Based on Phee’s teaser in another thread (and with the incentive of a 20 percent off coupon), we decided to drive down to Bonita Saturday night and try Restaurante Romesco. We made an early reservation (6:30) and pulled into the place, which is located in the same neighborhood shopping center as the Bonita Vons -- a little over a mile east of the 805 on Bonita Rd.
To recap, the place bills itself as a “Baja-Med bistro” and its menu is a blend of Spanish and Mexican fine dining, with a few sprigs of Asian, Italian and French thrown into the mix. Even at that early hour, the place was nearly full and I was glad we’d made a rez. The restaurant is a fairly large, L-shaped room with a small but well-attended bar tucked into the corner of the L. At that hour, I can only describe the ambience as “pleasantly noisy.” There were couples, families, and groups of well-dressed businessmen. The vibe reminded me of a somewhat less formal (women in jeans and most of the male diners without coats) version of an upscale restaurant in Guadalajara or Mexico City.
The menu is divided into several sections with small plate appetizers, soups and salads, pastas, and main courses, and all were interesting. We started with a good bottle of domestic viognier while we studied the menu. The wines looked mostly moderately priced, but the separate section of Baja California wines was much more expensive. I know from experience that some really good wines come from San Antonio de las Minas and Valle de Guadalupe, but I’m not sufficiently well informed to know if the price of the Mexican wines at Romesco are what a more knowledgeable person would expect.
We decided to start with two appetizers. The interesting one was a carpaccio of smoked marlin with micro-cilantro, papaya-avocado salsa and Wasabi salt. Alas, the were out of the marlin, so at the waiter’s suggestion we substituted the seared yellowfin tuna sashimi. If it’s seared is it still sashimi? I dunno, but there were four generous pieces of the stuff and it was absolutely delicious. Our second appetizer was one we ordered just because it sounded so weird: Gramma’s tacos de fideo. Four small “aspirina” sized tortillas were folded in half, stuffed with thin fideo pasta, cut very short that appeared to have been simmered in some sort of stock. The tacos were then fried and sprinkled with dry mexican cheese and pieces of avocado. They were served with a very spicy tomatillo-based salsa. This dish by itself would’ve made a very satisfying lunch. They were indeed very weird, but very, very delish.
Next we had a salad course. Di ordered the roasted vegetable salad which turned out to be very hearty and pretty heavy for a salad course with whole baby beets, peppers, onions, and I don’t know what all else. It was very tasty, but really overpowering for a first course. I saw the “Tijuana Cesar’s Salad” on the menu which claimed to replicate the dish that was served at the old Cesar’s hotel. Those salads on Ave. Revolucion were some of the best I’ve ever tasted, so I ordered Romesco’s for myself. Well, it was very good, with hearts of romaine, lots of fresh grated parmesano reggiano, and a dressing nicely flavored with anchovies and egg. Di said she thought she detected a hint of curry in the background, but I couldn’t taste it. It was a very good caesar salad, but it wasn’t close to my perhaps romanticized memories of TJ in my youth.
For our main courses, Di ordered the Halibut a la plancha which, quoting the menu, comes with a potato/celery root puree, siete mares broth, Bilbao Spanish chorizo, manila clams and eggplant salsa. The clams and chopped chorizo were sprinkled over the top, and the plate was coated with a generous film of the broth. It was a first-rate preparation and as good as I’ve had in San Diego.
Earlier in our meal, I’d asked the waiter if their paella (which is only available on the weekends) was any good. He rolled his eyes in pleasure and said, “You must have it!” So that’s what I ordered. A few minutes later, he returned to tell me with repeated apologies, that they had just run out of paella. Okay. It only took me a second to home in on the Miel de Maguey glazed rack of lamb. As described on the menu, it came with cauliflower fondant, minted spring peas, and spiced dried fruit lamb jus. The rack turned out to be two interlaced double chops that were huge and done precisely to my medium-rare order. I ate two of these delicious monsters and took the other two home. The glaze and the spices rubbed into the crust were an absolutely perfect accompaniment. As I was finishing off the sauce and extra bits of crust, I bit into a large sprig of roasted rosemary that apparently had also benefited from the glaze, and it was one of those epiphany moments that don’t come very often: Holy sheeyit! So *that’s* what rosemary is supposed to taste like!” Anyway, by the time they removed my plate, I’d forgotten all about the paella snafu.
We shared a desert that was a very dense cake made of Mexican chocolate, topped with a small scoop of chocolate/cinnamon ice cream. Alongside was a small glass of Kahlua topped with a sweetened cream -- the classic Rey Alfonso.
I don’t want to make too much of the place, but I do want to emphasize that it’s a new, different, and very welcome addition to the San Diego dining scene. It’s been open for over a year, and I guess I’m just surprised we hadn’t heard more about it before now. The place is, as they say, muy Mexicano. Don’t go there expecting express service. We arrived at 6:25 and left at 8:45. The pacing was slow but attentive, and we found it charming. When we left, the place was still full, so apparently the folks in the South Bay (and some, I’m sure from Tijuana) have discovered Restaurante Romesco and made it their own. I expect to learn a lot more about it in the months to come -- especially since it doesn’t involve a passport or a wait at the border to come back home.
. . . jim strain in san diego.