That’s No Ordinary Taco!
By Simon Weedn
When childhood friends and local restaurateurs John Solana and Erik Johnson decided to open Petiscos several weeks ago, the last thing they were looking to do was open up a generic Mexican joint. “We love Mexico and there are influences from Mexico here but this is not a Mexican restaurant,” comments Solana. Instead what the two friends have chosen to do is not only take on familiar dishes and styles but also revolutionize the way you think about them. For instance, when most people think of tacos, they probably imagine a small, corn tortilla, with some meat, and maybe some onions and cilantro; possibly some lettuce, tomato and cheese depending on how authentic you’re thinking. In the minds of Solana and Johnson however, the taco concept is just the starting point. In their worlds tacos are a place where different blends of flavors, textures and smells can be woven together to give you both a truly uniquely tasting experience but also a re-defining of everything you thought a taco or any other dish could be.
Solana and Johnson take time and care into precisely crafting each one of their menu items to balance out flavors and tastes with components meant specifically for each dish. “The flavors for example, the chicken, all the ingredients that go with the chicken are meant for the chicken and everything that goes with the fish are meant for the fish; we do things for a reason,” muses Johnson. Additionally, they focus on something that they refer to as a “glue;” an ingredient, like a marmalade, that holds the dish together, literally, so that every bite is delicious and fulfilling with nothing dropping out the sides or falling apart. At Petiscos, everything, down to the corn tortillas which are finished on one side and left a little gummy on the other, ensuring crispiness without having to worry about shell breakage, is completely and methodically planned out.
One need only taste their creations to understand just how much their planning pays off. Items like their Pork Taco, a nod to their love of al pastor, which blends an incredible concoction of bits of pork butt, on top of house made pineapple marmalade and topped with breakfast radishes, scallion curls and a nice slice of fresh pineapple. Another amazing piece is the restaurant’s Chicken Taco, which Solana and Johnson note is their most time consuming dish. The taco’s meat is comprised of just leg and thigh meat, the most flavorful areas on the animal, marinated for five to six hours and then roasted, before being picked clean of any unwanted pieces. That delicious, tender, and juicy chicken is then added to an incredible blend of avocado crème sauce, queso fresco, Granny Smith apples, sun dried tomatoes and ultimately topped with bits of the leftover, fried chicken skin and micro nasturtium greens (edible flowers).
In addition to the aforementioned pork and chicken varieties, Petiscos also offers two delicious beef options. One in the form of an unbelievable USDA Prime skirt steak taco, and the other in the form of Johnson and Solana’s refreshing take on the taco some of us grew up on as kids, the so-called, “Gringo Taco:” slow braised USDA prime ground beef topped with Salvadorian crème, romaine lettuce, tomato and a combination of sharp cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses all served in a completely crispy corn tortilla shell that’s been lightly dusted with Mahón cheese. Petiscos also offers a couple of fish taco varieties as well as an equally inventive take on elotes (Mexican street corn).
Although Petiscos already offers an array of food, all mind blowing in both their deliciousness as well as their creativity, Solana and Johnson are quick to stress that their goals for the restaurant are for it to be more than an above average taco stand. Instead, Petiscos is to be seen more like the forts that Solana and Johnson built in their youth: original, inventive, and always a work in progress. They discuss how even current dishes may have their ingredients change on a seasonal basis and how they hope to continue to add new, even more open minded takes on classic fare are on their horizon. Most of all, Solana and Johnson are passionate in taking their time to re-imagine and craft their dishes to give their patrons only the best, most interesting, and sometimes, educational dining experiences that anybody locally can get. If Petiscos’ tacos are just the starting point for these two old friends, then Claremont has a lot to be looking forward to as Johnson and Solana continue working away.
Petiscos, 211 W. 1st St., Claremont, (909) 625-5557; www.eatatpetiscos.com. AE, D, MC, V.