Brand new Mission restaurant Californios is a truly tucked-away, romantic little spot that could end up being a runaway hit. After opening just after the new year, former Sons & Daughters line cook Val Cantu has been impressing early-adopter foodinistas in a cool new space on 21st Street with just one very reasonably prix fixe option eight courses for $57, and some excellent wine pairings from co-owner and beverage director Charlotte Randolph can be had for $35 more.
The place is billed as showcasing Cantu's modern take on Mexican flavors, but the Mexican influences are subtle this is, by and large, some high-end California cuisine in the style of Sons & Daughters, Coi, or Lazy Bear, with a few more flecks of chili and some whispers of Mexican ingredients thrown in.
An example is the delicious crudo course, which features a couple of pristine slices of lightly smoked kanpachi (yellowtail), lightly dusted with sea salt, and served with shaved Serrano chili, breakfast radish, and an aguachile of white wine vinegar, lemon juice, smoked fish stock, steeped with red jalapeños and Serrano peppers.
As Cantu explains, "Aguachile is a traditional ceviche liquid that incorporates spices into it. We modify ours by using the fish stock and lemon juice as opposed to lime which can be too harsh for the fish we are using."
It's a dish not unlike something you might find elsewhere in the spectrum of crudos citywide, but with a refined lens on the citrus-chili combination found in Mexican ceviches. The resulting clear liquid on the dish was, in fact, so good I spooned it up like cold soup after eating the fish.
Californios - 3115 22nd Street near South Van Ness - Open Tuesday through Friday from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., and until 10:30 p.m. on Saturday - Reservations here
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