Review: Californios.

The Mission District in San Francisco is easily becoming the new hot spot for restaurants. Some of the city’s favorite restaurants are located there such as Foreign Cinema, Lazy Bear, Delfina, and Bar Tartine, just to name a few. So when I heard about a newly opened innovative Californian/Mexican inspired restaurant, I was more than intrigued.

Californios just opened three months ago and already it’s difficult to get a reservation. The restaurant itself is very small creating an intimate warm atmosphere. You can even watch chef Val M. Cantu and his kitchen brigade work behind the chef’s counter. Chef Val M. Cantu offers only one prix fixe nightly menu ($75/person) with multiple courses including amuse bouches, breads, and petite fours. His food reflects Californian cuisine with some Mexican and Asian touches using the freshest and most seasonal ingredients found within the area.

Menu.

Menu.

Amuse Bouche: Their Version of

Amuse Bouche: Their Version of “Chips and Salsa”, Chips with Trout Roe, Crème Fraîche, Red Pepper Sauce, and Black Bean Sauce (8/10).

Amuse Bouche: Hama Hama Lightly Poached Oysters with Green Garlic and Jicama (8/10).

Amuse Bouche: Lightly Poached Hama Hama Oysters with Green Garlic and Jicama (8/10).

Amuse Bouche: First of the Season Asparagus with Celery Root Yogurt (8.5/10).

Amuse Bouche: First of the Season Asparagus with Celery Root Yogurt (8.5/10).

Palate Cleanser: Rhubarb Granita with Kiwi Coulis and Poppyseed (7/10).

Palate Cleanser: Rhubarb Granita with Kiwi Coulis and Poppyseed (7/10).

Smoked Hamachi with Mandarinquat ,Serrano Chili, and Chive Blossoms (8.5/10).

Smoked Hamachi with Mandarinquat, Serrano Chili, and Cilantro Blossoms (8.5/10).

Close Up of the Hamachi.

Close Up of the Hamachi.

Potato Three Ways: Poached Potato, Potato Chip, and Potato Purée with Chipotle Adobo Sauce (8.5-9/10).

Potato Three Ways: Poached Potato, Potato Chip, and Potato Purée with Chipotle Adobo Sauce (8.5-9/10).

Buckwheat Sourdough Bread with House Cultured Butter (7.5-8/10).

Buckwheat Sourdough Bread with House Made Cultured Butter (7.5-8/10).

Four Types of Chicken Broth

Four Types of Chicken Broth “Soup” with Chicken, Herbs, and Pickled Turnips (7.5-8/10).

Close Up of the Soup.

Close Up of the Soup.

Egg and Tomato Consommé Custard with Radishes, Whipped Avocado, and Sturgeon Caviar (7.5-8/10).

Egg and Tomato Consommé Custard with Radishes, Whipped Avocado, and Sturgeon Caviar (7.5-8/10).

Halibut with Green Garlic and Shishito Pepper Mole and Finger Lime Caviar (8.5-9/10).

Halibut with Green Garlic and Shishito Pepper Mole, Charred Brussel Sprouts, and Finger Lime Caviar (8.5-9/10).

Close Up of the Halibut.

Close Up of the Halibut.

Homemade Tortillas with House Cultured Butter (8/10).

Homemade Tortillas with House Made Cultured Butter (8/10).

Duck with Fennel

Duck with Fennel “Pico de Gallo” and Jus (9/10).

Lemon Verbena Ice Cream with Goats Milk Kaffir Lime and Citrus on top of Almond Flan and Almond Brittle (8.5/10).

Lemon Verbena Ice Cream with Goats Milk Kaffir Lime and Citrus on top of Almond Flan and Almond Brittle (8.5/10).

Salted Caramel and Foie Gras Ice Cream with Brûléed Banana (8.5-9/10).

Salted Caramel and Foie Gras Ice Cream with Hazelnut Crumble and Brûléed Banana (8.5-9/10).

Petite Fours (8/10).

Petit Fours: Passionfruit Jellies, Cookies, and Caramels (8.5/10).

First of all, service was great at Californios. All the servers were extremely personable and friendly and since the restaurant is quite small, even the chefs would sometimes bring us our courses and explain the dishes in depth which I loved.

The food at Californios was extremely inventive and unique with combinations of flavors I had never tasted or expected. First, all the amuse bouches were delicious and the perfect way to start the meal. I especially loved the first of the season asparagus because it reflected simplicity and the importance of seasonality. My favorite dishes of the dinner were the hamachi, potato three ways, halibut, duck, and the salted caramel foie gras ice cream. The hamachi (yellowtail fish) was buttery with nuances of smoke served with sweet yet tart mandarinquat (a hybrid of mandarin and kumquat) and a touch of heat from the serrano chili. The potato three ways was a comforting vegetarian dish with meaty potato, crispy chip, and creamy purée with smoky spicy chipotle adobo sauce. The poached halibut was cooked to moist perfection with a scrumptious green garlic and shishito pepper mole sauce, charred brussel sprouts, and the perfect acidic and textural component from the finger lime caviar. Now you might be thinking, “what the hell is finger lime caviar?” Don’t worry, I thought the same thing. I asked one of the servers what it was and she happily brought me an actual finger lime.

Finger Lime.

Finger Lime.

If you push the outside of the fruit, tiny balls that look like caviar come out and actually taste like a less acidic version of lime! Very cool. The last savory course, the duck, was scrumptious served with crazy delicious jus and crunchy refreshing fennel “pico de gallo” with slices of sweet pickles and an herb that reminded me of Japanese shiso leaves. Both of the desserts were outstanding but the salted caramel foie gras ice cream, which might sound terrifying, was actually amazing! Although the foie gras flavor didn’t come out in the ice cream, it added a marvelous richness and creaminess to the ice cream which paired well with the brûléed banana. Even the petit fours served at the end of the meal were the perfect sweet bites to end a fantastic meal.

I found that chef Val M. Cantu’s food was not only beautifully presented but was truly creative. I couldn’t exactly say that the food was modern Mexican cuisine in the way I had imagined the meal would be like but I was more than pleasantly surprised with the dishes that were offered. Overall, I’d rate Californios at a 8.5/10.

2 thoughts on “Review: Californios.

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