Exploring Baja California, Mexico: Puerto Nuevo aka The Lobster Capital of Baja

"Exploring Baja California, Mexico" is part of a series recap. If you're just tuning in, you can catch up on the previous post here: Mexico Trip Recap

Puerto Nuevo is a small coastal town that sits between Ensenada and Rosarito, about a 40 minute drive from the San Diego/Mexico border. The town, known as the "Lobster Capital of Baja," is famous for serving freshly caught spiny lobsters, fried in lard. It may sound simple, but there's a secret method to cooking this lobster that keeps people coming back for more. 

There are over 30 restaurants in Puerto Nuevo that serve lobster, but the most popular is Puerto Nuevo I or Restaurant Nuevo. The family who operates the two most popular restaurants also owns many of the restaurants nearby, including Grana's Place, which is where we went. According to Baja Times, "The first really commercial lobster restaurant was started in 1955 by Rosario Grana, and it still is serving Lobster Puerto Nuevo in the same spot, which is on the very first southwestern corner of the main street of the town."

Our waitress recommended two orders total; each order comes with three lobster halves, which ended up being the perfect amount for us. The lobsters are served with a spread of beans, rice, chips, salsa, drawn butter and basket of warm and fresh, homemade flour tortillas. The tortillas are perfectly soft, moist and pliable with silky layers,  easily the best that I've ever had in my life. I have the exact same sentiments with the rice and beans - it's on point. 

The lobsters are pan-fried in lard, so the meat stays sweet, soft and tender. The secret is in the lard. David Nelson of LA Times says "these places use lard as the cooking element and reuse it through the day until it has become an unimaginably rich emulsion of fat and lobster juices." The volume of lobsters results in lobster juices overpowering the lard, so you get lobster that's essentially fried in its own juices. It's ridiculously effin' good; I'm obsessed with these spiny creatures.  

In total, we paid $25 per person in cash. The price varies at restaurants based on season and size of the lobsters, so expect an order to be anywhere from $15 to 30 per person. The restaurants in the area are usually open from 10am to 8pm on weekdays, some restaurants stay open until 11pm on Friday and Saturdays. If you go during the weekday like we did, the entire town is pretty dead, which is in some way a good thing because the restaurants have lines out the door on weekends.

I've come to the conclusion that life is so much better when there's a plate of Puerto Nuevo-style lobsters in front of you, waiting to be devoured. 

Puerto Nuevo Shops

There's not much in a town that's taken over by restaurants, but I would highly suggest stopping over after eating lobsters to check out Paleteria Y Neveria Ice Cream, a popsicle and ice cream shop. 

I had the strawberry cheesecake, which was splendid. I also really loved the pistachio flavor as well. I don't think you can go wrong with any flavors here. It's creamy and tastes like ice cream on a stick, rather than an icy popsicle. 

I felt like a kid - the selection of candy and treats at this shop was unreal. My biggest regret is not grabbing a bag of De La Rosa or the chili mango pops.

In addition to candy, there's dried fruits, many of which are coasted in sugar and covered in chili, along with shelves of vanilla extract. 

The shops are, kind of, fun to check out. I scored a backpack for $14, which I am pretty sure is the tourist's price, but I didn't mind. I couldn't help but to admire the creative jewelry for sale. If you enlarge and look closely, you'll spot stone fruit pits, acorns, and other uses of seeds and nuts, beautifully dyed and handmade into a necklace or bracelet. I'll need to grab some on our next visit. 

I'll see you again soon, Puerto Nuevo! 

You can visit this link for maps and directions on how to get to Puerto Nuevo: http://www.puertonuevolobster.com/puerto-nuevo-map.htm

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First Look: Omakase's $150 Tasting Menu Experience in SoMa - Omakase Review (San Francisco)

Omakase is a traditional Tokyo Edomae-style sushi bar that just opened up a few weeks ago in San Francisco's SoMa neighborhood with only 14 seats available, featuring three chef's choice menu options priced at $100, $150, and $200. The menu focuses on high quality fish and Japanese delicacies, many of which are flown in three times a week from Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market.

