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Monday, May 3, 2010
Cebicheria Erizo, Tijuana,BC- Top Ceviche Master
After a 3 and a half hour tasting at Villa Saverios the night before, a 9-course tasting to be exact, that closed down the restaurant, Javier Plascencia suggested we have lunch the next afternoon before we left at his 9 month old Cebicheria Erizo. After 2 multiple course tastings personally attended by this gifted chef and some amazing tacos out at Vina Liceaga's Campestre this past summer, I'm starting to believe this guy knows what he's doing. And, when he recommends I check out another one of his restaurants, I should heed the call.
Cebicheria Erizo is located on Sonora St., just south of Agua Caliente in the charming Chapultepec neighborhood of Tijuana. It's in the same strip mall with Cafe Saverios, also owned by Javier, and just down the street from La Tia, an old school Mexican restaurant featuring the traditional recipes of Javier Plascencia's aunt. Yes, I have to go there, too.
The restaurant is simple and sleek, and would look perfectly at home in Westwood, or Sherman Oaks. It's the perfect lunch option in Tijuana, I mean if you're into experiencing possibly the greatest cevicheria/cebicheria on the planet. The highest expression of Mexican "ceviche" is currently happening in Baja, specifically Tijuana and Ensenada. Baja has the traditional street cart ceviches from Sinaloan, Nayaritan, and Sonoran cocktailers, and the alta cocina versions in the gastronomic zones of Tijuana and Ensenada. Cebiche is spelled the Peruvian way here at the restaurant, in most of the spanish speaking world it's ceviche.
Javier wanted to bring the street cart into his restaurant, but wanted to put "ceviche" in the high regard "cebiche" receives in Peru. He's very well traveled and studied ceviche in Peru, all over Mexico. He even offers his own rendition of a Peruvian ceviche, but this isn't a fusion restaurant. It's 100% Baja Californian. All local products, including pismo clams, geoducks, chocolata clams, garra de leon scallops, callo de hacha scallops from the Sea of Cortez, crab, and locally caught fish.
The menu has classic dishes from all over Mexico reinterpreted as seafood dishes. The Mexico city classic, Carne Asada a la Tampiquena, done with a salmon steak. They also do the Sinaloan pescado zarandeado with market fish selection of the day. Cucaracha shrimp are done in the Jaliscan valentina sauce.
With great friends Barbara Hansen, John Sedlar, Brian, and Tomo, we set about ordering drinks and tackling this exciting menu. I guess I was the first to spot the card on the table advertising their specialty, pisco sours, the national cocktail of Peru made with pisco, a Peruvian grape distillate, and egg whites. Everyone's head tilted when I said, "I'll have the passion fruit, pisco sour." There were three "me toos" and a tamarind pisco sour within nanoseconds.
We were pretty worn from four tasting menus, traveling, wine tasting, and a couple of us were snoozing on the way to the Cebicheria, but it seemed a shame not to utilize these five professional stomachs for a real run of the menu. Javier even upped the stakes and sent out a treat at the end of our tasting, an off menu item, that should be a regular addition to this deep but well executed menu.
Carpaccio de Pulpo
Hypotheses were abound trying to figure out how Javier gets his octopus carpaccio to adhere. I heard transglutaminase(protein glue), some name of a fancy device, but Javier shrugged, "uh, just the natural adhesive quality of the octopus."
The dish has a seven chile oil sauce, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and is topped by thin strips of nopal. Not only is this dish unique and visually enticing, it is a so delicious. The octopus is tender, and you get to adorn it with these fresh flavors and textures.
The usual vegetables in the ceviche idiom, purple onion, cilantro, tomato, and cucumber are given a broader range of expression here.
Tiradito de Callo Garra de Leon Sellado al Natural
The tiger paw scallops,callos garra de leon, have the firmness of tuna steaks, and a more pure scallops flavor, not like the more watery diver scallops. These are perfect for raw preparations and a treasure of the Baja Peninsula waters.
Kumquats are the citric flash cooking agents here, with a volcanic sea salt. Lime and other citric fruits are added, a little olive oil, and the local sea asparagus, salicornia are on these thin cut scallops strips with pristine avocado. The best Baja seafood with new subtleties and complexities of flavor.
The Peruano Mixto, a mixed Peruvian style cebiche with shrimp, fish, and octopus rejects the typical Peruvian restaurant practice of using the frozen imported choclo(Peruvian corn) in favor of fresh local corn and sweet potato. "But,but, the choclo...it's authentic..." Well, let me repeat, this is Mexican, and Javier is a consummate chef that will never use frozen or packaged products. Why, when there's great local corn?
Verde de Camaron
The green ceviche combines serrano chiles with a touch of habanero in a tomatillo salsa. More flavorful than spicy in this case, no need to hesitate. Green onions, cilantro, and avocado complete this green,mean machine.
