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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Baja Bash to Benefit WILDCOAST

by Wendy Lemlin

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Having fun and conserving our coastlines on both sides of the border..

These days, everyone loves Baja, especially her beaches and coastal areas.  In fact, people love Baja so much, that much of her once mostly-deserted 1900 miles of coastlines have fallen under targeted assault from increased development and industrial growth. Coral reefs and mangrove forests teeming with fish and sealife, pristine beaches where endangered sea turtles nest, and bays that are the birthing areas for gentle California grey whales—all are in danger of disappearing, and the marine species and other fauna that depend on these fragile ecosystems are also in peril.

Luckily, 16 years ago WILDCOAST (aka COSTASALVAJE in Spanish) began working to watchdog and protect the marine ecosystems and wildlife on Baja’s coasts, as well as coastal areas in San Diego and in other Mexican and Latin American regions. Continue reading

Eating Up the Valle De Guadalupe

Where to Dine in Border Baja’s Hottest  Wine  & Foodie Destination, The Valle De Guadalupe

By Wendy Lemlin

View of the Valle from Malva

View of the Valle from Malva

It’s no longer any secret that there is some fantastic food in Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe.  When I first started visiting this tranquil valley in 2005, there were maybe 2 or 3 “gourmet” restaurants being buzzed about in the SoCal/Baja gastronomic circles. These days, visiting wine tasting aficionados can indulge their tastebuds with memorable fine dining experiences at close to 20 eateries ––although, it’s hard to keep track as there seems always to be a new restaurant opening. And by fine dining, I mean the best of the Valle’s ingredients—organic produce usually grown in onsite gardens, locally made cheeses, fresh caught seafood from Ensenada, meats and poultry raised on small Valle ranches and farms—expertly and creatively prepared, and served, for the most part, in a casual, al fresco ambiance.  While many of the dishes themselves are worthy of the world’s top restaurants, in this slice of Baja Norte we’re not talking white table cloths and fine china, but more earthy surroundings that reflect the culture of the vineyards and the ruggedness of the surrounding topography, and where you feel totally comfortable lingering over your meal for several hours. In fact, be prepared to do so—there’s no such thing as “grabbing a quick bite” here, unless you’re patronizing the new crop of food trucks at such wineries as Adobe Guadalupe and Vena Cava.  I won’t lie—dining in the Valle might seem pricey if you were expecting $1 tacos and beer, but for the most part, I’ve found every culinary experience I’ve had there to provide excellent value for the quality presented.

So, fill your glass with one of the Valle’s excellent wines and pull up a chair at my virtual table. Join me for a mini gastronomic tour to some of the restaurants I recently visited on a three day Valle de Guadalupe getaway! Continue reading

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

October Food Events

Eat Your Way Through October

by Wendy Lemlin

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What is it about October that always makes it such a busy month for food events? Is it because it’s usually one of the best weather months in San Diego, when temperatures start to cool down and skies are clear?  Is it because it fits so nicely between summer vacations and holiday frenzies? Or maybe it’s more about fiscal calendars and venue availabilities.  Whatever the reason, this will be every foodie’s dream month—just be prepared to splurge, both calorie-wise and money-wise, if you plan to go to everything! Here are a few events coming up. Continue reading

KAABOO for You

By Wendy Lemlin

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Back in 1969, the most well known of all music festivals EVER was optimistically billed as Woodstock Music & Art Fair, in hopes that it would be remembered as more than just a regular ol’ music festival.  Which of course it was, but not because of any art exhibits, but rather as the iconic representation of the art of high hippieness.

Forty-six years later (yikes!), KAABOO, the hip, but not hippie, three day music and arts festival taking place this weekend, September 18-20 at Del Mar Fairgrounds will distinguish itself not only by presenting over 100 musical performances, from legends to emerging artists, on seven stages. As if that wouldn’t be ambitious enough, adding to the total “mix-perience”  the festival includes components of  experiential “indulgences”, art installations, a comedy club, and opportunities for indulging our seemingly insatiable food obsessions at the “Palate” area.

