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Eating Out With BB Grace

Ay Carrumba! Arriba Cinco de Mayo on the Mendocino Coast; La la la laaaa....

If it wasn't for the Fort Bragg mayor's award, Taco Bell would get no award at all according to Mexican Food Lover's poll last March that lauded Dallas based Taco Bueno the BEST Mexican food in the USA.  Taco Bueno has 175 locations, none in CA, where Chipolte's owns hundreds of their 1500 franchises, and placed second.  Taco Bueno accepted their award saying their customers weep for us.  Silly Texas corporatists!  Don't they know that when it comes to food in California, “Mexican” might as well be another word for “Mother”, as in the birthplace of new taste?  Presently CALMEX is teased with terms like Con-Fusion, or CALfusion cuisine.  The first rule in Mexican food is what is good is personal.  Mexican food is an art that explores the combining of spices and herbs, seasoned and heated or not just so, abetted by various methods embellished with modern tools that enable a chef to earn culinary acclaim for example, and no kidding, to emulsify reused pork fat with mint to the point no one could guess that's pork fat, and watch modern foodies award this Mexican cuisine for food creativity, seeking the next food hit out of the ball park so to speak.  A Californian Mexican Chef is a modern day alchemist in a baseball cap.  Allow me to explain:

The perfect example of Mexican cuisine begins with the Chef of all Mexican Chef's, Italian immigrant to Tijuana, Caesar Cardini, known for Caesar's Salad.  Each lowly ingredient was to find a place among the culinary classics because of the bottom line, the sauce, or to correct myself, la salsa.  I hope I'm expanding your idea of salsa beyond the tomato, for you must go beyond the tomato to know Mexican food.

Salsa is very personal, so personal, it could be translated to “Mexican Mother's Milk” if the original wasn't sacred, which it is.   How many ways can you make salsa?  Try to count.  Take a toque, a chef's hat by Escoffier's measure, as each fold represents the mastering of an egg recipe.  It would be impossible to wear a toque if each fold represented a salsa recipe.  This is why you will find most chefs of Mexican cuisine, and their impostors at Taco Bell, wearing baseball caps.  That's how they cook.  On one hand, like Mama, who could careless about collecting folds in her hat, with hungry family to feed all wanting something different, including chocolate for dessert, culinary genius winds up pitching us awesome food combinations that become classics from mind blowing complex moles, surreal endiablados, to simply mouthwatering mojo de ajos and prickly pear jellies, or pumpkin candy.  On the other hand we have chefs wearing baseball caps aimming to create the next Mexican food out of the home team ball park, and into the corporate majors sold at local Safeway under various Mexican sounding names, because Central and South America become Mexican when they come to California.  California's objection over the deep south runs, well, deep.

Another important ingredient to understanding what is Mexican cuisine is understanding that Mama, or a female representative, especially favored is Our Lady of Guadalupe, must be named, or on location.  This is why so many Fort Braggers will confidently tell you when you ask, “Where can I get some good Mexican food?”; “Taqueria Ricarda's!  Best in CA”.  Number two recommendation I get is for, “Los Gallitos!”  They swear there's none better.  I don't know why La Playa or Angelina's are not often mentioned except the fact they have bars and Fort Braggers really don't like the idea they're setting someone up for a DUI stop and search certified with a, “Welcome to Fort Bragg recipt, AKA DUI ticket”.  This explains Purple Rose's popularity.

Purple Rose is very Mexican in that it appears as an outsider.  In reality Purple Rose corners the market of Mexican food North of Fort Bragg because the Rose serves amazing margaritas that are so delicious you'll want more than two, and that's a mistake too many people make, and why parking your car in their lot is taking a chance on getting your car scratched or dented by the many who've had one too many margaritas.  I can't recommend their food, with one big exception: Purple Rose's Baja Chowder.  It's worthy of mention for being the only red seafood chowder on the Coast, and I'm saying it, the best chowder on the Coast, beating out the white sauce based non indigenous clam chowders.  I suspect folks come to the Coast wanting seafood, and Purple Rose's Baja Chowder is easy to recommend, though their opening hours make it hard because most folks want more than chowder after 5 PM when they open.  I can't recommend much else on their menu if one is going to trust me on the margaritas.  Just know this, Purple Rose margaritas make everything taste good.