The restaurant is opened by restaurateur Kash Feng (Live Sushi Bar, Live Sushi Mission, Live Sushi Bistro and Origami Market Restaurant) and the team of chefs at Omakase is headed up by Jackson Yu .

Patrick and I were invited to be guests of the restaurant to check out the $150 omakase experience, which turned out to be one of the best dining experiences we've had. There's something really unique and intimate about sitting in front of the chef making your food and interacting with them. It was like having a delicious educational sushi lesson.

Chef Jackson Yu has been preparing Japanese cuisine since he was a teenager and has trained with well-known Japanese chefs. From premier restaurants in the Bay Area to Ginza in Japan, he has become known for his impeccable knife skills.

Working with Chef Yu to ensure that the entirety of the Omakase dining experience is a good one are chefs Ingi Son (pictured above), with 17 years of experience at restaurants from New York to Las Vegas and Napa, and Yoshihito Yoshimoto, a native of Osaka who has been in the restaurant business for 37 years at venues from coast to coast including Hawaii.

The $150 Omakase Experience

We were both served an identical menu with a total of 24 different items, all of which were seasonal.

Before service, rice is made fresh to prevent it from being cold. The texture and seasoning is perfect. For those who are picky with the amount of rice served with nigiri, the chefs cater to the individuals preferences.

Nishida "Kikuizumi" ($23 Carafe)

The house-chosen sake was an excellent choice that paired well with all the dishes we had. It has a nice and fruity arrival and leaves a clean finish. There's almost a bubblegum-like flavor during the inhale. It's served in a pewter decanter to remove the bitterness of sake. They have an impressive selection of sake that will please anyone's palette.

Seafood Salad

The first course was a lovely seafood salad with the sweetest lobster and crab meat, along with beautiful herring roe (that's easy to miss) that was pearl-like in color, all mixed with sea grapes and young radishes and tossed in a bright yuzu pepper dressing.

Copper River Salmon 

The copper river salmon comes from Alaska and is an excellent fish that can only be enjoyed from mid-May to June. It's a firm fish that is high in fat content, which gives it a rich and nutty flavor.

Nanbanzuke

The nanbanzuke is a traditional Japanese dish with Portugese and Dutch influences, related to escabeche. Omakase's version consists of a fried white fish, marinated in a mixture of dashi, soy sauce and vinegar served over eggplants.

Sazae/Turban Shell Sea Conch with 24k Gold

There's a lot of flavor in this Japanese turban shell sea conch dressed in its own liver that's cooked in sake. The conch meat itself has a crunchy chew and the slightly bitter liver sauce brings out the wonderful flavors of the sea, almost like an abalone.

Tobiuo/Flying Fish

The flying fish has a low percentage of fat, so it's lean and light in flavor.

Kuromaguro/Blue Fin Tuna

Blue fin tunas are one of the most prestigious delicacies in Japan. This one comes from Spain and tastes almost like a rare filet mignon. It's like biting into a tender muscle. Incredible! 

Shima-Aji/Yellow Stripe Jack 

The yellow stripe jack fish is named as such due to its yellow stripe in the middle of its body. It's the most expensive in the jack fish family. The fish tastes smooth and rich, is clear in color and glossy on the surface. It doesn't taste like it would be from the jack fish family, except it does resemble hamachi (which one of my readers, Jeff Croci, points out that hamachi is a part of the jack fish family). The difference between the two is in the finish; hamachi has a slightly fishy profile, whereas the shima-aji has a sweet note. The flesh is nice, firm to bite and resembles a leaner toro. 

Kasugo/Sea Bream

The kasugo nigiri is outstanding - a young sea bream that's slightly chewy and rich, almost like a fish pate. 

Iwashi/Sardine

The light sear on the sardine helps to bring out the flavors of this soft, oily and rich fish. The grated ginger and daikon are garnished on top to neutralize the oils. 

Ibodai/Butterfish

Ibodai is a deep sea fish that eats crustaceans and jellyfish. It's has a distinctive, yet clean and delicate flavor. The texture of the meat is firm with a nice chew to it. Omakase garnishes the fish with a bit of grated wasabi and ginger.

