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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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

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

A Taste of Baja California Culinary Fest

by Wendy Lemlin

BCCF Logo

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

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

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

Bravo for Zarco

By Wendy Lemlin

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I’d be willing to wager that for most of you reading this, downtown Chula Vista is not the first place you’d think of—or at all— when deciding where to go for a fantastic dinner and amazing wine selection. Yeah, me neither—that is, until my recent visit to Zarco, Cocina De Baja, in the heart of Chula Vista’s 3rd Avenue shopping district. There, among shops whose windows display the most colorful of flouncy quinceanera dresses, Chef Flor Franco has converted the commercial kitchen of her highly successful Indulge Contemporary Catering company into a first rate showcase for her take on the much acclaimed cuisine and wines of Baja California. Continue reading

Treasures of Tecate

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A Hike on Kuchimaa, aka Mt. Tecate

by Wendy Lemlin

As I passed back into the U.S. from Tecate , Baja California, the Customs and Immigration officer asked why I had been in Mexico. When I answered that I was checking out the interesting places around the town, he looked at me incredulously and asked, “Really? What is there to do in Tecate?”

As Mexican border towns go, Tecate may be Baja’s best kept secret. Continue reading