Saturday, December 4, 2010

What Do You Get . . .

when you mix Jimmy Buffet’s Parrotheads with Southern California? You get Rockin’ Baja Coastal Cuisine.

A problem with the card reader
has prevented us from including
photographs today. We will add
photographs soon.

We had a hard time finding lunch that day. After a mile’s walk to a place promising Chicago-style Italian Beef Sandwiches, we arrived to find the place closed. A walk back to Old Town San Diego landed us at a café/diner . . . , but we left after looking at the menu and finding nothing remotely interesting. While standing on the corner, we looked down the street and there, two blocks away, was the sign for Rockin’ Baja.

While there are three true interior dining rooms and a front patio near the parking lot (exhaust + food is never a good idea), we were shown to the quasi-open patio and bar area that was – as best as I can describe it – decorated in Key West meets Southwest style. The patio was a giant tent open on one end with a large bar set along one side. At the open end of the tent was a fake rock wall fountain with a sign admonishing the patrons: “Don’t drink the water…drink the Margaritas.” And, of course, this being Southern California, surfer accoutrements were scattered around the room.

The day was sort of cold and damp so the outdoor heaters, nominally decorated for the holidays, were operating at full steam. (I don’t sense that their hearts were in it.) The ersatz wicker chairs were some of the more comfortable restaurant chairs we have come across in some time.

Fish and seafood menu items predominated, but for the carnivores among us, there were alternatives like: the Tacos Chingones (described on the menu as “Really %&#@&#% Good Tacos!”) with carne asada, cheese, beans, avocado and pickled onions wrapped in flour tortillas; Dirty Tacos (Tacos Cochinos)—carnitas mixed with smoky chipotle, cheese, beans, avocado and grilled onions; or Street Tacos (Tacos Auténticos) with a choice of carne asada, grilled chicken or carnitas, served on corn tortillas topped with cilantro, onions and guacamole.

Chuck made a trip to the “all you can eat” chips and salsa bar so that we could snack while debating our lunch choices and returned with a plate of chips and a second plate with four salsa samples. Clockwise, the salsas were the red hot salsa (really hot!), the salsa fresco (mild), the black bean and corn (mild), and the chipotle salsa (sort of hot). Does it come as any surprise that my favorites were the red hot and the chipotle? And, no. There is no photo of the chips. Come on. You know what tortilla chips look like.

We were both hungry, but neither of us wanted a full meal. So we decided that if there were at least three interesting appetizers, we would go the grazing route. Fortunately for us, there were a number of interesting selections including: the Gnarly Nachos—corn tortilla chips layered with Mexi-cheese, jalapeño-spiked cheese sauce, ranchero beans, jalapeños, and tomatoes, then topped with guacamole, sour cream, and pico de gallo (add chicken, carne asada, or carnitas at extra charge); Baja Shrimp Cocktail—seven jumbo shrimp in a Mexican cocktail sauce with cucumber, onion, chile, cilantro, and avocado; Tequila Lime Shrimp (a Rockin’ House Specialty)—shrimp sautéed in butter, olive oil, fresh garlic, cilantro, red pepper, lime juice, and tequila and served with grilled garlic bread; Lobster Bites—small langostino lobster tails battered and fried and served with chipotle mayo; Taquitos de Carnitas—spiced pork carnitas rolled in fresh yellow corn tortillas with shredded lettuce, pico de gallo and Mexican crema, tomatillo-avocado sauce, and red hot salsa; Crispy Calamari with chipotle dipping sauce; Chicken and Black Bean Quesadilla served with tomatillo-avocado sauce and spicy red salsa; and Lobster Corn Chowder.

With this plethora of choices, we needed another trip to the chip and salsa bar to fortify us as we continued our debate. Finally, a decision. We would order the Tequila Lime Shrimp, the Crispy Calamari, and the Lobster Bites and have all three served at the same time.

Let’s start with the weak link—the calamari. Under most circumstances, this would be considered good calamari, but we have eaten so much great calamari in our three plus months in California that Rockin’ Baja’s paled by comparison. The generous serving contained both rings and tentacle pieces that were enrobed in a thin and crunchy coating. But a number of the tentacle pieces (my favorites) were a bit on the chewy side and the chipotle dipping sauce was overwhelming. I found the red hot salsa to be a better alternative.

The tequila lime shrimp came swimming in a pool of oil, butter and garlic sauce that may have been a bit too heavy on the lime. The acid is necessary to counterbalance the richness and oiliness of the butter, but this may have been too much of a good thing. And I could not detect where the tequila added much to the flavor. Still, the shrimp were sweet and crisp and both of us still enjoyed this appetizer despite our caveats.

The big winner was the lobster bites. While langostinos are not really lobsters, and to me, the meat looks more like that from a crawfish, the menu called them lobster bites and so shall I here. The small nuggets of shellfish meat were covered with a seasoned tempura-like coating and fried until the covering was crisp and the meat tender and sweet. These also came with the same chipotle dipping sauce as the calamari, but we discovered a use for the remaining tequila lime butter—use it with the lobster bites.

A good lunch with a couple of missteps (chewy calamari tentacles and too much lime in the butter sauce), but still deserving of a 4.0 Addie rating.

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