Saba/Mackerel 

Due to the fishy characteristics and quick spoiling of saba, the fish is enjoyed cured in salt. A thin layer of ginger is garnished on top to help mute the overpowering aftertaste. It was moist, flavorful and rich.

Grilled Miso Black Cod with Young Pickled Ginger

The miso black cod has rich, savory and sweet characteristics. The skin is the best part - a little fatty with a lovely char that brings out a nice bitterness that goes extremely well with the flavorful miso and young pickled ginger.

Mirugai/Giant Clam

The clam meat was slapped and served live. This Alaskan creature was still slowly moving as I took this photo. The texture is crunchy and has a sweet, slightly briny flavor. It really is one hell of a sweet ass clam. 

Kohada/Shad

The kohada is a shiny fish that's cured in vinegar and salt. The flavor is strong with a medium level of oil content, giving it a fishier funk with a flaky texture.

Aged Kobe Wagyu Beef

The marbling on the aged kobe wagyu beef is magnificent. The beef comes from Japan and is served cold. There's a steak-like quality to it and the fat melts in your mouth wonderfully as you chew the meat.

Ankimo/Monkfish Liver

Omakase's ankimo is exceptional and one of the true stars of the dining experience. I haven't had anything like it before. It's like foie gras from the clean sea - creamy, smooth and rich. Unlike most restaurants that steam their ankimo to the point where it's dried up, Omakase uses a secret method where they cook it in an ankimo sauce to preserve all the flavors. I would go back to Omakase just for this alone!

Hokkaido Uni with Cured Ikura and Daikon

The bright and colorful orange uni from Hokkaido is truly something special. The roe has a wonderful sweetness that's fresh and creamy without a seafood taste. It pairs extremely well with the cured ikura, which pops nicely in my mouth, releasing sweet soy and briny characteristrics. The uni, ikura, daikon and shiso is served over seasoned rice.

Kinmedai/Golden Eye Snapper

The golden eye snapper lives in the deep sea and is a white fish that only eats shrimp, which is why the fish has beautiful golden and rose colored skin. It's truly one of the most amazing fish I've eaten - incredibly tender, rich and buttery.

Toro/Fatty Tuna

I am always excited for fatty toro and this one melts in your mouth like butter, as expected, yet still has a subtle lightness to it.

Anago/Conger Eel

Arrived from Tokyo, the anago is a saltwater eel that resides in sandy, muddy bottoms of the sea. It's considered to be the second best sea eel and has a very soft texture. It tastes sweet, yet savory and delicate enough to melt in your mouth.

While many restaurants often serve eel with a bottled sweet sauce, it takes Omakase 5 hours to make and reduce a sauce using eel bones. 

Asari Miso Shiru/Miso Soup with Manilla Clams

Omakase's wonderfully fragrant miso soup is served hot and is full of deep, hearty flavors. The manilla clams bring in briny characteristics to the traditional broth.

Toro Maki

We conclude our dinner with a buttery toro maki that's mixed with wasabi, soy sauce and salt. Chef Jackson says that the omakase experience should always end with maki as a way to ensure that guests leave full and satisfied. At this point, we were very, happily stuffed. 


Final Thoughts

Omakase is new and hasn't been discovered yet by many people, which makes now a fantastic time to go and check it out before reservations fill up at this intimate 14-seat sushi bar. 

While the food looks simple, the variety of fresh fish, flavors and textures are perfect, which is what makes this place brilliant. We look forward to visiting again to try the $200 omakase experience. 

A huge thank you to Omakase and Chef Jackson Yu for inviting us as their guests and taking us on one of the most memorable sushi dining experiences we've had.

Note: If you haven't been to this area for a while, you may not be aware that there's construction of huge apartment complexes that is expected to be complete within the next three years. More reason to check this place out sooner rather than later.


Visiting Omakase

Location

665 Townsend St, San Francisco, CA 94107

Website

http://omakasesf.com/

Phone

(415) 865-0633

Hours

  • Mon-Sat 5:00-9:00pm, Last seating at 9:00pm 

Capacity

There are only 14 seats available. Call for reservations. 

