The most important peninsular culinary movement of the past few decades is Baja Med, a fusion of fresh local organic ingredients and Mediterranean accents that has since achieved a measure of international acclaim, and is currently being celebrated in the Roberto Najera directed documentary Baja Taste.
El Taller in Tijuana is considered ground zero for the this fusion – the restaurant’s chef, Miguel Angel Guerrero, has since trademarked the name – but in its broad strokes the Baja Med movement was an outgrowth of many talented chefs creating a recognizable regional cuisine at restaurants in Tijuana, Ensenada, Rosarito and the Valle de Guadalupe.
The principles of Baja Med also proved influential in Baja California Sur, specifically in Los Cabos, which enjoys many of the same natural advantages: notably, high-quality seafood and organic produce that can be sourced from within a few miles of their ultimate destination.
In recent years, however, some of the best restaurants in cape cities Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo have been increasingly moving away from Baja Med fusions to a more pan-Pacific approach, incorporating flavors, ingredients and cooking techniques from countries as diverse as Japan, Peru and Mexico.
The philosophy behind this sort of fusion is rather simple, at least according to Enrique Olvera, whose restaurant Manta recently opened at The Cape – A Thompson Hotel: “We’re playing around with Peruvian and Japanese flavors because a sashimi, a tiradito and a Mexican ceviche all share a common language.”
Here’s a look at a few of the most important local practitioners and places to sample this evolving approach to Pacific Rim fusion cuisine.
Angel Carbajal and Masayuki Niikura, Nick-San
Chefs Carbajal and Niikura pioneered fusion cuisine in Los Cabos when they opened Nick-San in 1994. The original concept of Japanese cuisine with Mexican ingredients has evolved over the years to a more integrated fusion, evident in signature dishes like the sashimi serranito with 4 oz. of fresh catch of the day in a serrano chile sauce topped with thin slices of pepper, and the lobster curry in sesame sauce with shiitake mushrooms, chives and habanero chile pepper. This fusion has proven so popular over the years that there are now six Nick-San’s across Mexico, with a clothing line generating additional revenue. There are two locations in Los Cabos: the original at Plaza de la Danza in downtown Cabo San Lucas, and another at the upscale Shoppes at Palmilla near San Jose del Cabo.
Enrique Olvera, Manta
Olvera made his name at Pujol, a Mexico City based restaurant that’s annually ranked as one of the best in the world, but the chef has also been in news recently with the opening of Manta, a restaurant in the Los Cabos tourist corridor that boasts spectacular views of Land’s End. Manta, which premiered in June 2015, specializes in Pacific Rim fusion cuisine, with Japanese and Peruvian accents added to regionally sourced seafood and traditional Mexican ingredients. Olvera’s fascination with Mexican street food – “I love the precision of fine dining, and I love the power of street food. The flavor of it. The soul of it.” – so evident at Pujol, is likewise represented in Manta’s rotating menu concept, in which 15 to 18 of the restaurant’s 30 dishes are available on a nightly basis. So too is the chef’s humor, attention to detail, and ability to generate surprising flavor combinations.
Mariano Takinami, Templo
That Templo, which opened in 2014, has one of the most innovative fusion concepts in Los Cabos is almost completely attributable to the heritage and well-traveled career of co-owner and executive chef Mariano Takinami. Born to a Japanese father and Argentine mother, and married to a Brazilian, Takinami has taken his family influences and forged them with work experiences in Peru and Mexico (like Olvera, Takinami loves Mexican street food) to create a diverse and consistently satisfying dining experience. Menu options range from Peruvian style quinoa risotto featuring octopus, sausage and piquillo pepper emulsion to a wok seared flank steak á la Szechuan with carrot, celery and bean paste. The chef likes referring to his restaurant as a “grill, wok and bar,” with the latter serving up signature cocktails and a wide array of wine pairing options.
Nobu Matsuhisa, Nobu Los Cabos
The local fusion scene will get a bit more interesting in 2017 with the arrival of Nobu Los Cabos, a 200-room beachfront resort and restaurant from the hospitality company owned by Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, actor Robert De Niro, and film producer Meir Teper. Matsuhisa is of course the progenitor of Japanese – Peruvian fusion cuisine, which he developed out of necessity while working in his Lima restaurant Matsuei in the early 1970s. Nobu Los Cabos will be the first hotel of its kind in Mexico, although a Nobu restaurant opened in Mexico City in 2009, and has already added a bit of national spice to the brand’s fusion recipe in offerings like yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño. Whether the Los Cabos based Nobu pioneers additional fusions utilizing Japanese, Mexican and Peruvian cuisines remains to be seen, but the restaurant should be a popular addition to a dining scene focused on taking Pacific Rim fusion cuisine to new and interesting places.
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