Celebrating Misión 19’s Fifth Anniversary

By Wendy Lemlin

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When Misión 19 opened in 2011, the sophisticated, stylish restaurant was a game changer for the Tijuana dining scene.  The city was just beginning a rebound from some tough years—years when the crossborder tourist stream had slowed to barely a trickle and when even residents were less enthusiastic about going out and socializing at night. Now, five years later, Tijuana is widely acknowledged as a hot culinary destination, and chef/owner Javier Plascencia’s star is shining brighter than ever. Misión 19 has had a lot to do with that. Continue reading

Sleeping Around: What’s New in Valle de Guadalupe Lodging

By Wendy Lemlin

One of 4 casitas at Casa Mayoral

One of 4 casitas at Casa Mayoral

The first time I visited Baja’s lovely Valle de Guadalupe was in the fall of 2004, about 6 months after I moved to San Diego from Florida. I discovered it somewhat by accident, having driven down the coast with a visiting friend. In the spirit of adventure, heading back from Ensenada we decided to take the turnoff for Route 3, recommended as a scenic drive that would eventually lead back to the border crossing at Tecate. At that time, I knew nothing about the handful of wineries already established in the valley, but I remember that the two of us, both Baja newbies, were blown away by the beauty and tranquility of our surroundings as we drove, and the happy feeling that we were actually in another country with a pastoral ambience very different from the frenetic Gringo/Mexican border hybridism of Tijuana, Rosarito and Ensenada.

About two years later, while working on an article about the Baja coastal areas, I deliberately made a detour to the Valle and began in earnest my love affair with her mountain-lined vistas, and the growing food and wine culture that was soon to permeate the landscape.  I think that there were around 10 registered wineries at that time.  Now that number is approximately 150, most of which have popped up in the last 3 years or so.

All of which begs the question: what’s new in the Valle de Guadalupe? Of course, the answer is: plenty.  There are more wineries, more restaurants—some of which are now staying open year-round—and thankfully, more lodging options.  In the last couple of months, after not having been there in a year, I’ve made several trips to the Valle, checking out places I hadn’t been before—some new, and some just new to me, and revisiting several favorites to see how they’ve progressed. Continue reading

Bracero Brings It!

by Wendy Lemlin

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After months of delays, and about a year of anticipation, Bracero Cocina de Raiz finally opened in mid July. The first restaurant in San Diego proper by Baja mega celeb chef Javier Plascencia (Romesco in Bonita, Mision 19 and Erizo in Tijuana, and Finca Altozano in the Valle de Guadalupe) and partner Luis Peña, opened its Little Italy doors to much foodie-world buzz and advance reservations booked several months out.

Was it worth the wait? In a word, yes!

Continue reading

Hacienda El Capricho: Heaven in the Baja Hills

By Wendy Lemlin

Welcome to Hacienda El Capricho

Welcome to Hacienda El Capricho

For those of us in Southern California, a trip to northern Baja might entail heading to some coastal destination between Rosarito and Ensenada, usually to eat some tacos, drink some cold cervezas, maybe do some surfing or lounging on a beach, and then finishing off with a stop in Popotla to pick up some colorful pottery at the roadside “studios”. Or, maybe it’s a wine-tasting and gastronomic extravaganza to the now uber-popular Guadalupe Valley, where the numbers of upscale wineries, restaurants and flashy events have increased exponentially (along with prices!) in the last five years. Foodies and artists are discovering the culinary and cultural delights of Tijuana, and San Felipe is still a laid back-destination for sport fisherman, and gringo retirees. It’s all out there and readily accessible.

But, way, way off the beaten path, nestled in the Baja mountains several miles inland from

The road to Hacienda El Capricho

The road to Hacienda El Capricho

the coast near Puerto Nuevo, exists an amazing slice of Baja that few tourists even know exists. If you continue for several winding, bumpy, dusty miles on the dirt road that runs east uphill from Primo Tapia, past All the Pretty Horses of Baja Rescue, after about 30-40 minutes you will arrive at Hacienda El Capricho, the dream of Alberto Ortiz, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but in the midst of abundant natural beauty and tranquility. It may not be easy to find, but it is certainly easy to love. At this elevation, the

The hills are alive on the way to Hacienda El Capricho

The hills are alive on the way to Hacienda El Capricho

hills, even in the heat of mid-summer, are greener and lusher than you would ever expect, covered in native oaks, flowering buckwheat, grasses, and a variety of vegetation, watered by natural springs and underground streams.