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Many Clever, Unexpected Dishes at Reverb Kitchen & Bar in Russian Hill (San Francisco)

I was very excited when I heard that the team behind Gather was opening up a restaurant in San Francisco. Gather is one of my favorite restaurants in Berkeley and I knew whatever concept they come up with was going to be promising. 

The first concept they opened was Verbena, which closed after 15 months of business and transitioned into Reverb Kitchen & Bar. The new focus shifts towards a more casual, neighborhood vibe. I was bummed that I waited too long and didn't get a chance to try Verbena, but happy that I can still enjoy what this team built on the second take. 

Patrick and I were invited to check out the new restaurant as guests and loved our experience. We ate a lot of food and had a couple of amazing cocktails, along with a spectacular wine pairing. 

What you can expect at Reverb is a yin-yang of omnivore and vegetable dishes that are pleasantly surprising and highlighted in the most brilliant way. Each dish we ordered was beautifully plated. The ingredients are used in a thoughtful and playful way. So much that we spent dinner talking through each component that made up each dish. When you have food like this, it builds up an excitement for what's to come next throughout the dining experience. 

Reverb’s kitchen team is led by Chef Ryan Shelton, 33 years old, who has previously worked at various restaurants around the San Francisco Bay Area. He was Pastry Chef at Chez TJ in Mountain View, Chef de Cuisine at Baumé in Palo Alto, Executive Chef at Randall Grahm's Le Cigare Volant in Santa Cruz and, most recently, the Executive Chef at Palo Alto Grill. With Chef Shelton at the helm, Baumé earned a coveted 2-star Michelin rating before celebrating its first anniversary.

The moment I walked through Reverb's beautiful wooden doors, I instantly fell in love with the simple design and space created by Abueg Morris Architects (Nopalito, Comal, Hi Lo BBQ). I am a sucker for high ceilings and wooden architecture. 

Unlike many restaurants that face the issue of being loud and noisy, they've got it under control. It was really nice to converse with each other over dinner without having to scream and compete with other diners.

Whoever manages the background music clearly has great taste: MGMT, Beck, Ratatat

The cocktail selections are worth the visit alone. This is the type of place where I could spend hours going through each cocktail listed on the menu.  There's also a thoughtful and diverse selection of wine available that would please any palette. 

Polk St. Pimm's ($12)

The Pimm's Cup at Reverb is excellent. The ingredients inside this glass radiates summer: Pimm's No 1, vodka, limoncello, lemon, housemade strawberry syrup, and ginger beer. It goes down so smoothly and stays flavorful even when the ice melts. It's the drink that keeps on giving! 

Monk of Guadalajara ($12)

One sip of this delightfully, tart and fruity cocktail will have you hooked. The tequila works well with the St. Germain and the Yellow Chartreuse marries it together. The lime and strawberry adds that zesty refreshing berry component that makes this drink so wonderful. 

The Food 

Tongue-in-Cheek Rilette ($5)

Wine Pairing: Ca Di Rajo, Prosecco, Italy ($9/$45)

The smooth rilette is made with braised pork - salty, smokey and rich. The dry prosecco is low in acidity and has a bitterness that goes nicely with the rilettes. While it was tasty, this was the least exciting thing on the menu. It makes for a nice quick snack, but I'd suggest holding off and going with something more unique from the bites section. 

Pole Bean Fritters ($7)

You can instantly pick up and taste the Indian influences in this dish. It's like a play on vegetable pakora with the accompanying chutneys. Fresh crisp pole beans are the star, served with a cilantro chutney, yogurt sauce, and a golden raisin puree that acts as a substitute for the standard tamarind chutney that's usually offered with fried Indian snacks. The crunch of the pole beans are sweet and flavorful, making it a perfect summer treat. 

Asparagus Soup with Lemon Coconut Ice Cream ($12)

My taste buds went wild for this soup. A warm pureed asparagus soup with lemon coconut ice cream may sound odd, but it's truly a wonderful harmony of flavors that's comforting for the soul. 

