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Transcending Expectations at Deckman’s en El Mogor

Restaurant is Chef’s Walden in the Valle de Guadalupe

By W. Scott Koenig

VALLE DE GUADALUPE, BAJA CALIFORNIA – Henry David Thoreau famously sought the tranquility of Walden Pond as a place where he could transcend the concerns of modern man and create his art outside the distractions of an increasingly industrialized society. Similarly, Drew Deckman – Michelin starred chef, Georgia native and former philosophy major – has chosen Baja California’s rugged wine country as an idyllic setting for culinary expression. It is here that he achieves the ultimate unity with nature vis-a-vis access to the region’s most sustainable seafood and fresh ingredients.

Deckman's en El Mogor

Chef Drew Deckman at the helm of his rustic kitchen in the Valle de Guadalupe.

Before the current boom in the Valle de Guadalupe, Deckman left his restaurant in San Jose del Cabo every summer to operate his then-seasonal campestre kitchen here, Deckman’s en El Mogor at the Mogor Badán winery. He eventually left Deckman’s San Jose altogether and moved to the Valle permanently – chef and restaurant becoming a highlight and must-try on the region’s burgeoning culinary ruta.

“I think we were a little in front of the curve in Cabo,” the chef recently shared. “The more I became integrated in the Valle, the more frustrated I was in Cabo. Thus the paradigm shift.” Indeed, Deckman – known as “the fishing chef” due to his enthusiasm for the sport and its resultant bounty – combines the catch of the day, crustaceans and bivalves from the Pacific with other ingredients in a seemingly complex manner. Dishes that layer taste and texture in an way that complements the main ingredient.

During a recent chef’s dinner, Deckman served an artfully-plated dish of ceviche of red pata de mula (a type of clam) with apple, soy, cucumber, local greens and edible flowers. Nautical miles beyond the typical shrimp cocktail that a typical tourist in Cabo might expect, nay demand. But in the Valle de Guadalupe, Deckman’s level of culinary experimentation is expected, enjoyed and celebrated by a more adventurous brand of eater. The Valle is after all, a destination known for its bold cuisine as well as its bold blends.

Deckman's en El Mogor

Colorful red pata de mula ceviche from chef Drew Deckman.

Conversely, Deckman also knows when to dial back the ingredients and let the essence of an oyster, chocolate clam or piece of fresh fish stand and be tasted on its own merit, adding only the sparest of additions to enhance the seafood’s true flavor. The Kumiai oysters served at the chef’s dinner were lightly marinated in a mignonette and simply garnished with tobiko (flying fish roe), allowing the briny freshness of the shellfish to take center stage.

Deckman's en El Mogor

Kumai oysters in mignonette with tobiko (flyish fish roe).

Late in 2014, Deckman built a temporary, sustainable enclosure with hay bale walls and a tin roof so the restaurant could stay open through winter when tourism slows and other Valle spots shut down until spring. His kitchen contains no electric or gas appliances. Chef and staff do all the prep, cooking and plating on a large brick hearth that operates as countertop, stove, grill and oven. Watching a Michelin starred chef create elegant cuisine in such a rustic environment is a wonder to behold.

Deckman has hosted two chef’s dinners this winter as another way to draw interest to the restaurant during the Valle’s slow season, and expose guests to some of the great food his cross-border colleagues are making.

On February 28th, chefs Benito Molina from Manzanilla in Ensenada, Rob Ruiz and Brandon Nichols from Land and Water Company in Carlsbad, and Angel Carbajal from Grupo Nicksan in Nayarit joined Deckman to serve five courses with Valle de Guadalupe wine pairings – some whites but mostly blushes to complement the evening’s mariscos-focused menu.

Here’s a tantalizing taste of some of the dishes from Deckman’s en El Mogor’s second seasonal chef’s night…

Deckman's en El Mogor

Corvina with black beans in fish sauce and saffron from Manzanilla chef Benito Molina.

Deckman's en El Mogor

The Land and Water Company’s aji (Spanish mackerel) served two ways, as sashimi and deep fried.

Deckman will remove his restaurant’s enclosure as summer approaches. The hay bales will become food for the ranch’s animals and the tin roofs will be stored until next winter. And the chef will continue to transcend expectations from the sun-dappled laboratory of his very own Walden in the Valle de Guadalupe.

Your Gringo in Mexico,
Scott

 

Deckman’s en El Mogor is located at:
Km. 85.5 Highway 3 Tecate-Ensenada, San Antonio De Las Minas, Baja California, Mexico

Driving on Highway 3 from Ensenada, Mogor Badán Winery is approximately 1 mile north of the Carretera a El Porvenir dirt road intersection to the left. Look for blue signs and turn right into the vineyard’s driveway. The restaurant is close to the entrance beyond the first parking lot.

Telephone: (646) 188-3960
E-mail: mogor@deckmans.com
Website: www.deckmans.com

 

W. Scott Koenig (El Gringo) has traveled extensively throughout Mexico since the mid 90’s — from the streets of Tijuana to the beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula to the country’s Spanish Colonial heartland. His blog,www.AGringoInMexico.com, reports on Mexican destinations, cuisine, culture and adventure south of the border. He also blogs extensively for Baja.com and has been published in the Baja Times (Baja’s largest English language newspaper) and Destino magazine in Los Cabos. Scott also reports on food in Tijuana and Oaxaca at Chowzter.com. Additionally, he is the founder and creative director of Koenig Creative LLC in San Diego, a full service design and marketing agency.

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Bodegas F. Rubio: A Family Affair in the Valle de Guadalupe

Bodegas F. Rubio: A Family Affair in the Valle de Guadalupe

by W. Scott Koenig

VALLE DE GUADALUPE, BAJA CALIFORNIA – “Twelve years ago, my father was planning for retirement, so he bought some land here in the Valle and decided to build a ranch.” Francisco Rubio swept his hand across the front windows of the vineyard’s tasting room and deli, indicating the family’s ranch house, vines and the valley and mountains beyond. Francisco’s father –Francisco Rubio Senior – was a successful industrial developer in Tijuana who had worked hard all of his life, so he took some time off immediately after retirement to travel. One of his favorite destinations was Spain.

Valle de Guadalupe

Vineyard and Valle view from the deli at Bodegas F. Rubio.

Francisco continued, “There was a street called Avenida Elefante (Elephant Avenue) in one of the towns in Spain. My father loved it there. There were lots of bars, people drank, enjoyed their lives and were happy.” Francisco Senior returned from Spain invigorated and decided to start a vineyard on the family ranch. He hired an oenologist to consult, and the rest of the Rubio family took on winemaking, sales, food, hospitality and administrative roles. Bodegas F. Rubio officially began selling their wines in February 2014.

Valle de Guadalupe

The excellent wines of Bodegas F. Rubio. Photo Ursula Koenig, Baja Luxury.

When I asked about the elephants adorning their bottles and business cards, Francisco explained, “There is an elephant on our bottles for every member of our family. In addition to Avenida Elefantein Spain, the elephant represents good luck and prosperity in many cultures. Our designer illustrated the elephants on our labels with their trunks pointed up, which shows confidence and the lack of obstacles. The elephant also represents memory. And you always remember when you have a good wine.”

With that, El Gringo and his amigos stepped up to the tasting bar to sample the fruits of the Rubio family’s labor of love. Brother Alberto Rubio is the adept winemaker for Bodegas F. Rubio, and has done an outstanding job blending some of the region’s most popular grapes to create several unique wines, including; a blanco Palomino and Chenin Blanc blend, a tinto Tempranillo and Cab blend and a smooth riserva blending Cab, Merlot and Malbec. Alberto has a pedigree as an oenologist with stints at Bodega Mogor Badan and Viñedos Malagón, both notable vineyards in the Valle de Guadalupe. His experience shines through in Bodegas F. Rubio’s lineup.

