Muelle Tres, Ensenada
was opened by Chef Benito Molina
in early 2009 with a more-casual, but still-hip delivery of Molina's original brand of Ensenada cuisine, quietly tucked behind the fish taco hustler madness of the Mercado Negro on the sea walk. Molina sold the restaurant to current owner David Martinez a few years ago, who retained the original kitchen staff and menu. Although Molina no longer is affiliated with the restaurant, the dishes are essentially prepared the same.
There have been many openings in the the past few years in and around Ensenada's growing restaurant scene, yet few have surpassed the quality, flavor, and vibe of Muelle Tres that still holds true to this day. Come here for local shellfish, seafood made with an international flair, and ceviches with bright Ensenada flavors that match the sunny, cheerful room that's spared a patch of calm a midst the cruise ship masses aimlessly roaming the pier. This is still a relaxing, tasty lunch spot when visiting Ensenada that's worthy of the reputation given to Mexico's top contemporary seafood hot spot.
You'll always find a solid white wine here from the nearby Valle de Guadalupe, and a craft beer or two like the tasty Aguamala, brewed in Ensenada proper. The wall above the small kitchen is still covered with the original menu, a culinary artifact and reminder of the former owner's influence in Ensenada, which is a bit confusing since that's not the menu in use--the clipboard with a wrinkled menu is the actual list of selections.
Ceviche de almeja chocolata
A glorious ceviche of chocolate clams is the way to begin an afternoon blessed by the perfect weather rewarded to those venturing south--that's given an Asian touch with soy sauce and ginger. A dash of Baja olive oil adds a buttery look and feel to a very representative dish in the Baja cuisine repertoire.
Pescadillas, a typical food from Guerrero, Mexico, is plated closer to a standard Sinaloan taco de marlin dressed with avocado slices, cilantro, and a smoky salsa.
Octopus or shrimp can be prepared in a rich oil of chile de arbol loaded with garlic--al mojo de ajo style, but with a lighter taste from local olive oil in the place of butter.
The steamed mussels are an old favorite of mine I first enjoyed back in 2009 after a booze fueled romp through the Valle de Guadalupe with Chef Benito Molina. They are simmered in a bucket with tomatillos and green chiles for a tangy, oceanic combo that's a fantastic bar food for pairing with a chela, or beer.
When abalone is on the menu, it would be clever to order it anyway it might be served--it's these amazing products that keeps us at the ready to peel out of the driveway and head south of the border any opportunity we can get.
This is still one of the best bets for lunch in Ensenada to round out your taste of Mexico's mariscos capitol --it's consistently a pleasure, and it subscribes to the old saying that "if it aint broke, no lo compongas."
Muelle Tres, Bl. Teniente Azueta, 187, on the malecon, Ensenada, B.C., 646-174-0318 or 646-151-9292, Wednesday through Sunday 12pm-7pm, www.muelletres.com