Second generation restaurateur Javier Plascencia runs alta cocina destination Villa Saverios.
We’d already devoured eight meals and worked our way through a beer festival, so the idea of eating dinner was laughable. Our stomachs were on auto-pilot, but this wasn’t an ordinary group. This was a collection of seasoned food bloggers and professional chefs, so we loosened our belt loops, hoisted our forks and proceeded to lay waste to one the best meals possible in Tijuana’s Gastronomic Zone.
Javier Plascencia is the chef-owner of Villa Saverios and has built a small Mexican empire that extends to San Diego County. His family has been in the restaurant business for 40 years and Dad even invented “Mexican pizza.” Plascencia utilizes local animals, produce and features custom-made olive oil. “I’m in love with Baja, California, so I’m out to promote it,” says the chef, who travels frequently on his own dime to promote the region’s culinary wonders. We filled a private dining room in Plascencia’s temple to alta cocina (haute Mexican cuisine).
Each place setting featured an unfamiliar green twig. Thankfully, Ramiro Arvizu from La Casita Mexicana clarified that we were facing salicornia – sea asparagus. The salty herb only grows in the Baja area. Too bad. It was a great palate cleanser.
We started with a shaken tamarind cocktail featuring mezcal and Damiana, an aromatic liqueur made from a Baja herb. A great touch was garnishing the cocktail with a whole tamarind pod. Fiona compared it to a Slushee, and it was the day’s most balanced tamarind cocktail.
Our supple octopus carpaccio was topped with sweet tomatoes, arugula, diced nopales and extra virgin olive oil pressed with grapefruit.
We each received a sampler platter of signature Villa Saverios dishes. Grandma’s “Tacos de Fideo” was unusual but compelling, a corn tortilla loaded with griddled spaghettini, topped with salsa verde, greens, cheese, habanero chile and lashings of Mexican cream. Octopus once again came into play. In this case, pulpo encebollado consisted of spice-soaked baby octopus on hearty white bean puree. Finally, we received a cup of frothy black mussel cappuccino.
The night’s best dish involved tender braised short rib chunks bathed with Oaxaca mole, black Mission figs drizzled with port wine and rich but satisfying potatoes blended with mascarpone.
For dessert, we split subtly sweet blackberry tamales that were drizzled with icing. Plascencia showed restraint, electing to use masa instead of sweet corn, so the dessert wasn’t too sweet.
Dinner at Villa Saverios certainly wasn’t necessary, but it was much appreciated.
Thank you to the Tijuana Convention and Visitors Bureau, Crossborder Agency, Cotuco (Tijuana Tourism Board), and Tijuana Canirac (Tijuana Restaurant Association) for sponsoring our eye-opening culinary tour of northern Baja. Thank you to Bill Esparza from Street Gourmet LA for leading the tour and for supplying so much invaluable information.