Mid-Summer Festival Update – Part I

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.

2017 Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo

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!

Great to see Leonardo Torres Lerdo de Tejada of Torres Alegre (although I did not recognize him without his beard) and his colleague at Conchas!

Chef Javier . . . is everywhere.

Loved seeing Chef Roberto Alcocer from Valle de Guadalupe’s Malva!

Team EatDrinkBaja is growing every year and gives Conchas multiple THUMBS UP!

Rosarito Art Fest 2017

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.

Check out these really cool masks. You can display one one your wall as a piece of art when you’re not wearing it!

Jorge, our Rosarito wine amigo.

Eating & drinking . . . ah, that’s what we do best.

Vinedos en Flor 2017

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.

It was a bit hectic under the giant tent.


Team EatDrinkBaja @ Vinedos 2017!

Coming soon: previews of the upcoming Verbena Campestre, Fiestas de la Vendimia, Latin Food Fest, Baja Blues Fest, Vendimia Paella Fest and Sabor de Baja. Stay tuned!

Gracias por fotos by Bob Gove.

My Birthday in Baja

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.

Welcome to Finca La Divina!

The great room lives up to its name.

The pool and jacuzzi were not heated, however.

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.)

The late, great Ray Magnussen was the consummate host at Lechuza.

Team! In the Lechuza cava.

We couldn’t leave without buying bottles of Lechuza’s Amantes, cookbooks and more.

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.

Inside the cob tasting room at Sol y Barro.

After relaxing & regrouping at La Divina, we capped off the day with a fantastic dinner at Malva, one of my VERY favorite Valle restaurants.

Malva’s pickled rabbit tostada.

Delicious octopus.

Lamb of Malva.

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!)

Breakfast at Finca La Divina.

Our hostess at Clos de Tres Cantos.

Enjoying Bodegas F. Rubio.

We caught up with familia again in Ensenada for almejas gratinadas and pescado sarandeado at the venerable and ever-popular Mariscos Bahia de Ensenadapacked 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!

You know? This simple pescado sarandeado may have been my favorite dish of the trip.

Why you need to visit Baja this weekend

We’re really looking forward to the weekend! At last year’s Baja Blues Fest we bought a single raffle ticket and (hooray, luck!) won the grand prize, so we’ll stay at the Rosarito Beach Hotel (a tiny upgrade from Bob’s palatial seaside estate) and enjoy a couples’ massage at the RBH spa, in the beautiful edifice that was formerly the home of the RBH’s owners. The main reason we’re heading south this weekend is the Festival de las Conchas y El Vino Nuevo. It’s the culmination of four days in Baja, including abalone cultivation site visits, workshops + more. Ensenada/Valle restaurants (Boules, Malva, Manzanilla, Deckman’s, Corazon de Tierra + Traslomita) are also planning special dinners Thursday + Saturday. We’ll enjoy the Grand Festival at a lovely setting just outside Hotel Coral, north of Ensenada on Sunday, April 3 starting @ noon; it was one of our fave Baja fests last year, well organized, not too crowded, everyone in a great mood and opportunity to chat w/chefs. More than 40 restaurants (offering varied treatments of clams, mussels, oysters and abalone) + 54 wineries will participate! And tix are reasonable: about $30 online including service charge + currency conversion. HINT: pack a wine glass to avoid buying one onsite. WILL WE SEE YOU THERE?

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Gracias por fotos from 2015 Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo by Bob Gove.

Girls’ Weekend in the Valle: A Trilogy (Part III)

After our tasting at Mogor Badan, we stopped by Deckman’s to put in our dinner reservation. Returning after our visits to 3 Mujeres, Viñas de Garza, Finca Altozano & La Esperanza, the sun was slipping behind the hills. Deckman’s is certainly the lowest key of the “high” cuisine restaurants I’ve visited in the Valle. Its intimacy makes Finca Altozano and La Esperanza seem rather large and, in comparison, somewhat commercial.