Valle de Guadalupe

Francisco Rubio with one of the family’s excellent wines.

When Francisco invited us to visit a couple of months ago, he’d mentioned that they also had a deli run by his brother – chef Alexandro Rubio – that they’d like for us to try. I looked forward to what I consider deli food, maybe with a Baja twist…an array of sandwiches, perhaps a good wood fired pizza with some regional camerones or pulpo. But we were all pleasantly blown away by the amazing food that was served. The use of the word “deli” here is an understatement.

First up was a beautiful plate of sashimi of salmon and yellowfin tuna atop a bed of zucchini “pasta” and soy vinaigrette, topped with thinly sliced red onion and a bit of pickled seaweed. We dug into this hearty helping of flavorful fish, enjoying every mouthwatering bite. The seafood was perfectly fresh and complemented nicely with the veggies and seaweed.

Valle de Guadalupe

Salmon and yellowfin tuna sashimi on a bed of zucchini “pasta”.

We didn’t think it would be possible to serve something even better than the plate of fresh sashimi we’d just devoured, but then came the sea snails. Chef Alex thoughtfully prepares his aguachile (chili water) of sea snails with jalapeño, tomatoes, red onions, micro greens and green onions from their garden. The snails are the perfect balance of chewy and tender and the aguachile of jalapeño provides just the right amount of heat, not overwhelming the main ingredients. This dish paired nicely with Bodegas F. Rubio’s blanco Palomino/Chenin Blanc blend.

Valle de Guadalupe

Sea snail aguachile with jalapeño, tomatoes, red onions, micro greens and green onions.

After the next course of portobello mushroom stuffed with an herby house-made pesto, chef Alex beckoned us to follow him outside. We went around the back where something started to smell really good. Fragrant woodsmoke wafted out of the smoker as Alex opened the doors to reveal the short ribs, baby back ribs, and ears of corn cooking inside – the ribs for about 4 hours at this point. I went back inside, droolingly anticipating the next course.

Valle de Guadalupe

Alex Rubio, the bodega’s chef, with smoked baby back and short ribs.

The ribs were perfectly smoked and super tender – nearly falling off the bone. Two in our party called them “bacon ribs”, and they certainly packed the flavor to support that statement. Before smoking, the ribs are marinated in mustard and adobo for 24 hours, providing a deep, mildly spicy and rich flavor. The accompanying vegetables – sourced from Bodega Mogor Badan just down the road – were the perfect addition to this country style feast. The ribs were paired with glasses of theriserva Tempranillo, a bold, fruit-forward blend with notes of strawberry and aged in second-hand French oak barrels.

Valle de Guadalupe

Bodegas F. Rubio’s amazing smoked short ribs.

Valle de Guadalupe

Perfectly roasted corn on the cob. All buttery goodness.

Dessert came in two courses: The first, a bowl of ice cream covered in chocolate “dirt”, planted in a pot with a plastic flower giving the impression of consuming ones houseplant. Good, but quickly topped by the accompanying second course, a pizza of gooey mozzarella and sweet membrillo (quince).

Valle de Guadalupe

Ice cream “planter” with chocolate “dirt”. Quince pizza with mozzarella.

After throwing in our towels (napkins) and pushing ourselves back from the table, we took a trip down to the wine cave with refreshed glasses of Rubio’s tinto. Francisco gave us a tour of the winemaking facilities, explaining the process and the family’s vision for future varietals and blends. We were treated to a barrel tasting of a new Merlot. And it was fantastic, even in its early stages.

Valle de Guadalupe

Treated to a barrel tasting at Bodegas F. Rubio.

“We started Bodegas F. Rubio from nothing,” Francisco told me as we stepped out into the Valle dusk to say adios. “We are currently producing 1,400 cases a year.” And what does the future hold for this family of artisanal entrepreneurs? In addition to building an outdoor stage for concerts, they have plans to possibly offer several ecotourism cabins on their property for overnight guests. Given their style of thoughtful growth, excellent hospitality and an eye toward producing quality wines and cuisine, this family business is sure to be around for many more generations of Rubios to enjoy.

Your Gringo in Mexico,
Scott

Bodegas F. Rubio is located at:
Callejón de la Liebre Parcela #70 Ejido El Porvenir, Baja California, CP 22755

Once you arrive in the small town of El Porvenir on old Highway 1 from the south, follow the blue signs left onto a dirt road. Continue to follow the blue signs for one more turn and arrival at Bodegas F. Rubio.

Telephone: (646) 156-8046 | Cel. (664) 386-5272
E-mail: info@bodegasfrubio.com
Website: http://www.bodegasfrubio.com

 

W. Scott Koenig (El Gringo) has traveled extensively throughout Mexico since the mid 90’s — from the streets of Tijuana to the beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula to the country’s Spanish Colonial heartland. His blog,www.AGringoInMexico.com, reports on Mexican destinations, cuisine, culture and adventure south of the border. He also blogs extensively for Baja.com and has been published in the Baja Times (Baja’s largest English language newspaper) and Destino magazine in Los Cabos. Scott also reports on food in Tijuana and Oaxaca at Chowzter.com. Additionally, he is the founder and creative director of Koenig Creative LLC in San Diego, a full service design and marketing agency.

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

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El Jardin de Adobe: A Foodie Oasis in the Valle de Guadalupe

El Jardin de Adobe: A Foodie Oasis in the Valle de Guadalupe

by W. Scott Koenig

VALLE DE GUADALUPE, BAJA CALIFORNIA – On a steamy 95 degree August day in the Valle de Guadalupe, chef Ryan Steyn’s new restaurant – El Jardin de Adobe at the Adobe Guadalupe vineyard – appeared at the end of a dusty path like a welcoming mirage. Cozily nestled in an olive and pink peppercorn tree-shaded patio just outside the winemaking facilities, the tranquil space with a vineyard view provided perfect respite from the heat. The campestre style restaurant accommodates diners from a rustic tiled counter and small kitchen located at the front of the space. This is where chef Ryan and his small, very capable staff prep, cook, plate and serve impeccable dishes of grilled meat and European-inspired fare with a Mexican flourish using locally-sourced ingredients.

Valle de Guadalupe

El Jardin de Adobe, a shady oasis on a hot summer day.

Valle de Guadalupe

Chef Ryan Steyn in his kitchen amidst the pink peppercorn trees.

Originally from South Africa, Chef Ryan began his career as executive chef of the restaurant at an African game reserve – his first gig upon graduating from the Swiss Institute of Hospitality Training in 2003. After spending time with the Relais en Chateux hotel group and Cellars Greenhouse restaurant in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Winelands, Ryan met his wife – TIjuanese Susan Monsalve – and followed her back to Baja to open Bistrot L’Escargot in Tijuana. He was inevitably drawn toward the growing culinary movement in the Valle de Guadalupe and signed on as executive chef at Latitud 32 at El Cielo vineyards.

This is where El Gringo met chef Ryan a little over a year ago and enjoyed a perfectly grilled piece of yellowtail with fresh greens, tomatoes and snap peas from the chef’s onsite garden. Besides the delicious fare on offer, the thing that stood out to me was how beautifully the food was presented. Chef Ryan “paints a plate” like no other, accentuating the main course with streaks and swirls of sauce and sides in a way that gives pause to the urge to simply dig in. Not dissimilar to the pause one makes in front of a visually arresting piece in a museum, but with the benefit of being edible art.

