When visitors first see the prominent sign above one of Ensenada’s most popular restaurants, El Rey Sol, it is quite likely that many may assume that it is a reference to some ancient Aztec god. Actually, it is meant to pay homage to France’s King Louis XVI, often referred to in his time as The Sun King. He chose the sun as his emblem, which was associated with Apollo, god of peace and arts, and was also the heavenly body which gave life and regulated all things as it rose and set. He was also a fastidious gourmet whose passion for fine food helped France gain its status as a culinary icon. This, then, is El Rey Sol: Ensenada’s French Connection.
El Rey Sol, was established in 1947 and has a reputation as Ensenada’s oldest and most venerated French restaurant. Owner, Jean-Loup Bitterlin, oversees the restaurant as well as the adjacent Posada El Rey Sol Hotel.
Jean-Loup offers, “The restaurant was originally founded by my mother, Pepita, when there were only about 10,000 people in the entire town. She was raised in France and loved to cook, so opening and running a restaurant seemed like a natural path to follow. In those days, French food was very foreign in northern Baja, and my mother ended up teaching many people about escargot, lobster thermidor, and everybody’s favorite, our French pastries. To this day, we still make them using 100 year old recipes and only the best ingredients.”
Although he acknowledges the importance of recent innovations in the fusion style coastal cuisines of Baja and other Mexican states, and features a few on his menu from time to time, Jean-Loup Bitterlin remains steadfastly committed to the classic standards of the French Cordon Bleu, which created the foundation for much of the epicurean fare that we still enjoy today.
In October of 2012, El Rey Sol restaurant happily celebrated its 65th year in operation with a grand anniversary celebration that treated attendees to an exquisite 6-course dinner created by regional celebrity chefs along with a stunning audio visual presentation offering appropriate scenes and music spanning the many decades that they have been serving the community and promoting regional tourism…and serving as Ensenada’s French Connection.
Bitterlin adds, “Ensenada’s future is unlimited, it is a city with many gifts; the natural sea scape, our blossoming wine industry, the great local sportfishing, food and shopping.”
Bitterlin also sees this region as a great place for a weekend getaway, a second home and even an eventual retirement destination. “Its geographical location of being just a scenic hour’s drive south of San Ysidro makes it particularly accessible for southern Californians to visit. Our tourism numbers continue to increase, and I believe that there has never been a better time to come visit.”
“Who knows,” Jean-Loup concludes with a smile. “You might even want to stay here and live.”
Hooked on Baja author & columnist, Tom Gatch, is one of Baja’s foremost writers with a focus upon outdoor and recreational topics in Baja and southern California.
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