The sound of bird calls fill the air—the acorn woodpeckers that run through their impressive vocal repertoire in the oaks, the cooing of doves, the chatter of hooded orioles, the chirping of sparrows and the melodies of robins. Sometimes you’ll hear the mooing of cattle at a nearby ranch, or the whinny of a horse.  At night there’s the occasional yip of a coyote.  There are noises here in the Baja outback, but they are the noises of nature, which only accentuate the tranquility, rather than disturb it.

The entrance to Hacienda El Capricho

The entrance to Hacienda El Capricho

Continue reading

Flying to San Felipe

by Wendy Lemlin

These arches, the symbol of San Felipe, greet visitors at the north entrance of town.

These arches, the symbol of San Felipe, greet visitors at the north entrance of town.

San Felipe, on Baja’s Sea of Cortez, has always been a playground and vacation home destination for those in the San Diego and SoCal areas, but until recently, getting there was definitely NOT half the fun, necessitating a 4+ hour drive into Mexico, over mountainous roads and sometimes long border waits on the return trip home. All this changed this past December, when Portland, OR-based SeaPort Airlines began offering non-stop air service from San Diego International Airport to San Felipe in their nine passenger prop planes, currently on Monday, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

SeaPort Airlines' 9 passenger planes fly between San Diego and San Felipe.

SeaPort Airlines’ 9 passenger planes fly between San Diego and San Felipe.

The easy, hour and 20 minute flight takes passengers over breathtaking views of mountains and canyons that few travelers ever see, far from any roads or vestiges of “civilization”, and deposits them at the small San Felipe airport, on the placid shores of the Sea of Cortez, just a 5 minute drive from the lovely beachfront San Felipe Marina Resort and Spa.  Continue reading

Fairwell to Zarco

by Wendy Lemlin

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   I still dream about the Tiradito de la Casa that I relished on my first trip to Zarco, Cocina de Baja in Chula Vista. The tender slices of hamachi crudo, the smokey chunks of grilled octopus, the delicate citrus of the yuzu sauce combined with just a hint of bite from two separate peppers— all had the unmistakable signature of Chef Flor Franco’s creative palette and totally appealed to my own particular palate. I’m not much of a wine connoisseur, (I know that may seem odd for a food writer), but it seemed to me that the wine list, carefully curated by Fernando Gaxiola of Baja Wine +Food, perfectly represented why wines from the Valle de Guadalupe are such a hot commodity these days.

Today Chef Franco and Gaxiola announced that they were no longer involved with Zarco.

In a statement, the pair said “We’re so grateful for the support and love we’ve received since opening Zarco this past September. Unfortunately, due to fundamental differences with our partners about how the restaurant should be managed, we’ve decided to discontinue our involvement with the project. It is important to mention that we do believe in the concept, and in the idea of bringing Baja and its culinary treasures to the US. Chef Flor Franco will continue focusing on her projects in Mexico and San Diego.”

Franco went on to elaborate, “Zarco was a passion project for me: the intersection of soulful Baja-style food, wine and bountiful ingredients and products from the region. I am grateful for the purveyors and other people we met while building the concept and I will continue to focus my energy on projects on both sides of the border, including Indulge Contemporary Catering, Baja Wine + Food, and Convivia at Encuentro in the Valle de Guadalupe. As always, my deeper creative compass is spinning within me, so I’ll keep you updated on what I’m working on.”

Personally, I can’t wait to see what comes next!

 

Chef Flor Franco

Chef Flor Franco

Gourmet Dining With Farmers, Friends & A Fisherman

By Wendy Lemlin

Ok, I admit it.  Life can taste pretty sweet when you’re a food writer.  It’s especially enjoyable when gourmet dining amidst great conviviality with the growers, harvesters, and curators of the delicacies on the plates in front of me.