We absolutely loved the nuttiness of the almonds and the raw shaved and grilled asparagus over the rich soup. 

This dish is a playful vegan take on asparagus and hollandaise, but it actually tastes like an asparagus curry to us. Regardless, I want more and can only hope that Reverb continues to create dishes like this. 

Grilled Octopus ($16)

Wine Pairing: Donnhoff, Riseling, Nahe 2013 ($14/$70)

A nicely grilled octopus should be tender with a crunch and chewiness that is not rubbery. The grill and char on this plump octopus is nicely done, and you can still taste the freshness of the catch. 

The romesco sauce is excellent, especially with the gigante beans, and the bacon adds some nice salty and smokey characteristics to the dish. 

The peachy notes and residual sugar in this well-balanced riesling goes well with the saltiness and spices.

Cavatelli in English Pea Juice ($20)

Wine Pairing: Poderi San Lazzaro, Pecorino, Italy 2007 ($12/$60)

It's impressive how simple, yet complex this pasta dish is. I ordered the cavatelli because it looked interesting and peculiar. I mean, an English pea sauce? I love peas, but I fell in love with peas all over again after having the cavatelli. 

The chewy pasta combined with prosciutto, lemon mascarpone and pea sauce makes for a sweet, savory, buttery and wonderfully salty dish that pairs extremely well with the pecorino. The wine is unlike anything we've had before - it's playful and has notes of dill pickles. 

I would highly recommend having a glass of pecorino with this; it actually opens up the dish and amplifies the flavors. The wine uses wild yeast as the starter and it's aged in a concrete tank, which results in earthy characteristics. 

Fried Chicken & Amaranth Waffles ($23)

A lot of things are going on in this dish. The fried chicken is straight-forward: juicy and crispy with just enough batter to coat. The amaranth waffles arrive dressed in a butterscotch apple maple syrup and all together it, surprisingly, tastes like popcorn. If that's not odd enough- the greens taste like an addicting chow mein. Say what? We had to take another bite to just make sure that our minds weren't playing tricks on us. 

The sweet and sour pickles go nicely with the fried chicken and greens, but be warned that the pickled chili is packed with heat.

When you have all of that exciting stuff in one dish, it's easy to forget the rich chicken jus that's meant to be poured over the chicken and waffles. Now that's what I call one hell of a memorable plate of fried chicken.  

Brioche Doughnuts ($6)

Wine Pairing: Scacciadiavoli Passito, Sagrantino, Umbria, Italy 2007 ($13)

Donuts and a dessert wine pairing? I can't say that I've had a pairing like this before. In my own experience, wine and sweets have never paired well. Surprisingly, it works in this case. The donuts are delightfully delicious, rolled in cinnamon sugar and served with a passion-nectarine syrup and ricotta. 

The sagrantino is a lovely dessert wine, almost like a drinkable sweet syrup that extends the taste of the donut.

Kumquat Chocolate Tart ($10)  

Reverb's rich and smooth chocolate tart is fun to eat and has many elements that bring it together holistically. There's a zesty brightness from the kumquat and a refreshing element from the green tea sherbert. The light touch of salt opens up the chocolate flavors, while the almond cream cools and neutralizes the mouth. The buttery crust to chocolate ratio is on point.


Final Thoughts

The attention to detail was superb across the board from the food to the extremely knowledgeable and personable wait staff.  I'd go back to Reverb in a heartbeat and can't wait to see how the menu evolves. 

Thank you for having us as your guests and for the all the delicious food, Reverb! 


VISITING Reverb Kitchen & Bar

Location

2323 Polk St. San Francisco, CA 94109

Website

http://www.reverbsf.com/

Phone

(415) 441-2323

Hours

  • Dinner: Mon-Sat 5:30-10:00pm

  • Happy Hour: Mon-Fri 5:30-6:00pm

  • Weekend Brunch:  Sat 10:00am - 2:30pm / Sun 10:00am - 9:00pm

Capacity

The main dining room seats 62, and the bar sets the stage of the venue.  There is also an intimate upstairs mezzanine with room for 18 guests, plus seating for 16 at sidewalk tables, weather permitting.

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