Jeff Smith 3 p.m., March 27
Snail Pizza? Si!
On a moonlit night in TJ, Baja Med delivers a whole 'nother gastronomic world
I check the menu again.
Oh yes. There it is under “Pizza Baja Med.”
“Escargots,” $12 for the chico (“small”) size.
I’m here, nine at night, sitting in a converted warehouse. OK, not really converted. The big ol' timbers and slap-dash panels of corrugated iron look like they haven't been updated since they were tacked together maybe 100 years ago.
’Course, that’s the charm.
This is El Taller, “The Workshop ,” (Avenida Rio Yaqui #2969-B, off Boulevard Agua Caliente, Tijuana, 011.52.664.686-3383).
See it's subtitled “Baja Med Cocina."
I've been curious about this TJ phenom, “Baja Med.” Seems like it’s very locovore, very seasonal. Pick what you find and cook it. Give it the olive oil “Mediterranean” treatment, and voilà!
Two chefs I've heard of, Javier Plascencia and Miguel Angel Guerrero have led the charge on this.
Tonight, under a clear moon, when I walk in, Armando at the bar says this is Guerrero’s place.
The idea must be working. Place is buzzing. Cooks are constantly ramming pies into the pizza oven...
"It's olive-wood-fired," says Armando. I check the menu. Hey hey. We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto. Pizzas loaded with abalone chorizo, lamb (“cordero”), roasted pig, chicken with mole…and snails?
Kitchen has the whole left side
But talk about having a conversion on the road to Damascus: When my pizza comes, green arugula, red peppers, sautéed onions, mozzarella cheese, snails and all...
...I do what Victor the waiter suggests: squeeze lime juice all over it and dip each wedge in a ruddy black sauce, a mix of the arbol pepper, toasted peanuts and olive oil...
That's the arbol salsa on the right
And the result is...?
No words describe. Okay, one word: Beautiful. Two more: Darkly rich. Okay, four more: Totally rico-suave deelish.
I mean, pizza’s not supposed to be...guess I can say, so complex, satisfying. If this is locovore eating, I'm loco enough. I'm in.
To the local snails who gave their lives for this: thanks.
There's more to this place.
Whole story in upcoming Tin Fork.
Victor Vargas, Sergio Mendez: servers, Baja Med gastro-consultants
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