Javier Plascencia Popup @El Take It Easy

>> Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Date of Dining: 3/5/2012 
Price: $40 for 5 course tasting, $30 for alcohol pairings
Location: 3926 30th St, San Diego, CA

The Quick Bit:
+ great preview of all of Chef Plascencia's restaurants
+ high quality elevated Mexican food
+ great food for the price
Δ service could have been less rushed
Δ some alcohol pairings could have used more thought

Somehow after posting for over a year, I have yet to post about any Mexican food in San Diego. This grievous oversight is on the level of missing out on an entire Internet meme like Shit Girls SayFortunately with the help of a well-time popup dinner, I will be able to rectify my error.
In the continuing series of guest chef pop up dinners at El Take it Easy, Jay Porter (owner of The Linkery and El Take it Easy) invited renowned Mexican Chef Javier Plascencia to hold a popup. This popup, unlike the previous ones, was an all in gambit where the regular menu of El Take It Easy was left off in lieu of only serving the special menu. An alcohol pairing was offered for each course as well.
Chef Javier Plascencia hails from a family of cooks, chefs, and restauranteurs. He trained in several San Diego restaurants before traveling the world and developing his own style of "Baja Mediterranean" cuisine, which uses the freshest farm to table ingredients to highlight Mexican flavors. Chef Plascencia has recently gained much renown for opening his flagship restaurant Mission 19 in Tijuana and being featured in Street Gourmet LA. After a visit from local foodie DiningDiva, Chef Plascencia was also featured in articles by the New York Times and New Yorker; the latter of which was well-timed to allow Chef Plascencia to be the only non-American Chef to be invited to Chefdance 2012.
The popup dinner was a five course affair, featuring one dish from each of Chef Plascencia's restaurants: Mission 19, Caesar's, Villa Saverio's, Erizo Baja Fish House, and Casa Plascencia.

amuse - sea scallop, beef tendon, salted nopales
alcohol - tequila, lemon juice, fresh agave, tobasco
The amuse was an interesting bite featuring the similar textures of sea scallop and beef tendon, but different flavors. The inclusion of the green onion packed a contrast in flavor while the nopales added some textural contrast.
The alcohol pairing was a little strong as the bold masculine flavors of the cocktail wiped out the delicate feminine flavors amuse. However, the acidity present in the cocktail was what exactly needed to open the appetite for the rest of the meal.

First Course:
tostada trio - (left to right) green shrimp ceviche, ahi with short rib chicharron, sea urchin
alcohol - txakolina rose '10, pais vasco, spain
I'm not sure if this was Chef Plascencia's intention, but I felt the trio represented a past, present, and future look at Mexican seafood tostadas
The shrimp ceviche tostada was a good starter as it represented what a traditional ceviche might taste like. This preparation stuck with traditional flavors, preparations, and didn't really show more than any classic ceviche. 
My favorite of the tostadas was the ahi with short rib chicharron, which seemed to represent the present. The ahi was well marinated and full of flavor while the short rib chicharron provided a stark savory contrast as well as textural counterpoint. The dish was highlighted by the spice which started off dull, but ended the tostada with a long finish on the palate. This dish used techniques that I felt largely represented what many Mexicans see today in food.
I felt the sea urchin represented more of the future look on Mexican food. While a flan is Mexican and produced today, I felt the overall presentation, flavors, and mixing of a sweet element into a savory course showed more of a Modern Technique approach to food versus the traditional preparations. The flan was a success as the sea urchin flavor integrated into the flan and carried out the flavor of the uni longer on the palate as a long finish.
The rose was a nice sipper on its own and ended up pairing well with the flan as the sweetness of the two elements married well. However, the alcohol did little in pairing with the first two tostadas for me.

Second Course:
authentic tijuana caesar salad
alcohol: kuentz-bas alsace blanc '09, alscace, france
I appreciated the traditional preparation of Caesar salad with the whole romaine leaves. I really enjoyed the crouton as well as the garlic in the crouton accentuated the dressing of the salad.
The real hit for me was the pairing of the alcohol. The alsace blanc was the perfect complement for the cheese in the salad and really brought up the enjoyment of the dish for me. The pairing was a perfect example of how a good alcohol pairing can really improve the enjoyment of food.

Third Course:
heirloom bean risotto - wild mushrooms, black truffle, huitlacoche powder, epazote air
alcohol: chateau thivin gamay '10, cote de brouilly, france
The risotto was a home run. While the risotto itself was a very well-prepared truffle risotto, it was also a bold play of Mexican beans and rice - the staple of any Mexican meal. To elevate that preparation so high showed great finesse and technical prowess. If there was a minor criticism on the dish, it is that the huitlacoche powder was lost a little in the other flavors.
While I enjoyed the gamay on its own, I found that it didn't pair well at all with the risotto. When I drank the gamay after the risotto, I found it acted more as a palate cleanser rather than complementing the risotto. This was a travesty considering the flavor it was wiping off was black truffle.

Fourth Course:
berkshire pork en caja china - mole de fiestas, root vegetables, chochoyones
alcohol: santa ursula cabernet sauvignon '08, baja california, mexico
This was my favorite course of the night. The root vegetables included peas, parsnip, guava, beats, fennel, carrot, radish, and a plantain chip. This dish was all about the mole; the spicy sweet complex flavor coated every element of the dish and elevated it. Mole with sweet, mole with bitter, mole with savory, mole with everything was a celebration of the mole and the flavor explosion in my mouth. Perhaps the crowning portion of the mole was the chiccharone in mole as the salty savory crunch held up and was really enhanced by the mole. When I finished this dish, I wanted to pick up the plate and lick it clean.
The cabernet was an equal surprise to the dish; it packed a serious punch and made me feel like I had been slapped when I took the first sip. Further, the cabernet featured a long finish, which is rare for such a young wine.

Fifth Course:
mexican chocolate - coffee, cardamon cotton candy, mezcal compressed strawberries
alcohol: ballast point black marlin porter, san diego, usa
While I've heard some others be less than happy with the dessert, I thought found it satisfying. I wasn't looking for anything overly sweet, and the coffee flavors helped to dampen the sweetness of the chocolate. Additionally, the chocolate reinforced the base flavor of the mole for me, which evoked my favorite portion of the meal.
I have yet to understand beer pairings with dessert - let's leave it at that.

Overall I was extremely happy and satisfied with the meal. At the price point given, the meal was a great peak at the flavors and technique of Chef Plascencia. This meal taught me two things; one, I need to get down to Mission 19 for Chef Plascencia's full experience and two, I really need to cover more Mexican food as it is so ubiquitous in the area.


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gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
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