This was the case last night (January 15) at San Diego’s Red Door Restaurant and Wine Bar for the Baja edition of their Farmers, Friends & Fisherman Dinner series, which proved so popular that seating spilled over into The Wellington Steak and Martini Lounge, Red Door’s adjoining sister restaurant. The seasonal series showcases area farmers, fishermen, ranchers, and wine or spirit makers who personify Red Door’s sustainable, local and organic credo. Continue reading

A Taste of Baja California Culinary Fest

by Wendy Lemlin

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So, you’ve been hearing all these great things about the Baja culinary scene, and have just been waiting for a good excuse (not that you really need one!) to experience it for yourself, right?  Well, you’ve got one—in fact two!

For the first time, Baja California Culinary Fest is teaming up with The Culinary Conference Ensenada Gastronómica to present five days of mouth-watering excitement. From October 29th to November 2nd, guests will be able to explore the many flavors of Baja and discover the local natural resources of the region that the rest of the world is clamoring for these days. Chefs’ dinners, outings, tours and culinary competitions are among the exciting events planned for this foodie extravaganza. Continue reading

Info for Attending Tijuana Innovadora

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If you’re planning to attend Tijuana Innavadora–and if you’re a fan of Baja, innovation in the arts and technology, the exciting culinary scene, and so much more, you should be!—here’s what you need to know to attend this incredible conference which takes place Oct. 16-26:

The innovation conference Tijuana Innovadora will present 200
innovators in technology, health, education, business, food, fashion and more on Oct. 16 to 26 at the Centro Cultural Tijuana (Cecut), although the Culinary Battles will take place at the Arena Tecate/Hipódromo Caliente (Caliente Racetrack).
The purpose is to highlight the innovation in the Tijuana-San Diego region and to promote cross-border business opportunities. This year’s theme is a celebration of the contributions Mexican immigrants have made in the United States.
The speakers are leaders in their field in Latin America, the United States and the border region.
Lectures and panel discussions will be available in English through simultaneous translation.
Special events will highlight innovation in specific areas:
Batalla Culinaria – Oct. 18 and 19, featuring top chefs from the Baja California and San Diego.
General seating $30; VIP seating $47
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Campus link (Oct. 21 and 22) : Speakers and activities aimed at college students focused on Internet technology, given by leaders from Google, MIT, National Geographic, and founders of successful site and apps.

InnovaModa – Oct. 25, featuring Mexico’s famed Pineda Covalín brand as well as local designers. General seating $29, VIP seating $42. Package of four designers’ talks (Oct. 24) is $33,students $17.
TICKETS
Conference tickets can be bought through the website: Tijuana Innovadora or at Cecut box office. $27 for conference block of speakers and panels (generally morning or afternoon), per day. $54 for Rudolph Giuliani or César Millán; InnovaModa and Batalla Culinaria have separate pricing (see above).
Expo — free
Workshops – more than 40, free (in Spanish)
Chats — most free
TRANSPORTATION FROM SAN DIEGO
Individuals – May drive across the border and park at or around the Centro Cultural Tijuana, minutes away from San Ysidro border crossing. Parking will be extremely limited, however.
Uber: Individuals may take the trolley or Uber San Diego (a conference sponsor) to the border and from there Uber Tijuana to the cultural center.
Mexicoach: Individuals may leave for conference venue throughout the day from
the Mexicoach office in San Ysidro, 4570 Camino de la Plaza, 92173. Round-trip ticket is $5,with expedited crossing.
Groups — Transportation will be provided by Mexicoach with expedited border crossing, leaving from Inspiration Point in Balboa Park, for $15 per person. Reservations:
http://goo.gl/forms/kfQu7aaHlK; email is: groups@tijuanainnovadora.com
OTHER EVENTS
Neon Run 5K (Oct. 18) Runners and walkers will light up Tijuana streets.
TEDxTijuana (Oct. 21) — $26 for 16 speakers on a variety of subjects.
Cosplay Parade (Oct. 26), 3 p.m. “Comic-con”-style parade of Tijuana cosplayers.
Complete program at Tijuana Innovadora.

Chef Profile: Martin San Roman

by Wendy Lemlin

Chef Martin San Roman in his kitchen at Dobson's .

Chef Martin San Roman in his kitchen at Dobson’s .

There are cooks— and then there are chefs.  Creative cooks abound these days, but truly talented chefs, with a culinary education, a firm foundation in the basics, and years of executive experience in running all types of kitchens, from hotels to intimate dining rooms, are few and far between. Martin San Roman is a highly accomplished chef, in every sense of the word. Continue reading