The Petroleo Especial, Petroleum special, is a cebiche made with squid ink. This fascinating cebiche has squid, geoduck clam, scallops and shrimp accented with tomatillo, cucumber and purple onion.
The cebiche broth here is lush with dark intensity but well-balanced, the squid ink does not overwhelm. But, don't wear a white shirt if ordering this.
The Callo de Hacha, raw scallops came with the local callo de hacha type scallops and the garra de leon. A milder tear drop tomato and citrus fruits let the scallops shine in this dish, callo de hacha is traditionally served raw with lime, seasonings, purple onion, and cucumber. The dish here gives a nod to the carreta, street cart, but elevates the taste without losing any soul.
We concluded the cebiche portion of our lunch with Tres Almejas, a showcase of Baja's geoduck, chocolata(my favorite), and pismo clams.These are the Supremes of the bivalve girl groups. The more aggressive chocolata is on lead, with the smooth and tender pismo, and the savory and crisp geoduck. This was a climactic finish to the cold portion of our lunch.
A pair of iconic Baja dishes started the hot portion of the afternoon. Toritos, the Baja street food version of a chile relleno typically comes in the chile guero stuffed with shrimp or marlin, and wrapped in bacon. It's a greasy 3:30AM curiosity for those from out of town. "Hey...look, little chile rellenos!" "That's cool."
They come with either sautéed crab and shrimp, or a machaca of smoked tuna(marlin).Whether it is smoked tuna or marlin, on the street it's called marlin. The conventional battered chile guero is used by Javier instead of bacon, and a lime and soy sauce accomplish a duality. Chiles gueros, blond chiles, are roasted, dropped in lime and soy, and dusted with pico de gallo powder, a chile-salt mixture. They are a standard amuse bouche at seafood stands and restaurants. Cebicheria Erizo's toritos are a little of both worlds.
Sope of Chorizo de Abulon, abalone chorizo, made in house are a unique dish only available in Baja, and perhaps at Contramar in Mexico City. This chorizo comes from the Isla de Cedros where the abalone catch was preserved in chorizo to keep from spoiling when the boats failed to show up to deliver the fresh abalone to the peninsula. Chorizo de abulon is divine, I love the firmness and delicate taste of abalone with the vinegary spicings.
Make it a point to order tacos at any of Javier's restaurants, his are exceptional. Cochinita pibil, Yucatan style pit roasted pork is given the Baja treatment with swordfish. Our July blogger trip in Baja experienced these sublime achiote laced fish tacos, and they were one of those items everyone wanted to have again sometime. Well, here there are.
I dressed this precious little one with the attention one has to only their children. Habanero, and pickled red onion, the essence of Yucatan street tacos.
As much as I love the swordfish pibil, the Birria de Jurel(jack). Beef birria is regional Tijuana taco, and the small blue pot is a trubute to the pot style birria found on the streets of Baja. The jack is a nice match with the cumin, and proprietary spicings of this soupy good time.
This is an amazing seafood transcription of the birria taco, and the self assembly experience is just like standing with your friends at a birria stand after you leave La Mezcalera bar at 2AM, expertly finishing your taco and devouring it before you head off to the next party.
The special treat Javier had planned was a tableside fish baked in salt. He appreciates the Italian roots of his family with dishes such as this. In lieu of the Italian branzino is the lobina, or large-mouthed bass. Lobina is highly valued in Sinaloa for its flavor and texture, similar to the firm Baja scallops. I've had callo de lobina(raw preparation with lime and spices) in Baja, Sinaloa, and Sonora, but this fish is a natural choice for baking in salt.
After our waiter chipped away the salt, he carefully rolled the skin off before serving. When you try this dish, the first thing that comes to mind is that it isn't salty at all, but the flesh of the fish is supple and the flavor is huge.
An aji amarillo applied sparingly is the most pleasurable bite. Perfect white rice and some black pot beans come on the side.
Save room for dessert. Javier makes wonderful desserts like this Killer de Chocolate and the Guava Tart.
Oh, I guess you're wondering about the erizo(sea urchin) by now? There are sea urchin dishes here but they were out of it that day. But, it just so happens that I make it to Tijuana quite often. Here they are.
The tiradito de erizo, or sea urchin strips, came with a light Baja style splash of umami, and fresh diced tomato, cucumber, chopped cilantro and peppers. Sublime.
The shot erizo preparado con leche de tigre, urchin shot with a Peruvian tiger's milk chaser is fantasic. The creamy sensation of sea urchin is chased by a ceviche juice beverage, and is presented as a deconstructed ceviche. Baja urchin is superb, and the more I dine on urchin here, the less I associate this delicacy with anyplace except Baja.
A lovely surprise hides at the bottom, a raw quail egg.
I've had ceviche on all the oceans of Mexico, and the best Mexican and Peruvian restaurants in LA. This may be as good as it gets for a cebicheria, or a cevicheria.
Ave Sonora No 3808-11
barrio Chapultepec, south of Agua Caliente