Can it really be late July already? Must be, because we’re coming up on one of our fave fests, Verbena Campestre! This annual event proves there’s more to the Baja wine scene than Valle de Guadalupe. Verbena Campestre is held at the family-owned Vinedos San Cosme near the start of Baja’s Ruta Antigua south of Ensenada, a bit past Maneadero but north of Santo Tomas. This well-organized party is worth the drive! We’ve attended the past couple of years and have enjoyed relaxing at the tables under the trees and umbrellas, sipping wine and watching the party build around us. There’s plenty of live music and the patio in front of the stage quickly fills with dancing queens (and kings). A band we loved at the 2015 Verbena Campestre, Tinta Bohemio, is slated to play again this year; you’re sure to enjoy their very charismatic lead singer, who really works the crowd. Verbena Campestre is this Saturday, July 29 beginning at 2 pm, and the party goes on long after dark. Highly recommended; get there if you can!
We’ve been spending SO much time eating and drinking in Baja . . . we haven’t had time to blog about it! Here’s a recap of what we’ve been doing . . . and, because we’re in high season, very soon we’ll post a peek at what we’re looking forward to.
What a way to kick off the Baja food festival season! This great event, held every April at Hotel Coral just north of Ensenada, brings out the best chefs and wineries and feels like a homecoming of sorts. Yes, it DID get a bit crowded this year, so go early, grab a table and settle in for an amazing afternoon. This year’s “friendly” oyster competition had chefs striving to outdo each other . . . and we attendees were the beneficiaries!
OK, it’s not technically a food fest, but this annual FREE event offers plenty of opportunity to eat and drink . . . and serves up HUGE portions of art, music and dance. Takes place every Memorial Day weekend and for the second year was held at Rosarito’s CEART, a lovely venue south of town, just off the road to Popotla.
Held in June, this Valle de Guadalupe family-friendly fest was hosted for the first time by Finca La Carrodilla. Now, most Baja food fests we’ve attended have seating in the middle, with wine and food opportunities scattered around the edge. Probably due to lack of shade at Carrodilla, the vast majority of wineries, chefs and local product purveyors were clustered under a huge tent in the middle, with tables and hay bales for attendees strung along the outskirts. But there were great wineries represented, and of course, we managed to have a wonderful time! Gracias to Natalia of Mogor Badan, who seemed to be a ringleader of this fun event.
Gracias por fotos by Bob Gove.
Since my wonderful friend Patti and I checked out Finca La Divina in Valle de Guadalupe last year, I knew I had make it mine . . . even if for just one night. And so it was for a memorable Saturday as part of my birthday celebration! Bob’s sisters and significant others accepted my invitation, so we rocked the “whole house.” La Divina is a lovely venue that may serve as the model for my eventual Baja home.
Put me in a sheepskin-covered chair in front of the La Divina fireplace, and I may never leave! But just up the hill is Drew Deckman’s relatively new Conchas de Piedra, with fantastic oysters, clams & sparkling wine from Casa de Piedra.
We lucked into a tasting at Lechuza, which was SO memorable (we have stories about trying to get into Lechuza in the past!) Spent HOURS under the eaves of Lechuza, dodging the drizzle, sipping their wonderful wines, nibbling cheese and savoring our conversations with Ray, Kristin & Patty, eventually visiting the cava and sampling their fine Nebbiolo. (We were stunned and saddened to hear that Lechuza owner and patriarch Ray Magnussen passed away suddenly last weekend. Our hearts go out to his familia, and the entire Valle; we will make the pilgrimage to Deckman’s this week to attend the celebration of Ray’s life.)
We also dropped in on Sol y Barro (which has expanded considerably since we first visited five years ago), chatting briefly with owner and winemaker Aime Desponds and marveling at the cob structures.
After relaxing & regrouping at La Divina, we capped off the day with a fantastic dinner at Malva, one of my VERY favorite Valle restaurants.
Sunday morning dawned clear and sunny; after a substantial breakfast of chilaquilies con huevos at La Divina, we worked our way around the Valle, stopping at Clos de Tres Cantos, Quinta Monastario (had to stock up on Viniphera spa products!) and a fave, Bodegas F. Rubio, where we purchased a bottle of Montepulciano. (NOTE: If you’re in the Valle on your birthday, don’t hesitate to promote it; you’ll likely get free tastings!)
