Californios, San Francisco, 3/8/18

building
building

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.  

entrance
entrance

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.

interior
interior
kitchen
kitchen
interior
interior
Frankie sniffed the flowers
Frankie sniffed the flowers

 

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.

moist towel
moist towel
Tostada: Kampachi
Tostada: Kampachi
dip
dip part
chips
chips
wine front
wine front
wine back
wine back

 

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.

Chicharrón: Chilhuacle Amarillo
Chicharrón: Chilhuacle Amarillo
from the side
from the side
Frankie watched the kitchen action
Frankie watched the kitchen action

 

Hongos or Mushrooms was a smoked mushroom taco with mushroom mole.  This was really different and quite tasty.

Hongos: Mushrooms
Hongos: Mushrooms
closer
closer
kitchen action
kitchen action
and Frankie
Hugo, one of the fun and welcoming staff with Frankie

 

Cangrejo Crab was Dungeness crab on a tostado with blood orange and radicchio.  It was lovely.

Cangrejo: Crab
Cangrejo: Crab
closer
closer
Frankie liked the name in the bottom of the water glass
Frankie liked the name in the bottom of the water glass

 

The Guava sorbet was a palate cleanser that was sweet, fruity and delicious.

Hielo: Guava
Hielo: Guava
closer
closer
Frankie thought the neon was a dramatic affect for a bathroom
Frankie thought the neon was a dramatic affect for a bathroom

 

End of the season mandarin was with honey and other spices.  It was sweet, fun and vibrantly colored.

Cítrico: Mandarin
Cítrico: Mandarin
little closer
little closer
wine front
wine front
wine back
wine back
Frankie posed in the colored lights
Frankie posed in the colored lights

 

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.

Ceviche: Trout
Ceviche: Trout
closer from the side
closer from the side
other end
other end
working with the apple
working with the long ribbons of apple

 

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.

Espárragos: Asparagus
Espárragos: Asparagus
closer
closer
asparagus cooking
asparagus cooking
Frankie liked watching the action
Frankie liked watching the action

 

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.

Yuca: Uni
Yuca: Uni
closer
closer
Frankie studied the holder
Frankie studied the holder

 

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.

Caldo: Broth
Caldo: Broth
from the side
from the side
Frankie sniffed the broth
Frankie smelled the broth

 

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.

Tres Frijoles: Three Beans
Tres Frijoles: Three Beans
closer
closer
inside
inside

 

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.

Pescado: Salsa Verde
Pescado: Salsa Verde
closer
closer
inside
inside
Frankie checked out the knives
Frankie checked out the knives for the next course

 

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.

other knife
other knife
Carne Asada: Wagyu
Carne Asada: Wagyu
closer
closer
another angle
another angle
closest meat
closest meat
truffles
truffles
under truffle
under truffle
beef cooking
beef cooking

 

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.

tortillas
tortillas
Pichón: Squab
Pichón: Squab
closer
closer
closer
squab closer
closer
mole, onion and pickles
with tortilla
with tortilla
Frankie warmed on the conatiner
Frankie warmed on the conatiner

 

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!

Churro and drink
Churro and chocolate drink
Churro: Foie Gras
Churro: Foie Gras
little closer
little closer
detail
detail
drink
chocolate drink
with Frankie
David Yoshimura, Chef de Cuisine, with Frankie

 

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.

Dulce de Leche: Pear
Dulce de Leche: Pear
closer
closer

 

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.

Nuez: Pecan
Nuez: Pecan
another angle
another angle
closer
closer
Frankie offered her help
Frankie offered her help

 

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!

Digestivo: Paloma
Digestivo: Paloma
Frankie thought a digestive was a good idea
Frankie thought a digestive was a good idea
end of the metal straw/spoon
end of the metal straw/spoon
Frankie accepted our menu
Frankie accepted our menu
IMG_5192
menu cover
IMG_5190
menu
Chef and Frankie
Chef and owner Val M. Cantu and Frankie

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