Monday, February 7, 2011

Mision 19 Cocina de Autor, Tijuana,B.C: Javier Plascencia's Mission

In the movie Once Upon a Time in Mexico,FBI Agent Sands,played by Johnny Depp says to El Cucuy, played by legendary Mexican-American character actor Danny Trejo:(Sands)"So--are you a MexiCAN--or a MexiCAN'T?"(Cucuy)"I'm a MexiCAN."

I laughed my ass off when I saw that scene, but--the joke would be on me years later when I began to help spread the word about the incredible culinary movement going on in Baja. I encountered mostly MexiCAN'ts. My beloved Mexico is not progressive and active when it comes to promoting its tourism, and remains entrenched in policies that don't work run by out-of-touch, self-serving entities.

But, the handful of MexiCANS(Mexicans who can-do) are single-handedly lifting Baja out of the ashes and into the spotlight with very little support, not an easy task.

Chef Javier Plascencia is one such MexiCAN in Tijuana actively moving the great culinary city forward. He recently resurrected Caesar's Restaurant, the birthplace of the Caesar's salad, and lovingly restored it to its 1927 slendor. And, last month he opened perhaps the most important restaurant in Mexico right now, Mision 19, in Baja's first green building, the Via Corporativo.This is author's cuisine, but the flavors and techniques are chef Javier Plascencia's own brand of Baja Californian cuisine.

Javier's mission is not just to save Tijuana, but to lead the way in letting the world know, that there has been a shift in convention. Mexico City has always been Mexico's leader in fine dining, but recent trips to Contramar,and Pujol, among others, top seafood and fine dining restaurants in Mexico City, respectively, have led me to a confirmation of what I had already summized: Baja is the new center of Mexican wine, seafood, and contemporary cuisine in Mexico.

Mexico City's traditional cuisine, cantinas,fondas,comida corrida, taquerias, and street food leave all comers in the dust, but Mexico City's fine dining neighborhoods Polanco and Condesa have been usurped by Tijuana, and Ensenada: Javier's Mision 19 and Cebicheria Erizo; Miguel Angel Guerrero's La Querencia; Benito Molina's Manzanilla, Muelle Tres, and Silvestre; along with many others, are creating new dishes and have taken Mexican fine dining to the next level.

Even Rick Bayless himself has kept his eye on this region in recent years. He'll be dropping in soon, oh yeah,straying very far north of his myopically idealized "great cuisines" of Mexico: Mexico City, Oaxaca and Vera Cruz; to give Baja a look see.

At Mision 19, the Mexican fine dining experience has been refined, perfected; it's a farm to table experience that couldn't be accomplished in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York; it is a California mission for the 21st century tending towards a local and sustainable kitchen.

Local produce is used as much as possible, the staff trolls the Mercado Hidalgo in Tijuana, but also farmer's markets in San Diego, produce from Milpa Farms in San Ysidro; chef Javier lives in Tijuana and San Diego, physically and conceptually. This is the only farm to table restaurant rooted in Baja and Alta California.

Joining me at Mision 19's chef's table, available for groups of 6-8 diners, were two and a half Boobs, that's Boobs4Food, the volunteer organization that works to fight hunger, Patrica Chen(pictured left),Katherine Chen(pictured right), Jessica Chen, and running buddy, Chuy Tovar of Real de Mexico tequila.We were later joined by a friend in Tijuana, and one of Javier's associates.Couldn't have had a better group of people to enjoy this amzing night in Tijuana, which wouldn't end 'til Chuy and I returned to the hotel, 'round 5AM. Tijuana nights!!

In this green building's foyer, a comfortable lounge for the movers and shakers of Tijuana is the centerpiece for the Mandioka Deli,the Cielo Water Bar and Restaurant, and the Via Gourmet.

Best of all, the Contra wine bar, one of the best wine retailers in Mexico has a branch right in the Via Corporativo. If Mision 19 doesn't have what you need, a top notch Baja wine shop is a hop, skip, and a jump away.

The cieling rose in bluelit Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back-like chasm. This place is ultra hip.

There's even a small art gallery featuring local artists; outside on the court are kumquat trees, and other citrus trees used in Mision 19's kitchen.

The space is the best of all the restaurants Javier has been visiting, contemporary, and sleek. After a relaxed tour of the facilities, it was time to take our seats at the chef's table, for the ultimate Mexican fine dining extravaganza.

Our first would be a slight turn on every day street food charm, an asian pear with Tajin(chili-salt for fruit)and chapulin(known as worm salt)salt. This had the appeal of jicama from a corner fruit stand but with bolder flavor.

