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Californios - Chef Val M. Cantu's Michelin-One-Star Mexican Tasting Menu in the Mission - with Sommelier Charlotte Randolph


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Went to Californios this week for the fourth or fifth time, and it once again blew me away.  The food is right up there with the best tasting menus in Mexico City, imo, maybe ranking just-under Pujol in my book.  It would not surprise me at all to see this get a second star in the next couple years.

Tickets are shockingly easy to come by for cooking of this caliber.  Food+tax+service comes to $204/person (at least for the tickets I bought this time) but the wine list is really fun so you'll probably end up spending more.  Thankfully, the ticketing system ensures that past-you pays for the food up-front and actually-eating-the-dinner-you only has to pay for booze. 

You should go.

I didn't take photos but this person did: 

"Mexico + California - The Inventive, Engaging, Stunning Food at Californios [Review + Pics]" on foodtalkcentral.com

3115 22nd Street (22nd & South Van Ness)

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We have a dinner there next month. Looking forward to it.

Our prepaid tix were $230 per person. B and I are light drinkers so that price doesn't include wine pairings. It'll be one glass for me and none for B (good thing too, since B is the designated driver). Alcohol makes me sleepy; one glass of anything is my limit.

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You guys need to go here pronto.

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Horchata - Koshihikari rice, almonds, black cardamom, cinnamon.

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Scallop chicharrón, scallop ceviche, crème fraîche.

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Jicama empanada, shiso, pumpkin, salmon roe.

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Smoked mushroom taco with pickled wild mushrooms.

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Dungeness crab tostada, sour orange segments, sour orange-habanero salsa, Castelfranco radicchio, tarragon.

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Pineapple guava sorbet

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Fuyu persimmon, habanero honey, tarragon

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Tasmanian trout ceviche, dashi, Granny Smith apple

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Aguachile, parsnip, red bell pepper

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Black bean tamales steamed in banana leaves, with salsa on the side

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Smoked squab broth, pomegranate seeds, cilantro flowers

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Tres frijoles with sturgeon caviar, shallots and edible gold leaf

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Black cod, salsa verde, green grapes

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Wagyu beef, pickled onion

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Smoked squab breast served with spiced cranberry sauce, quince simmered in cranberry juice, pickled Japanese turnips and charred scallion, and sourdough flour tortillas

Yes, it's the same squab from which the broth was made.

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Foie gras churro, with foie gras mousse, cinnamon sugar, served with hot milk chocolate infused with cinnamon, Lustau sherry and coffee.

By the time I remembered to take a pic, I'd eaten half of the churro. Dunk the churro into the chocolate.

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Dulce de leche spooned atop pear sorbet with chunks of Asian pear, macadamia nut butter

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Pecan ice cream, candied pecans, shortbread cookie, apples, clarified butter

The cookie was on top of the apples. Break the cookie and spoon everything over.

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Cherry extract digestif, vermouth, sweet Mexican lime

We'll definitely return. I'm an instant fan.

Californios
3115 22nd Street (South Van Ness)
Mission District

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well we were there last night, it was the fourth time we had been (2x at their old space and 2x at the current one).

we like the old space better, more intimate and there was a chef’s table. on the other hand, the food is still spectacular.

some highlights - you can find photos of all of the dishes on my ig

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Chilapita - masa tart made with Bolita Azul masa, smoked sturgeon mousse, golden osetra caviar

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Sope - black masa, sea urchin glazed in white soy and piloncillo, camote, Japones chiles and Siberian caviar

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sea bream ceviche in a green tomato aguachile with purslane and basil oil

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grilled Cavendish banana, savory dulce de leche, cold-smoked Kaluga caviar

this was a dish that appeared on their 2021 tasting menu. I was surprised to find it still present - surprised and delighted, actually. It's a favorite.

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lamb barbacoa taco, sourdough flour tortilla, English pea purée, ramps and pea tendrils

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Blackberry “glass” with blackberry coulis, goat cheese, hoja santa

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white corn ice cream, green sorrel yogurt foam, blueberries

 

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Went again on my first visit back to SF since the pandemic started.  Concur with @TrelayneNYCon highlights, the sope, banana dish, and the corn ice cream were hits for us as well.  In general, however, the food felt a little watered-down, as they are clearly gunning for three stars and maybe as a result have to do more of a lowest-common-white-people-denominator menu?  Nothing was spicy at all, several dishes felt like they were missing acidity.

But that's not the main reason I was bummed out about the meal: the service was _awful_.  I normally don't even comment on service, and I know running a restaurant in a pandemic has to be insanely difficult and stressful....but at this price point it should be at least good.  One of our table was vegetarian and he was served the wrong dish and inadvertently consumed pork (particularly bad because he's Jewish and keeps kosher).  We raised this as a concern and then a few courses later they did it again (thankfully this time the meat was obvious and he didn't consume any).  Just brutal. 

The music used to be a fun part of Californios, lots of hip-hop and old school R&B.  When we were there it flailed around between chill ambient background music, hip-hop, and at one point a hot country song.  It's a dumb thing to complain about but it was really distracting.

And finally, I really hate what they've done to the space.  It used to be so bright and airy when it was Bar Agricole, and they've tried to replicate the dark cavern vibes from the old Californios space, but failed spectacularly imo. 

Also the wine list still has some good stuff on it, but it leans way heavier into old-white-man Napa Cab type stuff than it used to.  Again I'm assuming this is because they're gunning for more stars and feel like people want to drink that stuff? But with food this delicate and sensual it feels like a complete throwaway of like a third of the wine list.

$361/person for food/tax/tip.  Compared with the $204 from five years ago, it sure feels like a worse experience for almost double the price.

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