When people ask me where they can get good Mexican food, I tell them, “La Bamba!”  Just like the lines in Richie Vallen's song, “If you want to dance La Bamba you got to have a little grace”, “If you want to eat La Bamba you have to have a little grace!”  La Bamba Imports (707) 964-7747  124 North Franklin Street.

La Bamba has a small dining area, where if they could just allow a cat or two, few hens and a rooster, you could pretend to be anywhere in Baja.  The only thing missing from the menu is fish tacos, but that's a relatively new Mexican classic circa 1980s Ensenada.  This is how you eat La Bamba with a little grace:  Call a half hour before you intend to arrive and order the Mojarra Dorada, whole fried fish ($12.00);  Coctel Camarones and Pulpo/ Shrimp and Octopus Cocktail ($15.00), Carnitas tacos ($2.00 each).  When you pick up your order, check out the self serve refrigerators on your way through the grocery store to the cash register, usually manned by a very nice bi-lingual woman.  You'll find a wonderful and fresh assortment of home made salsas, flan, and desserts, tamales and much more to explore and enjoy.  Mexican beverages, coconut water, agua frescas, and cold cerveza are available.  Take your goodies from La Bamba and drive North three miles to MacKerricher State Park Laguna Point parking lot and claim a picnic table.  Now, taste California the way the natives enjoy it, outdoors, surrounded by natural beauty, with a post card view of the lost coast, crashing surf filling the air with salt, sea birds dance, seals bark, flowers bloom, ferns unravel as you completely sate your senses with old Mexican family recipes and a little creative exercize for innocent wonderful fun.  This is the way eating in California was meant to be and why Taco Bueno customers don't need to weep for Fort Bragg, except for the Taco Bell which by long lines stands as the most popular Mexican restaurant in Fort Bragg.  Go figure.  Have a safe and happy Cinco de Mayo!


  1. Jim Updegraff April 28, 2016

    which restarant provides the best Menudo?

    • BB Grace April 29, 2016

      Menudo = Survivor’s soup/Sopa.

      If sales make the determination: La Bamba.

      In writing about Fort Bragg’s restaruants, I’ve been naming places locals know about, but most visitors don’t because the places don’t advertise.

      My Mom was a little like Susie de Castro, she had no sisters, 6 older brothers, the oldest two being born in Panama, and a baby brother. They grew up where I was born, close to the border in San Diego county. IOW, I grew up with menudo as a tradtion.

      My parents were of the cocktail generation, which in San Diego, meant chasing the best munudo for their hangovers on weekends, and we frequently went to Tijuana because life was less expensive, and Mexico was more fun than the San Diego Zoo, which is saying how much we LOVE Mexico.

      My best memory of menudo is in San Pedro back in the late 60s when my Mom had sought out some little place on the outskirts of San Pedro’s old town, a hot tip from one of her friends and their weekend hunt for the best menudo, which by their standards would mean the one that gave the most relief from too many margaritas.

      We went to Whites Point and had a tail gate beach party and that’s where I really first tasted menudo sans tripe (I always picked out meat), it was so good because of the depth of flavors that kept bursting rich savory but smooth as silk layers that made me feel like I was glowing inside out. For my Mom, menudo had to make you break a sweat to be good.

      Over the years I’ve come to think of menudo being like alvedic cooking, or East Indian cuisine, where spices have medicinal purpose, and “Just a teaspoon of sugar”, doesn’t work as good as roasted chilies, cumin, corriander, cilantro, oregano, fennel, and the beast of all fruit, the tomato, when it comes to hangovers.

      • BB Grace April 29, 2016

        Wow Susie; I knew you had 9 brothers, but I did not remember that you even had sisters. It gives me a big smile just imagining your family eating Mondongo together.

  2. Jim Updegraff April 30, 2016

    I like Mexican food but I also am a fan of Basque food – there use to be a couple of good ones in Bakers – family style – friends and strangers.

  3. Jim Updegraff April 30, 2016

    continued: Best in the spring time if you like spring fries. Like the way they do sweetbreads in San Luis Obispo County restaurants. When I was in Korea with the 3rd Infantry when through a small village and there was a skinned dog hanging in the butcher shop – big food item in some parts of Asia.

