Of all the industries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants have been dealt one of the toughest blows. News of national and regional chain bankruptcies have become commonplace. Chefs and owners of independent eateries have let go of staff and are offering take-out or delivery only. Often through services like UberEATS and GrubHub — who charge restaurants a premium. They’re all wondering how, and if, they’ll weather this storm.
So, it’s unusual to hear of a restaurant opening during these uncertain times. But after talking to chef Martín San Román about his new proposal – El Original Pastel de Crepas Tijuana Bistro – it doesn’t seem odd at all. “We’re in a strange place, but I see it as an opportunity,” the internationally renowned chef enthuses. “This is going to be the only restaurant to open in Baja California during the pandemic. Everybody is going to need to reinvent themselves.”
Chef's return to Tijuana, French roots
But while the chef is reinventing how he typically does business – El Original Pastel de Crepas Tijuana Bistro will only offer takeout, delivery and catering when it opens in June – the restaurant and its location are a return to his roots.
Born in Mexico City, San Román graduated from the esteemed culinary school L’École Lenôtre in Paris. His experience at Fauchon and Le Meridien Hotels in the French capital, the London Hilton and the San Diego Westgate led to his role as chef owner of Tour de France and Rincon San Roman. Both formerly located in Tijuana.
The restaurants featured authentic French cuisine as well as San Román’s trademark Franco Mexican fusion. All crafted of local ingredients. This was a decade before “Baja Med” became a catchphrase. And the use of hyperlocal produce and proteins propelled the region into the international gastronomic spotlight. Both restaurants were wildly popular gathering spots for Tijuana’s culinary cognoscenti.
After closing Rincon San Román during the turbulent 2000’s in Tijuana, the chef went on to open La Terrasse San Román — his “Baja Provençal” al fresco eatery in the Valle de Guadalupe. He also consulted for several restaurants in Baja California and San Diego. Most notably as executive chef at dining stalwart Dobson’s Bar & Restaurant in downtown San Diego. He’ll continue to consult there on a limited basis after opening El Original Pastel de Crepas Tijuana Bistro.
Of his triumphant return to French cuisine in Tijuana, San Román is jubilant. “I’m back home! And I think it’s going to be a good return. People who know about the new restaurant are already getting excited. The place is beautiful — it’s like being in France. There’s not another restaurant like this anywhere in Baja California. And the menu is incredible.”
El Original Pastel de Crepas Tijuana Bistro
El Original Pastel de Crepas Tijuana Bistro will offer breakfast, lunch and dinner as carryout and delivery only until COVID restrictions on restaurants ease – as well as catering, pastries and “assemble at home” crepes, tarts and other French dishes and desserts.
On the topic of desserts, the restaurant’s namesake is the chef’s original pastel de crepas, a sinfully scrumptious layering of crepes and creamy frosting which he invented in 1989. The cake has since become globally famous, on par with another Tijuana culinary original, the Caesar’s salad.
“We’ll offer five different versions of pastel de crepas,” Martin explains. “Dark chocolate, white chocolate, hazelnut and cajeta (Mexican caramel). The fifth is the Xolomike — a red and black cake in honor of Tijuana’s Xolos soccer team and my nephew Mike. He’s one of their biggest fans and has brain paralysis. So I’m going to donate part of the cake’s sales to organizations that study degenerative brain disease.”
Though it’s tempting to begin a meal with the chef’s famous dessert, His French and Franco-Mexican dishes may make one think twice.
The lunch and dinner menu features: hors d’oeuvres such as escargots bourguignonne, house-made pate maison and foie gras from La Belle Farms; lighter fare, including a croque monsieur, smoked salmon in a buckwheat crepe and tuna tartare; and tempting entrees such as coq au vin, moulard duck breast in fig and bleu cheese sauce and filet mignon bathed in a sauce of escargot — a former favorite at Tour de France.
For breakfast, the menu offers French classics such as huevos á la Meurette – poached eggs in burgundy wine sauce over brioche, bacon and pearl onions – as well as a classic quiche Lorraine. There’s also fare that’s decidedly Mexican including carne asada hash with eggs and huevos rancheros, one of the country’s most popular desayunos.
“We’ll also offer a French formule (fixed price) menu of three courses,” San Román adds. “This will be perfect for the working man on a budget. It’ll only be 250 pesos (approximately $12/US) with two choices of a soup or salad and two choices of entrees. If you don’t have a lot of money, you can still eat very well.”
Optimism in the time of COVID
All of the dishes at El Original Pastel de Crepas Bistro Tijuana will be prepared by some of the best culinary talent in Mexico. San Román’s sous chef is from the state of Morelos and he’s hired a baker from Mexico City. “My son Roger will manage the restaurant when I’m not there, so it’s a family business. We’ll take very good care of our customers”, the chef says.
The middle of a global pandemic may seem like a strange time to open a restaurant. But San Román is optimistic. “I think it’s going to be popular, even at half capacity. Mexicans want to go out and eat again!” He concludes, “Everything I’ve learned and loved in my life I’m putting into El Original Pastel de Crepas Tijuana Bistro. When friends hear me talk about it, they sense my emotion and get excited. It’s going to be trés magnifique!”
PRICE: Breakfast plates at El Original Pastel de Crepas Tijuana Bistro range from 150 to 210 pesos (approximately $7.50 - $11/US), with lunch and dinner entrees from 200 pesos (approximately $10/US) for the croque monsieur sandwich to 450 pesos (approximately $25/US) for the Moulard duck.
LOCATION: El Original Pastel de Crepas Tijuana Bistro is located at Plaza Marub, Zona Rio, #2554 Avenida Revolución, 22226 Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. Phone: +52 (664) 979-9589. Facebook: www.facebook.com/originalpasteldecrepas.
DISCLAIMER: A Gringo in Mexico is an investor in the Original Pastel de Crepas, therefore our opinions should be considered with that in mind. However, I am a great fan of chef San Román’s cuisine and would enthuse about and happily visit this new restaurant, regardless