Gema Brings Elevated Mexican Gastronomy to Orange County

August 24, 2022

Adding to the vibrant culinary scene in downtown San Clemente, Gema presents authentic Mexican gastronomy that elevates traditional flavors and indigenous ingredients to create innovative dishes.

Executive Chef Juan Pablo Cruz has created a menu that focuses on the integrity of every ingredient, with approximately 40% of his items brought in from Mexico. The other ingredients in his scratch kitchen can also be found in Mexico, but are sourced from local farmers', markets, and partners who share a passion for high-quality produce, naturally and humanely raised meats and sustainable seafood. The result is a seasonal menu that pays homage to the rich culinary history of Mexico while reflecting the high-level techniques and refined presentations that one could expect to find at the country’s top restaurants.

The menu begins with dishes that set the tone for the culinary adventure. Chef Cruz presents an elevated take on Ceviche with fresh fish of the day served with a mandarin-habanero glaze and bright kumquat salad, alongside house-made blue corn tostadas. Camarones Flameados introduces a uniquely Mexican grasshopper crème, charred heirloom tomatoes, summer corn croutons, macadamia dust, and sorrel.

Chef Cruz’s passion for scratch-made and seasonal ingredients comes through in his Durazno Salad with seasonal peaches presented elegantly with house-made hibiscus cheese, Castilla walnut, and blood orange vinaigrette. A distinctive take on Chile Relleno features a hazelnut-coated pepper topped with a quail egg, with quesillo and tomato espuma.

The use of lesser-seen components includes grasshopper, chicatana ants, and huitlacoche, a fungus that grows on corn – all considered Mexican delicacies – as well as more commonly consumed Bayo beans, hoja santa, and quelites.

Creativity comes through in thoughtful entrees like Halibut Al Pastor with achiote infusion, broccoli, pineapple foam, and serrano puree. Guests also have the option to share a 48-ounce Tomahawk Steak, served with bone marrow butter, scalloped potatoes, broccoli, and tamarindo adobo.

Gema’s menu is committed to accommodating vegan and vegetarian lifestyle choices, and clean eating, using only avocado oil and extra virgin olive oil. 

Gema’s bar program features the same philosophy as its kitchen, with authentic Mexican spirits and ingredients created with craft focus and refined execution. An Old Fashioned is presented with Oaxacan intention, and a corn-distilled ancestral Mexican whisky takes center stage in the El Clemente specialty cocktail. Drinks are served with garnishes of local, seasonal produce, like caramelized kumquat, charred pineapple, grilled baby corn, and dehydrated blood orange. 

Guests can cozy up to a separate mezcal bar in Gema’s Pink Room, which currently houses an impressive 75 mezcals, from 24 different agave species. In addition to featuring mezcal, the restaurant boasts a focused selection of wines from Baja and California, available by the glass and bottle.

The Pink Room will also be home to The Library, Gema’s own mezcal program that allows guests to purchase and house mezcal by the bottle. A modern take on classic locker programs, The Library features open shelving that showcases the unique mezcal bottles with custom leather tags as identification for their owners. The program is meant to inspire guests to explore the vast world of Mexican mezcal. 

Open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday & Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. 

Gema is located at 110 South El Camino Real in San Clemente.

Greer's OC
Blogger | Journalist

Since 1993, Greer has been writing about fashion, dining and trends in Orange County, as a popular columnist for the Los Angeles Time Community Newspapers (Daily Pilot, Coastline Pilot and HB Independent) and now as founder of Greer’s OC.

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