Everybody loves Javier Plascencia. He’s dashing, and he knows how to cook, and his restaurant empire in and around Tijuana has become a big international thing. All the cool kids are crossing the border to eat his modernist Baja cooking at Misión19, his funky seafood at Erizo and his retro-Tijuana-continental cooking at the original Caesar’s, and why not? He’s the Wolfgang Puck of border cuisine.
If you have forgotten your passport, or a four-hour border crossing is not your idea of fun on a Saturday night, you might want to consider Romesco, just a few minutes south of San Diego, instead. Romesco, the Plascencia family’s only restaurant north of the border, next to the Rite-Aid in what seems like the world’s largest mini-mall, and with its checkerboard floor tile and long open kitchen, it looks a little like a fancy restaurant in Torrance, circa 1988. Most of the customers, the businessmen, shaggy preps and elaborately made-up women of the borderland 1% are busy with the tapas, pasta and filet mignon for which the Plascencias are famous at their Villa Saveiros; also for that original Caesar salad.
But you are probably there for Plascencia’s refined, Mediterranean-influenced take on classic Mexican cooking – not just seafood-stuffed poblano chiles and tostadas topped with the sweet Baja shellfish known as orejas de mar, but for crunchy fried bits of small intestine; toasted gobernadores tacos stuffed with cheese and shrimp; and crocks of tongue simmered in a red pumpkin seed sauce.
And if you are lucky, you will run across bone-marrow sopes -- crisp cornmeal discs from which sprout a single roasted marrow bone apiece; served with one little dish of smoky chile salsa and another holding a kind of magical demiglace, beef stock cooked down with red wine until it becomes as thick as the yolk of a lightly poached egg. You scrape out the marrow, let it melt into the hot sope with a few drops of each of the sauces, and inhale. It may be the single greatest antojito I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.
4346 Bonita Road, Bonita, (619) 475-8627; romescobajamed.com.