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Deckmans 2

Deckman’s is nestled under pine trees; the dining area’s walls are hay bales; its wooden tables rest upon a carpet of fallen leaves and pine needles. We felt fortunate that Chef Drew himself was in the house, diligently slaving over the firewood-fueled grill that is the restaurant’s centerpiece. Since he is a Michelin-starred chef, we HAD to go with the five-course tasting menu, which worked out to a very reasonable $45. We began with a fish sope (compliments of the casa), continued with delicious oysters mignonette, clam salpicon, quail with delicate mole and black beans, very moist and tender lobina (fish) and a decadent dessert. All the dishes were so beautifully presented!  A very memorable meal; after paying our tab, we paid our respects to Chef Drew.

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Sunday morning was our last at Casa Mayoral. We walked down to get a closer look at the ostriches (como se dice “ostrich” en español? Avestruz – thank you Eduardo Mayoral!) in a large pen on their neighbor’s property. From time to time the big birds would preen and bellow – quite interesting!

Ostrich crop

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After another great breakfast – this time, huevos a la mexicana – we packed up to journey out of the Valle. When we stopped in to say goodbye to Eduardo, we met Ismene Venegas, the chef at El Pintar de 3 Mujeres, which was closed for the winter. We look forward to sampling her cuisine on a future Valle visit!

Adios, Casa Mayoral! But we weren’t done eating and drinking our way through the Valle. We checked out the nearby Clos de Tres Cantos, which is artsy (love the cement easy chairs) yet casually elegant. But their wines? For us at least, not terribly memorable. Maybe we need to make a second visit . . .

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Speaking of low-key, we sought – and eventually found – Lechuza. I loved their wines I’d sampled at events, but had never visited their winery. Alas – they were closed! Hopefully you can catch them at KM 82.5. But don’t expect a lot of signage to help you find ’em!

Heading west, we stopped to peek at Finca La Divina on the outskirts of San Antonio de las Minas. This three-bedroom B&B opened about a year ago by fave Baja chef, Javier Plasciencia. Rita and her husband, from Mission Valley, were the only guests, and she encouraged us to snoop around. One look at La Finca’s great room – a lovely chef’s kitchen at one end, fireplace with sheepskin-strewn chairs clustered about in the middle, a bar well-stocked with Baja wines at the other end and cool art sprinkled in between – made me want to move in!

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The pool, jacuzzi and groovy chairs outside aren’t bad, either. According to Rita, stays at La Finca include breakfast whipped up by the onsite caretaker/manager, and guests can order food from Plasciencia’s Finca Altozano to be delivered! What a wonderful refuge right outside San Antonio, which felt like a bustling city after two bucolic days deeper in the Valle.

We found our way to Vinícola Retorno, which has to get the award for the funkiest winery we visited. But their wines: great! We enjoyed chatting with our young hosts and would have purchased a bottle, but were already at our limit for taking back to the U.S. We also stopped at Los Globos, the venerable cheese and gourmet goodies shop in San Antonio; we sampled a few and bought a big slice of their cheese with a crust of rosemary and other herbs. It’s called “greñudo,” which loosely translates to “shaggy” or “hippie” – imagine, a hippie cheese!

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I’d heard great things about Malva, named Baja’s best restaurant in 2014. Malva is just west of San Antonio, perched above the Mina Penelope winery. It’s on the first curve heading west; don’t blink or you’ll miss the turnoff! What a hidden gem with a fantastic vibe. Wish we’d been hungrier: Malva’s seven-course tasting menu was going for 600 pesos, or just $35 U.S! In my opinion, Malva’s grilled oysters won the prize for best dish on this trip. We also shared the duck carnitas sopes, which were very tasty and generous. Our server told us about the chowder with chicharrón de crab; I hope it will be on the menu when I return!

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We’d planned to stop at Madera 5 on our way back to El Sauzal; we know Chef Ryan Steyn had El Clavo, outside their tasting room. Alas, Madero 5 was locked up and from what we’ve learned, El Clavo has moved off the premises. Bummer – I love Madera’s Nebbiolo and Chef Ryan’s cuisine! We headed north, stopping at Popotla to visit with Bob and friends and catch a bit of the Super Bowl on our way back to San Diego. Although we gathered an awesome assortment of Baja wines, gourmet, bath & body products during our adventure, we kept talking about the things we should have bought.

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IMG_1196Hey, there’s always a reason to return to Baja and Valle de Guadalupe!

Photos by Patti Anderson, Carole Ravago & Bob Gove.