Valle Wine & Food Festival Benefits Farm Workers and Earthquake Victims

By Wendy Lemlin

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   As anyone in the SoCal/Baja border foodie community knows, in recent years there have been a significant number of outstanding events in Baja California’s Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico’s smoking-hot wine region about 90 miles south of San Diego. But, the first annual Valle Wine & Food Festival, happening October 22, stands out as a must do, not only for the amazing quality of cross-border chef talent who will be participating —hosts Javier Plascencia and Nancy Silverton, and Michelin-starred Dominique Crenn, to name a few—but also because the event will be flavored with a welcome taste of altruism, i.e. the festival will benefit the area’s farm workers, as well as victims of the recent earthquakes in Mexico.

Nancy Silverton, Carolynn Carreno, Javier Plascencia

Nancy Silverton, Carolynn Carreno, Javier Plascencia

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Civico 1845: Collaboration Italian Style

By Wendy Lemlin

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   With its authentic food and outstanding vegan menu, Civico 1845 is one of my favorite Italian restaurants in San Diego, and it looks like it is going to become even better. Beginning this month, the Civico team is collaborating with chefs Antonio and Luca Abbruzzino, a Michelin rated father/son pair from Calabria, Italy, to highlight genuine southern Italian ingredients in the restaurant’s dishes. Continue reading

The Flavors of Florent

Words & Photos by Wendy Lemlin

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Like most San Diego locals over 30 years old, I rarely venture into downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter, and, despite the blocks of cheek-to-jowl restaurants, even more rarely do I ever dine there. I’ve always had the impression that, with a few notable exceptions, most of the restaurants serve overpriced, mediocre “tourist” food, or unsophisticated bar bites. On a recent visit, however, I’ve found that Florent Restaurant & Lounge, on the prime corner of 5th and G,  is one of those notable exceptions,

Executive Chef Brad Hightow

Executive Chef Brad Hightow

Executive Chef Brad Hightow has been running the culinary show there for the past 15 months, and his high quality take on New American cuisine is creative and delectable.  Flavors are balanced and complementary, presentations are attractive, and ingredients are sourced from such local standout purveyors as Specialty Produce and Catalina Offshore Products. Continue reading

Birthday Staycation

Words & photos by Wendy Lemlin

Under the therapeutic cascade at Rancho Bernardo Inn

Under the therapeutic cascade at Rancho Bernardo Inn

Sometimes you just need a break.  Not a long vacation, but certainly more of a change of scenery than just hanging out in your own home.  Get away from the kitchen, get away from the computer, and get away from all the little chores around the house that nag to be done when you just want to relax.  I’m talking abdication of all responsibility, here, with a side order of pampering thrown in for good measure.  You don’t even need to go away to get away, distance-wise, to be amazed at how a change of environment makes for a change in temperament. You just need a great staycation. Continue reading

Fishing for Compliments at San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival

Ocean-to-Table Wine Pairing Luncheon features an impressive roster of chefs

By Wendy Lemlin

Something’s fishy at the 12th annual San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival this year—- and that’s a good thing!

The abundance of delectable seafood found in our local waters will be the inspiration for a 5 course wine pairing luncheon held at The Marine Room, La Jolla’s iconic oceanfront restaurant, on Wednesday, November 18, from 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM.  Hosted by Executive Chef Bernard Guillas, the exclusive luncheon will feature the formidable talents of a cadre of local celebrity chefs known for their creativity and passionate respect for the sea’s bounty.

Chef Bernard Guillas

Chef Bernard Guillas

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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!

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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

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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

26th Annual Taste of Point Loma

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How familiar are you with the Point Loma restaurant scene?  Got any favorites?  Any places you’ve been meaning to try?  Well, on April 22, you’ll have the opportunity to do just that, when more than 20 restaurants, cafes and bakeries will offer samples of their finest and most popular menu items at the 26th annual Taste of Point Loma, hosted by the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. Continue reading

Art Will Bloom at San Diego Museum of Art’s “Art Alive”

By Wendy Lemlin

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Next weekend, from April 24-26, one of my favorite annual events is happening at the San Diego Museum of Art. 

During Art Alive, the Museum will become transformed into a fragrant vision of art combined with such natural materials as flowers, greenery, seeds, vines, and more, as more than 100 floral designers bring the Museum’s renowned Permanent Collection to life during the 34th annual event, creating live floral displays inspired by the works of art. Continue reading