We caught up with familia again in Ensenada for almejas gratinadas and pescado sarandeado at the venerable and ever-popular Mariscos Bahia de Ensenada, packed with locals on a late Seafood Sunday afternoon. After our first-ever stay at the Hotel San Nicolas, we hit the road early Monday, and thanks to Sentri, crossed shortly after 9 am, wrapping up a very tasty and memorable Baja birthday celebration!
It’s warming up; daylight savings time has begun; and (I hope) the heaviest rains are behind us. We’re heading into Baja festival season! Here are a few of our faves; check back for updates and additions.
Sabor Latino – Saturday, March 18, Fashion Valley, San Diego – We were impressed by this event last year, and it looks like even more Baja chefs and wineries are participating in 2017. Lineup includes Sabina Bandera of La Guerrerense; Bo Bendana of Mi Casa Supper Club; Giannina Gavaldon of Olivia El Asador Del Porvenir; Ruffo Ibarra of Oryx Capital; and Omar Armas of Mantou Gastropub, with Border X Brewing, Lomita, Adobe Guadalupe, Torres Alegre, Villa Montefiori and Casa Magoni pouring. All part of the San Diego Latino Film Fest, and proceeds benefit the very worthy nonprofit Media Arts Center. I’ve been told that the promo code DRINKGREATBEER will get you a $5 discount, and we highly recommend going for the VIP package. Details & tickets>>
Festival de Las Conchas y El Vino Nuevo – Sunday, April 23, Hotel Coral, Ensenada. This event, which kicks off the Baja Food Fest season every year, is a REAL winner. It got a bit crowded last year, but still plenty of opptys to taste great wine & cuisine while meeting some of Baja’s top winemakers & chefs, all in a fabulous setting along the Coral’s marina. Get ready to sample fantastic clams, mussels, oysters, abalone + latest wine releases, all included! Tix are just a tad over $30. Read my post about Conchas last year and get your 2017 tickets here!>>
Rosarito Art Fest – Saturday & Sunday, May 27-28, Rosarito Beach – Dates have not been posted for 2017, altho it’s regularly on Memorial Day wknd. This FREE event features great art, crafts, music and dance, and there’s usually plenty of food and drink to go around, too. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for more info>>
Vinedos en Flor – Saturday, June 3, Finca La Carrodilla, Valle de Guadalupe – Last year this event was at Bibayoff on a drizzly, gray afternoon. Since food was not included and there was no live music, it didn’t seem as great a value as some of the other Baja festivals. But we managed to commandeer a table, taste some great wines and make new friends. We have high hopes for the 2017 edition, to be hosted by one of our faves, Finca La Carrodilla! More info>>
Verbena Campestre – Saturday, July 29, Vinedos San Cosme south of Ensenada – This may be the best-kept secret of all Baja food fests; it doesn’t seem to be on the gringo radar screen! Get ready for a fun, relaxing afternoon with folks who will become your new BFFs. With great live music and a big outdoor dance floor, this family-owned winery knows how to party! Tip: book a room in the vicinity; driving back after THAT much fun can be challenging. Or, is it just us? Keep an eye on their Facebook page for more info>>
SAVE THE DATES:
Fiesta de la Vendimia Paella Fest – Sunday, August 20, Valle de Guadalupe – you can’t miss this tradition, the grand finale to the annual grape harvest festival. Although it’s huge, there’s plenty of paella and wine to go around, along with two stages with live music and tons of tables under the trees. All paella is cooked over wood fire, and there’s a competition among the paella-producing teams. Tix usually go on sale in May and you should get them ASAP; it always sells out! More info>>
Sabor De Baja – Wednesday, August 30 – Rosarito Beach Hotel – we were very impressed with Sabor last year. The caliber of restaurants and wineries was excellent at this well-organized event, which pairs dishes by Baja chefs with delicious local wines and cervezas. Look for more details in the coming months!
Gracias for photos by Bob Gove and Rafael Rush.
