Coasterra's Modern Spin on Mexican Food
Delicious fried branzino, white rice, and refreshing cactus salad
Photos by Alan Quinn
Reading articles in San Diego, especially features about the county, there is a common theme reader will notice. Constant mentions of blended Spanish culture and a heavy emphasis on community and family. Cutting through this ambiguous phrasing and finding authenticity is complex both in thought and execution. How do the constant nods to culture stay ingratiating instead of an obligation? How does one place heavy emphasis on anything that has been said before without it becoming heavy-handed in the long run? Judgement is subjective, as each reader and writer comes to their own conclusions. The same is true for food, new flavors to one person are old to another and what one believes modernizes a dish may seem disrespectful or a form of cultural gentrification.
In a world so intimately connected and becoming closer and smaller by the day, many dishes and techniques have already been tried or developed. In this highly saturated cooking environment, Coasterra is one of many restaurants hoping to embody all of what San Diego represents. The Spanish culture that predates the U.S. blended with the modern California style of today.
Offering “Modern Mexican” cuisine, Coasterra combines modern culinary techniques with traditional Mexican and local California ingredients. San Diegan’s may hear the phrase “Modern Mexican” and find it odd, an understandable feeling. The idea of ordering a bottle of Moulin~À~Vent with Carne Asada is an idea that conflicts with many people’s preconceptions of what Mexican food, and, more importantly, what Mexican culture is.
Entering the restaurant, the room is warm and inviting, matching the modern architecture of the buildings being constructed in Downtown. Angular interiors, concrete flooring with a beige wall closing off the kitchen area and serving as an accent wall. The hostesses dress in formal black; and painted steel girders act as the structural framework throughout the space with flat screens on the walls. Translucent glass walls draw the eye to a full panoramic view of the San Diego cityscape and skyline. The aesthetics are intentionally pleasing but nondescript and while the lack of flamboyant colors may not meet the stereotypical portrayal of Spanish culture, it may be Coasterra’s best decision for its diners.
To some, the muted atmosphere may seem to convey a lack of passion; all that’s needed is a change of perspective to understand that there are also no distractions from the beautiful views. Nothing to interrupt the eye from the meticulous plating of the dishes. The staff are equally and intentionally discreet in their all-black attire, which is the only common trait between them. Black shirts of all sorts from collared to black tees, different patterns on the dresses of varying lengths and hair accessories with color allow for personalities to show but not distract from the focus of Coasterra: Modern Mexican Cuisine. Opinions will vary but Coasterra’s style of Modern Mexican is best described as both curious and surprising.
The new “Macho Salad” subverts expectations entirely by tasting hearty and substantial enough to be a full meal in its own right. Heat from the black beans and jicama is contrasted by the oven roasted tomatoes and unexpected and refreshing bursts of sweetness from the pomegranate seeds. The Fried Branzino is also a surprise, much like cod, the branzino is light and tender, but the cactus salad and white rice served alongside give it the impact it needs to be a fully layered dish. Many great dishes were born from a discord between what was expected, what was desired, and the actual result.
Coasterra is one of many places in San Diego playing with this chemistry, modernizing and reshaping Mexican Cuisine with California flair without losing the roots which make each element distinct. The marriage of these two concepts is better experienced than read about and while opinions may differ on how authentically Mexican Coasterra is, their experiments with Modern Mexican fare are sure to lead to a positive impression.