December 21, 2007
A First

IMGP2331_edited.jpgI'm not big on collecting souvenirs, but I got one last night I just may have to frame. It's receipt No. 0001 from the newest restaurant in San Jose del Cabo, Restaurant H. It opened last night, and we were the first paying customers, said chef Luis Herrera, left, who with his father, Luis Herrera Blanc, right, own the small but exquisitely designed restaurant in the heart of the community's art district. We happened upon it largely because it's adjacent to El Moro, my favorite cantina in a town with just a handful of bars (another is just down the street, Baja Brewing Co., also brand new, the first brewpub in Baja California Sur).

We didn't know it when we walked into Restaurant H, but father and son are well poised to further enhance San Jose del Cabo's reputation as the dining epicenter of Los Cabos. Cabo San Lucas about 20 miles to the southwest is the better known of the two towns, in large part because it's much bigger and because that's where the cruise ships tie up (48 are scheduled to pull into port in January alone, reports a local newspaper). Cabo San Lucas has its Ruth's Chris Steak House, Johnny Rockets, Cabo Wabo and the like, but San Jose del Cabo is where diners in search of individual artistry head when they are hungry.

Restaurant H is the 38th restaurant the elder Herrera has opened. He's been in the business 43 years, playing key roles in establishing such signature restaurant groups as Carlos O'Brien's and Senor Frog's throughout Mexico. The younger Herrera started his culinary training in Mexico City, then attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. He put in stints with restaurants in New York City before returning to Mexico about a decade ago, first to be executive chef at the exclusive golf club Querencia, then at the equally posh Club Ninety Six of the One and Only Palmilla.

At Restaurant H, the junior Herrera describes his food as "modern rustic." By that, he means he's applying traditional Mexican techniques and ingredients to foundations with which they customarily haven't been combined, such as putting a yellow mole sauce to sliced sirloin. His dinner entrees also include pan-fried chicken with a curry of tomatillos and poblano and jalapeno chile peppers, grilled pork chop with a green herb sauce, chorizo and a white-bean puree, and my favorite from last night's menu, local sea bass crusted with sunflower seeds over a sweet and creamy sauce of corn, potato and peppers.

The first night a restaurant is open isn't the time to judge its long-range prospects, but that dish, a tall and bright salad of tomatoes and roasted beets with a gazpacho vinaigrette, and the definitive flan strongly indicate that Restaurant H will be a serious player on the San Jose del Cabo dining scene.

And the elder Herrera isn't finished. He's scouting the town for a site for his next project, an Argentine restaurant where salads and pastas will be as emphasized as the steaks.

The local angle: Herrera senior's wife is the former Gay Thatcher, who grew up in Yreka. They met on a blind date in Los Angeles more than 40 years ago. Herrera junior also is familiar with Northern California. He has good friends in Fair Oaks, and spent a vacation this summer around Sacramento. He's still raving about the city's proximity to San Francisco, Napa Valley and Lake Tahoe, but don't hold that against him.

Restaurant H, 1505 Calle Alvaro Obregon, San Jose del Cabo, is open daily except Sunday, 12-4 for lunch, 6-10 for dinner.

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