LAJA Restaurant : Chef Jair Tellez’s homage to Valle de Guadalupe

August 15th , 2012  By Kristin Díaz de Sandi of Life & Food. Reprinted with permission from SanDiegoRed.com 

A rustic setting in Baja’s Wine Country with ingredients that are true to the land.

The Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California has to be one of my favorite places in the world. Yes, you read that right… the world. We venture down there at all different times of the year, but the summer is when you can really feel a different kind of energy. There are the Fiestas De La Vendimia that bring in a lot of people, as well as the weather just being simply beautiful. It does reach higher temperatures out there, but that’s nothing that some shade and a nice cold glass of white or rose wine can’t fix.
There are so many wonderful places to wine and dine at in el valle, and they all have their own special qualities. Dining at Laja restaurante by Chef Jair Tellez was a true joy. There is no better feeling than gaining inspiration from a meal that you have just enjoyed. Baja California sources such amazing ingredients, and their olive oil seriously has a special place in my heart. I will be sure to mention that olive oil again, when I tell you about the second course, and perhaps even before that.

The restaurant itself is just an absolute beauty. An open barn with warm hardwood flooring, gorgeous ceiling beams, and stone on the walls. I could easily picture myself living in a house very much like this in el Valle de Guadalupe, and that would actually equate to a dream of mine. Their menu is printed on a piece of paper daily, which I absolutely love. I know not everyone writes down notes while they eat, but for those that do, this is genius. The produce for the menu is grown in their garden, and they also make all of their own bread. You can choose to have your meal consist of either 4 or 8 courses. The portions for each dish will coincide with the number of courses you decide on, but you can always order seconds of a certain course if you absolutely fall in love with it.

We were presented with all eight of the courses, during our dining experience at Laja. Before I knew it I was being poured a chilled glass of their house Sauvignon Blanc, and a basket of fresh crusty bread was placed in front of us. Accompanying the bread, is a mini carafe filled with one of the best olive oils that I have ever tasted. I mean honestly, I could drink the stuff. It is light and slightly fruity.

The eight course journey started off with a bowl of cream of eggplant soup, that was garnished with flecks of jamon serrano. The salty bite, and slight crunch from the jamon serrano was a pleasant addition to the creamy soup.

Following that, I have to say was a favorite of mine from the afternoon. A mixed green salad with mini heirloom tomatoes, and cured meat. The ingredients are all tossed in that luscious olive oil that I spoke of earlier, and then lightly seasoned. That olive oil combined with the fresh produce just hit the spot. The simplicity and flavors together, just made my tonsils do a little happy dance.

The third course, sautéed shrimp rested on top of a white radish puree with avocado and cured vegetables. The acidity of the vegetables was a nice compliment to the plump shrimp, and creamy avocado.

The fourth course were Cannelloni filled with beef, corn, and mushrooms soaking up the beef broth. There was just a bit of parmesan cheese that created a slight crust on the tops of the noodles, which to me added a nice element of saltiness to the overall dish.

We were half way through the courses, and there was plenty of anticipation as to what the next dishes would unfold. The next dish to grace the table with its presence, was a sautéed filet of Rock Cod that was surrounded by a romanesco puree, fennel, baby squash, bok choy, peppers, and drizzled with a purple onion and beef foot vinaigrette. The supple fish was cooked perfectly, with a nice crisp skin. The ingredients on the plate were all so colorful, and working my way around to each component made each flavor come on out its own.

The final savory course had both my husband and I nodding our heads in unison. You know that moment at the table when you both simultaneously agree that this could be that one dish that comes out just a bit above the others. Local oven roasted lamb that fell apart the second my fork and knife touched it. They even bring you a beautiful Laguiole knife to use for this dish, which I absolutely adore, but it didn’t have to work that hard. The creamy potatoes and spinach were lovely as well, but the lamb was the real star here folks.

The last two courses consisted of two different desserts. The first was a velvety panna cotta with nectarine sorbet. The Nectarine sorbet was incredibly refreshing, and perfect for the summer time. My spoon just glided through the panna cotta leaving it almost effortless to construct the ideal bite.

The last course of the meal was an apple tartaleta. A buttery crust topped with apples and english cream, sharing the plate with a scoop of almond ice cream. This dessert had me longing for the crisp cool air of the fall months.
The entire experience at Laja left me inspired, and already longing for a trip back. The surrounding scenery, the food, and wine all make for an incredible time.

Visit LAJA Restaurant’s website here.

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Want to find out more about cuisine in Baja California?  Read about it here!

Kristin and Antonio blog at Life & Food and you can follow them on Twitter at @lifefoodblog and Facebook.

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