Rosa Mexicana: Luscious Mexican Specialties in a Sensual Ambiance
by Jenny Lenore Rosenbaum
Entering Rosa Mexicana, with a first glance at the expansive menu, one senses a dive into Mexico’s finest cuisine. The experience far exceeds expectations in this elegant emporium featuring the signature cuisine of every region of Mexico. The menu links each dish to its area of origin — from Baja to Guerrero, Puebla, Jalisco, Sonora, Oaxaca, Michaocán, Veracruz, Tampico, Tabasco and the Districto Federale. This sumptuous plunge into Mexico’s gustatory breadth is expressed by a unique design feature: adorning the dining room are a host of dramatically arched diver figurines, emerging from a waterfall cascading over iridescent tesserae, aglow in tones of indigo.
Greeting diners at the entrance is a striking faux marble divider with crystalline infusions. Ornamenting the bar a mosaic panel of rainbow colors evokes the joyous colors of a Mexican fiesta. Wrought iron lanterns grace the bar scene. The daring décor suggests a chic post-modern museum lobby.
Dionysian Latin music heightens the sensual vibe in the spacious L-shaped dining room that seats over 200. The space, at once soaring and intimate, includes a large private dining room for family celebrations and business gatherings. And a large outdoor terrace, accommodating over 80, is a mecca for professionals seeking after work rejuvenation.
As for the location, it’s as good as it gets — two blocks from the historic Ferry Building, on the San Francisco waterfront — vibrant with many of the city’s premier boutique hotels and eateries. Large windows look out upon the bayfront pizzazz.
Upon being seated, a server arrived with a cart bearing the ingredients essential to traditional guacamole — dishes of avocado, jalapeno, tomato, onion and cilantro. A mini tableside performance ensues, the server blending, with mortar, pestle and true finesse, the ingredients that form Rosa Mexicana’s signature “Guacamole en Molcajete.” It is classic guacamole, to be sure, but infused with a unique savory dimension.
Before selecting from the large list of Especiales de la Casa (which, the menu states, utilize locally sourced, organic ingredients), the Ceviche de Camarones proved a fabulous appetizer — a generous bowl of Mexican white shrimp from the Baja coast, delicately marinated in citrus with jicama, avocado, roasted habanero, red onions and cilantro. Even in comparison with ceviches I’ve sampled in high end restaurants in Mexico, this one stands out not only for its size but its delicacy. Another appetizer, the coconut shrimp with mango, was superb.
Our server displayed an encyclopedic knowledge of traditional Mexican ingredients and preparation techniques. My entrée, the Chamorro (from Michoacán) was a braised chile ancho-marinated pork shank served with a savory sweet potato hash and asparagus tips. The strikingly large and tender shank was perfectly complemented with a tangy potato and vegetable medley.
Even more unusual was the Tablon (a specialty of central Mexico), a braised beef short rib marinated in guajillo and pasilla chile, with pico de gallo. The mestiza sauce had just the right nuances of smoky flavorings, neither too dramatic nor overly mild. Among the other impressive offerings is the Pescado a la Veracruzana, pan roasted mahi mahi with roasted tomatoes, pickled jalapenos, olives and mint. Even in Veracruz, I had never tasted local pescado so masterfully complemented with the innovative touches of olives and mint.
Among the other Especiales de la Casa are the Pollo con Mole (deriving from the state of Pueblo). Rosa Mexicana’s spin on mole, a highlight of Mexican cuisine, is a half chicken topped with traditional mole poblano sauce, served with sweet plantains and a chayote-black bean tamale. Traditionally, mole is a dark red or brown sauce utilizing chocolate, with chili peppers as its base. The dish evolved into a culinary symbol of Mexico’s mestizo population (of mixed European and indigenous heritage) for reasons deriving from its key ingredients and the many legends attached to its genesis.
One relates to Mexico’s early colonial period when impoverished nuns, in a panic upon hearing of the archibishop’s unexpected visit to their convent, combined what ingredients they could readily garner, including chocolate, chili peppers, other spices and nuts. The archbishop was more than pleased when the nervous nuns presented their concoction. Today mole fuses North American, European and African ingredients with an indigenous base, turning it into a culinary icon that bears the distinction of being the first international dish created in the Americas.
Another signature dish is the Chile Poblano Relleno — a luscious blend of roasted poblano chile filled with sautéed mushrooms, rice, goat cheese and grilled chayote (served with asparagus and salsa verde). The grilled Salmon Poblano is an innovative blend of chorizo, corn and Tuscan kale in a poblano cream sauce. Other house specials are their Carnitas, featuring slow-braised pork with cilantro, white onion and pineapple, and Alambre de Camarones — grilled wild jumbo shrimp marinated in garlic vinaigrette with tomatoes, onions and serrano chiles over achiote rice.
After an evening here, it’s not surprising Rosa Mexicana, thriving since 1984, has venues across the U.S.: four locales in Manhattan, others in Boston, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Minneapolis, Miami and Los Angeles. Gracious servers combined with a solicitous mâitre d’ seem embedded in this restaurant’s DNA. Its authenticity and adventurous take on treasured traditional recipes, makes Rosa Mexicana a premier choice for Latin cuisine.
Address: 30 Mission Street (at Steuart), just steps from BART, the MUNI Embacadero station, the California Street Trolley and the Historic Market Street Railine (F-line). It is open for dinner Mon. through Thurs., 5:30 to 10 and 5:30 to 11 on Sat. and Sun. Lunch: Mon through Friday, 11 to 2:30 (Sat from noon to 3:30). Happy Hour (Mon. through Sat., 4 to 7) features specially priced creative margaritas, exotic tropical blends and a range of appetizers. For reservations: (415) 874-4300