Any birthday celebration isn’t complete without great food and company.
Tommaso surprised me with a birthday dinner at Californios, his old workplace, and it surely didn’t disappoint. I’ve dined here twice in the past years ago (read my thoughts here) and now the restaurant recently moved from the Mission District to the SOMA. Their new beautiful and sleek space is larger than their previous quaint location and offers a secluded outdoor patio along with its spacious indoor dining. While their indoor dining isn’t ready yet, I loved their outdoor dining with the greenery.
Their tasting menu format is similar to before with various small courses.
A refreshing drink of saffron, mint, and Golden Nugget mandarin.
These little bites were a fun way to start the meal. Starting from the left, there was an airy chicharrón topped with rainbow trout roe, chive mousse, and shavings of black summer truffle. Next was a perfectly ripe slice of pluot with salty 18-month aged Serrano ham and lemon basil. In the middle was a crispy Venezuelan arepa with Tsar Nicoulai’s white sturgeon caviar. Next was a croquette with gooey Oaxaca cheese. Lastly there was a fried kusshi oyster with green tomato salsa, celery powder, and celery leaf.
In the forefront was the chilapita, a regional dish from Guerrero, Mexico. Their version was a masa tart filled with a creamy smoked sturgeon mousse and topped with Kaluga caviar. Hard not to like. The tostada had seaweed cured hamachi with Brokaw avocado, fermented red pepper, and preserved lemon jelly.
An infladita is a fried puffed tortilla with some sort of filling. Their black masa version was stuffed with guajillo chileatole and topped with sweet Hokkaido sea urchin. A delicious bite.
I really enjoyed this palate cleanser with its clean crisp flavors of Galia melon granita, sweet Chareau compressed Galia melon, and fragrant lemon verbena.
Starting from the left, the yellow peaches from K&J Orchards with chilhuacle amarillo chamoy, a type of chili pepper, were phenomenal. The fruit was so perfectly ripe, sweet, and juicy. Next was the meaty bluefin tuna with watermelon aguachile, jalapeño, and sweet basil. Lastly was the Royal Red shrimp with avocado, first of the season juicy cherry tomatoes, and Thai chile.
This outstanding dish was one of the highlights of the tasting menu where the grilled banana was placed on top of a savory-sweet dulce de leche and topped with smoky Golden Osetra caviar. Insanely delicious.
The next few dishes consisted of their taco tasting served with fermented carrots, lime-pickled onions, salsa verde, and key limes.
This taco was made with Cònico Azul masa filled with rich Montezuma red beans, nopales, smoked Cotija cheese, and fresh lettuce.
The next taco was their succulent rockfish al pastor with grilled smoked pineapple and cilantro.
The last taco, my favorite of the three, was the squab árabe. The marinated and grilled squab was immaculately cooked, medium-rare and tender, and was served with a sourdough tortilla, cucumber crema, and Aleppo pepper salsa. I could have easily eaten a few more.
The last savory dish was a beef course where we had the option of ordering either the Snake River Farms beef ribeye or A5 Miyazaki wagyu ribeye. We choose one of each to taste the difference (only wagyu pictured) and both were equally delicious. While the A5 Miyazaki had a more buttery flavor, the Snake River Farms ribeye had a deep meaty flavor. Both were equally tender and cooked perfectly. Served with a beautiful slow-smoked heirloom tomato, spring onion, and grilled summer squash, this was a great dish to finishing off the savory courses.
The previous times I dined at Californios, their desserts were simpler and now that they have a designated pastry chef, they’ve really stepped up their dessert game.
The first round of desserts were called “frutas”, a compilation of fruit-forward sweets. The single golden raspberry on ice was most likely the best raspberry I’ve ever had in my life and I’m not exaggerating. The flavor was so pure. The digestivo packed a punch with its pungent ginger juice, Lustau Royal vermouth, and pink lady apple juice. The mosaic of buttermilk sorbet with key lime and blueberry with a sprinkle of makrut lime salt was the perfect balance of tanginess and sweetness. The mostachón de fresca, a Mexican walnut meringue cake, had cream cheese and vibrant strawberry sorbet. Lastly, and my favorite, was the blueberry empanada served with the most scrumptious orange blossom honey custard.
The tasting menu ended with a delicious take on a Mexican candy bar called “bubulubu”. Their version had a milk chocolate mousse inside with tonka bean bavarios topped with Royal Tioga cherries. The spun coconut sugar, basically like cotton candy, had a piña colada paleta inside (ice pop) which was such a fun whimsical dessert. We ended the meal with various bonbons such as caramel with candied cocoa nibs, tamarind and chile bourbon, and white chocolate with honey and bee pollen.
Chef Val, Tommaso’s former boss, was sadly out of town when we dined but he was nice enough to write a sweet card as they still regularly talk.
It’s been fun watching the evolution of Californios as I first dined at their old location in 2015 and they’ve come a long way. While the savory dishes have a similar vibe to before, the sweets really shined in this tasting menu. The new space is definitely worth checking out for any special occasion.