Quixote builds a church dedicated to Baroque Mexican cuisine

THE "corn crab fritter": a savory masa fritter topped with blue crab salad and caviar

The “corn crab fritter”: a salty masa fritter garnished with blue crab salad and caviar

“I have a hard time remembering what it looked like before.”

We came to see what has been done to the space formerly known as the Red Fox Room. Before moving to a freestanding location across the street, this steakhouse-slash-piano bar occupied this northeast corner of North Park’s Lafayette Hotel for six decades.



2223, boulevard El Drawer

Long cherished for its vintage vibe – leather booths, dark woodwork and leaded glass – I had thought the Red Fox was hard to forget. But the interiors of this new restaurant are so ornate that I can barely remember what my own room looks like, let alone another restaurant/refreshment bar.

The new lobby of the historic Lafayette Hotel in North Park

It’s not just the restaurant. The entire Lafayette has been extensively redesigned with the kind of no-holds-barred maximalism we’ve come to expect from Consortium Holdings. The hotel group — responsible for ornately decorated restaurants like Ironside and Morning Glory — got its hands on the Lafayette a few years ago and quickly began working with a Brooklyn design studio on a floor-to-ceiling renovation that was sufficiently sumptuous to render a golden age mansion blush.

My visual cortex has been overstimulated from the moment we set foot in the hotel – its lobby is an eccentric mix of art deco, rococo and tiger prints. Every color, pattern and texture has found its place, if not here, then at least around the hotel bar, in the corridors, in the rooms. It shines with polished chrome, wood and marble; plush with velvet, suede and pom-pom covering. There’s a ’50s restaurant, a two-lane bowling alley, and a renovated pool that looks like it appeared in an episode of Mad Men.

Vintage stained glass window from an old Catholic church transported from Mexico

But perhaps the most impressive of all is this revamped local restaurant: Quichotte. According to the website of Brooklyn design firm Post Company, the restaurant and mezcaleria were pieced together from parts of an abandoned church, salvaged and shipped from somewhere in Mexico. It’s not clear how old a church is, but old enough to produce cobbled floors, elaborate stained glass windows, ceramic tiles and “baroque pews.” I can’t remember the last time I dined under hand-finished corbels or ceiling beams equally painted with the charming decorative designs of a distant time and place.

Stained glass windows and church pews lend to Quixote’s remarkable design

Although Quixote clearly names the Man of La Mancha, a region of Spain, his cuisine, like the church, originated in Mexico, particularly Oaxaca. Thanks in large part to his famous seven moles, Oaxacan cuisine can be seen as occupying the high end of Mexican cuisine. So yes, it’s worth pointing out that this may be the most expensive Mexican food you’ll encounter in San Diego. After all, prices must reflect the purchase of a $25 million hotel, not to mention the cost of moving a church across international borders.

So a very short list of shareable entrees (each served with house-made tortillas) starts at $49 – or for a whole roasted fish, like branzino. A dry-aged ribeye costs $95. At $63, there’s crispy lamb breast, served with chicilo, one of the lesser-known seven moles, made from charred chili peppers. This would be my choice, if money was no object.

Instead, we’ll spend what we have enjoying the heart of the menu: its small plates. Playing again with the influence of Spain, our server describes them as tapas. But most are what Mexican food lovers call snacks.

The so-called “little desires” of snacks Bars usually feature different ways of preparing corn tortillas, and you see it here. There is the crispy scallop and uni tostada aquachile ($18); and the thicker, softer base of duck carnitas ask ($15, dressed in a commendable rendition of Oaxaca’s notoriously complex black taupe). More exotic is a plaintain and chili tamal, the succulent steamed masa dressed with yellow mole and garnished with mussels. pickle ($16).

Scallop and plain aguachile, on a tiled table with religious iconography

The restaurant recommends three orders per person to make a full meal, so before you even consider a $15 mezcal cocktail, the “tapas” can add up. But for a special occasion, I have to admit that the experience is worth it, even if you stop at just two plates — and not just because the masa is supposedly ground from ancient grains. The mystical candlelit atmosphere can hamper photography, but Quixote is incredible to see. It will be even more enjoyable if you enjoy seeing intellectual ingredients offering almost fanciful versions of dishes generally considered street food.

Or downright fanciful, as in the case of Quixote’s crab corn fritter, which turns masa into a savory fritter, layered in a puddle of burnt chili emulsion and topped with a pile of blue crab and caviar ($21). This unexpected dish best embodies how Quichotte’s Mexican cuisine matches the baroque spirit of the entire hotel renovation: filled with so many sensory details, you won’t be able to think of anything else but this which is in front of you.

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