Summer Summer Summertime
We had a rainy and snowy start to what is usually a bright and sunny Spring here on The Front Range…and now the patios are crazy hot. They’ve hit their stride, getting into that summer season mojo. It’s Colorado in the summertime, and there just ain’t nothin’ better.
LOLA Executive Chef Jamey Fader and I had a great trip down to Northern Baja this spring. Pictures below are from Chef Javier Plascencia’s restaurants in Tijuana and Valle de Guadalupe – and the Ensenada Seafood & Wine Festival where we did a demo on grilling oysters. It was called – Goofy-Ass Pinche’ Gringo White Boys – Grilling Oysters – the house was packed!
There is a killer scene going in Northern Baja right now. And it’s not the Cartel – Drug Gang – Corruption kind of killer scene that was prevalent as recently as 5 years ago. In Tijuana, gone are the seedy mezcal bars and donkey shows (but not all of them, thank God!). The new look of Tijuana is planted with an outstanding cultural, art, entertainment and dining scene. And at the forefront of all of this, on the culinary side, is Chef Javier Plascencia. Javier grew up in Tijuana and San Diego and his family has had a rich history of restaurants in Tijuana for 40 years. The Hotel Caesar was the birthplace of the Caesar Salad, on the 4th of July in 1924, at the hand of Caesar Cardini who after a weekend-holiday rush that cleared out all his food, invented the salad as a way to get through the rest of the holiday with what little he had. His daughter Rosa recounted that her father was living in San Diego and also working in Tijuana where he avoided the restrictions of Prohibition. Cardini believed, as we all do today, that a fine meal on the town required cocktails before dinner and wine with dinner. In Tijuana he could offer both. The Plascencia Family purchased and then reopened the long dilapidated Caesar’s Restaurant on Tijuana’s faded Avenida Revolucion following a complete renovation. I have eaten there a coupla times over the last few years and there is certainly something about those old wooden bowls and the building anticipation as you watch it come together that makes it taste that much better. And a healthier than previously thought dose of Worcestershire seems to be some of the secret as well. It is a great Caesar salad.
Javier owns three restaurants himself in Tijuana: Mision 19 – a super fine dining and designed restaurant downtown; Erizo – a fun little neighborhood cevicheria serving exactly and only what comes in the back door each day from a handful of Javier’s fishermen; and Khao San – urban fusion cuisine of Thailand and Tijuana. Finca Altozano is in Valle de Guadalupe, the stunning Mexican wine country. It is quite possibly the coolest restaurant I have ever been to and something that, if I had to give everything up and design just one place, it would be that place. It’s a cross between the old Gold Hill version of The LickSkillet Café, a large slice of Chez Panisse, and that super cool little beach place you’ve been to with no walls, no windows and open fires everywhere, except in the high dessert plains and a solid hour from the ocean. Cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, dogs, cats, snakes and iguanas all share the terroir. He’s making cheese, growing and pressing olives and baking some rustic breads, with plans for a big charcuterie program this fall. Tempranillo and Nebbiolo grapes are the main stay of this region; the landscape and temperature are very similar to some regions of Spain. And there’s this bad-ass open kitchen with charcoal grills and wood burning ovens and 100’s of seated customers drinking wine and having fun almost every day of the year unless its raining, and then they just close. Jamey and I cooked a five-course meal for 55 guests with Javier on the patio over-looking the valley and the vineyards. It was just silly. One of the two of us was always saying, “is this for real?” Javier’s most recent success is Bracero – Cocina de Raiz in San Diego. Only in its seventh month, Bracero received a James Beard Best New Restaurant nomination. His style is very simple. His presentations are very beautiful. And his underlying skill and craft are well-honed. It was incredibly fun and a real honor for us to be invited to cook with him in his zone.
He came to our little LOLA Coastal Mexican in Denver this spring to do the same gig with us and we had some really successful events. An invitation-only industry and media lunch that brought Denver’s best chefs and media (and Governor Hickenlooper) together was a complete success. We talked about the Denver and Boulder dining scenes and where it has been, has come to, and is going and Javier was able to share his challenges and successes around his journey in Tijuana. In the evening, we cooked a sold-out seven-course dinner paired with regional wines, mezcal and beer that I think every last guest thoroughly enjoyed. It was a real honor to have Javier in our kitchens and working with our chefs. And something we all agreed we will do again and again both in Mexico and here in the 303.
Our adventures with Javier, both in Mexico and in Denver, were energizing. Now summer is upon us and our menus have all been re-tooled for summer deliciousness. These ingredients that come to season this time of year are the best. Even though we’ve been experiencing death-valley-level temperatures, there will in fact be cooler days coming and our patios are always the place to be in the sweet Colorado summertime.
Thanks to all of y’all for your continued support and patronage. If you are receiving this email it’s because you wanted to and we really, really appreciate that.