Valle de Guadalupe

Chef Ryan Steyn’s grilled yellowtail with tomatoes, snap peas and greens at Latitud 32, El Cielo vineyard.

Ryan collaborated with Adobe Guadalupe owner Tru Miller to open El Jardin this summer to round out the award-winning vineyard and boutique hotel’s onsite amenities. We were in Baja during El Jardin’s opening weekend, so El Gringo and familia made reservations to stop by for lunch. Chef Ryan greeted us with his customary friendly smile and we were seated at one of the patio’s half dozen sun-dappled tables.

Valle de Guadalupe

El Jardin overlooks the beautiful vineyards at Adobe Guadalupe.

To cool off, we ordered a limonada for El Gringo’s 6-year old, and a bottle of Adobe Guadalupe’s limited run Jardin Secreto (Secret Garden) Chardonnay for ourselves. Fermented in steel tanks, this unwooded new world Chardonnay forgoes “butteriness” and delivers a lighter, fruit-forward taste which was just what we needed on this warm day. By using quality grapes, the vineyard is able to produce Chardonnay that is both refreshing and flavorful. Our bottle was one of the first of twenty from a limited run and a standout varietal for us this year. The vineyard’s other award-winning wines are also available by glass or bottle. Salud!

Valle de Guadalupe

A glass of Adobe Guadalupe’s Jardin Secreto Chardonnay. A view of the vineyards.

Chef Ryan started us off with a plate of local artisanal cheese accompanied by local organic fruit. The cheese, as always in Baja California, was fantastic. And the selection of  plump, flavorful grapes, sweet prunes, peaches and pear whetted our appetite for the goodness to come. We were also served freshly-baked bread in a brown bag, liberally spreading heaps of Susan’s own Baja Country Veggies tapanade made from Valle-grown olives on top of the warm, crusty loaf.

Valle de Guadalupe

Local cheeses and fruit, tapanade from Susan Monsalve, El Jardin de Adobe.

The next course was a complementary plate of crostini topped with a rustic bruschetta of locally grown organic tomatoes accompanied by a very nice local olive oil and chili sauce. Satiated with entradas, we were ready to try a couple of the a la carte courses. Oh, and the menu at El Jardin will be changing weekly to feature seasonal specialties year-round, so there’s no guarantee that any of these dishes will be on the menu when you visit (though favorites I’m guessing will probably become somewhat perennial).

Crostini with Rustic Bruschetta, El Jardin de Guadalupe.

Several items were recommended. We tried some but missed a few that sounded very good – such as the black risotto with crispy octopus and the aged ribeye with potatoes and garden vegetables. We did order the grilled quail with garlic and beetroot, three ways, Mexican foie gras and the escargot of chipotle and lime. Upon delivery of our order from our waiter (an amigo formerly with Valle restaurant Santa Brasa), Ryan called to us from the kitchen, “Quail, foie gras and escargot. You are a man who likes to eat well!”. And we did eat very well indeed.

The escargot was delivered to the table in a cazuela, still bubbling hot. We loved how Ryan had taken a dish that is typically served elegantly in-shell or on a fussy escargot plate and presented it instead in rustic, indigenous stone cookware. After a brief period of cooling, we swirled the meaty morsels of snail around the buttery, garlicy and smoky chipotle lime sauce and plopped the plump pulmonata in our mouths. We sopped up every bit of the juice with more bread in a bag. If I lived in the Valle, I would stop by to say “hola” and order this dish from Ryan every day. It’s that good.

Escargot with chipotle and lime.

You can’t enjoy foie gras in California due to state law forbidding the production and sale of the delicacy here. But in Baja California, not only is it permissible, it’s highly encouraged. Chef Ryan has had a reputation in the region as one of the chefs who best handles the delicacy and we were eager to try this illicit dish. A buttery and generous slice of foie gras is served with a caramelized layer of rendered fat on top (which El Gringo’s hijo thought – mistakenly – was a layer of chocolate, much to our amusement when he took a big bite). The foie was all creamy goodness and the layer of fat added nice substance, flavor and texture. The pomegranate provided a bittersweet snap to the whole affair, which was – once again – artfully presented in the middle of a stark, white plate.

Mexican foie gras with pomegranate.

El Gringo has had mixed experiences with quail. When they’re too small, they can be stringy and tend to overcook easily. But chef Ryan’s quail were plump, juicy, well seasoned and grilled for just the right amount of time with a slight crispy sear on the skin.  We savored every savory bite and I really liked the beetroot served three ways – the root, the greens and a puree of the root. I’ve always been a fan of beets, and the taproots grown in the Valle de Guadalupe can’t be…beat!

Grilled quail with garlic and beetroot three ways.

We ended our lunch with lemon finger popsicles with sage, direct from Ryan’s freezer. Presented in a plastic tupperware popsicle mold, I had a flashback to the 70’s for a moment as we grew up with this economical and highly customizable form of frozen concoction delivery. Finishing our wine and popsicles, Susan arrived just as we were about to leave with gifts of Ryan’s “Foodie Flavors” and her “Baja Country Veggies” marmalades and sauces – a fig tequila marmalade, artichoke pesto, tapanade verde and cilantro chimichurri. We loved them all and only the chimichurri remains (and only because we don’t eat a lot of red meat at home). Gracias Susan!

For dessert, a frozen lemon finger with sage.

Marmalades and spreads from Foodie Flavors by Ryan Steyn and Baja Country Veggies by Susan Monsalve.

Leaving El Jardin de Adobe was similar to stepping out of a dream and back into real-time as we made our way up the highway and to our very short wait at the Tecate border (5 minutes on a Sunday night, if you can believe that!). If you’re looking for a shady oasis in the Valle de Guadalupe with great food, wine and atmosphere, stop by and let Chef Ryan Steyn spoil you in the comfort of his new backyard. And let him know El Gringo sent you!

Your Gringo in Mexico,
Scott

To get to El Jardin de Adobe in the Valle de Guadalupe, arriving to the small village of El Porvenir from the south, follow signs at the end of town to the left on a dirt road to Adobe Guadalupe. The guard can direct you to the restaurant. Prices are inexpensive – moderate.

Ryan’s Foodie Flavors and Baja Country Veggies marmalades and sauces are available for sale at the restaurant, at Adobe Guadalupe and at shops throughout the Valle de Guadalupe.

Phone :+52-646-1552879; www.adobeguadalupe.com.

 

W. Scott Koenig (El Gringo) has traveled extensively throughout Mexico since the mid 90’s — from the streets of Tijuana to the beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula to the country’s Spanish Colonial heartland. His blog,www.AGringoInMexico.com, reports on Mexican destinations, cuisine, culture and adventure south of the border. He also blogs extensively for Baja.com and has been published in the Baja Times (Baja’s largest English language newspaper) and Destino magazine in Los Cabos. Scott also reports on food in Tijuana and Oaxaca at Chowzter.com. Additionally, he is the founder and creative director of Koenig Creative LLC in San Diego, a full service design and marketing agency.

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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New Valle de Guadalupe Restaurants Combine Local Ingredients, Creativity, Love

New Valle de Guadalupe Restaurants Combine Local Ingredients, Creativity, Love

by W.S. Koenig

VALLE DE GUADALUPE, BAJA CALIFORNIA – As Vendimia approaches and the popularity of Baja California’s wine country grows, it seems like there are as many new restaurants on the vine as there are grapes in the Valle de Guadalupe lately. Common traits among the chefs and eateries listed here are extensive use of fresh, local ingredients, a hearty pinch of creativity, and a LOT of love and dedication to food and craft. Most of the Valle’s restaurants and campestres maintain their own vegetable and herb gardens, and source their seafood and meat from local vendors and producers. The fresh, delicious and varied culinary delights on offer in the Valle are as imaginative and exceptional as its wines.