The musical lineup is truly impressive, with something seemingly for everyone.  On Friday, the highlights include, among others, Bonnie Raitt, Ozomatli, Fitz & the Tantrums, Sheryl Crow, No Doubt, and Snoop Dog. On Saturday, some of the big names are Counting Crows, Slightly Stoopid, Ozomatli, Zac Brown Band, and Spoon. Sunday features Donovan Frankenreiter, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, O.A.R., Minnie Driver, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Grace Potter, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Brandi Carlisle, Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals, and Train.  On Friday and Saturday, the music runs from 11 AM-2:30 AM, on Sunday from 11AM-10pm.

As for food, according to KAABOO’s website, the “Palate” component will present fare that’s “way more tasteful than at a typical music festival”, representing an upscale culinary environment where guests can sample specialties from a variety of carefully selected culinary artisans, and limited production wines and craft libations:

  • 18 top local restaurants & chefs
  • 20 exclusive California wineries pouring approximately 60 different wines
  • 25 craft distilleries sampling small batch tequila, mezcal, bourbon, gin, rum, vodka, sake, and other spirits

On the Palate Stage on Saturday, starting at noon, six chefs will compete in the KAABOO Rockin’ Chef Competition, with three teams of two chefs with each team making an appetizer and entrée.  The competing chefs are

  • Amy di Biase
  • Brian Malarkey
  • Chad White
  • James Montejano
  • Jason McLeod
  • Javier Plascencia.

Their entries will be judged by Master Chef Ferdinand Metz, Candice Woo of EATER SD, Darlene Horn of ZAGAT, Josh Kopelman of DiningOutSD, and Sam the Cooking Guy.

The Palate stage will also be the place to catch:

  • Chef Band Performances
  • Celebrity Chef Demos
  • Chef & Artist Book Signings
  • Surprise Musical Performances

For all the detailed info for this “grown up” party, click here. One day passes start at $125, 2 day passes start at $229, and 3 day passes start at $299 in advance, $329 at the gate, all plus service charges.  A variety of VIP passes are also available. $1 per pass purchased will be donated to KAABOO’s “KINDNESS” charity program. Additional charity contributions made at time of pass purchase will be matched dollar for dollar by KAABOO.

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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Food Without Borders: Culinary Battles at Tijuana Innovadora Conference

By Wendy Lemlin

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Come October 18 and 19, there will be some cross-border battles raging in Tijuana— but don’t be alarmed; it’s a very good thing!  In fact you could say a delicious thing, as some of the finest chefs from San Diego and Tijuana compete in three separate Iron Chef-style competitions, or Batallas Culinarias, as part of the biennial Tijuana Innovadora Conference, which showcases innovation in technology, industry and culture. Continue reading

¡Latin Food Fest!

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San Diego Hosts the Largest Latin Food, Wine & Spirits Event in the U.S.

By Wendy Lemlin

    It has passion, it has flavor, and it has sass. You could say it’s downright sexy. Latin cuisine is super hot in the culinary world these days, and we’re not just talking about the chiles that give heat to so many of the dishes.

Here in San Diego, we tend to think of Latin food as “Mexican”. The Latin world, however, is a big one, and the food of Spain is very different from the food of Peru, while Puerto Rican cuisine differs markedly from Argentinean.

To showcase the full diversity of flavors from Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America, on September 11-13, the 2nd annual ¡LATIN FOOD FEST!’s culinary extravaganza will take place in downtown San Diego, featuring some of the world’s best chefs, distillers and vintners, as well as the region’s top Latin restaurants. ¡LATIN FOOD FEST!  will once again educate palates and entertain patrons in high style at six events, including an Opening Party, Educational Seminars, Cocktail Parties, Chef Dinner, Chef Demonstrations on the Celebrity Cooking Stage, Silent Auctions, Culinary Grand Tasting Event, and Wine Reception. Continue reading