Locally grown Kumamoto oyster, a favored component of the Baja kitchen,was grilled and topped with a chicharron of short rib, in a serrano soy with grapefruit. The flavors here sing the virtues of Baja cuisine:a blend of Mexican, Asian, and Mediterranean attributes; in this dish we enjoyed textures as diverse as the quiet hills of the Valle de Guadalupe, to the Dr. Suess-like Vizcaino desert, to the cactus bordered, white-sand beaches of Coronado Island off the coast of Loreto. This is some fancy cocktailing, and we loved it.

Locally farmed blue-fin tuna in a parfait of homemade cultured cream(jocoque)Persian cucumber, ponzu gele, a Meyer lemon curd, a playful sting of habanero oil, and chicharrones. Everything is right about this dish, my favorite of the night.

Mision 19 has a sommelier well-versed in Baja wines; he suggested the Roganto sauvignon blanc for our early course, a young, fruity wine clearly set apart from California or other New World sauvignon blancs. Baja wine goes well with the spice in Mexican cuisine.

A pasta-less wagyu ravioli with a pinto bean and sesame oil filling,local shitake mushroom, iced feta cheese(make by polyscience), and plump, heirloom beans known as scarlet runners.

Another candidate for the best bite of the evening was a gossamer thin strip of beef tongue is bursting with Iberian flavors: a warm blood-sausage vinaigrette, beech mushrooms, elephant garlic chips, an pimenton aioli, and arugula.Chewing is hardly required for this delicate plate.

Another Spanish style dish served Baja-style, pinchos(food served on a stick, or spike) of Pacific octopus done two ways, in a croquette and whole tentacle, char-grilled; paired with Tijuana three street-style salsas; tomatillo sauce, a habanero-pasilla romesco, and a Mediterranean jalapeno labne. These couldn't have been grilled better; chef Javier loves octopus, and developed a great range of sauces for this dish.

For the later half of our dinner, the sommelier suggested the Minotauro, a red blend that was new to me, but another outstanding Baja wine that has found a way to turn the inherent mineral flavors of the wine into an asset.

This was a pleasant surprise. Mision 19 succeeds where most fine-dining restaurants in Mexico City and other parts of Mexico, as well as many great restaurants in Baja fail.The wine list focuses on the best producers, there are bottles in the mid-price range that are solid,and the sommmelier knows the wineries, he's up-to-date. The sommmelier at Pujol was a pleasure to talk to and provided professional service, but had never visited Baja. The list was out of touch. Many other rely too heavily on large producers of mediocre to bad wine, and tired labels.

It would be hard to find another restaurant in Mexico right now that does a better job with Mexican wine.

Asado de cochinillo, a Niman Ranch pork butt with Berkshire pork belly on a corn masa crepe, with cilantro, green onion, chile de arbol salsa, and a brown sugar and tamarind salsa. A final garnish of salt-cured cactus give this uptown taco a range of exciting components, which is what tacoing is all about.

Pan seared Sonoma County foie gras was accompanied by a familiar textural contrast by a corn tamale crumble, puffed wild rice; and sweetened by a shaved cone of Mexican brown sugar with chipotle syrup, candied kumquat, and cherry smoke. Oh, spicy-sweet foie gras is amazing, this is a desconstructed dessert tamale, a new Tijuana classic.

Our last savory course was Javier's beef short rib, a stand-out dish at his Test Kitchen run, with masa dumplings, homemade mole negro, raw cacao,Mission figs, and smoke; this time wrapped in a plantain leaf, fig leafs aren't in season at this time.

Dessert was a quartet of Mexican-themed ice creams: vanilla bean with pear poached in Baja Muscat wine, pistachio with a sour cherry compote, nata cream with candied lemon, and my favorite, Mexican chocolate with sweet paprika and bacon.

The cheese service, and other best in show for Mexican cuisine; four Baja California cheese, two from Ramonetti, a top producer of aged Mexican cheeses just south of Ensenada,a pair from Rancho Cortez, and also a couple of Ovejas from the state of Queretaro.

Baja California is making aged cheeses, bleus, and other fine cheeses, so new that a recent book I purchased covering cheese production all over Mexico had no information on Baja cheeses. Only the Baja chefs and their friends in Mexico City know about this stuff. Other Baja restaurants use these cheeses and do proper service, like Benito Molina's Manzanilla, but only a few.Mision 19 is giving Baja cheese a well-deserved showcase, fine Mexican cheeses accompanied by housemade condiments with local nuts and fruits.

To fuel my night on the town with Chuy, I ordered up an expresso, which was prepared at the table with a hand-held expresso machine. The coffee service at Mision 19 was developed by a local barista, Alejandro Ruiz, who sources the best coffee beans from Mexico and beyond. Mision 19 has their own house-blend.

After a grand performance, chef Javier joined us for a Mezcal after our three and one half hour tasting. Arte Mezcal is a blend of agaves from San Luis del Rio,Tlacolula in Oaxaca:Tobala,Tepeztate, Espadin, Other wild agaves, Mexicano,Jabali,and Cuishito. This is a lovely mezcal with an interesting range of flavors.