    Correction on previous comment – Bakersfield not Bakers.

    • BB Grace April 30, 2016

      Ahhh Basque food. I’m a big fan as I appreciate the Spanish influence with respect to French culinary mastery per Careme and Savarin.

      Take Paella as an example. Through Spain, the snail and chorizo becomes the signature to savor, where Portugal indulges Paella with abundant seafood, but the Basque, they feature the best of both and make a fine art, as in a presentation to behold, or even intimidate (where do I begin?).

      The last time I had baked Alaska was at Benji’s in Bakersfeild.

      And how about those picon punches at Louis Basque Corner in Reno?

      Either way, ala carte or family style I too have a great appreciation for Basque food and service, and would have liked to have seen Basque grow in popularity rather than fade away, like deep pit BBQ, which you can get in Bakersfeild and Fresno, no where else in CA.

      It would have been hard for me.. I would have cried to see the dog in Korea.

      We were giving away “Korea Reborn” at the Guest House. I believe it is free to all Korean War Vets.

  4. Alice Chouteau May 1, 2016

    You weite so well and lovingly about food I hope this will be the first in an ongoing series, weekly columns.
    My vote for ‘Mexican’ goes to Mayan Fusion, which fearures some fine fresh tastes from the family recipes of chef Silver Canule and his sister Joanne, who now runs the show there. So unique, this food impresses even culinary snobs from the bay area. The Sangrias are amazing.
    I am curious about regional food, and food from subcultures like the Basques. I know from a few trips to Mexico that there are regional differences, something fast food chains erase in favor of the lowest common denominator.

    • BB Grace May 1, 2016

      I appreciate the compliments and comment, Alice.

      I purposely neglected to mention Fort Bragg restauranteur Silver Canule’s Mayan Fusion, His Wharf and his latest acquisition, Point Noyo, because I believe that he respectively deserves to be reveiwed by the sum of all three restaurant’s, “lowest common denominator”, and from there break out with evaluation exceptions and local restaurant, chef, or even international where applicable, comparisons in review.

      A whole fried fish at La Bamba is $12.00 and $1.00 is a BIG tip to the cook compared to these cut and paste online menu items of:

      Silver’s at The Wharf: Fish & Chips, fresh Rock Cod with chipotle slaw and parsley-garlic steak fries | $15

      Mayan Fusion: Fish & Chips, a touch of Cajun spice & lemon, crispy fries, Mayan coleslaw $14

      Point Noyo: Beer Batter Fish & Chips Local rock cod rolled in Japanese bread crumbs, classic coleslaw, Tartar sauce 14

      To be fair Alice, I’m going to need help reviewing Chef Canule. It would be good to know if there is anyone willing to go Dutch, split plates and give honest evaluations, joining me for lunch, dinner and Brunch at his three places. Join me for all or just one. Eating out with B. B. Grace once might be once too many for some folks.

      Anyways, I would be willing to organize 7 dining opportunities, offer evaluation cards, kinda like parlor games to enable what the group democratically thinks about Canule’s food and service. It would be good to have a big group show up for the last evaluation without reservations to crash one of his places, give Restauranteur Canule (or his Sous Chef, eh?) the opportunity to have a Casear Cardini moment.

      Know anyone interested in participating in a stealth Canule restaurants review board over the summer for me to make a proper review?

  5. Jim Updegraff May 2, 2016

    which restaurants offer top notch oysters on the half shell and steamed mussels?

    • BB Grace May 2, 2016

      M. F. K Fisher wrote a lovely book, “Consider the Oyster” 1941

      “He was a bold man that first ate the oyster” Jonathan Swift

      I feel that way about some restaurants when it comes to oysters and hesitate to try. I was spoiled the years I spent in Louisiana with Gulf oysters and oyster bars where you have no doubts to the point you might think a month with a R is OK to eat oysters.

      I was tempted to try Carine’s oysters, wondering who shucked them, and amused they offered Oysters Casion, Forinteine and Rockefeller. They also offfered Steam Clams the way Sinata might like them. My bet for steamed muscles would be at Asian Buffet on South Franklin, order ala carte whatever you want, the owner, Steven, appears to like challenges and many of the Asians I know take out from his place.

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