Caliente Cali-Baja Revolu­ción

Ocean to desert, ranch to ta­ble, de­li­cious cross-bor­der cui­sine fires up the din­ing scene in San Diego

DINE and Destinations - - SARA SAYS: WHERE TO DINE NOW - By Adam Wax­man

WE ARE SOAR­ING ABOVE ROCKY CLIFFS. Be­yond, the ocean looks like glis­ten­ing rolls of cel­lo­phane, the sun is a flash bulb float­ing on the hori­zon, there’s a nude beach below and a re­fresh­ing calm­ness as the wind scoops us higher and higher over the coast while we sail serenely through the sky. This is the birth­place of Cal­i­for­nia. La Jolla, “the jewel,” is a mecca for paraglid­ing and hang glid­ing, and

Tor­rey Pines Glid­er­port is the largest tan­dem op­er­a­tion in the world. There’s no fear—i tell my­self—as I clench my eyes shut, run down the slope to the cliff-edge, and let the wind and my in­struc­tor take over. Ab­so­lute ex­hil­a­ra­tion!

A youth­ful en­ergy pulses through San Diego, from the ac­tive out­doors to the eclec­tic mu­sic scene, Broad­way-bound the­atre pro­duc­tions, Comic-con In­ter­na­tional, a di­verse pal­ette of art gal­leries and the Cali-baja food scene that is both a re­dis­cov­ery and a rein­ven­tion of their own ex­otic culi­nary mi­lieu.

Farm fresh and splashed with colour, Gal­axy Taco presses tor­tillas with blue masa daily. Crunchy Baja fried fish with a squeeze of lime, a sprin­kle of chili, a dol­lop of cool crema, pico de gallo, and a toss of cilantro and cab­bage; a side of char­coal grilled av­o­ca­dos, and an icy cock­tail of mescal, guava and orange-vanilla shrub. My taste buds are danc­ing La Bamba, and I am in So-cal heaven.

Fur­ther on up the road is the Hops High­way, the main artery of “Amer­ica’s Craft Beer Cap­i­tal.” I can smell the hops in Es­con­dido, as I ap­proach Stone Brew­ing. Their vast food-friendly beer se­lec­tion in­cludes Who You Callin Wussie? It’s smooth and

fruity with a mild hop at the end. Jin­dia Pale Ale tastes of sweet gin­ger with a smooth mouth feel. At the out­door pa­tio I snack on hemp seed pret­zels with roasted poblano jalapeño ched­dar sauce, and chili and gar­lic-glazed quail knots that I pair with a re­fresh­ingly cit­ric Stone IPA. A path winds around a pond amid the sweet smell of wis­te­ria. Some re­cline on Muskoka chairs with a beer; oth­ers med­i­tate by the rock wall. “Beer Gar­den” has been re­de­fined. “The Pink Lady of La Jolla” is the La Va­len­cia Ho­tel, with its Mediter­ranean-in­flu­enced ar­chi­tec­ture and dé­cor. Seated on the ter­race of Café la Rue with lo­cal snap­per ce­viche and av­o­cado and olive oil on toast, I’m perched atop the cliff wall with gor­geous views of end­less Pa­cific. Lo­cated in the heart of high-end bou­tiques and gal­leries, an af­ter­noon stroll here is a must. Nearby, Ge­orge’s at the Cove of­fers an ex­cit­ing menu that typ­i­fies the mar­riage of imag­i­na­tion with the trea­sure trove of in­gre­di­ents that de­fines Cali-baja. Fish tacos are rein­vented as thin disks of ahi tuna en­velop­ing beer-bat­tered av­o­cado, crushed corn nuts, radish, cilantro and yel­lowfin tuna tar­tar. Charred oc­to­pus is steamed then grilled and set with a kumquat-soy glaze, nas­tur­tium kim­chee and nori tem­pura. Smoked chicken with crisped morels and pas­sion fruit hits all the right notes. For the dessert of my dreams: whipped co­conut with a dust­ing of chia seeds, bee pollen and wheat grass crown a co­conut sor­bet with a gin­ger con­sommé pour-over. Light and airy with sweet and zippy notes, this has se­ri­ous wow fac­tor. Romesco Mex­iter­ra­nian Cocina in Lit­tle Italy serves Mex­i­can-mediter­ranean fu­sion. An ad­dic­tive bowl of Risotto Mexa with parme­sano is chock full of mush­rooms and shrimp. Chile en No­gada, a roasted poblano pep­per brim­ming with ground beef and pork, mixed with dried fruit, wal­nuts

and pinenuts, is topped with wal­nut-goat cheese and a sprin­kling of pome­gran­ate seeds. Tostada De Pulpo is a dis­play of sautéed oc­to­pus el­e­vated with mus­tard and bell pep­per aioli and a bal­ance of chipo­tle and pi­l­on­cillo. This is Mex­i­can haute cui­sine. At Herb and Wood ev­ery­thing is made in-house and wood-fired. A cit­rus salad of grape­fruit wedges, pur­ple hi­bis­cus, green olives and pis­ta­chios looks like a glo­ri­ous flower patch. Grilled sword­fish with a per­fect sear is ac­com­pa­nied by crisp pop-in-your-mouth spaet­zle that soaks up the del­i­cate flavours of the gar­lic scapes and lemon rel­ish. This kitchen makes vegeta­bles hip! Roasted car­rots are blis­tered and ac­cented with a yo­gurt mixed with Aleppo pep­pers, tossed in a cashew sesame dukkah, and fin­ished with a car­rot top pesto. So much bright colour and flavour that is all new to me. A pas­sion fruit pavlova with co­conut, mi­cro cilantro, av­o­cado crema, rasp­ber­ries and pink guava sor­bet is a zesty blast of re­fresh­ing trop­i­cal cit­rus.

So what is the Cali-baja food revo­lu­tion? It’s a fu­sion of Cal­i­for­nia cui­sine’s fo­cus on fresh and lo­cal, and Mex­ico’s Baja-med cui­sine, which com­bines Mex­i­can and Mediter­ranean in­gre­di­ents. Add to this es­thetic the in­flu­ence of an emerg­ing Asian pop­u­la­tion and the fact that San Diego’s “lo­cal” in­cludes the mi­cro­cli­mates of the sur­round­ing hills, moun­tains and canyons, the desert, the Pa­cific Ocean and Mex­ico. It’s an oa­sis of dis­cov­ery for eager chefs to cre­ate in­spir­ing new flavour com­bi­na­tions and rein­vig­o­rate the tried-and-true.

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