Javier Plascencia's Mision 19 has brought together all the essential elements:the superior products of Baja California,innovative cooking, excellence in Mexican wine and cheese service, a professional staff, and an incredible setting.This is the flagship restaurant in the Baja fleet, the new reason to cross the border, and exhibit A in the case for a new culinary center in Mexico, Baja California.

Mision 19
Mision de San Javier, 10643
Zona Urbana Rio
011-52-664-634-2493 from the US


Jessica "Kai-Chi" said...

Amazing to share the Mision 19 experience in Tijuana with you, Chuy and the Boobs! We look forward to going again!!

Food GPS said...

Looks like it was worth the drive to Tijuana for this meal alone. Sign me up for the tongue and dessert tamale with foie gras. Hopefully they're still on the menu when I finally make it down there.

streetgourmetla said...

Jessica-you girls made the night, and Chuy. We shall return.

FoodGPS-It's worth the drive for sure, on a weekly basis.

Statii Tir said...

I love that line in Once upon a time in Mexico. It makes me laugh every single time. Now, back to the food. Every single photo you posted looks incredible. But my absolute favorite was the dessert, of course. That is the best part of my meal every single time. I absolutely love ice cream. Thanks for sharing the address. I should go there some day.

streetgourmetla said...

Statii Tir-There's no better time than the present. I'm going as often as I can, so maybe we'll bump into eachother.

The Law said...

The innovative food combinations sound outstanding. The flavor profiles are right up my alley. Great excuse to pop down to Tijuana. Btw, Bayless just tweeted about his "gr8 meal" here.

Gayla said...

SGLA...reading your piece gave me goose a good way :-). Thanks so much for the fabulous review. Can hardly wait to get down there for my own taste.

gourmetpigs said...

Both the place and the food look amazing! On my list for next time :)

R2Lujan said...

Hello streetgourmetla,

nice pics and great work, i love tijuana, all your work helps local people and mexico...

We are going to dine mision 19 this sunday, yummy.

here is the link i shared BN,
Gracias nuevamente.

Anonymous said...

By chance do they have a website with a menu? It all sounded outstanding.

streetgourmetla said...

R2Lujan-Thanks for fixing that.

Anonymous-No website, but you can like Mision 19 on Facebook. The best experience is to go to the chef's table and ask him to make what he wants!!

Anonymous said...

Went there last night we ordered the duck, pork belly (both delicious), a steak (good, but a little over cooked), and the fish of the day (whitefish which was way too over cooked and tough, not flaky the way it should be), and two bottles of local wine. The wines were good but the price of the wine on the menu didn't reflect the 150 peso corkage fee. When we got the bill, the waiter showed us where on the wine menu it says that EVERY bottle of wine gets 150 pesos added to the price...JUST ADD IT TO THE PRICE ON THE MENU! They also knew that the fish was overcooked (we left most of it on the plate untouched) and we still had to pay for it. There were 4 of us and we will not be going back to this restaurant nor will we be recommending it to anyone.

There are much better restaurants in the area that are better priced and the food is consistently good without deceptive pricing schemes.

streetgourmetla said...

Anonymous-I'm having trouble following you here. There's little here about the dishes you thought delicious, the steak was overdone, but good. In Mexico, we eat steaks medium-well(tres quartos); you'll never get bloody steak or carne asada lest you insist, even then you might not get it the way you like.Reason is, latinos eat steaks with dressings and garnishes.

Did you tell them the fish was overcooked?

If a corkage fee of $12.50USD is written on the wine list, that's not deception. I'd ask for the sommelier to explain that in the future if you're unsure why it's there.

For the level of cuisine at Mision 19, the price is a steal, regardless of an extra $12.50. Admittedly, I don't pay much attention to the prices in Tijuana for high-end dining, I just usually suppose a certain price that's always been agreeable to me, laughingly so.

True, there are many great restaurants to chose from in Tijuana, but consistency can't be judged with a single visit. I'd recommend the tasting menu at the chef's table someday.Otherwise,I'm very glad to know you're a frequent Baja visitor.Provecho.

Michael Allman said...

Hi Bill,

I just stopped by your blog this evening to check out what's going on in Tijuana. I'm excited to see so much great food to enjoy and look forward to making another day trip to enjoy Chef Javier's cuisine.

I want to ask you about something you wrote. Here's the quote:

"At Mision 19, the Mexican fine dining experience has been refined, perfected; it's a farm to table experience that couldn't be accomplished in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York"

I'm a passionate home cook who strives to prepare my own "farm to table" meals based on what's available from farms around central and southern california. I'd like to know what part of "farm to table" dining you think cannot be accomplished here in LA versus Mexico. Cheers.

streetgourmetla said...

