TIJUANA RESTAURANT REVIEW: Caesar’s Tapas Bar
Located in a small restaurant attached to the Original Caesar’s Hotel Restaurant – the originator of the now ubiquitous salad and innumerable culinary crimes committed in that name — Caesar’s Tapas Bar is a welcome addition to the downtown dining scene in Tijuana under the umbrella of Javier Plascencia’s restaurant group. I arrived in the early afternoon to avoid a crowd as the place is usually full in the evening. The restaurant is very small but beautifully decorated in Mexican and Spanish bullfighting art, classic posters, old tickets and a large bull head mounted on the left side of the restaurant/bar. The wine list is extensive and includes wines from the local Guadalupe Valley. Beer on tap is comprised of three beers from the Tijuana Brewery, including Morena (dark), Guera (light amber) and Caesar’s house beer. Originally Caesar’s used to have a house beer from the Tijuana Brewery that was the best beer in Mexico but have since changed to a light beer that tastes awful. The original Caesar’s beer from the Tijuana Brewery was featured at the Caesar’s booth at the last TJ Beer Festival and used the toasted Czech hops that gave the beer its flavor. From a fan: “Please bring it back!”
I asked the waiter about the house wine specials and asked him about the Chauvenet wine special for 22 pesos that comes in a Chato glass that is really to just get an idea of the taste of the wine. They also have 30 peso Cabernet Cetto in a chato glass and the house Cabernet in the same glass. I am not a wine expert but it seemed to me to have a Cabernet crispness when I had thought that Chauvenet was a more Burgundy type of wine.
I started out by ordering the olive spread with bread. I have had this in the past at Caesar’s Restaurant next door and it is a perfect start to tapas. The texture on the spread was perfect. Unlike many tapenades the salt did not dominate the flavor. It is one of the best olive spreads I’ve enjoyed anywhere. I was enjoying the olive spread I noticed that there was a large table with some municipal officers that I recognized from the newspaper; they were passing around shirts for a candidate for the elections coming up. More on that later.
The Caesar’s Tapas Bar menu is separated into cold and hot items like a typical Tapas Bar. I ordered some thinly sliced serrano ham which paired well with the wine…so I ordered another small chato glass. There was an appealing moistness to the jamon Serrano at Caeser’s. This, together with the fact that it was not as salty or as fatty as Serrano often can be made the dish quite enjoyable.
Next up was the Montadito de Bacalao which was cold salt cod on a slice of small bread. It may have been just a matter of taste – or one of imperfect technique – but this dish was not to my liking. It tasted salty and had an unappealing texture. It was at this point that I noticed the Tijuana Chief of Police had arrived to join the other officers and important locals. His arrival was accompanied by that of at least two armed body guards located at each side of the front door. Not so long ago this would have been my cue to ask for the check and make for the exit, but now things seem very mellow in TJ even if in other Mexican cities the Chief of Police can be a marked man.
The Sardina Frita was not much better. The dish that arrived was not exactly what I had expected. Instead of a dish of smaller sardines in bite-sized portions, Caesar’s was a single, medium-sized fried sardine with a mild tomatillo and garlic sauce that was helpless to do anything about the greasy texture and tasteless batter. I love sardines, usually. This time, though, they just tasted awful.
The Gambas Criollas dish consisted of large shrimp in a red sauce with Worcestershire sauce, tomato and white wine. It was a good dish. The shrimp were perfectly cooked but, again, they need to slow down on the salt again. Of course, it was not so salty that I didn’t use some of the bread to mop up the sauce.
I finished the meal with a traditional Spanish tapas called Tortilla Espanola. Contrary to the ordinary connotation of the term “tortilla” this has nothing to do with tacos. It is an egg dish that is more like an Italian frittata. It was a perfect dish; the layers of egg, onion and potatoes came together in a synchronicity of flavor that was actually better than the Tapas places I have been to in San Diego.
So, in the end, the dishes were hit and miss but I will go back and try some other dishes to see how it goes. The menu prices are fairly cheap and the atmosphere is gorgeous. That said, while I usually don’t scrutinize the bill, I could not help but notice that the two glasses of wine were priced at 45 pesos each when I asked to try the Chauvenet. When I asked why I was charged a higher amount, the waiter told me it was because he ordered the house wine which was double in price. While it wasn’t much of a price difference and I didn’t want to appear like George Costanza, I was kind of pissed that they just went for the higher priced wine without telling me. They claimed they talked to the manager who said there was nothing they could do. I then did something that I have never done before in my life….I stiffed the waiter and left zero tip. I hate doing that and usually tip 20% or more but I felt it sent a message, even though the waiter was likely pissed when I left. Despite that mistake, I will return and do love the ambience of the restaurant.
Caesar’s Tapas Bar
Revolution Avenue bet. 4th and 5th Avenues
Tijuana, B.C., Mexico
– El Fabio