Baja Bean Co. 1520 W. Main St. Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-midnight; Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-1 a.m. 257-5445 The Stonewall Jackson School building is not exactly a predictable place for a Mexican restaurant, but in a town of odd juxtapositions, it's not really all that surprising either. The Stonewall Café was the first restaurant to occupy the former school's English basement and patio. After it closed, a few other places tried it out, most recently James River Wine Bistro. Now, the Baja Bean Co., with its inflatable plastic Corona bottles and festive Mexican decor, inhabits the space. The Richmond location is the fourth Baja Bean Co. to be opened in a decade the others are in Williamsburg, Charlottesville and Staunton. The owners say they strive to serve healthy California-Mexican-Southwest fare using the freshest ingredients. Their menu states that they cook their own chips, make guacamole daily and personally chop hundreds of pounds of tomatoes weekly. And after dining there on a recent evening, I'd say it's true. We arrived at around 8 p.m. on a Friday night and were able to sit down immediately inside the preferable patio was full with a waiting list. We were given a booth which is usually my seating method of choice, but this booth was uncomfortable. The table was too narrow, leaving both of us to sit on the edge of our seats during all eating moments and not out of suspense. Our waitress appeared right away, cheerfully taking drink orders and returning quickly with our margaritas made with fresh fruit, along with fresh chips and an absolutely delicious salsa that definitely contained the right-off-the-vine ingredients the owners promise. The salsa was chock-full of diced tomatoes and onions with a spicy kick. Making a decision regarding our orders was difficult so many items sounded interesting. Appetizers, nachos, soups, salads, quesadillas, enchiladas, chimichangas, fajitas, combination entrees, burgers, sandwiches and a long list of side orders. Where to begin? Finally, executive decisions were made and we took the plunge. I requested a mini-order of guacamole just so I could sample what the menu described as "fresh Haas avocados chopped with onion, cilantro and spices." Bottomless Pitt ordered Cabo Cakes ($4.25), grilled buttermilk cakes with habanero roast corn, shrimp salsa and cilantro crema. Both were very satisfying. My guacamole was a nice balance of garlic and onion mixed with chunks of avocado. His cakes were crispy, served with four medium shrimp and drizzled with corn and cilantro truly enough food for a light meal. For the main event, I chose an entree highly recommended by our attentive waitress who never strayed far from our table. The Enchiladas Del Mar ($9.95) were billed as two flour tortillas stuffed with shrimp, grilled tuna and spiced cream cheese, topped with chile ancho sauce, black bean mango salsa and honey sour cream served over rice. These babies delivered. Sauces and seafood combined for a rich, complex flavor both sweet and spicy. B.P. ordered a special entree du jour, sea trout blackened and served over creamy, cheesy risotto. This was much lighter than my enchiladas, featuring a fairly small portion (it took B.P. about five bites to finish the trout off) and plenty of risotto and cilantro-tomato garnish. Salsa featuring yellow peppers topped the fish, which was most moist and tender. B.P.'s only lament was that there wasn't quite enough trout. For dessert we tried one tried-and-true and one new and different. I chose flan ($2.25) and was not disappointed by the custard, served with light syrup, a nice switch from the thick and heavy variety. B.P. tried a fresh-fruit taco which, in concept, was deliciously full of kiwi, strawberries and bananas, and topped with chocolate sauce and honey, but was difficult to eat. The taco's solid consistency made it hard, literally, to cut with a fork and scoop up with fruit. Nevertheless, the work was worth it. This is a place that will, no doubt, attract a neighborhood crowd because it's convenient, but may take a while to draw 'burbsters. Like its predecessors, Baja Bean's spacious patio will be popular, and, if fresh eats from the wilds of the Southwest are what you're after, you'll have plenty from which to
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