Mexican Nebbiolo? A night with family at Restaurante Romesco in Bonita, CA

Above: the smoked Sea of Cortez marlin, thickly sliced, was a show stopper at Restaurante Romesco in Bonita, CA.

The Parzen family traveled southward from La Jolla yesterday evening toward the Mexican border to beautiful Bonita (about 10 minutes from the Otay Mesa border crossing) where we celebrated Judy Parzen’s birthday at Restaurante Romesco, a wonderful, elegant strip-mall restaurant that bills itself as a “Baja Med Bistro.”

Above: grilled tacos stuffed with shrimp and mozzarella.

Micah and Marguerite, Tad and Diane, and yours truly raised a glass to celebrate Judy’s birthday (actually the day before, September 22, which happened to fall on Yom Kippur this year). It had been so long since we’d all been together as a family for a holiday and although we’re all sad about how my life has been changing, it was great to be together as a family for the holiday and our mother’s birthday (the last time was four years ago… but things were a lot different then…).

Menu highlights: excellent smoked Sea of Cortez marlin, thickly sliced and drizzled with vinaigrette (made in Ensenada, our waiter, Omar, told me); tacos stuffed with sliced tongue that had been braised in a tomato-chili sauce, very tasty; grilled tacos stuffed with shrimp and mozzarella (I didn’t think I’d like the combination of seafood and plastic cheese, partly, I must admit, because the dairy-seafood combination is a taboo in some parts of Europe, but this taco was fantastic); and piping hot churros, just firm on the outside, their dough creamy on the inside, rolled in cinnamon sugar.

Above: the dough inside the churros was creamy and the dish came with a demitasse of Mexican hot chocolate and a caramel dipping sauce.

The wine list is nothing to write home about. We drank a very forgettable Albariño and commercial and regrettably barriqued Tempranillo, both from Spain. But the cellar at Romesco also features some Baja California wines and when the waiter told me that his favorite was a Nebbiolo, I had to try it.

The 2002 Nebbiolo by winery L.A. Cetto is proudly aged “14 meses en barrica de roble francés” according to the website (14 months in French oak barriques). For those who know me and read my blog, you know that I’d rather drink mayonnaise soda* than barriqued (oaked) Nebbiolo. The wine was concentrated and alcoholic and didn’t taste anything like Nebbiolo. Only a handful of Californian winemakers have grown Nebbiolo (mostly in Central Coast) and I was truly surprised to see that someone was doing it in Baja California. I can’t say I liked the wine but was impressed by its novelty. I wonder how it would have shown if it hadn’t been barriqued. One of the unique things about Italy and its wines is that while international grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot in particular) have been cultivated and vinified in Italy with great success, native Italian grape varieties have yielded disastrously disappointing results abroad. You can take the grape out of Italy but you can’t take Italy out of the grape… I guess.

Above: my sister-in-law Diane, left, and Judy share a laugh.

But I believe in drinking wines appropriate to the occasion and the place, and, ideally, wines made by and for the people who prepare your food. It was exciting to drink “locally” and to discover what Baja winemakers are doing. Our waiter, Omar, whose wine service was very good, was proud of this bottle and I was proud to taste it at this excellent restaurant.

Above: brother Micah and my sister-in-law Marguerite.

And… you know… to quote a phrase, sometimes it’s not the wine you drink but whom you drink it with and where that matters.

You may have known that all the time, but I’m learning it these days.**

Above: brother Tad contemplates Mexican Nebbiolo.

*Life’s like a mayonnaise soda
And life’s like space without room
And life’s like bacon and ice cream
That’s what life’s like without you

— Lou Reed

**Love is so simple
To quote a phrase
You’ve known it all the time
I’m learnin’ it these days.

— Bob Dylan

One thought on “Mexican Nebbiolo? A night with family at Restaurante Romesco in Bonita, CA

  1. …i have NEVER seen pics of your brothers before… i had no idea that you all looked so much alike!

    but can they rock red and white striped pants with a purple crushed velvet jacket? i didn’t think so!

    love you, man!

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