From one of Mexico’s most famous chefs to a recent Tijuana Culinary Institute grad, the restaurants listed here are some of El Gringo’s favorites, and should be on the itinerary for your next visit to the Valle de Guadalupe…

La Terrasse San Roman at AlXimia

One of Mexico’s most beloved chefs is back in Baja with a new restaurant located at the award-winning AlXimia Winery. French-trained Chef Martin San Roman is fondly remembered for eateries Tour de France and Rincon San Roman in Tijuana, and has most recently kept himself busy as consulting chef for several top restaurants and a catering service in San Diego. La Terrasse San Roman specializes in “Baja Provençale” cuisine…use of classic rural French preparation methods combined with the bounty of Baja’s fresh, local ingredients. Standouts include the Fresh grilled cactus and chistorro, tomatoes, onions and cilantro, marinated with olive oil and the Tuna loin grilled on wood with lemon aioli sauce. La Terrasse is also one of the few restaurants in the Valle that serves breakfast (Saturday and Sunday), so you can fill up before a day of wine tasting.

Prices: Appetizers from 50 – 150 pesos ($4 – $12 US). Entrees from 125 – 500 pesos ($10 – $38 US).
Location: Km.3 El Tigre country road (at AlXimia, next to Rancho El Parral), Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico
www.LaTerrasseSanRoman.com

valle de guadalupe restaurants

Chef Martin San Roman in the open air exhibition kitchen preparing ratatouille and local beet carpaccio.

valle de guadalupe restaurants

Grilled nopal cactus and chistorro, tomatoes, onions and cilantro, marinated with olive oil.

Convivia at Encuentro Guadalupe

Originally from Veracruz (but transplanted in San Diego since age 23), Chef Flor Franco recently christened Convivia at the Encuentro Guadalupe Antiresort, the Valle’s first cantina. Boasting (and delivering on) a sustainable mission, architectural design, innovative eats and breathtaking views, Convivia’s goal is to bring together Valle locals with visitors in a convivial and relaxing environment. In keeping with Encuentro’s eco-friendly philosophy, Flor’s tapas menu contains items that are 60 percent cold, helping to ease use of ovens that generate heat. Standouts include the Ceviche Convivia with octopus, shrimp, mackerel, clams, scallops, peppers and cucumber and the Hurache Norteño with chorizo and octopus. Drink recipes are provided by the Snake Oil Cocktail Company and other artisanal vendors will be featured.

Prices: Tapas from 70 – 180 pesos ($5 – $14 US).
Location: Carretera Federal 3, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico
www.facebook.com/conviviabyflorfranco

valle de guadalupe restaurants

The convivial atmosphere at Conviva, Flor Franco’s new cantina and restaurant at Encuentro Guadalupe.

valle de guadalupe restaurants

Ceviche of yellowtail and pulpo with heirloom tomatoes, cilantro, onion and chili aioli.

La Terraza Parrilla at Vinicola Torres Alegre y Familia

Over thirty years ago, Master Winemaker Victor Torres opened Vinicola Torres Alegre y Familia, one of only four vineyards operating at the time in the Valle. Victor’s son Leonardo is continuing in his father’s footsteps, crafting wines that are complex, robust and unique (the character of their 2005 Cab Franc Merlot can change every 15 minutes when decanted). Leonardo invited his amigo, Chef Angel Beltran of Tijuana restaurant La Casa del Mole to run the vineyard’s seasonal asador campestre which offers a small, very good menu. Standouts include Fresh Baja Oysters with shallots, chives and olive oil and the Yellowotail pan fried over mesquite with salt, pepper and olive oil. The restaurant’s elevated patio offers a nice ocean breeze from the west and fantastic Valle views.

Prices: Tapas and Entrees from 30 – 120 pesos ($2.50 – $8.50 US)
Location: 22760 El Porvenir, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico
www.facebook.com/LaTerrazaEnTorresAlegre

valle de guadalupe restaurants

Vinicola Torres Alegre y Familia’s master winemaker Leonardo Torres with two of the family’s award-winning wines.

valle de guadalupe restaurants

Food Porn: Fresh Baja Oysters with shallots, chives and local olive oil

Santa Brasa

Santa Brasa pleasantly took us by surprise. After a weekend in the Valle, friends suggested we stop by this new campestre-style restaurant just down the calle from Laja. We were not disappointed. After graduating from the Culinary Institute in Tijuana last year, owner Jaime Galindo teamed with Chilean Master Chef Carlos Vargas to create the menu and run the cocina for their open-air restaurant in a garden setting (where most of their produce comes from). Standouts include their Whole wheat risotto with grilled carrots and garden greens and their Grilled octopus with chili oil and creamy avocado mayonnaise, baby arugula with white truffle oil. They also feature several excellent house wines. The Dama del Valle Chardonnay was our favorite and perfect on a warm afternoon.

Prices: Inexpensive-Moderate
Location: Carretera Ensenada-Tecate, Km 83, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico
www.facebook.com/pgsantabrasa

valle de guadalupe restaurants

Master Chef Carlos Vargas, Jaime Galindo and the staff of Santa Brasa.

valle de guadalupe

Grilled octopus with chili oil and creamy avocado mayonnaise, baby arugula with white truffle oil.

TrasLomita at Hacienda la Lomita

A farm-to-table restaurant at vineyard Hacienda La Lomita, TrasLomita not only harvest veggies from their own farm, they also have a cow that provides the dairy. The menu is based on seasonal and local ingredients from the Valle de Guadalupe and the Pacific and is designed to pair well with local wines. Dishes are cooked over olive wood, grilled and served raw in the case of fresh seafood selections. El Gringo hasn’t had the opportunity to visit yet, but has it on good word that the food is outstanding. Dishes include a Wood-oven roasted pork shank and Blue Fin Tuna raw with oyster, seaweed, lime and ponzu sauce.

Prices: Unavailable. Assume Inexpensive-Moderate.
Location: Fracc. 3 Lote 13 Camino vecinal Parcela 71 C.P. 22755 San Antonio de las Minas Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico.
www.facebook.com/haciendalalomita

valle de guadalupe restaurants

TrasLomita is located on the grounds of Hacienda la Lomita. Photo by Hacienda la Lomita.

valle de guadalupe restaurants

TrasLomita’s catch of the day. Straight from the Pacific ocean. Photo by Hacienda la Lomita.

Vinos de la Ruta

A Valle wine and gift shop in El Porvenir, Vinos de la Ruta carry many of the region’s best varietals and sell them at a price comparable to what you’d pay at the vineyard. They offer free tastings from Valle labels every weekend. We were fortunate enough to enjoy a tasting from Emiliana, who produce a deep, delicious and complex Cabernet Sauvignon. Just opened in May, the shop also has an adjoining outdoor restaurant specializing in Argentinian Barbacoa. Prepared on a Santa Maria grill by an Argentinian chef, the mixed paradilla of arrachera, short ribs, chorizo, chistorro and quail is a standout. The Grilled Romain salad with local vegetables and parmesan is a terrific start to your meat feast…and a great option if you’re rolling with vegetarian amigos.

