Romesco Mexiterranean Cocina

| August 2, 2017 | 0 Comments

A Blend of Culinary Concepts

The interior of the restaurant is culturally inspired and entertaining.

San Diego is famous for its Mexican food. The history of the city and its proximity to Mexico have created a Latino influence that is reflected in the authentic flavors found in many local eateries, both large tourist oriented venues and small neighborhood locales.

For years, Old Town, where San Diego was founded, was a center of outstanding Mexican cuisine. It was so much fun to walk down the street past windows in which colorfully dressed ladies were making tortillas. One always knew the tortillas would be hot and fresh.

But, as the City grew, the downtown area sprouted high rise apartment and condo developments that shifted some culinary focus to new areas. Little Italy, adjacent to downtown, emerged as a densely populated neighborhood where many restaurants opened to serve the needs of a population that doesn’t seem to like very much cooking in small apartment kitchens. As the name of the neighborhood implies, many of these restaurants served Italian cuisine.

Javier Placensia stepped into this restaurant arena with a Mexican restaurant. He’s a world class chef who elevated the culinary profiles of Tijuana and Valle de Guadalupe with his innovative concepts and emphasis on fresh, local ingredients. He and his co-founder Luis Pena opened Bracero on Kettner Boulevard, kind of a sister restaurant to their other operation, Romesco in Bonita.

This was a standout difference from the Italian eateries down the block. But the restaurant quickly received critical accolades, including a James Beard award and similar recognition from San Diego Magazine and others.

After two years, though, Plascensia left Bracero to pursue his other interests south of the border, including a new food truck concept. Pena, the co-founder of Bracero, took over the operation and changed its name and concept to that of its sister restaurant, Romesco Mexiterranean Cucina in Bonita.

The good news – Placensia’s most popular dishes are still available and the menu has been expanded to include Mediterranean concepts as well.

The restaurant is located on the corner of Kettner and Beech, occupying two floors of the building. The lower level is an ideal tapas bar, where patrons may enjoy delightful small plates and drinks, including specialty cocktails, in an ambiance that evokes feelings of Spain. It reminded me of happy times of long ago, hopping from bar to bar in Madrid, Barcelona and Pampalona. The casual dining room is upstairs, with elegant wood paneling décor. There is also an outdoor balcony where diners may enjoy views of Little Italy during our usually mellow evenings.

The menu is extensive and is not so much a fusion of Mexican and Italian concepts as it is a side-by-side presentation of both. The kitchen is run by Chef “Lalo” Covarrubias, who brings a diverse background to the venue. He grew up in Guadalajara, where he began cooking at a young age. He served as sous chef on a huge cruise, overseeing other chefs pump out hundreds of dishes daily. Later, he served world leaders at the 2012 G20 Los Cabos summit. He’s enjoyed working with many other famous chefs who have influenced his ideas.

We sat on the upstairs patio, enjoying the sea breezes, and studied the drinks menu. Some offerings are shaken, others stirred, to the delight of James Bond fans. Dos Sangres looked interesting, a blend of Malbec, bourbon and Mandarine Napoleon. The Capone Manhattan, a blend of rye whisky and sweet vermouth (stirred, not shaken!) was inviting. Mexican, domestic and local craft beers are available. But I selected the cabernet sauvignon, bottled in Mexico, which was amazingly robust, with full body and a long finish.

Tapas can be ordered. There is a good size list. Shrimp and bone marrow sopes combines sea and turf. I happen to love bone marrow, which is hard to find in restaurants. Other choices include pulpo asada, a grilled octopus dish (another favorite), Champinones al allijo, grilled mushrooms in a piquant garlic sauce, and more.

Showtime! Order the Caesar’s salad (recipe straight out of Tijuana, where it was created) and watch it prepared tableside. I was fortunate enough to have mine prepared by Luis Pena, the owner, himself. He did a great job explaining and artistically mixing the ingredients and lavishing the result onto our plates. The salad was delightful, although the lettuce was not chilled.

Mary’s roasted half chicken, accompanied by grilled vegetables, was tasty. A Greek salad, ordered as an entrée, was lacking interesting ingredients and disappointed. Paella, another entrée that is hard to find in restaurants, is a saffron rice dish combined with seafood chicken and pork. It was very pleasing. Paella is a “national” Spanish dish whose recipe will very with the region of the country, emphasizing local ingredients with the rice.

The other side of the menu lists the Italian dishes, including saverios penne arrabiata in a spicy tomato sauce and Baja California lobster ravioli, with lobster and crab ravioli topped with lemon Madeira bisque and pine nuts.

For dessert, flan is outstanding.

Romesco is a cool, hip restaurant that appeals to a sophisticated clientele. It is probably not a great place for young kids. A lot of deals are offered, with weekday happy hours serving reduced price drinks and food and special features that change daily, such as half-off all tapas on Tuesday and half-off all wine bottles on Wednesday. A weekend brunch is great for relaxing and savoring the delight of not having to work.

Prices are moderate. Dining at Romesco will not break the bank. Parking can be an issue. There is limited off-street parking but several nearby parking lots are easy to use.

Romesco Mediterranean Cocina is located at 1400 Kettner Boulevard. Call (619) 756-7864 for information and reservations.

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