Does summer always save the best for last? Sabor de Baja was an incredible finale to last summer’s flurry of fun Baja culinary fests. Sabor is a true labor of love by the husband-and-wife team behind San Antonio del Mar’s Mi Casa Supper Club, Chef Bo Bendana and Dennis Sein. The fourth annual must-wear-white Sabor was held the last Wednesday evening of August in the beachfront gardens of the Rosarito Beach Hotel.
Although a mid-week event can be a bit challenging for those of us who have day jobs stateside, Sabor sells out every year. And, rightly it should! Bo and Dennis recruited thoughtful judges (this year including Jorge Meraz, host of KPBS’ Crossing South and MasterChef winner Claudia Sandoval) who participated in a blind tasting of not only great dishes, but also considered how they pair with Baja vinos and cervezas. It’s a well-organized event with great signage and opportunities to chat with chefs and winery reps. We loved the variety of dishes, wines and cervezas offered to guests. First prize went to Ensenada’s Mantou Gastropub, for their superb duck carpaccio (smoked with wood vines and mesquite) with goat cheese, pearl apricots and microgreens, paired with Corona del Valle Sauvignon Blanc. Second place went to Fuego Cocina del Valle, for their smoky pork paired with a sublime red from Vinicola Montano Benson. The judges gave the third place prize to Valle de Guadalupe’s Sanvil for their Mexico-meets-India mash-up: curried chicken liver sopes paired with cerveza from Compass Ales Brewery; and the People’s Choice prize went to Chabert’s at the Rosarito Beach Hotel, for their filet mignon with mushrooms, wine foam and sweet potato, paired with a 2013 Syrah by Claudius Vina y Bodega. We also loved Navio’s tuna with chile, grapefruit, watermelon, jicama and salsa de chapulines, paired with a 2014 Tintillo from Legado Sais; Mixtura’s oysters with mignonette and apple, paired with wine from Relieve; and Oryx Capital’s tomato and persian cucumber dish with mescal foam, paired with Cerveceria Ramuri beer. We were also ecstatic that longtime friend Jo Ann Knox Martino was pouring her delicious Cava Vintango Nebbiolo. Sabor was one of – if not THE – best Baja culinary event of 2016! It’s a fantastic way to get to know some of Baja’s most innovative eateries, wineries and breweries. Mark your calendars for August 30 (just over seven months away) and get your tickets early for Sabor de Baja 2017!
Watch a very cool video recapping Sabor 2016 by Once Upon A Time in Rosarito’s Scot Richardson:
Gracias por photos by Bob Gove. Sorry this post is so tardy; a fun holiday stay in Puerto Rico got in the way! Look for previews of the best 2017 Baja food fests soon.
Imagine a sunny summer Sunday afternoon in Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe. Sure, it’s hot, but you’ve secured a great table for your entourage to soak up the atmosphere under expansive oak trees. There’s plenty of great wine for tasting, and a bevy of bottles for sale once you’ve found your fave. And with so much delicious food to go around, you’ll certainly not go hungry!
Welcome to the Ramón García Ocejo Concurso de Paella, the traditional closing event of the Valle’s annual Fiestas de la Vendimia, or grape harvest festival. Each year, Vendimia organizers add more and more events, but the Paella Fest remains one of the Valle’s best bets.
With about 90 paella-producing teams (all cooking over wood fires; no propane allowed!), 50 or so Baja wineries, and two stages with live music, it’s a most enjoyable way to spend a hot August afternoon. Tickets to this über-popular event go fast and are usually first offered online in late May. Click here for information about this and other Vendimia events. Don’t miss this perennial favorite next August!
Gracias for photos by Bob Gove, and for the friends who accompanied us!
It’s high season for Baja-related food and fun festivals! Here are our recommendations.
Saturday, July 30 – Verbena Campestre, San Cosme Vineyards, Baja California, 2pm. We had a ton of fun at this event last year. South of Ensenada, a bit south of Maneadero, but not too far. Since it’s not in Valle de Guadalupe, this doesn’t seem to be on many gringos’ radar screens. Great atmosphere, wine tasting, good live music, wonderful people, food options for purchase. A fantastic afternoon, and this is the 5th Annual! New this year: buy tix online!
