Misión 19 - Tijuana, Mexico

Dinner - Saturday, September 1, 2012

Our first experience with Javier Plascencia's cuisine took place earlier this year on American soil, at an El Take it Easy pop-up dinner. There, he presented a short tasting - five dishes representing five of his restaurants. We were impressed.

So, when the Dining Diva (who is well acquainted with Plascencia) volunteered to organize a trip across the border to Misión 19, we jumped at the opportunity. Our motley crew of 12, which also included my friend gastrobits, were mostly Baja novices - indeed, this was my first visit to Mexico ever (I have groused about various visa issues in previous posts). Meeting at the US-Mexico border, we crossed on foot, and cabbed to the restaurant, a scant 5 minute ride away.

We arrived at the restaurant at 6.30 pm, and the dining room was empty (it did not begin to really fill until after 9 pm) - Tijuana and San Diego definitely run on different clocks (actually, Tijuana reminds me a lot of Kuala Lumpur in many ways, but that is a story for another time). Our party was whisked into the private dining room to commence the feast.

NB: The menus presented to us at the restaurant were in Spanish. I have translated the course names below.

Beef tongue tiradito
Shimeji mushrooms, spicy morcilla vinaigrette, arugula, red onions, elephant garlic
Our meal began with some amazing lengua - its taste and texture surpassed all previous experiences. Dressed with a blood sausage sauce, it was earthy and meaty with a touch of piquancy. A smattering of pickled red onions, radishes and garlic chips contributed complementary flavours as well as providing textural contrast.

Cured cactus salad
Pepita-cilantro pesto, burrata, grilled shrimp, green apple, arugula 
A very interesting use of nopales, and one of my favourite dishes of the night (bar the superfluous grilled shrimp). The cactus was julienned into noodles, yielding a very different (and extremely pleasant) mouthfeel - as a base, it played terrifically with the tang and crunch of the green apple, the creamy burrata, and peppery arugula.

Callo de Hacha "parfait"
Meyer lemon, avocado, Persian cucumber, jocoque, corn, chiltepin pepper
Callos de Hacha are shellfish native to Baja Californian waters, with a passing resemblance to scallops. Here, they were served with a panoply of tastes and textures - key were the smoky avocado mousse and crunchy "soil" of corn and chiltepin peppers. Also of note was the housemade spiced jocoque, a tangy cultured milk product (like a cross between yogurt and sour cream).

Grilled octopus, crispy fried potatoes
Black garlic, garlic purée, pistachios, fresh garbanzos, roasted habanero salsa
Seared bluefin tuna, mole negro
Cactus and xoconoxtle "salsa fresca", pickled mushrooms, chicharron, cauliflower
My favourite of the large plates. First, the tuna was perfectly cooked, which certainly helped alleviate any moral anguish I felt for eating it - poor execution would've been a sin. Still, the protein was primarily a canvas for the other excellent components - a crispy chicharron of beef tongue, the rich roasted cauliflower puree, and especially the divine salsa of pickled cactus and xoconoxtle (a sour relative of the prickly pear - I could've eaten a bucketful). The mole negro (slightly anemic - not the best version I've had) did a remarkably good job tying everything on the plate together.

Slow-cooked beef tongue and shortribs
Salsa verde, purslane, masa dumplings, popped hominy
Vanilla natilla
Fresh and dehydrated fruits, jellies
One of the other desserts on the menu was playfully entitled "Pop-Tarts from your childhood". Funny - the dated plating of the natilla here recalls the types of desserts in vogue when I was a babe-in-arms. Presentation aside, the custard was very good, and we actually enjoyed the preponderance of fruit. It was a refreshing segue into the next course.

Caramelized bananas
House-made mascarpone, salted almond crumble, chocolate, oatmeal ice cream
Although the bananas headlined the dish, it was the oatmeal ice cream that stole the show. Together with the almond crumble and powdered chocolate, it was immensely satisfying. Not an overly complicated dessert by any means (and puzzling again with the strange inclusion of sliced strawberries), but it struck a chord and I loved it.

One thing I rarely mention in posts is meal costs, but I was blown away by how affordable the food is - our dinner worked out to $60 per person (including 2 drinks each, tax and a generous tip). It is simply impossible to achieve this price point in America, and we in San Diego are so lucky to be able to cross over to another country for dinner, and make it home to sleep in our own beds.

Now that we've been initiated into the ways of border-crossing (although I did have a slightly hairy encounter with the US immigration officer), we expect to make many more trips south. I'm particularly excited to explore Tijuana's vast variety of street food, which I suspect will be like hunting for treasure in a minefield. Onward, compadres.

Piso 2, VIA Corporativo
Misión San Javier 10643
Zona Urbana Rio
Tijuana, B.C., Mexico
Phone: +52 (664) 634-2493