Chef Benito Molina in 12 Courses at Manzanilla: The Birth of the Cool

Chef Benito Molina in 12 Courses at Manzanilla: The Birth of the CoolEXPAND
Bill Esparza

I first walked into Chef Benito Molina's Manzanilla sometime in 2007--it was located on Av. Riveroll, before moving to it's current location along Ensenada's industrial waterfront. Molina--a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute--had already made a name for himself in Mexico City when he arrived in Baja. He was lured to Ensenada by Mexican enologist Hugo D'Acosta-- here, Molina would pioneer the use fresh local ingredients,Mexican olive oil, and Baja wines in a new approach to Baja cuisine.   . 


It had been more than a year since I'd dined at Manzanilla's bordello-esque warehouse space, and I was due for magic clams and seafood surprises from the local waters of Baja California. What surfaced was a seafood-intensive 12-course tasting that brilliantly flowed from ocean to plate at times as subdued as the night's sky in El Valle, and others as explosive as La Bufadora. Molina is a West Coast cool jazz chef, and he's swinging harder than ever. Check out these tasty riffs! 
The antique bar at Manzanilla, EnsenadaEXPAND
The antique bar at Manzanilla, Ensenada
Bill Esparza
Botana salpicon de pescado sobre tostada pintadaEXPAND
Botana salpicon de pescado sobre tostada pintada
Bill Esparza

El Menu Degustacion 8 de Julio de 2012

1er tiempo
The first taste of the evening a salpicon de pescado with a faint brush stroke of dried chiles to brighten delicate bits of fish balanced by a dab of guacamole and vegetables whose flavors fused to the airy tostada.  

Ensalada de tomate heirloom-mermelada de albaca-queso RamonetiEXPAND
Ensalada de tomate heirloom-mermelada de albaca-queso Ramoneti
Bill Esparza

2do tiempo
From the gardens of the Valle de Guadalupe, a fresh picked and vivid, grilled salad of heirloom tomatoes sweetened by a traditional Valle marmalade, given pungency by nasturiums, and salted by a fine Ramonetti cheese.  

Sardinas curadas en sal y vinagre de Jerez-jocoque-pepino-hinojo salvajeEXPAND
Sardinas curadas en sal y vinagre de Jerez-jocoque-pepino-hinojo salvaje
Bill Esparza

3er tiempo
This ever evolving dish is one of the great tastes of Baja California. The light dressing and wild fennel marry the pristine slivers of umami with a dreamy cultured cream--take your time with this plate as you would a slow ballad. 

Sorpresa marinaEXPAND
Sorpresa marina
Bill Esparza

 
4to tiempo
Three ceviches of  with contrasting elements of citrus and brine: bloody clam, pismo clam, and chocolata clam show Chef Molina's mastery of the genre employing sea beans, and the true surprise of this dish--ficoide glacial, or foraged, salty ice plant. An highly agreeable diversion of seaweed salad and a melt-in-your-mouth patch of yellow fin tuna gelatin served at just the right temperature of chill made this dish worthy of its title.

Ficoide glacial, or iceplantEXPAND
Ficoide glacial, or iceplant
Bill Esparza
Conchas frias
Conchas frias
Bill Esparza

5to tiempo
Manzanilla could easily be one of the top oyster and clam bars you've ever set foot in without trying. Indulge in white clam in pesto, with a kumamoto oyster, and a bahia falsa clam from the cold bar.    

Conchas calientesEXPAND
Conchas calientes
Bill Esparza

6ta tiempo
Then a round shellfish from the grill: bahia falsa, white clam, and little neck are given a sexy ,buttery liquor from herbs and Baja cheeses.

Manita de jaibaEXPAND
Manita de jaiba
Bill Esparza

7mo tiempo 
The crab claw was the a nice change of tempo buoyed by a sweet emphasis of basil.   

Sardinas a las brasas-ensalada de nopales-queso cotijaEXPAND
Sardinas a las brasas-ensalada de nopales-queso cotija
Bill Esparza

 
8vo tiempo
A second course of sardines--grilled this time--is a generous remittance for us so deprived of this taste up north. This time Chef Benito Molina offered a down home plate of traditional Mexican grill--Ensenada style.     

Codorniz a la parrilla-hongos al ajillo-alcegasEXPAND
Codorniz a la parrilla-hongos al ajillo-alcegas
Bill Esparza

9no tiempo
The ensemble put together for the Baja quail dish paired mushrooms in garlic and garlic cream with chard brought the wild bird back to the garden were it likely met its end--a delicious tribute to Baja quail.        

Tres pescados-pure de frijol-elotes baby a las brasasEXPAND
Tres pescados-pure de frijol-elotes baby a las brasas
Bill Esparza

10mo tiempo
Perfectly grilled cod, rockot, and yellow tail with a bean puree, and corn is another familiar Molina dish that has found its pocket.

Raviol abierto de borrego-mantequilla de limon y mejoranaEXPAND
Raviol abierto de borrego-mantequilla de limon y mejorana
Bill Esparza

11mo tiempo
This meal was a terroir driven chef's compilation of Ensenada standards rearranged in imaginative presentations--an open ravioli of grilled lamb and wild flowers transcends the customary lamb taco.       

Bizcocho de chocolate-chiles secos-chabacanos en almibar-helado de manzanillaEXPAND
Bizcocho de chocolate-chiles secos-chabacanos en almibar-helado de manzanilla
Bill Esparza

12mo tiempo
Finally the dessert: a chocolate cookie, a Mexican apricot-like fruit in syrup, and chamomile ice cream--a simple trio of unexpected charm.

If a seafood fantasy you seek, then Manzanilla is where dream becomes reality; where Chef Benito Molina fronts a legendary seafood jam session into the after hours. 

Manzanilla is located on Teniente Azueta, #139, Ensenada, B.C.; 011-52-646-175-7073; www.rmanzanilla.com. Hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 1p.m. to 1 a.m. and Sunday from 1p.m to 6p.m.; Take the toll highway to Ensenada and make the first right when you come to town onto Teniente Azueta, the restaurant will be up on your right hand side opposite the waterfront.   

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