Don’t miss Baja Norte’s Gastro Party of the Year!

When does a food fest feel more like a big party? When it’s Sabor de Baja, silly! The 5th annual edition of Sabor is coming up Wednesday, August 30, in the oceanfront gardens of the venerable Rosarito Beach Hotel. We felt fortunate to attend last year; read our take-aways here. We were very impressed with the thoughtful event planning and the careful pairings of delicious dishes with Baja wines and craft beers; we can hardly wait to see what’s in store for this year! Expect fun live music, distinguished judges, and the opportunity for YOU to cast your vote for the People’s Choice Award. From what we’ve heard, participating restaurants will include Valle de Guadalupe’s Latitud 32, Mixtura, Tahal and the new La X, plus Rosarito’s Pasta y Basta and from Ensenada, Planta Baja and Mantou, winner of last year’s top prize. Wineries will include AliXima, Relieve and El Cielo, to name but a few. Gold level tix have already sold out, and we hear silver level tix are in short supply! Find out how to get tickets and check out the ticket/overnight packages. And, hey – don’t forget to wear white!

See? You’ve gotta wear white to Sabor de Baja! Just be very careful if you’re drinking (or near someone drinking) red wine.

Last year’s top prize went to Mantou, for this duck carpaccio, smoked with wood vines & mesquite, with goat cheese, pearl apricots and microgreens, paired with Corona del Valle Sauvignon Blanc. As delicious as it was beautiful!

We also loved this tuna with chile, grapefruit, watermelon, jicama & salsa de chapulines paired with 2014 Tintillo from Legado Sais.

A Tale of Four Food Fests: Part IV

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.

Enjoy Baja’s flavors at Sabor de Baja

The 4th annual Sabor de Baja takes place Wednesday, August 31 from 6 to 10pm in the oceanfront gardens of the venerable Rosarito Beach Hotel. It’s brought to us by the fine folks at Mi Casa Supper Club in San Antonio del Mar, Chef Bo and husband Dennis. Billed as a friendly culinary competition among Baja’s top chefs, Sabor is unique: each dish is paired with wine from Valle de Guadalupe or one of Baja’s unique craft beers. Two awards will be presented that evening: one by a panel of distinguished celebrity judges, and the other, a people’s choice award. Warning: if you’re attending this event, you must wear white! We’re really excited to attend (it’s our first time, and it looks so casually elegant) and we plan to interview the judges and chefs before the event, so stay tuned! Check out Sabor’s Facebook page for updates on participating chefs; tix are available at locations in Rosarito and via PayPal at Sabordebaja@gmail.com, but Sabor sold out last year, so we recommend you get your tix now!

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Taking Pride in Baja’s Culinary Community

The recent Baja Culinary Fest featured cooking demos, panel discussions and the opportunity to sample tasty tidbits, beer, wine and products from some of Baja’s best. And at this year’s Fest, I witnessed not only a recognition of the exploding Baja culinary scene, but also a true feeling of pride among all, including presenters, exhibitors and attendees.

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Saturday morning’s program at Tijuana’s CECUT was eye-opening. Chef Daniel Ovadia, best known for restaurants Paxia and Nudo Negro in el D.F. (aka Mexico City), plated interesting and lovely dishes (I must try his chicharrón de pescado!) while sharing stories and philosophies (todo en español) with the mostly young, local crowd of about 150 who hung on to his every word. The professional and polished videos he showed documented the popularity of Paxia, as well as the hard work but also incredible camaraderie and pride of his staff. How can a chef so young have built such an empire? Must be his talent, passion and dexterity in blending Pre-Columbian ingredients and recipes with edgy, up-to-date techniques and touches.

Chef Darren Walsh of Lula Bistro in Guadalajara was equally as entertaining. During his “Arte en Plato” demonstration, Chef Darren regaled us with stories of his passions for languages, cultures and cuisine while he created culinary masterpieces that were literally suitable for framing.

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These presentations provided a solid foundation on Mexico’s current culinary scene. But being a cross-border fan, I was most excited to be present for the “Alta California meets Baja California” panel . . . and it did not disappoint.

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Moderator Bill Esparza opened with the thought-provoking comment that for many years, Mexican food in the U.S. has been defined not by Mexicanos, but by Americans, like Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless. And for many years, Mexico looked to Europe (France, Italy) for high cuisine, rather than embracing its own. The panelists – Ray Garcia of Broken Spanish, Wes Avila of Guerrilla Tacos (both in L.A.) plus Carlos Salgado of Taco Maria and Eduardo Ruiz of Corazon y Miel (both in Orange County) – joined prominent and popular Baja/San Diego Chef Javier Plascencia to discuss their individual mash-ups of cultures/cuisines. All grew up with Mexican/Latino cultures and incorporated those roots, but evolved into a new style without walls or rules, learning from each other and making this cuisine their own. After providing many interesting insights – including tales of patrons with very narrow views and expectations of Mexican food – the panelists closed by agreeing that it’s their responsibility to change perceptions about Mexican cuisine while continuing to promote and provide new dining experiences.

Baja’s been the brunt of negative publicity the past several years, keeping many tourists away. But those of us who never stopped crossing south have witnessed (and been willing participants in) the evolution of Baja’s cutting-edge culinary scene. The 2015 Baja Culinary Fest – well-organized and professionally staged – demonstrated the locals’ recognition of and profound pride in what is now globally renowned. They’ve been in on the ground floor and are now basking in the spotlight. Right on; ¡sí se puede! If you’ve not experienced the Baja culinary revolution – and its counterparts in Alta California – you’re missing out. Now’s the time!

End-of-Summer Baja Blitz!

