Eater San Diego's 2013 Chef of the Year, Javier Plascencia, splits his time between San Diego and his native Mexico, where his family's restaurant group oversees Bonita's Romesco and several eateries in Tijuana, including the legendary Caesar's. Plascencia's own concepts, from the much-admired Mision 19 and Erizo Cebicheria in Tijuana to the Guadalupe Valley's Finca Altozano, have helped to intensify the culinary spotlight on the cuisine and chefs of Baja. The well-traveled chef is soon heading to NYC for the city's Baja Meets New York! festival in February.
When Eater sat down with Plascencia at Romesco, which first opened in 2006 and recently added a Tijuana street food-inspired lunch menu, the chef has just returned from Mexico where he helped to open a new restaurant, called Bermejo, in Sonora.
What do you think about all the interest in the food of your region?
It's great, it helps a lot buisness-wise to have more interest from all kinds of people who are into food. Especially here in Romesco, we have a very traditional client base of people who followed us from Tijuana and who know our existing restaurants, but lately a lot of people from all over San Diego, North County and Orange County have been coming too.
Were people just not paying attention before?
This whole movement, with all the chefs, winemakers and producers who have been going to a lot of events and promoting the region, and all the press that has been done about that has had a lot to do with the interest now.
When we opened Romesco, we were doing different kinds of dishes but people just saw us as a mall restaurant. But we stayed true to our food and now it's amazing that we're getting a lot of new clients; I just talked to some ladies who live a few blocks away but had never been to the restaurant.
We have always done this style of food, very adventurous and without any rules, but I think personally I'm getting getting wiser and a little bit better at my craft.
What do you think is really connecting with people now?
People are more interested in trying new things. When I started here, I had to take a lot of dishes off of the original menu because people didn't want to try them, so we became a little more commercial. Now, we have dishes that are very familiar but we also have more signature, special dishes. Even with whole Baja movement, there's still a lot of people who don't want to travel there and look to this as a place to experience it. Wines from Baja are selling really well here and we're using more ingredients that we can bring across from there, from olive oil to cheese and seafood. Hopefully soon we'll have an 100% Baja menu.
Do you think you'll open something else in San Diego?
Definitely. I've been thinking a lot about that. I really like this region; I need to be close to the ocean and I want to be close to my restaurants in Tijuana. I see the San Diego food scene growing very, very fast and I think it's time to do something else here. I'm looking for the right location.
It'll be street food-oriented, nothing too formal. A nice ambiance with good prices. We'd be doing fresh tortillas in-house and very good tacos with the best local ingredients. Sort of a blend between Finca Altozano and Erizo.
I ate at Sushi Ota the other night and love talking with the all chefs there while eating at the bar. So I'm imagining a place like that with great product, but instead of sashimi, the chefs will be handing you masa tacos and sopes made in a really fresh California style. Instead of sake we'll be drinking mezcal and Mexican craft beer and instead of the sushi master we'll have a master tortilla maker.
And I might open something in the future that's more formal. Formal dining isn't over, I think San Diego still needs more upscale restaurants too.
Are there other Mexican cuisines and concepts that we need in San Diego and Southern California?
I think we need very good regional Mexican restaurants…places that would only do Oaxacan cuisine, or Veracruz-style food. We still have a lot of work to do with the Baja thing but Mexican cuisine is coming up strong so there's a lot to do with all kinds of authentic food.
· Romesco Mexiterranean Bistro [Official Site]
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