Owner and chef Val Cantu was recently named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs 2017 and is a veteran of such Michelin-starred SF institutions as Saison and Sons & Daughters. According to Hannah Walhout’s Food & Wine article, “Cantu and family opened Californios in 2015. Carolyn, Californios co-owner and Cantu’s wife, acts as the Maitre D’; her sister Charlotte Randolph, also a co-owner, is the Beverage Director.”
Truly fine restaurants never make you feel uncomfortable or unworthy of being there, and this was true at Californios. AJ had arrived about 20 minutes early, and he was greeted and seated at our table right away. When Ken and I walked into the 25-seat restaurant, there was AJ, chatting amicably with one of the servers about food and restaurants. He had also received a handwritten note, wishing him a happy birthday and thanking him for celebrating at Californios.
Our server informed us that it would be a 15-course meal but there were 19 items listed on our menu. I would love to go through them all, but instead I’ll list the highlights. Besides, the menu changes daily, depending on what is available, so your experience will vary but probably be just as wonderful. Our meal started with a horchata that was like no other horchata we had ever tasted. You could actually taste the individual nuts and spices, and it was smooth and light, without the grainy texture that often is at the base of other horchata drinks. The scallop chicharron reminded me of a more nuanced, more delicious shrimp chip. We loved the mushroom taco, which was bursting with exotic and earthy flavors. One of the great things about this menu is the fact that we all loved everything, even the things we don’t normally enjoy. If all fuyu persimmons were prepared like one I had this evening, I would love them. The surprise of the evening was the wagyu carne asada, which came charred on the outside and perfectly rare on the inside. This was so full of flavor and tender that AJ discovered a steak that he likes. AJ learned two things from this remarkable meal; he likes chardonnay from France and wagyu beef. Where did we go wrong?