Friday – Monday, August 12-15, Latin Food Fest, Embarcadero Marina Park North, San Diego. It’s the 4th Annual in San Diego! You don’t want to miss the Grande Tasting on Saturday, with tons of food, beverages, chefs & cooking demos. It’s become an annual tradition. Get your tickets now!
Saturday, August 20 – Baja Blues Fest, Rosarito Beach Hotel – Another great lineup this year! The food & drink offerings were a bit mundane on Saturday last year, but we’re hoping for an upgrade this year. Should be a wonderful afternoon. Buy tickets online!
Sunday, August 21 – 2016 Vendimia Paella Fest, Vinas de Liceaga, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California – There are a TON of events this year for the Valle de Guadalupe’s Vendimia, or wine harvest festival. We love the Paella Fest, which closes the 3-week-long festivities. With more than 50 wineries and 80 paella-cooking teams on hand, it’s a true happening. Add live music on two stages and the opportunity to chat with chefs, it’s an afternoon you should not miss. Although attendance is over 1,000, it’s easy to grab a table under trees as your base camp, then wander amidst the wine and paella offerings. And at this moment, tix are available online!
We felt fortunate to check out three fun festivals in Baja during May: a past favorite and two that were new (for us).
First up: on May 14 we made it to Viñedos en Flor at Vinícola Bibayoff in Valle de Guadalupe. It’s put on by Comite Pro Vino, the fine folks who organize the Vendimia events each year, as well as the Conchas festival each April, which we adore. The price was right (under $22 per ticket, including currency conversion) and dozens of top wineries were pouring. It’s really great when so many owners/winemakers are present; it’s fantastic to meet and chat with them! We were especially pleased to see Lechuza, Legado Sais and Palafox on hand. Food was not included in the ticket price, and frankly, the culinary offerings could have been more varied. And, as our amigo Rafael noted, live music would also have improved the event. But it’s a family-oriented festival with lots of kid-friendly activities, and our multi-generational entourage, ranging from a 2-year-old toddler to a 90-something grandma, definitely had fun, even though the May Gray stuck around all day.
Last Saturday we spent another May Gray day at the Rosarito Art Fest. For the first time since we’ve been attending – and, that’s been about five years – it was NOT held on Rosarito’s main street, Boulevard Benito Juarez. It had been promoted as being at Castillos del Mar, but a last minute switch pushed it to the new CEART, just a bit further southeast. This fest is a neat mix of crafts, art and photography, with plenty of food, wine and other beverages, music and dance thrown in. We purchased some art and jewelry, heard some great jazz, met new friends and enjoyed hanging with existing ones. We capped off the experience with a delicious dinner at Tapanco a bit later.Heading north mid-day Sunday after Bob’s surf session with buddies and breakfast at La Estancia, we decided to stop at the Tijuana Jazz & Blues Festival. This is an impressive, FREE event! Held on Avenida Revolucion between 4th & 6th Streets, there’s a large stage at one end and a smaller stage for in-between sets at the other. Grupo Plascencia is a big sponsor, so their food options were plentiful, but there were other offerings, as well as wine tasting, beer and the ubiquitous fruit punch drinks in clay pots found at almost every festival in Mexico. We enjoyed La Covacha Big Band and Hola Soy Lola, but unfortunately had to leave before Cuba’s Calixto Oviedo and San Diego’s wonderful Gilbert Castellanos took the stage. We’ll keep an eye out for this event next year, and will hopefully be able to stay longer!Stay tuned to eatdrinkbaja.com for news about the best upcoming Baja-related festivals!
We’re heading into high season for Baja food & drink-related festivals on both sides of the border! Follow along, amigos/as . . .
