Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Baja Blue Restaurant in San Diego


Baja Blue began learning the art of Mexican cooking as an eight-year-old-boy in his mother’s seafood restaurant. “In my family, cooking is a big deal,” Sergio says. “My grandmother was also a great chef.”
Along the way, Sergio worked in the US at another of our favorite restaurants–the Paradise Grille, located on the Esplanade in Capitola, California. To this day, the Paradise Grille has what I consider the world’s best clam chowder–a Marsala-infused true “change-your-life” experience. The bottom line: Sergio’s been sharpening his restaurant chops for a long time, learning from many fine chefs.
Kim Gianotti-Keltio a newcomer to California and San Diego, arrived four months ago and fell in love with the town. In her “other” life up north she is a successful real estate broker.
“Suddenly, here it is in November and I’m opening a restaurant,” she says with a easy laugh. “I’d never even been to Mexico before.”

The exterior of Baja Blue La Casita is bright Mexican sunshine yellow. The roof is natural palapa palm-frond. The interior a soothing mix of appetizing oranges, reds, blues and papaya yellow.

As you enter Baja Blue, a comfortable seating area with overstuffed furniture beckons you to have a cocktail, or settle in right there for the entire meal. The restaurant is not large–perhaps only 10 tables. The tables and and chairs are colorful works of art–simple, unpretentious, yet selected with an eye for detail.
As a diner I am a huge proponent of proper lighting–especially in restaurants– and Baja Blue does it right. They use soft incandescents (not buzzing fluorescents) filtered through natural wicker fixtures that make every diner look like a movie star. When we arrived, Baja Blue’s interior also glowed with the light of about 100 candles reflected in large mirrors on each wall.

Baja Blue prides itself on providing excellent service. The wait staff is friendly and attentive and all speak Spanish and English.

With 21 choices on the menu, it’s challenging to know where to start.
Drinks, of course!
Penny and I have been to Baja Blue twice, and I have yet to make it beyond the sangria and onto the extensive wine list. (I promise to visit Baja Blue again in the very near future and update you further on the wine choices!)
Sergio says the sangria is his grandmother’s secret, a closely-guarded family recipe. Somehow this amazing abuela concocted a seductive tango of wine and fruit juice. The blend dances in your mouth–neither one overpowering the other. Small chunks of fresh fruit add a satisfying crunch.
We started our meal with a plate of scrumptious garlic bread crostini served with balsamic vinegar and pesto reduction sauce. The bread was fresh and just slightly crunchy, the basil aromatic, with just the right amount of nutty flavor in the olive oil.
Next, we moved on to the fresh locally caught yellowtail sashimi drizzled with soy-orange vinaigrette artfully presented in a star-shaped pattern on the plate ($115 pesos). Each triangle of fish in the display was topped with a dot of spiracha, a bold Japanese hot sauce that is more complex than its Mexican counterparts. The flavor is smoky, with a fine texture and a kick that hits the roof of your mouth.  This particular recipe comes from Sergio’s sister-in-law. It’s pictured below.

In the mood for shrimp? Try Baja Blue’s pineapple version. It’s served on a half-inch thick slab of fresh pineapple drizzled with a tamarind sauce and topped with grated coconut.
Picking a favorite dish for the evening is tough decision, but the smoked tuna Won Tons would have to be contenders. The recipe comes from mainland Mexico, where they use green mangrove wood to smoke the tuna. The tuna is shredded and used to top a wafer-thin Won Ton base. Your mouth will explode with unexpected salty/sweet/smoky flavors. The texture of the machaca (shredded)-like tuna is light and satisfying. See the photo, below.

I can also personally recommend the tequila-jalapeno sea bass in a light cream sauce. This is a large portion of light, firm-textured, white-fleshed local sea bass that was, in one word, perfect.
If you’re a meat eater, you might opt for the scrumptious-sounding  ribs in chipotle raspberry sauce.
I also noticed many orders of Brazilian steak leaving the kitchen of Baja Blue sous-chefs Luis Espinosa and Gladys Pacheco. The steak is charbroiled in coffee, cinnamon, herbs and topped with a bourbon shallot cream sauce. It’s cut into great thin strips.
For a more Mexican flair, select a caramelized red onion cactus quesadilla with garlic tomato sauce.

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