Price: Inexpensive-Moderate
Location: Blvd. Emiliano Zapata No. 379, El Porvenir, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico
www.facebook.com/vinosdela.ruta

valle de guadalupe restaurants

Argentinian Barbacoa at Vinos de la Ruta.

valle de guadalupe restaurants

Paradilla of arrachera, short ribs, chorizo, chistorra and quail.

A visit to any of these six spots is sure to be as unforgettable to you as they were to us. The next time you find yourself in the Valle de Gudalupe, stop by…and tell them El Gringo sent you. ¡Buen Provecho!

 

W. Scott Koenig (El Gringo) has traveled extensively throughout Mexico since the mid 90’s — from the streets of Tijuana to the beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula to the country’s Spanish Colonial heartland. His blog,www.AGringoInMexico.com, reports on Mexican destinations, cuisine, culture and adventure south of the border. He also blogs extensively for Baja.com and has been published in the Baja Times (Baja’s largest English language newspaper) and Destino magazine in Los Cabos. Scott also reports on food in Tijuana and Oaxaca at Chowzter.com. Additionally, he is the founder and creative director of Koenig Creative LLC in San Diego, a full service design and marketing agency.

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Baja Chef Martin San Roman to Open New Restaurant in Valle de Guadalupe

Baja Chef Martin San Roman to Open New Restaurant in Valle de Guadalupe

by W. Scott Koenig

SAN DIEGO – On Thursday, June 26th, acclaimed Mexican chef Martin San Roman will announce the opening of his new restaurant, La Terrasse San Roman at AlXimia in the Valle de Guadalupe, scheduled for early July. The announcement will be made during the premier Baja Wine Night Series at Dobson’s Bar & Restaurant in downtown San Diego, which will feature a multi-course pairing of Chef San Roman’s Baja Provençale Cuisine with exceptional wines from the Valle de Guadalupe.

Valle de Guadalupe

The premier Baja Wine Nights Series at Dobson’s will feature courses from Chef Martin San Roman paired with Baja wines.

La Terrasse San Roman will be located at AlXimia winery and will offer premier destination dining in the beautiful and verdant Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California’s wine-producing region. The restaurant will offer outdoor dining from Wednesday-Sunday on their terrace (and breakfast Saturday & Sunday) with a sweeping view of the Valle’s mountains and vineyards. La Terrasse San Roman will welcome wedding and private parties, and will conduct regular cooking classes and other events at the restaurant throughout the year.

Valle de Guadalupe

La Terrasse San Roman features Baja Provençale Cuisine

La Terrasse San Roman will specialize in Baja Provençale cuisine, which applies traditional rural French recipes and preparation methods to largely locally-sourced ingredients from the bounty of Baja. Chef San Roman’s menu will feature regional organic produce, local and imported cheeses, woodfired pizza, raclette, fresh local seafood, steaks from Sonora and the famous PASTEL DE CREPAS, creation of Chef San Roman since 1987.

Valle de Guadalupe

Chef San Roman’s famous Pastel de Crepas. Photo: http://www.lifeandfoodblog.com.

This combination creates a new regional cuisine for Baja California that is steeped in French and local traditions, rich and varied in flavor, and respectful of local ingredients and their producers. AlXimia’s award-winning wines will also be available to pair with Chef San Roman’s Baja Provençale menu. Breakfast items will include Birria de Chivo (a favorite of El Gringo’s), chilaquiles and Beef with Pulque (a perfect hangover cure, apparently, for those who may have enjoyed one too many of the Valle’s best wines the night before).

Valle de Guadalupe

La Terrasse San Roman in the Valle de Guadalupe will specialize in Baja Provençale Cuisine.

Chef Martin San Roman brings to La Terrasse San Roman a vast array of international culinary experience and culinary creativity. Born in Mexico City, San Roman graduated from L’Ecole Lenôtre in Paris, France. His experience in Fauchon and Le Meridien Hotels in Paris, the London Hilton and the San Diego Westgate led him to his role as chef owner of Tour de France and Rincon San Roman, both in Tijuana, Mexico. His cooking show with the Televisa Network ran for eight years with a strong following on both sides of the U.S. – Mexico border. San Roman has traveled the world representing Mexican classic and modern cuisine and has received more than 250 awards from 12 different countries.

Chef San Roman is a member of Mexico’s Vatel Club; Academie Culinaire de France; Societe des Cuisiniers de Paris, and the American Culinary Federation, he was spokesperson for Tijuana Inovadora 2012, and he is a Chef Consultant for Restaurante Parilla Argentina El Diego in Monterrey and Mexico City. Chef San Roman is also consulting chef for Dobson’s, Hotel Boutique Casa Fernanda in Tepoztlán, Mexico and Whole Foods Markets in San Diego. Chef Martin San Roman brings a refreshing fusion approach to La Terrasse’s Baja Provençale cuisine.

Valle de Guadalupe

La Terrasse San Roman is located at and and will feature award-winning wines from AlXimia.

The premier Baja Wine Nights Series at Dobson’s on June 26th will feature wines from AlXimia, as well as Valle de Guadalupe producers Paolini’s Wines, Monte Xanic and Cavas Valmar. Cost of the meal and event is $80 (all inclusive) and can be purchased online at www.bajawinenights1.eventbrite.com.

Dobson’s is a landmark in San Diego and has been one of the city’s favorites since the 1980′s. The premier Baja Wine Nights promises to be mouthwateringly good and offer an excellent introduction to Chef San Roman’s Baja Provençal cuisine and the wines of the Valle de Gudalupe. El Gringo will be in attendance, and I hope to see you there!

Your Gringo in Mexico,
Scott

La Terrasse San Roman is located at AlXimia Winery in the Valle de Guadalupe, just northeast of Ensenada at Km.3, the tiger country road (next ranch El Parral) Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico. CP 22766. Once the restaurant has opened in early July, reservations and inquiries can be made by calling +52 646-1967803. Website coming soon. Visit La Terrasse San Roman’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/LaTerrasseSanRoman for grand opening announcements.

Valle de Guadalupe

Chef Martin San Roman & former Baja Secretary of Tourism Tintos Funcke.

W. Scott Koenig (El Gringo) has travelled extensively throughout Mexico since the mid-1990s — from the streets of Tijuana to the beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula to the country’s Spanish Colonial heartland. His blog, www.AGringoInMexico.com, reports on Mexican travel, destinations, culture, events and cuisine. He also blogs extensively for Baja.com and has been published in the Baja Times (Baja’s largest English language newspaper) and Destino magazine in Los Cabos. Additionally, he is the founder and creative director of Koenig Creative LLC in San Diego, a full service design and marketing agency.

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

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Escape to Baja’s Wine Country, Valle de Guadalupe

Escape to Baja’s Wine Country, Valle de Guadalupe

by W. Scott Koenig

Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe, just outside of Ensenada and 90 minutes from the border, has a history of farming and viticulture that dates back to the early 20th century. Then, Russian immigrants fleeing religious persecution from czarist Russia were granted farmland by the Mexican government. Wines from Baja now grace the menus of restaurants all over Mexico (we had our first bottle in Cuernavaca) and are becoming more available in the U.S.

Recently, the region has garnered accolades for its wine, food and natural beauty from national publications The Wine Enthusiast and Conde Nast Traveler. To tour “The Valle”, one steps into a time machine and is transported back to regional and cultural traditions, and then fast forwarded to new restaurants and vineyards that are working to propel and assure the region’s future.

Valle de Guadalupe

Baja’s Wine Country, just outside of Ensenada, is a great day trip from Southern California.

