – which they now import for their version of pecan pie. A French sugar cookie, called a sablé, is made with lots of butter and some salt. This sablé was the base of the dessert and topped with candied pecans while underneath were a few balls of apples that added another touch of sweetness. It all went together to make a fantastic version of pecan pie “Californios style”. Another Yum x2 here.
Lest you leave unsettled they served a “paloma” digestive drink of Ruby Red grapefruit juice, vermouth and lime. It came with the coolest spoon/straw that had a filter on the end so you wouldn’t accidentally suck up any seeds or ice. They think of everything here!