The Carlos Salgado/Javier Plascencia Pop-Up at Taco Maria was as Delicious as Advertised

Last Friday, Taco Maria hosted the first of its three mega-dinners featuring Mexico's most chingón chefs in honor of the restaurant's three-year anniversary. Game respects game, so those people are going to pay their respects in Costa Mesa to the man who's showing the world that Mexican food can be as refined as any French thing yet maintain its paisa essence. First up to swing was Javier Plascencia, the king of Baja California. It was as delicious as advertised, and bodes well for the next dinners, which'll happen on the first Friday of November and December.

The meal started with Baja uni served on tomato aspic, chile de árbol, avocado mousse and sesame seeds. A fat piece of brioche accompanied this starter: clean, savory, rich, and a harbinger of the DESMADRE to come.

Next was the night's most unconventional dish. The menu only identified it as “sweet potato,” which is kinda like labeling Tom Brady as “QB.” A Oaxacan cold coffee nectar served as a chilled broth of sorts to wonderfully chewy cured beef, the aforementioned potatoes, and delightful herbs. But the most revealing part of this second course was that big ol' twig at the center. It was licorice, and Plascencia encouraged everyone to chew on it after every bite of the meal. Doing so markedly changed the taste of everything, from awesome to refreshingly stupendous.

Número tres was the main course: a gigantic slab of sea bass from Baja. Anchoring it was a bright tomato jam, roasted mushrooms, beans, tart Sicilian capers, and a sharp fennel jus. The skin alone on the bass is worth three figures, but the meat? Chingao! Buttery AF.

Followng was a Salgado specialty: meat. Cocoa-smoked ribeye juiced up with lavender tallow and the best cebollitas I've had in my life—and I've been getting them off the grill from my cousin's carne asada Sundays in Montebello since I was a child. This was the dish that spoke most of Taco Maria; the basics of a chamber quartet amplified to the power of Stokowski's Philadelphia Orchestra.

Dessert was deceptively simple: a strawberry tamal enlivened with huitlacoche and vanilla cream. After an evening a decadence, a hearty, earthy conclusion was not only appreciated, but necessary.

If you're interested in buying tickets for the next dinners, go to Taco Maria's website. And do go: support OC dining as it transitions from the merely flashy to the influential, porfas

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