El Gringo has rolled through Valle de Guadalupe several times now, with each trip providing a different set of wineries, cuisine, people and experiences. The very first time was on an organized tour provided by the Los Rocas resort in Rosarito Beach. My señorita and I found this to be a great introduction to the region, as well as a lot of fun experiencing it with others who were also new to the scene (in our case, a family of friendly visitors from Mexico City). Additionally, many of the Valle’s smaller boutique wineries require appointments for tastings. And a well-connected tour operator is key to getting past those large, beautiful and ornate wrought iron gates.

We’d been talking about conducting similar tours ourselves, and with friends in town from Colorado wanting to visit Baja, we seized the opportunity to arrange our inaugural “Escape to Baja Wine Country” outing. Putting out a last minute invitation to a handful of other friends, we quickly filled the 10 passenger van that would be provided by our guide and driver, Alain Pressier. We met Alain in Tijuana after a quick foot crossing over the border (parking our cars in an inexpensive lot on the U.S. side in San Ysidro). On the itinerary: breakfast on the coast, followed by tours and tastings at three wineries (Tres Valles, Adobe Guadalupe and Vinos Malagon) and concluding with dinner at Javier Plascencia’s Valle de Guadalupe farm-to-table restaurant, Finca Altozano.

Valle de Guadalupe

Finca Altozano. Dinner with a view.

Our first stop was just south of Rosarito Beach in La Mision for a “full breakfast” at Poco Cielo (Little Heaven). Poco Cielo is right next door to the famous La Fonda Hotel & Restaurant, and affords the same cliff top view of the majestic and blue Pacific Ocean. A “Little Heaven” indeed!. We enjoyed our coffees, drinks and breakfasts (El Gringo had a queso and chorizo omelet…delicioso!). In addition to the restaurant, Poco Cielo is also a hotel and offers affordable ocean view rooms (El Gringo will have to stay sometime and I’ll let you know how it is!).

Valle de Guadalupe

The tour starts with a full breakfast at Poco Cileo, a “Little Heaven” in La Mision.

Valle de Guadalupe

The view from Poco Cielo’s restaurant patio. It’s a beautiful day!

After about 40 additional minutes on the road (90 minutes driving time total from the border at San Diego), we came over the mountains and dropped into Valle de Guadalupe. After recent rains, the typically semi arid region was beautifully painted with smatterings of light moss green across the valley and on the hillsides. Our first stop was at Tres Valles, one of the few wineries owned and operated by natives in nearby Ensenada. Established in 1999, the winery has several tasty reds and whites, most named in the indigenous Kiliwa language (i.e. KOJAA, which means “wine”). Additionally, the vineyards labels bear images of native animals, such as the lizard, spider and snake. Cool rebar and wine barrel animal sculptures are placed around the property as well, in an excellent display of rustic artistry. Edmundo poured our tastings and provided an excellent commentary on the various blends we were trying.

Valle de Guadalupe

First stop for the tour: Ensenda’s own Tres Valles Vitivinicola.

Valle de Guadalupe

Tres Valles name their wines in the indigenous Kiliwa language.

Valle de Guadalupe

The varietals of Tres Valles. A giant spider looms in the background.

Next up was Adobe Guadalupe, owned by Americans Don and Tru Miller. The couple built Adobe Guadalupe (a vineyard and six room B&B) after a vision Tru experienced in Notre Dame Cathedral after the passing of their son (who had an interest in Mexican viticulture). Today, the vineyard produces a number of excellent wines, all named after archangels in their son’s spirit. The Middle Eastern, open architecture of the vineyard buildings and the hotel take advantage of the open spaces and frame the valley’s landscape. The wines were hearty and inspired, and we enjoyed the grounds as well as the vineyard’s five amicable and very relaxed dogs. El Gringo’s señorita made a note to book us a room here sometime in the not too distant future.

Valle de Guadalupe

Welcome to Adobe Guadalupe, set on beautiful grounds.

Valle de Guadalupe

Pours of the rosé at Adobe Guadalupe.

Valle de Guadalupe

Enjoying the day, and the wine, at Adobe Guadalupe.

Valle de Guadalupe

The B&B courtyard at Adobe Guadalupe.

Our final tasting of the day was at Vinos Malagon, a VERY early vineyard established in the early 1900s by expatriated Russians. When they say that one of their vines is considered an “old vine”, we believe it! In 2000, Jose Luis Malagon purchased the ranch and structured the current wine operations. The gloriously beaming and super friendly Anna Rosa poured our tastings and had arranged a platter of amazing cheeses and crackers for us to enjoy with their wines. Both wine and food were great, and we were treated to an unexpected surprise for a wine tasting…a sampling of their reposado tequila, Whistling Donkey (smooth, spicy and with a hint of vanilla. El Gringo brought one back for his 1 liter border allotment).

Valle de Guadalupe

Tour Guide Alain Pressier lines up a tasting of Vinos Malagon’s Whistling Donkey tequila.

Our final stop was at Javier Plascencia’s Finca Altozano, a farm-to-table restaurant with comfortable outdoor seating atop a hill with a vast view of the Valle as your dining companion. It was a good thing that Alain had kept the restaurant current on our timing as we were running just a touch late (El Gringo was on Mexican Time). The restaurant was bustling and full of happy customers enjoying the food, wine, views and large wine barrels on the edge of the restaurant’s periphery. These barrels have steps to the top and seats for friends to gather and enjoy the Valle views.

Valle de Guadalupe

Guests at Finca Altozano enjoy a little playfulness in the giant wine barrels on the property.

Valle de Guadalupe

The busy and friendly staff at Finca Altozano keep the good stuff flying.

Valle de Guadalupe

Finca Altozano provides a rustic outdoor setting and amazing food.

We were seated at a very cool, long, rustic table with an excellent view of the valley. We ordered beers and wines and contemplated the myriad food choices. Ultimately, Ursula and I ordered a surf and turf feast: Ahi Tostadas and Grilled Pulpo (octopus) representing the surf, and Borrego (Lamb) de Rancho Cortes and Birria de Borrega fronting for turf. There was no contest…it was ALL perfectly prepared, presented and enjoyed. El Gringo washed his food down with a Fune’s Blanco, the Tijuana-based craft brewer’s take on a Belgian Ale (very good, BTW).

Valle de Guadalupe

Surf. The super fresh Ahi Tostada at Finca Altozano.

Valle de Guadalupe

Turf. The Borrego (Lamb) de Rancho Cortes a la Caja China at Finca Altozano.

Satiated, satisfied and sun-kissed, we loaded up and pointed the van north back to the border. Overall, the day was a GREAT success, and we were happy to introduce a great group of friends to the Baja Wine Country. (El Gringo and his colleagues are excited at the opportunity to provide monthly tours to Valle de Guadalupe to friends, family and others coming this spring! Look here and on his Facebook and Twitter pages for more information).

 

W. Scott Koenig (El Gringo) has travelled extensively throughout Mexico since the mid-1990s — from the streets of Tijuana to the beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula to the country’s Spanish Colonial heartland. His blog, www.AGringoInMexico.com, reports on Mexican travel, destinations, culture, events and cuisine. He also blogs extensively for Baja.com and has been published in the Baja Times (Baja’s largest English language newspaper) and Destino magazine in Los Cabos. Additionally, he is the founder and creative director of Koenig Creative LLC in San Diego, a full service design and marketing agency.

