In the movie Once Upon a Time in Mexico,FBI Agent Sands,played by Johnny Depp says to El Cucuy, played by legendary Mexican-American character actor Danny Trejo:(Sands)”So–are you a MexiCAN–or a MexiCAN’T?”(Cucuy)”I’m a MexiCAN.”
I laughed my ass off when I saw that scene, but–the joke would be on me years later when I began to help spread the word about the incredible culinary movement going on in Baja. I encountered mostly MexiCAN’ts. My beloved Mexico is not progressive and active when it comes to promoting its tourism, and remains entrenched in policies that don’t work run by out-of-touch, self-serving entities.
But, the handful of MexiCANS(Mexicans who can-do) are single-handedly lifting Baja out of the ashes and into the spotlight with very little support, not an easy task.
Chef Javier Plascencia is one such MexiCAN in Tijuana actively moving the great culinary city forward. He recently resurrected Caesar’s Restaurant, the birthplace of the Caesar’s salad, and lovingly restored it to its 1927 slendor. And, last month he opened perhaps the most important restaurant in Mexico right now, Mision 19, in Baja’s first green building, the Via Corporativo.This is author’s cuisine, but the flavors and techniques are chef Javier Plascencia’s own brand of Baja Californian cuisine.
Javier’s mission is not just to save Tijuana, but to lead the way in letting the world know, that there has been a shift in convention. Mexico City has always been Mexico’s leader in fine dining, but recent trips to Contramar,and Pujol, among others, top seafood and fine dining restaurants in Mexico City, respectively, have led me to a confirmation of what I had already summized: Baja is the new center of Mexican wine, seafood, and contemporary cuisine in Mexico.
Mexico City’s traditional cuisine, cantinas,fondas,comida corrida, taquerias, and street food leave all comers in the dust, but Mexico City’s fine dining neighborhoods Polanco and Condesa have been usurped by Tijuana, and Ensenada: Javier’s Mision 19 and Cebicheria Erizo; Miguel Angel Guerrero’s La Querencia; Benito Molina’s Manzanilla, Muelle Tres, and Silvestre; along with many others, are creating new dishes and have taken Mexican fine dining to the next level.
Even Rick Bayless himself has kept his eye on this region in recent years. He’ll be dropping in soon, oh yeah,straying very far north of his myopically idealized “great cuisines” of Mexico: Mexico City, Oaxaca and Vera Cruz; to give Baja a look see.
At Mision 19, the Mexican fine dining experience has been refined, perfected; it’s a farm to table experience that couldn’t be accomplished in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York; it is a California mission for the 21st century tending towards a local and sustainable kitchen.
Local produce is used as much as possible, the staff trolls the Mercado Hidalgo in Tijuana, but also farmer’s markets in San Diego, produce from Milpa Farms in San Ysidro; chef Javier lives in Tijuana and San Diego, physically and conceptually. This is the only farm to table restaurant rooted in Baja and Alta California.
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