Sunday, January 14, 2024

Viaje (Long Beach, CA)

Viaje Restaurant
5224 2nd St, Long Beach, CA 90803
Sun 01/14/2024, 07:20p-10:15p

Viaje Exterior

I was recently searching for a place to eat around the LBC, and decided to check out Viaje ("journey"), a contemporary Mexican spot in Belmont Shore. The restaurant comes to us from Jalisciense Julio Gutierrez, who actually co-founded Baja Fish Tacos back in 1996. The mini-chain grew slowly throughout the years, eventually expanding to Long Beach at the end of 2013. However, the location didn't perform as well as expected, and was thus shuttered in February 2019. Gutierrez then teamed up with CDMX native and hospitality vet Sergio Alvarez to launch Viaje, bringing on board Chef Ricardo de la Vega in the process. The place ended up grand-opening on December 30th, 2022, and has been surprisingly well-received.

Viaje Interior
Gutierrez's former restaurant has been rendered unrecognizable, which is a good thing given what the team is going for. Interestingly, before the building was slanging fish tacos, it was actually composed of four separate storefronts that were subsequently combined: Saga women's clothing store, Sweet Jill's bakery, Paris Tailors & Cleaners, and Fingers & Toes nail salon.

Viaje Menu Viaje Cocktail & Wines by the Glass List Viaje Wine List
Divvied up simply into starters and mains, Viaje's menu goes for a decidedly multiregional approach, which I think makes sense here. Beverage-wise, you get some surprisingly interesting, mostly agave-based cocktails and a small wine list with a respectable selection of Mexican bottlings. On a related note, I do have to commend the restaurant for using unusually thick paper for the menus, making them very satisfying to handle. Click for larger versions.

Tlayuda Chips
Ceviche [$18.00] | catch of the day, tomato, lime juice, onion, cilantro, serrano
Tonight's ceviche featured dense, hearty cuts of mahi-mahi, set against a bevy of bright, acidic flavors, creamy avocado, and just enough tingling heat. The toasty tlayuda chips, meanwhile, provided texture and also toned things down. A promising start.

Mezcalito [$16.00] | malbien mezcal, lime, peach-habanero puree, epazote
We ended up making our way through six cocktails, and this first one was pretty straightforward, offering up plenty of sweet stone fruits up front, but tinged by the pungency of epazote, before transitioning to a lingering smoke and spice.

Pulpo [$23.00] | octopus, smoked chile, potato puree, chorizo
As you might know, I have a hard time resisting octopus, so this was of course a must-try, and didn't disappoint. Prepared a la parrilla, the pulpo was pretty great texturally as well as mouthwateringly seasoned. It was tasty just by itself, but I also appreciated the classic duo of chorizo and potato, while even better was the nutty heat of the accompanying salsa macha, which served as a great exclamation point to the dish.

Empanada de Mariscos
Empanada de Mariscos [$15.00] | octopus, shrimp, crab, avocado emulsion
The empanadas were also a highlight, one of the best examples I've had in fact. The seafood was delectably spiced yet still palpably briny, and meshed easily with the maize-y character of the masa, while the cilantro and avocado lightened things up.

La Condesa
La Condesa [$16.00] | prickly pear-orange blossom gin, apple, celery, lemon, sage, aquafaba, floral bitters
This comely cocktail displayed a vegetal, almost savory sensation up front that was actually pretty assertive. Meanwhile, the sweetness of the fruit came in on the mid-palate, and the finish was all about the botanicals from the gin.

Camarones a la Diabla
Camarones a la Diabla [$23.00] | U-8 wild shrimp, adobo, habanero-lime emulsion
Shrimp were cooked a tad more than I would've liked, but I didn't find that to be too much of an issue, since the dish delivered with its spot-on spicing and judicious touches of smoke.