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Captain Hook’s Gallery: Cruising for Calico Bass

Captain Hook’s Gallery: Cruising for Calico Bass

When spring is on the horizon, many anglers along the northern Baja Pacific Coast take full advantage of the increasingly sunny, calm days by drifting near inshore kelp beds in pursuit of calico bass. Technically named “kelp bass,” this colorful, checkerboard patterned fish is a member of the family Serranidae (sea basses), and is also a close relative to the barred sand bass. These and other smaller members of the tropical grouper family are generally referred to as cabrilla in Baja California.

Captain Hook's Gallery

Capt. Kelly Catian of K&M Sportfishing shows off a trophy size calico that fell for a well-presented swimbait just off the coast of Bahia San Quintin.

The calico, Paralabrax clathratus, is a prime target of Pacific anglers because of its great fighting spirit, as well as for the quality table fare that it provides. Although most likely to weigh between one and four pounds, these fish can occasionally reach a weight of 12 to 13 pounds when living in a natural, kelp bed habitat.

The coastal region between Playas Tijuana and San Quintin is fortunate to be blessed with thick concentrations of kelp, which are home to the calico bass, one of our area’s most prized gamefish. Members of this species will viciously attack a well-presented live anchovy, sardine or plastic artificial, and have a reputation for hiding behind the cover of kelp strands, and then ambushing unsuspecting prey as it swims by.

Captain Hook's Gallery

MC Swimbaits, one of the most popular brands in both California and Baja California, produces plastic swimbaits in a wide variety of sizes and colors to correspond with changing weather conditions, fishing venues and forage preferences of the targeted species.

When fishing for calicos near kelp beds using artificial plastic baits, try starting out with colors that incorporate brown and golden hues with hologram or metal flake. It is believed that these colors most closely emulate the appearance of juvenile kelp bass, which are regularly cannibalized by larger members of their own species.

During warm summer months, calicos will often boil near surface bait schools, and bigger fish can even be taken using blue and white “surface iron” jigs that might normally be used to catch species such as yellowtail, or big barracuda. Whether using plastic or iron lures, a long rod is often another key ingredient for success, as it allows you to cast farther and get more leverage on the fish.

The colder the water temperatures, however, the more likely it is that your lure will be attacked as it flutters down through the water column. While it is possible to catch calicos throughout the year, the best action takes place in spring and continues on through late summer.

Captain Hook's Gallery

A Baja panga offers a near perfect platform for targeting calico bass, as demonstrated by Punta Banda angler “Calico” Brian Foley and Capt. Beto Zamora. Image: Vonny’s Sportfishing Fleet

Because they are both territorial and delicious, calico bass populations have diminished drastically during recent decades, particularly in Southern California waters. Unless Baja’s coastal anglers practice great restraint, the same thing could happen here. But one simple practice could change that: When you catch a kelp bass over five pounds, it is very important to release it unharmed.

It is a known fact that large, female calicos are able to contribute millions more juveniles to help rebuild the population than can smaller bass. Fish that weigh between one to three pounds provide delicious fillets, and can be enjoyed without making as much of a negative impact on resources. Of course, responsible anglers never keep more fish than they can readily use. And if properly respected, this relatively slow growing species can offer both outstanding “catch & release” action and occasional table fare for future generations to enjoy as well.

 
Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Captain Hook’s Gallery: Baja’s Pacific Barracuda

Captain Hook’s Gallery: Baja’s Pacific Barracuda

It was the last day of his vacation in Ensenada before heading back to the blistering July heat of Phoenix, Arizona, and Rob had made the decision the night before to spend it on a sportfishing boat.

Although it was only 7:45 a.m, the summer sun had already torn its way through a thin, gray layer of marine mist when the skipper encountered flocks of hungry seagulls and pelicans on the way to Islas Todos Santos, just offshore. The birds were intently circling, and diving frantically into a small section of ocean that had erupted into a chaotic froth of fleeing sardines, as well as predator species that were crashing through the deep blue surface while attempting to eat them.

Baja's Pacific Barracuda

Pacific barracuda may be taken off the Baja coast during warm water months, although heir razor sharp teeth can cut through an angler’s line in a heartbeat. Image: MarineBio

As the boat carefully slid up to the feeding frenzy, anglers onboard quickly began tossing live baits and lures at the boils. Rob had already tied on his trusty Krocodile spoon, and was one of the first to get his jig in the water. Before he had a chance to crank the reel’s handle more that a few rotations, his pole was nearly yanked from his hands by a fish that attacked his bright, fluttering lure with the speed of lightning and the force of an angry bull.

“Fresh one!!” Rob called out enthusiastically, remembering something that he had heard once a few years before while aboard a commercial sportfisher in Southern California. The fish bent his medium weight spinning rod nearly in half, as line continued to peel off his reel. Eventually, the fish began to tire, and Rob was able to turn its head and regain control of the battle.

“What is it?” Another visiting angler asked while peering attentively over Rob’s shoulder.  “Do you think it’s a BIG yellowtail?” At that very moment, the fish came to color below the boat. The flash of its long, silvery body made it immediately identifiable.

“Oh, no!” shouted the kibitzing fisherman for all to hear. “It’s a damn SLIMER! …The guy caught a BARRACUDA, not a yellowtail!!” His voice was dripping with sarcasm.

The big fish appeared to be almost three feet long as it was gaffed and brought over the rail, but Rob was no longer smiling. When the deckhand who was holding his catch asked for his bag number, he shook his head and declined with a simple “No quiero.” This was a big error, because Rob had just made the common mistake of allowing someone else’s perception of reality to ruin what had been, in fact, a wonderful event.  No matter whether you call them slimers, snakes, or by their most considerate nickname, California wahoo, the barracuda remains one of the most maligned gamefish that swims in our waters.

Baja's Pacific Barracuda

Pacific barracuda offer great sport when hooked, and when properly handled also provide tasty table fare. Image: Gary Graham

Pacific barracuda (Sphyraena argentea) are a pelagic species that is usually found in Ensenada Bay during the summer months. Although they prefer live bait, they can also be taken on chrome spoons, top-water poppers and surface iron in a blue and chrome combination. This barracuda has a slim body design, and rarely exceeds a weight of 10 pounds.  They can offer an excellent fight on light to medium tackle, and grow to a maximum length of about four feet.  Not to be confused with the Great barracuda that lives in tropical waters, the Pacific barracuda can be distinguished from those found in the Sea of Cortez by its silvery sides and a lack of broad bars or spots.

Most Pacific barracuda are taken with live bait fished at or near the surface; however, they will take an assortment of trolled artificial lures. If you see a very large barracuda, in the 10 pound range, chances are it’s a female. Positive identification can be made because the female has a charcoal black edge on the pelvic and anal fins, whereas the male fins are edged in yellow or olive. Three pound barracuda are common, but generally they are large enough to put up a good fight. Caution should be taken when you land a barracuda to avoid their needle sharp teeth.

The good news, which is often overlooked, is that Pacific barracuda can be excellent table fare when properly prepared and cooked fresh. Although it is not usually feasible to execute while on a commercial sportfisher, it is very important to remove the gills, entrails, and to bleed out this fish as soon as possible after it has been caught, and then place it immediately under ice. Prior to cooking, thoroughly scale the whole barracuda and slice it crosswise into steaks. Place the steaks into a large bowl and marinate them in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours in your favorite oil and vinegar based Italian salad dressing. Then grill over smoldering mesquite, turn once until they’re fully cooked, and get ready for a surprisingly tasty meal.

Remember, if you can’t eat that barracuda on the day that it was caught, they are also extremely good when smoked and served with crackers and whipped cream cheese!

