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Californios Joins Michael Bauer’s Four-Star Restaurant Club

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The critic has inducted the newly two-Michelin-starred restaurant into his own star squad

Californios Patricia Chang

It’s a been a banner week for Californios. First, the Mission District tasting menu restaurant earned two Michelin stars, becoming the first in North America serving Mexican cuisine to enter that category. But who cares. The Chronicle’s longtime dining critic Michael Bauer has now added his thoughts on chef Val M. Cantu’s restaurant, writing in a new review that Californios has achieved the ultimate honor — four stars from him. The timing must be coincidental and not politically motivated, not that such a thing would detract from the chef’s accomplishments.

“Cantu is doing for Latin ingredients what Corey Lee at Benu has done for Asian ones,” Bauer writes, “creating a Northern California-inspired and entirely personal cuisine, one that transcends techniques and ingredients and comes from within.”

Cantu is a native Texan who previously cooked at Austin's Uchi, Mexico City's Pujol, and most recently Sons & Daughters, another tasting menu restaurant that Bauer rewarded with a “must-visit” three-and-a-half star review this spring, and which maintains one Michelin star.

In his original review of Californios, which is located at 3115 22nd St. (near South Van Ness), Bauer saw fit to give out three stars. Quoting himself, the critic recalls writing initially that “[It] felt as if the devotion to technique overshadowed the equally important passion. If I could experience an emotional connection from the kitchen, the food would move into an even more rarefied class.”

Cantu was clearly listening closely. From the update review:

How he’s re-envisioned Mexican cuisine is best illustrated by what has become a signature dish: Tres Frijoles, which appears in the second half of the tasting menu. A layer of pickled shallots is scattered in the bottom of the stylized bowl, topped with whole Rancho Gordo beans, a layer of marrow bean liquor and a frosting of corona beans whipped nearly as light as cream. In the middle of the bean cloud is a pile of osetra caviar; tiny flakes of gold leaf lightly dot the oversize gray and white plate. Flavors and textures marry flawlessly, creating a dramatic juxtaposition of luxury and rusticity.

Before Californios, the most recent addition to the Micheal Bauer Guide to Four Star Restaurants was Single Thread in Healdsburg, which the critic awarded a perfect rating right out of the gate — a first for him. The entire group:

  • Benu
  • Californios
  • Chez Panisse
  • Coi
  • French Laundry
  • La Folie
  • Manresa
  • Quince
  • The Restaurant at Meadowood
  • Saison
  • Single Thread