We in the U.S. may be back to work and school, but the fun in Baja is never-ending. Here’s a quick look at happenings on the eatdrinkbaja radar screen. And I hope you’ll subscribe to receive future posts via email! Click on the “subscribe” button on the “rail” on the right side of my home page. Gracias!!

TJ Beer Fest11th Annual TJ Beer Fest this Friday 9/18 & Saturday 9/19. Caliente Stadium in Tijuana. About $12 in advance, $14 at the door. Organizers claim there will be 200+ beers. An event worth checking out!

Festival de Queso, Vino y Cerveza Artesanal this Saturday 9/19, noon – 9 pm at the Baja California Queso-Vino-FestCenter just north of Rosarito. FREE, but not sure – do you pay for your tastes? Live music! Local productos artesenales! And a good reason to check out the beautiful new Convention Center.

Ensenada International Seafood Festival this Sunday, 9/20, spotlights local restaurants and celebrates the treasures of the sea. We hear this will be across from Riveria del Pacifico on Blvd. Costero. We believe this is free; you pay for individual tastes/drinks, but usually prices are low and portions are grande. Warning: it is listed in San Diego Magazine, but we can’t find anything else about it online. Hope it wasn’t on hold this year due to . . .

Festival Baja Seafood, culminating in the Baja Seafood Trucks Festival Sunday, 9/27 from noon at the Museo el Caracol, which (I believe) is also acrossFestival Baja Seafood Trucks from Riviera del Pacifico on Blvd. Costero in Ensenada. FREE event; betcha gotta to pay for your tastes, but they are usually reasonably priced, delish and substantial.

 

Bajamar Wine Tasting, Saturday 10/3, 3 pm. Sounds like a nice event! Six wines from Nativo in Valle de Guadalupe, with food pairings and live jazz at Bajamar, north of Ensenada. Bajamar Nativo eventLooks like Nativo’s Benjamin Pena (one of our new BFFs) will be pouring and serving as your wine concierge. $50 for the experience.

 

7th Annual Fiesta de la Paella, Folklore y Vino, Sunday 10/4 from 1 pm. This event, in the Jardines del Riviera in Ensenada, looks fun! Paella Fest Oct 4 2015About $10, not sure what’s included. If you check it out, let us know how it goes!

 

Baja Culinary Fest, Thursday 10/ 8 through Sunday 10/11. This annual event toggles between Tijuana and Valle de Guadalupe. This year, looks like most events will be in/around Tijuana’s CECUT. Traditionally there is a public tasting event to close the Fest; Baja-Culinary-Fest-2we’ve been to them @ Encuentro & Vinas la Erre in the Valle, as well as @ CECUT in TJ. We’ll keep you posted as we learn more about this year’s events!

14th Annual Tequila  Expo Tijuana, Wednesday 10/14 – Sunday 10/18 – Right on Revolucion @ 7th, bigger every year and now five days!! A nominal cover charge ($6,tequila-expo-TJ mas o menos) gets you plenty of tastes from dozens of tequilarias. Food, full-sized beverages available for purchase; fun music and entertainment provided, and some of the best people-watching on the west coast.

 

One Fun Sunday: Mi Casa & Nogada Fest

We planned to be a support boat for our fave paddler, Jon Loren, in last weekend’s Catalina Classic. But due to unfortunate last-min problems, Bob’s boat, the “Wave Magnet” was not up for the task. Plan B = BAJA! Headed down early Sunday AM; while Bob surfed, I enjoyed a nice low-tide beach walk. On our way to Tijuana for the Chile en Nogada Fest, we stopped in San Antonio del Mar, where we were immediately attracted to Mi Casa Supper Club, open now for one year.

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I’d heard great things about these folks, Chef Bo Bendana & Dennis – and, I know and respect the fact that they organize the successful sold-out Sabor de Baja @ Rosarito Beach Hotel every August, so it was a no-brainer to visit their spot and enjoy a rooftop brunch.

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We shared a smoked salmon omelet, but the real stars were the insane San Quintin oysters; WOW, what a great example of delicious Baja products and beautiful presentation. Can’t wait to return to Mi Casa Supper Club for dinner!

On to Tijuana’s Avenida Revolucion for chiles en nogada. This is a very traditional dish, often associated with Mexican Independence Day, coming up Sept.16.

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And this was our first visit to Tijuana’s fest, the 6th annual, with free admission (one needs to buy one’s own food & bev). The revered dish consists of a poblano chile, roasted & peeled, stuffed with a mixture of meat (usually beef & pork), fruit & spices, topped with a cream sauce containing ground walnuts and fresh pomegranate seeds.

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More than a dozen competitors vied in the contest to be deemed the best! We enjoyed the onstage demonstrations, and were happy to recognize Scott Koenig of A Gringo in Mexico.com among the judges (we met Scott over mescal tasting @ the Baja Culinary Fest two years ago). The dish is visually stunning, mirroring the colors of the Mexican flag (Que Viva La Patria!) The dutiful judges sampled more than a dozen chiles; we could only handle one, from Tijuana restaurant Cien Anos, which was lovely and delicious.

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Personally, I would have LOVED to have seen some more “breakout” treatments of the nogada, stuffed with chicken, turkey or seafood. Beverage options at the fest abounded: Palomas! Sangria! Wine! Beer! We enjoyed tastings from Mundano winery, who has a vineyard

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in the Valle and (if I understood correctly) will soon offer tastings; we brought home a $17 bottle of their tasty 2012 Nebbiolo. One fun Sunday: we love and highly recommend Baja food fests!

Muchas gracias for photos by Bob Gove.