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Baja Skinny: A Local Answers Frequently Asked Questions About Ensenada

Baja Skinny: A Local Answers Frequently Asked Questions About Ensenada

Located less than 100 miles south of the International Border at San Ysidro, the Mediterranean-like seaport of Ensenada is situated at the end of a picturesque highway on the Pacific Coast of Baja California Norte. Ensenada’s proximity to the border has for many years made it a natural choice for stateside visitors looking for a convenient and reasonably priced Baja getaway. Here you can enjoy the best of both worlds, from bucolic natural beauty to world-class wining and dining, as well as the other sophisticated pleasures found in this modern city located near the gateway to populous southern California.

But despite its close proximity to the U.S., many folks still have questions about visiting the Ensenada area. So in order to clear up any confusion, we’ve provided answers to the most frequently asked questions.

Baja Skinny

Ensenada at night.

Do I need to get a visa in order to travel to Ensenada?

If you are staying less than 72 hours, you do not. The area between Tijuana and Punta Colonet is a tourist zone that does not generally require any additional documentation to visit within that time frame. Of course, you should always have a valid passport in your possession, but that is required by the Department of Border Protection in order to cross the border coming back into the U.S., not by the Republic of Mexico.

Will my cellphone work in Baja California Norte?

These days, many of the larger carriers feature international calling privileges in their monthly service packages. If yours does not, chances are that you may still be able to place a call to places north of the border using your phone; but make sure that you find out how much you will be charged before doing so.  Sometimes this type of service extension can run as much as $1 to $1.50 (U.S.) per minute. Calling from a local pay phone can often be similarly expensive.

What about Internet access?

Fortunately, Wi-Fi access is widely available between the border and Ensenada, since numerous restaurants, cafes, hotels and even a few shops in the tourist zone use this convenience as a vehicle to bring business into their operations. With the current proliferation of phones, pads and notebooks that are carried by so many people on both sides of the border these days, such widespread access is considered by many to be a necessity.

Do I need a license to go fishing in Baja?

As in almost every region of Mexico, those fishing from shore, the rocks or any type of land based platform such as a pier, dock or wharf can do so without the need for any type of license. Those fishing from boats, however, must have a current, valid Mexican fishing license in their possession for each passenger aboard any boat that is also carrying any type of fishing gear. This means everyone, even small children, regardless of whether they plan to do any fishing. Fishing licenses can be obtained at all Baja Department of Tourism Offices, as well as at sportfishing landings and most tackle shops.

What about emergency situations?

Just as in other industrialized countries, there is any emergency number available in Mexico that will immediately link you with the police and other authorities.  It is ‘066’.  Although many dispatchers may not be bilingual, you can often be transferred to someone who can speak English simply by politely asking “Servicio en Ingles, por favor?”  If your particular situation should require the assistance of the American Consulate, you can contact the Tijuana office by calling (664) 977-2000. They are located at Paseo de las Culturas S/N, Mesa de Otay, 22425 Tijuana, BCN.

Is it true that Baja Norte healthcare professional offer quality dental and medical services at a fraction of stateside prices?

There are, indeed, a growing number of individuals from the U.S. who visit Mexico for medical reasons.  Over the past few decades, the number highly trained dentists, physicians, surgeons and other healthcare professionals in Mexico has grown exponentially,particularly in the state of Baja California Norte. Many of these individuals have been schooled in the United States and have set up their practices south of the border, which allows them to offer extremely competitive pricing while maintaining a high professional standard.

Can I use my credit cards in Ensenada?  What about paying in dollars as opposed to pesos?

Most of the larger business, hotels and restaurants in Ensenada will happily accept credit and debit cards from major carriers, except for Discovery.  However, the majority of smaller operations will accept only cash. While most stores will accept U.S. dollars, the exchange rate that they offer is not always the best.  It is often a good idea to pick up some pesos at one of the local cambio kiosks, whose rates are generally advertised on prominent neon signs outside of the establishments.

What if I encounter severe mechanical issues while visiting Ensenada, and need to return to the U.S. without my vehicle?

Fortunately, there is excellent bus service between Ensenada that offers regular carriage to Tijuana and the border every few hours from the downtown terminal. The trip usually takes less than two hours and costs under $15.00 per person.

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Breakfast with Chef Flor Franco at Encuentro Guadalupe Antiresort™

encuentro3

 

Gazing out from the airy glass-walled dining room at hotel and winery Encuentro Guadalupe, it is difficult to believe that winter has ever arrived in Baja.  Sunshine is draped over Ensenada’s Valle de Guadalupe like a layer of chiffon, lending a soft golden cast to the wine country’s craggy hills and rambling vineyards.  The only tell-tale signs that this normally verdant valley is dormant are the vines, themselves: gnarly and naked, and waiting for spring.  In the meantime, all kinds of other things are blossoming and sprouting and they are all being harvested right now, for breakfast.  Today, the morning meal is being prepared by a host of great cooks led by the renowned Chef Flor Franco, owner of Indulge Contemporary Catering based in San Diego, California, and special events chef for Encuentro Guadalupe.

Chef Flor Franco (n green) teamed with Tina Luu (left), Kelly Funes, Marisela Magoni and Becky Kastelz.

From left to right: Tina Luu, Flor Franco, Kelly Funes, Marisela Magoni and Becky Kastelz.

Chef Franco is doing what she does best…using fresh, natural and regional ingredients to create deceptively simple and delicious plates.  From Mexican papaya to locally harvested seaweed, to home-made granola and even rich tamales, today’s breakfast offers a palate of flavors assembled with artisanal sensibility and served in an eco-friendly environment that encourages sustainability at all levels.

 

With its own organic garden, Encuentro Guadalupe has fresh ingredients, even in winter.

With its own organic garden, Encuentro Guadalupe has fresh ingredients, even in winter.

 

Assistant winemaker Alejandro Ceceña pitches in, bringing Chef Franco fresh-picked broccoli.

Assistant winemaker Alejandro Ceceña pitches in, bringing Chef Franco fresh-picked broccoli.

 

Encuentro Guadalupe’s unique accommodations, winery and wines, and its organic garden and restaurant (Orígen), are all part of a whole concept that blends function and aesthetics into an appealingly ‘eco-friendly’ package — a place where nature and culture merge.

 

Accommodations at Encuentro Guadalupe are called 'eco-lofts'.

Accommodations at Encuentro Guadalupe are called ‘eco-lofts’.

 

Chef Franco’s focus on ‘slow food’ is a natural fit with the Encuentro vision; as she creates her breakfast dishes, it is clear that she is preserving and highlighting the character of the region through her specific choices for menu items. Along with farm-fresh scrambled eggs, unique salsas, and a melon platter, here are just a few dishes that highlighted this special breakfast feast!

 

breakfast with flor5 granola

Home-made granola

Seaweed salad (perhaps the most popular dish of the morning!)

Seaweed salad (perhaps the most popular dish of the morning!)

 

Hand-made tamales, authentically smooth and rich.

Hand-made tamales came out of the pot steaming hot, and authentically smooth and rich.

 

Piquent pico de gallo gives a pop to scrambled eggs and toasted baguettes.

Piquant pico de gallo gives a pop to scrambled eggs and toasted baguettes.

truffles and cookies

Oaxacan chocolate, Meyer lemons, coconut…the perfect culimination to breakfast.

 

Encuentro Guadalupe is located at kilometer 75 on Highway 3, Tecate-Ensenada.  It is a remarkable place to stay, to dine, or simply to enjoy a glass of Encuentro wine and the spectacular view from the patio.  Dinner reservations and information:  +52 (646) 155-2775, or toll-free from the US, (800) 450-8701.

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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