Every past summer in the Valle de Guadalupe, Baja chefs have set up camp at various wineries and makeshift sites to cook in the month leading up to Fiestas de la Vendimia, and to hang around through September for the die-hard partiers, winemakers, and tourists out for one last summertide fling before it cools down. This year has been the best ever for the campestre scene, with more dining options than in previous years, and the establishment of several permanent restaurants by some of the top chefs in the region. These rustic picnic bench-style set ups are destinations for young, rosemary-herbed lamb cooked in a caja china, grilled Black Angus steaks from Sonora's Rancho 17 cooked on mesquite, or ceviche of geoduck and goose neck barnacles paired with a crisp, Mexican chasselas. Most of these nomadic kitchens will be open all of September and some may drift into October--here's a list of our top places to eat at now.
The menu at Deckman's is a tasting menu, with an option of a 4-course meal, or a 7- course dinner paired with wines from Mogor Badan, craft beers from Cabo, or Durangan mezcal. This chef has chops, so I urge the full tasting.
Deckman displays uncharacteristic intensity when the subject of Mexican cuisine comes up--he uses 100% Baja ingredients, but "I'm not a Mexican chef", he insists. Yet, there is a familiar style of cooking that is more Mexican than his American counterparts--Deckman is a Georgia boy with a Baja soul.
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His light ceviche of geoduck and goose neck barnacles is fundamental is its preparation with a ring of local olive oil, a scant acidity from tomato skins with trace fruit, and nasturtiums for a little punch and much appreciated color on the plate. This is the most flavor I've encountered from geoducks;perhaps it was the salty goose neck barnacles that produced the bold taste. The chef is in residence here making this an essential stop.
Hearty plates like cowboy beans over polenta with roasted wild boar excite all senses
with buttery notes in between beans, corn, and boar. Don't let the Urban Cowboy presentation fool you--this is unadulterated country fare.
There are several tacos available from grilled lamb, to beef cheeks, to Sonoran style
beans and cheese tacos; local quail is also on the menu done with a Baja Med touch.
As with all of these campestres, you'll find the winemakers and chefs hanging out and cutting deals over bottles of wine, and Cuban cigars.
Our final stop is at Chef Benito Molina's Silvestre, which has been in business for summers as far as I can recall. The impressive deck overlooking zinfandel grapes is
in the capable hands of Chef de cuisine, Miguel Bahena.
highway 3 to km 86.5 and turn right through the property's stone entry gate, Valle de
Guadalupe, B.C., Mon-Sun., 1PM-7PM, drew@deckman's.com for reservations
El Encino en Laja is located on the Laja property, take the Ensenada-Tecate Highway
3 to km 83 and look for the Laja sign, turn left onto the dirt road, and a right into the
driveway, Fri.-Sun., 1:30pm-8:30pm, 011-52-646-155-2556, email@example.com
Finca Altozano is just up the road from Laja, take the Ensenada-Tecate highway 3
to km 83 and look for the Laja sign, turn left onto the dirt road, drive about a half-mile
past Laja and turn right into the Finca Altozano archway, and onto the property, Valle
de Guadalupe, B.C., Tues. Sun. 1pm-9pm, July 31-Oct. 31, 011-52-664-166-6839
Silvestre is located just west of the Pedro Domecq winery, take the Ensenada-Tecate
highway 3 to km. 73, turn left up the dirt road about a quarter mile to the parking lot,
Valle de Guadalupe, B.C., Fri.-Sun., 1pm-6pm, 011-52-646-175-7073
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