Thursday, June 1, 2000
Baja Cantina and Grill''s rustic wooden deck has long been a favorite of fog-bound Peninsula-dwellers as well as a good share of inland daytrippers seeking a dose of soothing countryside. The lively indoor cantina is also a well-established watering hole for motorheads of every stripe. Fish-tank-size margaritas regularly wet the whistles of diverse groups of Laguna Seca enthusiasts and antique car buffs. The parking lot often sparkles with a glittering show of horsepower that rivals even the souped-up collection of automotive art that claims almost every square inch of wall space indoors.
When there''s a nip in the air, the space heaters and brick firepit on the patio keep things cozy. If it happens to be the weekend and you''re waiting your turn for a table--not unusual, especially when there''s entertainment booked--the homey fireplace lounge area by the bar provides a comfortable sitting area.
We opted to have lunch and work on our tans at the same time on a recent sun-kissed afternoon. Greeted by a crisp basket of chips and a bowl of salsa that both my dining companion and I found agreeable, we settled down to the task at hand, each of us noticing that we were chest-high to the table between us. No matter; the shortened distance to the salsa would reduce the stain hazard, we reasoned.
On this day the consensus was in favor of fish, and despite the crowd that filled up the patio, two orders of salmon tacos expeditiously arrived. Chunks of salmon came open-face on soft corn tortillas--not the homemade variety, but good--flattered by grilled-just-right fish and complemented by tomatillo salsa, freshly chopped lettuce and tasty homemade guacamole. On the side was a heap of refried black beans along with fluffy Spanish rice, smothered with melty Jack cheese. Way more than we could eat, for $8.98.
As much as we enjoyed the salmon tacos, a repeat visit demanded that we try something new. I boldly headed for the tri-power combo, foregoing the beef option and choosing a pork-filled taco, chicken enchilada and chile relleno, at $8.98. The relleno won the contest here. The pasilla chile was appropriately tender and nicely contained inside a light egg-batter that was filled with Jack cheese and deep-fried. The taco, however, was more chimichanga than taco. Made with a flour tortilla, it was also deep-fried and contained oversized chunks of pork that overwhelmed the wrap, making it a challenge to handle. The chicken enchilada was more enjoyable, smothered in a flavorful dark-red sauce. The whole platter, however, swam beneath a blanket of melted Jack and cheddar cheese, so that as the plate cooled, it also had the unappetizing effect of filming over with oil. This is a plate that could stand to go on a diet.
Across the table, the tamale ($7.50) was creating happy smiles. A very light, white, steamed masa wrapper contained tender braised pork, well-suited to the tomatillo-cilantro sauce that accompanied it. The refried pinto beans got a thumbs-up, while the Spanish rice could''ve used some freshening up on this particular visit.
Besides the south-of-the-border selections, the menu gives almost equal attention to American-style sandwiches, burgers and salads, the chicken tostada standing out as a previous favorite. Special weeknight dinners also fill up the patio on summer evenings, with Monday night barbecued chicken and ribs, Tuesday your choice of roasted or steamed lobster, and Wednesday night prime rib.