Exciting things are happening down in Ensenada these days.The two top chefs in town have opened and reopened their respective projects.Benito Molina, of Ensenada's best restaurants Manzanilla and Muelle Tres, and his seasonal Valle de Guadalupe destination Silvestre, has realized the long awaited reopening of the new Manzanilla.From the famed Laja, chef Jair Tellez has added Restaurante Del Parque on Parque Revolucion with his signature seasonal and local ingredients, including the best Baja wine shop, La Contra, in the same building.Chowhound's Kaire Raisu joined me as we took the ABC bus from TJ to Ensenada and made it back the same day, another mission is accomplished by Los Quesotraficos!Oh, and we had to sit through Bad Boys I and II on the round trip, madre de dios!
After some nibbles and wine tasting we headed over to Jair Tellez's new digs to check out the menu and see the location.As at Laja, Jair's palatte is drawn from his own magnificent garden and the soulful products of the Valle de Guadalupe.He even has a brick pizza oven kicking out Italian standards like the Margherita and his own riffs such as a pizza of quelites, salami, onion, and eggs.The menu is very reasonable with pizzas and entrees falling in the $80 MXN to $140 MEX range, with this moment's conversion it's a steal.Only a 400gr wood fired beef loin with sauteed spinach stands out at $250MXN.Yes, those are pesos folks.The restaurant resides in a simple yet elegant building with patio seating that has the feel of being at some aristocrats backyard.There is an intimate indoor seating area with a bar,too.
We know of Jair's prowess in the kitchen, but something here struck me like a bolt of lightening.The adjoining wine shop, La Contra, features beautifully showcased Baja wines, even Baja wines I've not encountered in all of my Mexican wine quests. La Contra represents many of the boutique wineries dsiplayed and knows their business, they just happen to have perhaps the best boutique Valle de Guadalupe wine selection in Mexico.Jair has loaded his wine list with these cult wines so sought after in D.F. and has done something quite generous.I actually will have to ask this again when I go back to see if it's really trure, but Jair will open any wine on his list for $100 MXN, less than ten US dollars.This isn't the usual L.A. Cetto, Santo Tomas, and Domecq offerings with Monte Xanic thrown in, these are the various Hugo D'Acosta labels, J.C. Bravo, Roganto and other high end delicious Baja wines do die for, by the glass.Oh, and you get to drink them with Jair's food.Not bad.We didn't dine here due to our dinner reservation at Manzanilla but did enjoy a lovely mezcal made by Jair Tellez, smooth and earthy, a perfect sipping mezcal.
Rushing to Manzanilla's new location in front of the Black Pearl(Pirates of the Caribbean)on the wharf, we arrived to find Benito Molina dining with friends and associates welcoming our arrival.The restaurant just got up and running a few weeks ago, the menu isn't complete yet and there is some unfinished things to do, but the food is as good as ever.The restaurant looks like a nice saloon with touches of bordello thrown in.Original Mexican artists are featured with paintings selected by Benito.This location has much more attitude than the old Manzanilla and is a great place for the chef to express his ingredients.We happened upon some things put on the menu for the recent holidays and a daily special or two for our dining pleasure.
We started with the last of Benito's own Valle de Guadalupe zinfandel, a house red at Manzanilla, lots of forward fruit and light mineral notes.Our amuse bouchee was a bread crust with turkey and mole, a holiday nod to the Mexican classic Christmas dish in a bite,Feliz Navidad!Next was the tiraditas de lengua(sliced tongue), we ordered this but the rest was "omakase".The sliced cold tongue with nopal(cactus) and cherry tomatoes in a light and spicy vinagrette was spiritual.Next we had clams, Marcos'(the source) magic clams, smoked with homemade bread crumbs and local cheese.All I can say is that Benito works miracles with the freshest shellfish, a must when at any of Benito's restaurants.Our entree was a fish soup, Sr. Molina's boullabaisse, with fennel and local rock cod.All the flavor components stood on their own but when combined, outrageously pleasurable.This is signature Benito Molina, simple cooking, the best ingredients, and the symphony of flavors conducts itself. The 5th course consisted of a croquette of a locally made combination of a fresh and an aged cheese, a nice savory to end the meal.
These chefs are making bold moves at a difficult time for tourism in Baja, and they understand the risks.I go down to Tijuana and Ensenada all the time, and encounter only great food, wine, and people.The news stories are sensational and often misleading.What are these two chefs doing about it? Making the best food and providing the best Baja wine experiences at a premium.We enjoyed 5 courses and wine at Manzanilla for under $30USD each from one of the best chefs in Mexico.I will be down there next month with friends, if not sooner.Don't believe the hype, you've nothing to lose but some of the best food and wine in Mexico.
Caldo de pescado
tiradita de lengua
the new Manzanilla
located on the wharf,across the street from the Black Pearl
make aright around the corner at the end of the Black Market on the malecon.
Valle de Guadalupe, open in the summer only
Restaurante Del Parque-Ensenada
on Parque Revolucion
Valle de Guadalupe
Highway 3 at Km.83
Posted by Bill at 10:48 PM