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.

2017 Baja (& Baja inspired) Fests!

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>>

Chef Giannina Gavaldon with her comadre from Olivia at Sabor Latino 2016. Not only is her food delicious, it’s great to see her in SD and we covet Chef’s cool ikat apron!

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!>>

Why do we love Conchas? It educates you about the variety of Baja seafood while you enjoy a lovely afternoon sampling delicious shellfish and wines. And you meet cool folks, too!

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>>

Art is the main attraction, but you can definitely enjoy eating & drinking at the Rosarito Art Fest.

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>>

Friends enjoying wine from the wonderful Lechuza at last year’s Vinedos en Flor.

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>>

And . . . even more friends at Verbena Campestre 2016!

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>>

The annual Vendimia Paella Fest is not only delicious and fun, it’s also very photogenic!

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!

We look forward to Sabor de Baja 2017!

Gracias for photos by Bob Gove and Rafael Rush.

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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Best of Summer Events!

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!

Verbena Campestre 2016San Cosme

 

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Part of the eatdrinkbaja entourage caught in action on the dance floor at last year’s event (. . . and where was I?)

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!

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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!

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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!

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Rosarito & Conchas: What a Weekend!

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.

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One shrimp tostada easily turns into three @ Mariscos Tito’s

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Mariscos al Ajillo taco @ Mariscos Tito’s

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Part of the offerings at Mariscos Tito’s

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.

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Sunset from our room at the Rosarito Beach Hotel

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Fruit plate at Los Pelicanos in Rosarito Beach

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A relaxed Bob in the lobby of the lovely Casa Playa Spa @ RB Hotel

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.

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It got a bit crowded, but there was plenty of food, wine and fun to go around

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Gotta love these local products!

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Chef Drew serving up oysters

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17-year-old winemaker (Ana Sofia?) proudly showing off her tasty Flor de Roca Cabernet

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Part of Team EatDrinkBaja!

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 

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blues + Paella = A Very Filling Weekend

We survived – even thrived – during our Baja mega-weekend. Our first visit to the annual Baja Blues Fest @ Rosarito Beach Hotel was thoroughly enjoyable. We grooved to Missy Andersen, the Bayou Brothers w/our friend Sista Judy Seid (rubboard player extraordinaire) + Michelle Lundeen, Backwater Blues Band, Tijuana-based Hola Soy Lola and headliner Tommy Castro + The Painkillers. Great set up/sound, not crowded, colorful folks, great friends and reasonably-priced beverages.

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Then to Tapanco south of Rosarito for a lovely dinner with a great bottle of Emeve wine (which we won as part of a fantastic raffle prize at the Blues Fest) followed by a sampling of Tapanco’s secret delicious housemade ice cream: pumpkin, coconut, beet, tres quesos & tequila.

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But hey, the fun didn’t stop there! Sunday: Valle de Guadalupe for the Granddaddy of all Baja food fests: the Vendimia Paella Contest. What a wonderful scene! With 80 paella-making teams, 50 wineries, 2 live music stages + (my estimate) 2,000 attendees, it was well-organized with plenty of food, drink + fun to go around. Paella is, however, very filling and after two to three bowls, it can be a bit difficult to differentiate.

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My favorite team names? Las Ovejitas Disobedientes (the Disobedient Lambs) and La Flaca + El Gordo (the Skinny Gal & Fat Guy). And altho we didn’t sample his paella, always great to see favorite Baja Chef Javier Plasciencia participating. Don’t miss this fantastic festival next year! Thanks to technology, tix were available online in May, but sell out as fast as a Rolling Stones concert. If you’re interested in going next year, let me know soon; wouldn’t it be fun to put an eatdrinkbaja group together?

Muchas gracias for photos by Bob Gove.

Big Baja weekend: Blues Fest & Vendimia Paella Contest

What a weekend we have in store! Saturday is the Baja Blues Fest at Rosarito Beach Hotel, with music from noon to 8pm. Hope we’ll get there for Bayou Brothers w/Michelle Lundeen, and gotta stay for headliner Tommy Castro. Then Sunday we’re down to Viñas de Liceaga in Valle de Guadalupe for the venerable, ever-popular and sold out Fiestas de la Vendimia Paella Contest. It’s been more than 15 years since I last attended; will it be as cool? Maybe even better? 50 wineries, 80 paella-making teams! Check back for the scoop.

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