Hey there Michael Allman-OK. You can't get fresh huitlacoche in the US, you can't get most of the clams that are such a part of the Baja kitchen, except pismo, and it's very expensive here.Other seafood products aren't available here like dogfish,snook,marlin,etc.If a restaurant wants to do sarandeado they have to use stripped bass, or directly find a source to bring in snook and other Mexican fish.Only Nayaritan and Sinaloan restaurants in LA have family members bring in some seafood for their restaurants.There are a ton of products available at Tijuana's Mercado Hidalgo market that we can't get in LA:various chiles, vegetables,Sonoran beef,herbs,etc. Many Mexican restaurants here in LA sneak in products for special events. Mexican cheeses from Baja, some of the best in Mexico are not available in the US.Mexican wines,insects,chorizos!Only good chorizos in LA I know of are made by a guy on the street.

Michael Allman said...

Ah. I misunderstood what you wrote. You were referring to making Mexican food in LA. I thought you were talking about food in general.

I agree with you 100%. I haven't been making much Mexican lately because the market ingredients here don't lend themselves to that cuisine. And cooking authentic Peruvian is even harder. You just can't get some of those authentic Peruvian chiles and limones in any way shape or form. That being said, Ricardo Zarate created something exciting and delicious (for us Angelenos) at Mo-Chica. I asked him once where he gets the Peruvian ingredients. He "cheats"—he substitutes local ingredients with similar flavors. Still damned good.


Anonymous said...

My friends and I were blown away by Mision19. It is as good as, if not better than, the "Fine" restaurants across the Border or in Mexico City. I would certainly recommend it for any special occasion. Very attentive staff on the floor and in the kitchen. Only suggestion-put the 150pesos corkage in the price of the wines not as an add on. Until that changes bring your own wine and pay the corkage. $$$

Taco Maven said...

I confess I am still scared of TJ. I burn through it at 4am on my way to Baja Sur and can't even BELIVE that gorgeous place you ate at is hidden somewhere in all the brokendownness that I see when zooming through. I don't want to be a MexiCAN'T. HELP!

streetgourmetla said...

Thanks Bashfultuna-I would go with the wines at Mision 19, they have the best selections of Mexican wines anywhere. The price is still reasonable.

Taco Maven-You fears are understandable given the intense media coverage of Mexico's Drug War in the U.S., but it's not intel-which I have. You are safe to dine in Tijuana, dear.

Scotty said...

Bill, I just read my latest New Yorker magazine (Jan 30, 2012) and the great article on Javier Plascensia. I immediately thought of your posts on the subject, then lo, there was your name. Congratulations on and thanks for all your reporting. Makes my mouth water from my mountain redoubt in Oregon. Makes me think I need to get down there for a visit. Any way I could get on one of your tours?

Best Regards, Scott

streetgourmetla said...

Thanks a lot Scotty, it's very kind of you. You'll haver to make it out for sure. I'm shying away from group tours, but am doing personal tours for people in the restaurant industry, of course anyone can procure my services. If not, there's plenty of up to date info here that can help guide you through Tijuana, and Baja in general. Gracias!

Anonymous said...

i like better chuchos kitchen...

Brianly said...

Mision 19 is my first ssd 8 Couse Dinner tasting menu style. This place is the best restaurant in Baja Mexico according to Food & Wine. The portions were very small but quality was amazing!

About $60 dollars/person

Over all my absolute top 3 favorite was the Partait of Scallops, Seared wild blue fin tuna, and the Pork belly.

The only busto downside this is that if you want to do the 8 course tasting menu everyone in your group has to do it. We had 2 vegans in our group that did not want to partake in this but at the end just to make it easy on everyone they opted in. The chefs made vegan dishes for the vegans in the group.

(Dishes Left to Right)

-Super mini burger slider as an appetizer

Merengue avocado / meyer lemon caramel / citrus Persian Cucumber / Buttermilk corn and spicy chile Arena chiltepin

Course 2 Pacific oysters steamed
Fried beef rib / Soya with serrano chile / grapefruit / lemon grass infusion / Mexican lime foam

-Course 3 SEALED wild blue fin tuna to the pan
Nopal / Beans May / ponzu butter / roasted cauliflower puree

Italian and Mexican Truffle / Epazote / heirloom bean / wild mushrooms

Cotija cheese creamy dressing / crisp bacon stuffing / Chiles thunderous tanned / oven-dried Tomato

-Course 6 PORK BELLY "Niman Ranch" and rib TANNED
Pea in a Pod / Mashed plantain / Yuka Guadalupe Shallots / Licorice / crackling paper

-Course 7 BEEF RIB in two firings
Baked and grilled fig leaf / black Mole with Mission fig chochoyones / kabocha squash / Cocoa

Fondant / Sparkling / Jelly / Arena / Ice cream / orange marmalade / Raspberry "RED VELVET" Ice cream / green manazana / Oat Crumble