Restaurant Week and I have had a rocky relationship.
In the four years since the event began—this year it ran from Jan. 27 to Feb. 1—I've gamely signed up for a series of meals that have run the gamut from sublime to laughable. The deal is that participating restaurants offer a three-course meal for $30 or $40. Diners should know ahead of time that not all restaurants' offerings truly represent their regular menus and occasionally your meal might be a bit rushed if they're trying to get in a second seating. And, naturally, the concept of the event doesn't really jibe for spots where a meal is normally no greater than the promotional price.
I remember one dinner at a trendy coastal spot where my friends and I couldn't help but stare, dumbfounded, when our entrée plates arrived bearing steaks that were only a little bigger than postage stamps. This was after our one-bite appetizer and was followed by a two-bite dessert. I think the phrase, “Where's the beef?” was uttered, and if we all hadn't felt so cheated, it might have been funny. But sometimes a restaurant really brings it and gives diners a deal of a dinner, one that leaves you satisfied and duly impressed and willing to give the place another try at full price.
Since this year's Restaurant Week has another run again at the end June (a first for our city), I thought I'd share the story of a happy discovery of a place that I know I'll be back to before the next session rolls around.
I was in positive spirits about my first visit to Romesco. Though I hadn't yet been into the restaurant, I'd gotten a taste of its food at a local food festival last November. The braised beef cheek tacos, served on steaming tortillas and topped with slices of pickled radish, were the best thing I tasted all day. Some friends who live in Chula Vista, just a few minutes from the restaurant, gave it high praise, too, so we decided to meet there for the first night of Restaurant Week, where the $30 dinner price ensured that a couple of other friends could easily get in on the eating action, too.
Romesco is owned by a family that operates a number of well-respected restaurants in Tijuana, and this Bonita-area bistro serves astoundingly good interpretations of Baja California dishes with occasional touches from Mediterranean cuisines. The term “fusion” sort of makes me cringe, so let's call it a “flavor mix.”
We managed to try every course option on the menu and not one was a letdown. I started with a Mexican blue crab and tomatillo salad, while my friend had mini shrimp ceviche tostadas and another tried a trio of soups, including tomato, spiced kabocha squash and lentil. I love the tangy pucker of tamarind, so I ordered the house special tamarind martini, in a glass ringed with a lip-tingling Tabasco glaze.
For the main course, most of our group had braised beef short ribs served with huitlacoche potato purée in a Baja Cabernet sauce, so we ordered a bottle of an excellent red blend from Adobe Guadalupe in Baja's wine country. When one friend's paella arrived, in a personal plate-sized paella pan brimming with saffron rice and six different kinds of seafood, including baby octopus, shrimp, clams and mussels, I felt a pang of food envy. That is, at least until I tasted my dish, a moist yet meaty steak of Escolar, also called white tuna, served with a chorizo ginger pan sauce, black kale and organic runner beans.
After ordering dessert, we realized that we'd forgotten to get the churros with Mexican hot chocolate, so we asked our waiter if we could pay extra for another plate. Exemplary of our entire experience there, he kindly brought us some to try for free. They were thoroughly enjoyed, as were the crepes in cajeta—a goat's milk caramel sauce—and a chocolate cake and coffee granita combo that put us all at a loss for words.
I took a peek at the regular menu to see what I'd choose for my second, third and fourth meals—and beyond—at Romesco. I've got braised pork belly tacos, cold smoked marlin tiradito and Greek ouzo-doused calamari in my future, and I can't wait. Romesco, 4346 Bonita Road in Bonita, is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. 619-475-8627 or www.romescobajamed.com.