The Baja Show: Javier Plascencia, Baja Craft Beer and Wine
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It's the Baja edition of Good Food. We start with a market report from the Mercado Hidalgo in Tijuana. Chef Javier Plascencia says he stops by at least once a week to pick up everything from dried chiles to local honey. Next we visit with Rubén Valenzuela, owner of Baja Craft Beers, a pub and distributing company for craft beers in Mexico. We travel south to Ensenada to visit Sabina Bandera - aka La Guerrerense - who is famous for her uni tostadas with fresh clams and homemade salsas. Bill Esparza, our leader on the Baja adventure, explains that the classic fish tacos from Ensenada originated as a snack for local fisherman. Next, we drive fifteen minutes inland to the Valle de Guadalupe, home to over fifty wineries. Also in the valley are roughly fifteen campestres. These campsite restaurants are outdoor and seasonal, operating only during the summer months. Chef Benito Molina operates Silvestre, one of the first campestres in the area with a 180° view of vineyards and low lying mountains. Down the road is La Escuelita, a wine incubator owned by local wine legend Hugo D'Acosta. The director of the school, Tomas Egly, explains that the school's mission is to give aspiring winemakers the tools to make quality wines. Our last stop in the Valle de Guadalupe is Las Nubes, a winery owned by Victor Segura. Wine-making is a second career for Segura who worked in seafood for many years. Now he operates the tasting room and tends the vines at Las Nubes. Back in Los Angeles, Jonathan Gold drops by to discuss where you can find Baja-inspired eats in LA.
Market Report ()
Our first stop in Tijuana is the Mercado Hidalgo, one of the largest central markets in the city, where vendors sell everything from produce and dried goods to cheese and local honey. Javier Plascencia, who helms the restaurants Misión 19 in Tijuana and Romesco in San Diego, says he shops there at least once a week. He always looks for special regional chiles (like Pasillas from Oaxaca), seeds, local honey, Mexican cheeses (he has a cheese cart of only Mexican cheese at Misión 19), clay pots and regional Mexican candies like plantains or yams in syrup.
Baja's Craft Beer Scene ()
Rubén Valenzuela co-owns Baja Craft Beers with his brother. The pub at BCB has over 40 beers on tap and refrigerators stuffed with bottles of craft beer from Mexico and around the world. He says that Baja's craft beer scene has grown exponentially in the last 12 years. With such close proximity to San Diego the brewers in Baja are heavily influenced by Stone Brewing, but prefer to brew beers with more malty profiles instead of the hoppy flavors favored in San Diego. He recommends the following craft beers from Baja:
La Guerrerense ()
In Ensenada we visited with Sabina Bandera - aka La Guerrerense - and her daughter Mariana Oviedo. Bandera runs a unique street food cart serving some of the fresh seafood delivered each morning from the fisherman in Ensenada. She is famous for her uni tostada topped with fresh Pismo clam and avocado. Also on the cart you will find cocktails of seafood we don't see in the States, including chocolate clams, sea snails and enormous huarache oysters. Bandera also sells 16 different homemade hot sauces from her cart.
Watch Anthony Bourdain gush over her tostadas in this No Reservations clip.
La Guerrerense is open Wednesday to Monday, from 10:30am to 5pm.
The Origins of the Fish Taco ()
Bill Esparza, author of StreetGourmetLA, contributor to Los Angeles Magazine's Digest blog and creator of Tacolandia, was our guide in Baja. He explains that the beer battered tacos with crema agria (Mexican sour cream) started as a snack for the fisherman. There is speculation that the Japanese fisherman working off the coast of Ensenada introduced the locals to tempura, hence the battered and fried fish.
Campestres: Eating Outdoors in the Valle de Guadalupe ()
Benito Molina is a noted chef in Mexico. He owns the restaurant Manzanilla in Ensenada and his seasonal campestre, or outdoor restaurant, Silvestre, is now open for business in the Valle de Guadalupe. Molina was one of the first to open a campestre in Baja's wine country, but this summer there will be as many as 15 campestres operating. Typically open only in the summer months, campestres are temporary restaurants where chefs cook over live fire and serve customers at picnic style tables. The view at Silvestre is one of the best in the Valley de Guadalupe.
You can also see Molina on TV. He and his wife co-star in the reality show Benito y Solange.
La Escuelita: Baja's Wine Incubator ()
Estación de Oficios del Porvenir, most often called La Escuelita, is a wine school located in El Porvenir in the Valle de Guadalupe. The tiny school is an incubator for aspiring winemakers. The school is owned by Hugo D'Acosta, who has been instrumental in developing the Valle de Guadalupe as a wine hub in Baja. His brother, architect Alejandro D'Acosta, designed the school. Alejandro's brand of sustainable design incorporates discarded materials like old barrel stays, rusting mattress springs and used irrigation tubing into the architecture. Check out photos of the buildings on the Good Food blog.
Evan Kleiman interviews Tomas Egly, who is the director of the school.
Meet One of Baja's Wine Makers ()
Victor Segura is one of the leading winemakers in the Valle de Guadalupe. He sells his wine under the label Las Nubes. You can visit his winery in the valley or look for his wine in restaurants in Tijuana and Ensenada, and campestres in the Valle de Guadalupe.
Due to high Mexican taxes and California protectionism it is difficult for Baja winemakers to distribute their wines in California, but Segura says he hopes to export to Southern California as his production grows.
Where to Find a Taste of Baja in Los Angeles ()
Knowing that not everyone will be able to race across the border to taste La Guerrerense's tostadas, we asked Jonathan Gold to give us a run down of where to get Baja-style eats in Los Angeles. Given our close proximity to Tijuana, it's surprising there isn't a stronger Baja influence in the Mexican food in LA. However, Jonathan says there are a few key places where you can get your fix:
Tacos Baja Ensenada: This is Jonathan's pick for the best fish tacos in Los Angeles
Ricky's Fish Tacos: Another contender for the best fish taco in LA. Follow Ricky on twitter for his location.
Taco Nazo: Naecent chain in South LA serving fish and shrimp tacos.
Mexicali Taco & Co: Mexicali Taco serves carne asada and al pastor in four tortillas that they pick up in Mexicali several times a week. They are known for their vampiros, which contain melted cheese and resemble quesadillas.
Petty Cash Taqueria: A collaboration between Chef Walter Manzke, restaurateur Bill Chait and StreetGourmetLA's Bill Esparza, Petty Cash is the new wave of Baja cuisine in LA. Esparza invited Tijuana chef Guillermo "Oso" Campos Moreno of Tacos Kokopelli fame to contribute to the menu, and Manzke (who grew up in San Diego and has fond memories of going to concerts and eating tacos across the border) brings his French training and love of Tijuana street food to the table. Expect tacos with heritage pork carnitas and prime beef carne asada.
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