Travels in Baja
I’d never be hired for The Travel Channel Andrew Zimmern’s job. But recently, I made a contribution to his art, by tasting grasshopper and cricket. I opted to skip the octopus.
While dining with a group of travel writers at La Diferencia, a picturesque Tijuana restaurant, we were privy to some surprising delights. We were treated as if we were guests in someone’s home. While seated next to a prestigious Mexican dignitary, how could I not try the treasures of traditional alta cocina (haute cuisine)? I didn’t want the gentleman to think I was the visiting gringa wimp journalist!
Some people have tummies that are as tough as nails. Unfortunately, I am not one of them. I am dairy intolerant and have a few food allergies, so much so that I consider my gastroenterologist to be part of my posse.
But this trip served me well. Nearly everything that we consumed was organic, either grown on the premises or from local farms. My digestive system actually felt better with authentic Mexico cuisine than with our chemically-induced food.
One evening we visited Caesars, home of the original Caesar salad. Javier Plascencia, a well-known restaurateur (he and his family own Casa Plascencia, Villa Saverieros, and the new Mision 19), could pass for an Adonis-like actor and has the resonant voice to accessorize it.
Plascencia termed his cuisine Baja Med, which has caught on like wildfire within the group I traveled with. We ate this cuisine in Tijuana, Valle De Guadalupe (wine country), Ensenada, Tecate and Puerto Nuevo. Baja Med pulls from the fields, orchards, organic/free range farms and the sea for the freshest herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. It’s a fusion of Mediterranean techniques with local Baja, California local products.
Usually I am not a lobster eater, as I never developed a taste for seafood. But, at Restaurant Puerto Nuevo 11, I succumbed. Housed in a small, casual dwelling, not far from the Pacific Ocean, this restaurant served the most delicious fresh catch of the day that melted in our bocas.
Then a group of mariachis arrived. We assumed it was the restaurant’s entertainment, made requests and thought we tipped them well. They looked at us oddly when we gave them our dollar bills. Afterwards, we were enlightened that they make $4 a song. We knew better when the second group, who stroll along “restaurant row,” stopped in.
It rained in buckets during our trip. On a particularly misty day, we dined at Rincon San Roman, part of the Real Del Mar Gold Resort. A drenched group made it to this bougainvillea lined second floor restaurant across a street from the ocean, which we were squinting to see because it was foggy. We felt that we might be on a Greek island with the white architecture surrounding the ocean.
Leonardo de Caprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher and others stayed here while filming Titanic. They’d retire to the lounge in the hotel area, sling back tequila and play board games after a day’s shooting.
Rincon San Roman’s chef Martin San Roman was an Academie de France grad and pairs his French cooking skills with Mexican dishes. His specialties are steak in escargot sauce, half duck in honey/garlic sauce and chocolate mouse with crepes.
Lately, much of the news about northern Mexico is about violence. Who knew that this would be a gastro paradise with some of the finest dining this side the Mediterranean?
Sue Facter writes about all things A-list for publications world-wide. We follow her travels in and out of town.