Tetela de Camaron
Tetela de Camaron [$21.00] | corn masa, black beans, quesillo, epazote, shrimp, huitlacoche, shiitake mushroom
The tetela also featured some superbly seasoned shrimp, and their sour, spicy flavors married well with the sweetness of the corn, while the huitlacoche and mushrooms imparted a lovely earthiness to the dish.

Oaxacan Old Fashioned
Oaxacan Old Fashioned [$16.00] | malbien mezcal, pueblo viejo tequila reposado, mole bitters, chocolate bitters, turbinado
This next cocktail was actually sent out by mistake, and thus ended up being comped, which was just fine with me. The key here really was the cacao, and how it melded with the drink's boozy, bitter notes, making for a stiff, yet ever just so sweet libation.

Flautas de Barbacoa
Flautas de Barbacoa [$17.00] | short rib, consome, crema, queso fresco
Rolled tacos are generally a good decision, and that was certainly the case tonight. The deep, dark, unabashedly beefy flavors of the short rib were on clear display, and even more so in the consommé. The crunch of the tortillas was on point as well, and I also liked the contrast provided by the crema and avocado.

Enchiladas Oaxaquenas
Enchiladas Oaxaquenas [$27.00] | black mole, duck confit, plantain puree
The enchiladas also met the mark thanks to that mole negro, with its beguilingly spicy, nutty, cacao-boosted flavors. The sauce made a whole bunch of sense with those supple corn tortillas and tender shreds of duck, while the various garnishes added further facets to the dish.

La Cañada
La Cañada [$16.00] | charanda añejo rum, camazotz oaxacan rum, naranja liqueur, coconut water, demerara, angostura bitters
Here we have arguably the most polarizing cocktail of the night. The crux here was the rum duo, which conveyed a plethora of fruity, astringent, and intriguingly funky notes, softened just a smidge by the drink's other components.

Chile Relleno
Chile Relleno [$29.00] | shrimp, octopus, portobello mushroom, white wine, clam juice
I was also a big fan of the stuffed chile due to how well the mild, vegetal nature of the pepper coalesced with its briny, smartly seasoned seafood filling. The rice was much appreciated, too.

Cochinita Pibil
Cochinita Pibil [$42.00] | pork, axiote, black beans, pickled onions
The puerco pibil ate as soft and succulent as I was hoping for, and paired swimmingly with the sour, spicy qualities of achiote. At the same time, the onions provided a welcomed brightness, and I liked those smoky veggies as well.

La Camelia
La Camelia [$16.00] | malbien mezcal, passion fruit, lime, agave, aquafaba
Tonight's penultimate cocktail was generally easy-going, with tropical fruit flavors all over the place, tempered just a little by the mezcal and the drink's salty rim.

Along with our mains came some thick, hearty corn tortillas that certainly served their purpose.

Barbacoa de Cordero
Barbacoa de Cordero [$34.00] | lamb shank, garbanzo puree, chile morita
Long-cooked lamb arrived fork-tender, and teeming with all the savory, sticky flavors you'd want, all while the veggies worked to offset the heft of the meat. Yum.

Tamarindo [$16.00] | malbien mezcal, lime, agave, serrano
Our final cocktail blended the signature sweet-n-sour nuances of tamarind with the heat of serrano in effective fashion. And no, I did not attempt to eat that flower on top.

Esfera de Chocolate
Esfera de Chocolate [$14.00]
Dessert duties were handled by a glitter-coated chocolate ganache sphere, filled with chocolate mousse and a chocolate mole center. This multifaceted presentation of cacao was joined by whipped cream, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and crucially, candied almonds, which served as a nutty counterpoint to the chocolate.

I was quite happy with our meal this evening. Long Beach isn't particularly known for its culinary prowess, but a restaurant like Viaje is certainly bucking the trend. The kitchen was on top of things tonight, and was able to deliver bold, robust flavors that were still nuanced, thoughtful, as well as approachable, and overall, the food was just really tasty. This is easily one of my top recommendations for the LBC.


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