Currently, there are three culinary movements going on in northern Baja:Baja Med- a fusion of Asian, Mediterranean, and local Mexican influence,Wine Country cuisine from Jair Tellez's Laja focusing on local products of Baja in a cuisine d'auteur fashion, and the evolutionary Mexican cooking of Benito Molina, a Mexico City haute cuisine master armed with the amazing bounty of Baja and pure genious.It's a pretty amazing time to dine in Baja. It's not often that you can witness a culinary new movement in action, let alone three.
Baja Med is a creation of La Querencia chef Miguel Angel Guerrero, but the roots of this movement are penetrating. The first plantings of wine grapes by Jesuits in 1791, the establishment of Santo Tomas winery in 1888, and the arrival of the Molokanes(Russian immigrants, pacifists fleeing the Czar)in 1904, who expanded the wine grape planting in the Valle de Guadalupe.Italians, French, and Swiss immigrants have flocked to the Valle de Guadalupe over the years bringing their wine heritages in tow. The 80's brought boutique wineries, and Hugo D'Acosta's Casa de Piedra and wine school have raised the bar and technique for quality wine and excellent wine makers.
Many dishes in the genre were already forming, Alex Cardini's Caesar salad in 1924, the emergence of Puerto Nuevo style lobster devoured by hungry tourists, and the chorizo de ablulon from the Isla de Cedros, abalone was preserved in chorizo so they wouldn't spoil waiting for the merchants to show up to the island.Ensenada's famous fish taco was born out of Japanese tempura techique brought by Japanese fishermen, a precursor to the strong Asian influence in Baja Med.The treaure of seafood, wild game,produce, cheese from Real del Castillo, olives and olive oils,and wine have also formed the various culinary movements in Baja California.
At Baja Med Pizza Co. in Tijuana, affiliated with La Querencia, a new Mexican identity is being formed in pizza making.An original thin crust topped with a pure of black beans. Toppings include the mouthwatering chorizo de abulon, locally raised lamb, and machaca of marlin.Armando Medrano, the owner, will pair some of his excellent selection of Baja wines with your pizza of exotic toppings.Seeing his young line cooks, frsh from culinary school is comforting.Many of the top restauranteurs have young aspiring cooks that promise a future for Baja Med cooking.
Other restaurants continue to surface in the Baja Med idiom throughout the peninsula.The ill-fated Baja Kuche, which roared coming out the gates, died with a whimper, the young chef presented stylized food with no flavor or substance. But seeing the wonderful menu at the time we were there was inspiring. There are others that are showing promise and it seems like new ones are popping up here and there.Palmuzul was another amazing concept, a restaurant that featured Baja cuisine from Tijuana to Cabo. I went there about a half dozen times, from the start it was executing all its dishes so well, but then the menu shrank, and so did the quality.They lasted maybe a year.In time, La Querencia and others will yield some other breakaway operations as the young chefs become more confident.
Years ago, Villa Saverios featured a more Mediterranean and Italian menu, one of the best restaurants in Baja by chef and restauranteur, Javier Placensia.But, the moevement is infectious. Over the years the menu changed to reflect Baja Med dishes and sensibilities. They used to seve Baja quail, an iconic dish from the region, and their version had the feel of the street grill with a haute edge to it.You can have a degustation of local shellfish prepared in a variety of ways.Baja scallops, oysters, abalone, or the prized chocolata clams. Order the local Real del Castillo cheese selection to have with a bottle of wine from El Valle de Guadalupe.The other day we tried the chile relleno stuffed with pasta in four cheeses with a huitlacoche emulsion and a traditionally styled tomato sauce. A beautiful representation of the Baja Med imagination.The ccoking at Villa Saverios is stellar. To highlight the Asian touch, a tartar of bluefin tuna with ponzu in a jalapeno and sea urchin sauce, heavenly. How about a quail and duck pate made with Mexican port wine? The grilled baby octopus, the lamb shank tacos.
Camarones rellenos al "Romesco", stuffed bacon wrapped shrimp with machaca de marlin alongside vegetables grown in Baja(La Querencia)
Miguel Angel Guerrero, the man who invented the term Baja Med, is the movements heavy weight champion. A hunter, and chef, realizes this fabulous cuisine at his La Querencia in Tijuana, and EL Aljibe in La Paz.His cuisine screams of terroir. Local game, local catch, and the influences of mediterranean and asian immigrants. Unlike California cuisine which also emphasizes Mediterranean influences and local ingredients, Baja Med has dishes and ingredients that are entirely unique to its region. To this day I can't yell out a California cuisine dish eventhough I've been to the restaurants and looked through a few cookbooks. But hijole, chorizo de abulon on a sope, forget about it. that's Baja Med.Duck tacos, Miguel Angel's sashimi Querencia of callos with its Asian flavors,venison tacos, manta ray sopes,or the local farmed steak in Valle de Guadalupe olive oil and blue cheese made in Baja.
One evening consisted of a special clam au gratin on a bed o sea salt, and the stuffed bacon wrapped shrimp covered in a long thin tube of machaca de marlin, accompanied by fresh grilled vegetables with some Asian flavors thrown in.Dark and rich flavors, brilliantly paired. The marinated duck tacos and chorizo de abulon tacos are served in an original tortilla, thin and toasted. Were not just changing the tires here, this is a culinary overhaul from top to bottom.
With his El Aljibe in La Paz, Miguel Angel covers Baja on two fronts in his campaign to spread the word about Baja Med. La Querencia is a must for the Baja traveler.
Other restaurants have there Baja Med touches, all of them do a Caesar's salad. La Diferencia has an octopus dish that leans Baja Med.All restaurants doing Baja Med and alta cocina in Tijuana's gastronomic zone feature Baja wines
From the vineyards and farms, to the innovative chefs, Baja Med continues to grow and develop its vocabulary. It's real and it is here to stay, the culinary schools are prepping the next generation, and the kitchens of Baja Med restaurants are training the young talented recruits.The Valle de Guadalupe and baja peninsula have found a worthy cuisine to express its diversity and iconoclast character.
Baja Med Pizza Co.
Gobernador Lugo #9531
Ph. (01152) (664) 684-0597
Escuadrón 201 #3110
Ph. (01152) (664) 972-9935 & 972-9940
Fax.(664) 686-6502 ext.102
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