San Felipe was always known to me as a Spring Break retreat for American college kids looking to see Mexico and ride the mechanical bull. It came as a huge surprise that it's such a sleepy fishing village–you'd never mistake this place for Cabo, Cancun, or Puerto Vallarta. It's a great place to relax, pick up fresh seafood from the docks, and have a beach cookout while watching the sun set over the Sea of Cortez.
The best cooking I encountered here was in people's homes–with croaker, grouper, mackerel, dogfish, shrimp, crab, and white clams in abundance, it's easy to live it up with simple, traditional ceviches, cocktails, guisados, stews, a grills. There's plenty of gems to be found at street stands and typical beach cuisine thatch-roof hangouts, too, but El Balcón Cocina Artesanal stands alone as a restaurant serving creative Pueblan dishes using the finest local seafood products in a rare north-south union.
The regular menu has several breakfast items and well-known Mexican dishes. If you give Pueblan chef Marcelino Morales a chance, he'll put together an interesting tasting menu that can transport you from the humble terrace above La Plazita(located in the tourist zone) a hip casual restaurant in D.F.'s Roma Norte.
Ceviche is seasonal–I'd hoped for mackerel but it wasn't in season, and when I heard it was dogfish I had my doubts. That is, until I saw the beautiful aguachile, or fire water with thin, rectangular strips of dogfish cooked in lime, and dressed with guajes (green bean pods), and chapulines (grasshoppers). The dish explored the dual textures and heat profiles of fresh and dried chile de arbol, and was served with crisp verdolagas and sea beans, called salicornia. It was a memorable expression of raw Mexican seafood.
The second course combined a pre-hispanic food, the tlacoyo (a diamond shaped masa shape), and the local delicacy: almeja golfina, or white clam in a Yucatan peninsula pibil marinade. The light puree of beans in the tlacoyo, and the bright pibil marinade hung just beneath the subtle flavors of the clams.
A trio of large, sweet shrimp pipian verde(green pumpkin seed), pipian rojo(red pumpkin seed) and mole poblano featured the traditional Pueblan craft using local caught shrimp accompanied by salt cured nopales, and squash blossom bulbs.
A facile dessert of lavender ice cream with chocolate and amaranth seeds was like a deconstructed lavender drumstick–delicious.
San Felipe is the perfect getaway, and it's the closest beach to the U.S. border with warm waters and nice beaches. El Balcón is a fantastic addition to the Baja California dining community, and is doing a style of food that is unique. All of the strengths of the Pueblan kitchen are presented with a respect and understanding of northern seafood that's uncommon.
El Balcón is located at Av. Mar de Cortez, 614, San Felipe, B.C., 55-52-686-215- 3632, www.facebook.com/ElBalconCocinaArtesenal
Follow Stick a Fork In It on Twitter @ocweeklyfood or on Facebook! And don't forget to download our free Best Of App here!