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Baja, Part One - Fine Dining TJ to Rosarito (long)

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Baja, Part One - Fine Dining TJ to Rosarito (long)

Gypsy Jan | Jan 18, 2004 05:32 PM

Hi, folks. I just discovered you today, with great delight, thanks to Jonathan Gold of the LA weekly.

This is meant to be a series of submissions on some personal faves that my boon companion, the Growling Gabacho, and I have enjoyed.

So we initiate Part One—Fine dining from the US/TJ , border to the northern outskirts of Rosarito.

The subject of Part Two is open, I can continue south on the fine dining subject, or go middle level, or holes-in-the-wall/street eats; I’m open to requests.

A blanket side note, it has struck me particularly that the fine art of “waitering” remains alive and well in high to “low” dining establishments in Mexico. Here, a service job in a serious restaurant is still a profession to be proud of and it brings respect. (No offense to all the beautiful young student/model/actors/narcissist from San Diego to LA to New York, who barely “wait” and have never understood the meaning of the word “service” who are just marking time until something more interesting comes along.). In many cases, especially if the chef is also the owner, he will come to the table and inquire with sincere interest as to how you are doing. This has happened time and time again for us on our first visits to an establishment.

In TJ, Le Espadana is a beautiful, large and lavishly decorated restaurant in Spanish hacienda style in the Zona Rio. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, the restaurant is packed with business executives and beautifully, expensively dressed families and couples. In-house bakery, freshly made tortillas, bread and pastries, and a dessert counter that has to be seen to be believed. Impeccable service. Extensive wine list.

Cien Anos is also in the Zona Rio, specializing in Mexican haute cuisine, regional specialties and seasonal ingredients creatively presented. Fresh flowers, candlelight, linens and china with attentive, expert service in an intimate, old-world, Spanish villa setting. Well-chosen wine list.

Fine dining on the pay (“Scenic”) road to Rosarito, Rincon San Roman at the Marriott Real del Mar Golf Resort. This elegant, second-floor restaurant (the bar is on the first) is the Chef Martin San Roman’s vision. Trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, he has brought his version of French/Mediterranean nouvelle cuisine and he has a passion for hunting down the best in meat, seafood, poultry and organic vegetables. TJ business executives regularly make the trek to dine with the golfers, so there are sandwiches and hamburgers on the menu, too. The ocean view of the Coronado islands at sunset is breathtaking. Thoughtful, high quality wine list.

Also worth mentioning, in the same complex that is adjacent to the hotel proper, is Havana Sushi, a small, bright, narrow glass-fronted space with bamboo mat shades. There is seating for an approximately twenty people, more seating outside on the patio). The walls are decorated with beautiful pictures of Japanese women and a sushi pictorial calendar. Orchid plants and living bamboo arrangement line the bar and shelves. The chef trained in the Mexican-Japanese owned and run restaurants of Guadalajara. A runner delivers the fish from the San Diego markets.

On the free road from TJ to Rosarito is La Querencia. A medium-sized former home made from the native yellow brick, when you step through the entry, you feel the impact of dozens upon dozens of eyes…all on the walls and shelves around the open space dining room and bar. The interior space is covered with stuffed deer heads, stuffed birds and blow-ups of pictures of hunting parties posing in the Sonoran desert. In each picture and on a plaque attached to most of the stuffed representatives is the visage or name of the chef /owner. He is a local, a cachanilla (minimum fifth generation Baja Californio) and he trained in Mexico City.

The bar is a narrow, high ceiling space with industrial style stools, a massive granite (I think) countertop with a huge salt-water aquarium filling the back. The menu is a huge fifteen-foot wide, six feet tall blackboard, a second version is hung farther on in the dining room, crammed with the daily offerings, which could be as small as a seafood machaca taco up to full entrees, for example, venison chops (in season) with vegetables and soup or salad. We dined there on New Year’s Eve day, a late lunch. Didn’t look at the wine list, just had a glass of house red…delicious and served in Riedel crystal. For starters, we both ordered oysters on the half shell; they were impeccably fresh and sweet. The GG had a steak, I don’t remember anything about it except that he put his arms around his plate and pretended not to notice me when I looked over, interested in having a taste. He may have uttered a low growl, I can’t be sure.

I had the roasted mussels, served blazing hot in a cast iron skillet filled with rock salt. They were incredible, soft, sweet and smoky.

They were closing for two weeks after that day, for vacation. Many restaurants in Baja do this in January, like the restaurants in Paris that shut down for the month of August.

I can’t wait to go back.

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