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!
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!
Summertime brings fun food fests on both sides of the border! We visited the ¡Latin Food Fest!’s Grande Tasting, held this year at San Diego’s Embarcadero Marina Park North. The promoters put on LFFs in multiple markets, and they have an impressive line-up of big-time sponsors/exhibitors, including Big Green Egg, Coca-Cola, Dole, Obrigado coconut water (lovely pavilion!), got milk?/California Milk Advisory, FlatOut, Northgate Markets and Home Depot. Proof positive that major companies recognize the value of aligning themselves with the Latin culinary movement! But it’s disconcerting (and not welcoming) to enter a food fest and immediately be accosted by sales reps for satellite TV and solar; sorry, not cool. This year’s Fest was spread out, which was good, but there was a distinct lack of signage/map to help attendees find who/what/where. You just had to wander about! It seemed some of the advertised chefs and wineries were only in the VIP area, which was disappointing. Bummer: we never found Chef Martin San Roman or Little Italy’s Sirena. But we did eventually find our way to the Spirits of the Americas tent (despite lack of signage) where we found a mass of humanity – multiple long lines going every which way, snaking toward tables where thimble-sized pours of tequila, rum and sake were offered. It was SO crowded and SO chaotic! We finally found the cooking demonstration tent (again, despite the lack of helpful signage). And, I must say, the demo by Dominican Chef Martin Omar was one of the highlights of the afternoon. The other highlight? Meeting Chef Felipe Raul, now a Rosarito Beach resident. I expect to hear great things from him in the near future! Kudos to the organizers of the ¡Latin Food Fest! on securing so many big-name sponsors. But hey: you can learn a lot from the folks who put on Baja’s best food fests. Unifying signage across the top of each canopy/tent, provided by the promoter, will make it easier for attendees and will drive traffic to the food/drink purveyors. More tables (there were a scant few in front of the stage) will increase the attendee experience, make folks want to stay longer and return next year. And we’d like to see more Baja restaurants, chefs, wineries and brewers represented; San Diego is, after all, portal to one of the most fertile, interesting and explosive culinary hotbeds in the world.
Next up: Fiestas de la Vendimia Paella Fest & Sabor de Baja. Stay tuned!
It’s been a busy summer, filled with fun (often fantastic!) festivals. On July 30, we journeyed past Ensenada, past Maneadero to Viñedos San Cosme on the Ruta Antigua del Vino for the annual Verbena Campestre. This was our second time (we just discovered the event last year) and it’s become a fave summertime tradition. Yes, it’s a long way from our base in Rosarito – we encountered traffic back-ups at the San Miguel toll booth and through Maneadero – but totally relaxing once we nabbed a table under the trees, reconnected with Marisol (owners’ daughter), bought a bottle of vino, were joined by a bunch of friends, enjoyed the live music and made our way around the various food/wine/etc. vendors. Downside? Driving all the way back to Rosarito after too much fun! Maybe we should check out one of the cabins or teepees at nearby Las Cañadas next year . . . because we love this event. If you want to hang out with muchos Americanos, this is not for you; but if you want to spend a fun wine, food & music afternoon/evening with very gracious, non-pretentious mostly-locals, we highly recommend Verbena Campestre; ¡Nos veremos alla en 2017!
Stay tuned! Coming next: Part II – ¡Latin Food Fest! in San Diego
Gracias for photos by Bob Gove.
A quick update on Sabor de Baja, coming next Wednesday, August 31 from 6 to 10 pm in the oceanfront gardens of the Rosarito Beach Hotel. Tickets for this showcase of Baja’s top chefs are selling fast; we suggest you email email@example.com right away to check availability!
Participating restaurants include: Finca Altozano, Malva, Olivia El Asador del Porvenir, Sanvil, Hacienda Guadalupe, Mixtura, Almazara, Tre Galline, Fuego, La Terrasse San Roman, Planta Baja, Navio, ORYX, Rosarito Beach Hotel, Villa Saverios, Caesar’s, Latitude 32 and Mi Casa Supper Club. Wine & beer pairings will be provided by Vintango, Claudius, Madera 5, Vinícola Regional de Ensenada, Alximia, Legado Sais, Relieve, Monte Xanic, Vinícola El Cielo, Adobe Guadalupe, Montefiori, Montano Benson and Wendlandt.
We hope to see you there!