After years building up steam as a pop-up, Californios, the new fine-dining restaurant from chef Val M. Cantu, has popped the cork in the Mission. At a very petite 25 seats, it's looking to bring tasting-menu flair without tasting-menu prices to a quiet spot just off Mission Street. Cantu, a Texas native who's cooked at Sons & Daughters, Austin's Uchi, and Mexico City's Pujol, among other acclaimed spots, is offering fine-dining cuisine influenced by his Mexican heritage, utilizing everything from nixtamalized corn to smoked beef tongue to create his dishes.
The only dining option at Californios is a $57, seven-course tasting menu, which can be adjusted to accommodate vegetarians. In an interesting twist, he won't be presenting the menu to diners until the end of the meal, encouraging them to "immerse themselves in their evening and enjoy the company and moment, rather than anticipating what is coming next." But for those who want a sense of what they might be enjoying, the opening dish lineup is as follows:
- Corn and rice chip with fermented pepper puree
- Meyer lemon granita with huckleberry pudding and Asian pear
- Aguachile of smoked hamachi with shaved radish
- Grain soup
- Braised, smoked beef tongue with winter greens and horseradish
- Blood orange frozen yogurt, chocolate mousse, and hazelnuts
- Mexican wedding cookie with coconut caramel and chocolate mint
Californios is a family affair: Cantu's wife, Carolyn, who used to work for acclaimed restaurant designer Ken Fulk, is behind the luxe decor, while his sister-in-law Charlotte Randolph, who previously worked at The French Laundry, is handling beverages. To that end, visitors to Californios can expect a global selection of small-production wines and beers, available by the glass, by the bottle, or as a pairing menu. The restaurant is also emphasizing non-alcoholic options, with a coffee and tea program from Linea and Red Blossom and a non-alcoholic pairing menu in the works. Hours are Tuesday-Friday, 5:30-10pm, and Saturday, 5:30-10:30 pm. Reservations are only available seven days in advance through the restaurant's website, and diners should note that due to its small size, a $40 cancellation fee is levied if they're cancelled less than 24 hours in advance.