Saturday, April 30: Fiesta del Mar, Imperial Beach Pier Plaza
Noon to 7pm, free admission! Kudos to Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina and Rosarito Beach Mayor Silvano Abarca for collaborating on this cross-border celebration of friendship. It will feature Baja-inspired cuisine from chefs, including Javier Plasciencia (Misión 19, Finca Altozano, Bracero + more), beer and wine from Baja, and music including Todo Mundo. How cool is that? More info>>
Saturday, May 7: San Diego Paella & Wine Fest, Waterfront Park, Embarcadero, San Diego
Noon to 7pm, tix $64+. Paella-cooking teams will vie in a number of categories, and beer, wine and tequila tastes will be offered. HINT: go early; at last year’s event, many wineries ran out of product in less than two hours. The paella servings will likely be staggered, so pay attention to the schedule! More info>>
Saturday, May 14: Viñedos en Flor, Vinícola Bibayoff, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California
Noon; tix online approx. $20. Put on by Baja’s Comite ProVino, this benefit, a campestre or “country” festival, promises to be family-oriented, but will also feature plenty of wine tasting and local food products for purchase. We’ll be checking it out for the first time ourselves! More info>>
Saturday, May 21: San Diego Taco Fest, Waterfront Park, Embarcadero, San Diego
11am to 10pm, GA tix $22, does NOT include food and/or beverage. But a portion of the door benefits San Diego Music Foundation! 20+ restaurants; fun bands, including B*Side Players, Todo Mundo + the ever-popular El Vez. More info>>
Saturday, May 28 & Sunday, May 29: Rosarito Art Festival, Rosarito Beach, Baja California
11am to 8pm, FREE event that is moving this year from Blvd. Benito Juarez near the RB Hotel to Castillos del Mar, KM 30 on the free (Popotla Blvd.) road south! It’s been getting better each year; we’ll see how it shapes up in the new location. There have been great local cheeses, salsas and wines – as well as art, music and dance – in past years. More info>>
And stay tuned for posts about more events and happenings in the San Diego/Northern Baja region, as well as our recommendations and reviews!
We picked the perfect weekend for our stay at the Rosarito Beach Hotel, won at last year’s Baja Blues Fest raffle. Heading south on April Fool’s Day, we stopped at Mariscos Tito’s for a late lunch. It’s the big blue canopy-covered establishment east of McDonald’s in Rosarito, on the right just after you cross the bridge. Bob warned me about large servings, so I thought I was being conservative when I ordered just one shrimp tostada and one mariscos al ajillo taco.
HA! One would have been PLENTY. Tito’s tostadas come with two ADDITIONAL crispy tortillas, since the main one is heaped SO high, you need to spread the topping around. They were both delicious and fresh; the mariscos ajillo was definitely the most interesting. I’ll be back to try their almejas gratinadas, the pescado sarandeado and the molcajete de camaron. It’s a family atmosphere, kind funky (tacos are served on plates covered with plastic bags for easy clean-up), but the flavors – and the values – are incredible.
Highlights of our Rosarito Beach stay included a beautiful sunset from our balcony, great breakfast at Los Pelicanos (who knew they had such a wonderful fruit plate?), relaxing massages in RBH’s Casa Playa Spa (I pray the Familia Torres never tears down that lovely building), and dinner at Ollie’s Pizza with friends Ron & Terri Raposa.
The REAL reason we chose this weekend? Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo at Hotel Coral, just north of Ensenada. We spread word about the fantastic time we had last year, and were were THRILLED when two groups of friends joined us this year, increasing our entourage to nearly a dozen. The well-organized event was WAY more crowded than last year, but food (oysters, mussels, clams and an occasional paella), wine, chefs and winemakers were still VERY accessible. I love the educational component (chef demos, displays of Baja seafood products) and the opportunity to meet interesting attendees. We loved seeing and/or chatting with everyone, including Drew Deckman of Deckman’s, Diego Hernandez of Corazon de Tierra, Adria Marina of Don Ramen, Javier Plasciencia of Finca Altozano and Memo Ramirez of La Concheria (among others, to be sure). Tru Miller of Adobe Guadalupe was proudly pouring the latest release of her Uriel rosé (DELICIOUS!); great to see Natalia Badan of Mogor Badan and folks from faves Rondo del Valle, Finca la Carrodilla, Cava Maciel, Relieve Vinicola and Vinicola Retorno on hand.
The 2016 Baja festival season is JUST beginning. Stay tuned for a look ahead at the fun and delicious opportunities, and I hope you will attend the Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo in 2017!
Gracias for photos by Bob Gove & Rafael Rush