Lola has been a proponent of Mexican seafood from the day it opened in its original location on Old South Pearl Street in 2002 through the move its current spot in Lower Highland (where it's already a revered old-timer), so welcoming Baja California chef/restaurateur Javier Plascencia for a guest lunch and dinner seemed a natural fit. Dave Query, whose Big Red F restaurant group runs Lola, and culinary director Jamey Fader traveled to Mexico earlier this year to cook and dine with Plascencia at several of his restaurants. And yesterday Lola reciprocated with two meals from the chef, who has earned a reputation as one of the forerunners of a coastal Mexican style of cuisine that combines the best of Baja California components and traditions with Mediterranean techniques and ingredients that have flourished in the region's climate.
Plascencia, who calls his cooking style "Cali-Baja," points out that the Baja peninsula not only produces top-caliber seafood — like the firm, sweet Baja scallops he served in an bracing and spicy aguachile dish — but also is becoming known for its vineyards and olive orchards. After a difficult period of violence and reduced tourism because of Mexico's drug cartels, the chef says, the region has been revitalized, and his restaurants, including several in Tijuana and Ensenada and the new Bracero Cocina de Raiz in San Diego, are flourishing. Bracero is up for a James Beard Foundation award for Best New Restaurant this year.
Although the dishes that Plascencia presented were part of a one-day affair, Query and Fader's experiences on their trip — which Fader calls "life-changing" — have rubbed off on Lola's menu, and several new dishes are available on the spring menu. You won't see those firm Baja scallops, which had to be flown in the night before for Plascencia's lunch and dinner, but there are plenty of other options to choose from. Keep reading for more photos of the Javier Plascencia lunch.