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In June 2017, dinner for our final evening in Baja was at Cocina de Ismene in El Pinar de Tres Mujeres in Valle de Guadalupe.
I&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;#39;d made a reservation by emailing Chef Ismene Venegas and received a prompt response in English. Her mother is the enologist at 3 Mujeres winery.
For our party of three, one of the smaller round tables decorated with fresh flowers suited us.
Our seating was chosen for shade from the setting sun, but also for this view of the vineyards framed perfectly between the pine and olive trees.
To cool off on the warm afternoon, a chilled aqua fresca of cucumber and green herbs was welcome refreshment.
The offering at El Pinar is prix fixe with a couple options for the main course. The multi-course menu changes daily based on availability of seasonal ingredients. Accompanying the basket of soft bread, a trio of dips: tzatziki, verdant basil pesto, and a spicy chile oil infusion.
Ensalada de lechugas, pepino y rábanos con aderezo citrico. First course was a simple salad served family style. Gossamer lettuces, cucumbers and peppery radishes strewn with chopped nuts were tossed with a bright citrusy dressing.
Tartar de pescado con algas y jengibre. Buttery soft and impeccably fresh grouper contrasted with the crunchy Persian cucumber slivers and savory bite of fresh scallions. The marinade had the slightest whisper of fresh ginger, seaweed and sesame oil, a much more subtle use of these Asian flavors than others here and so much more pleasing to my Cantonese-leaning palate. The tartar was also served family style with blue corn mini-tostadas.
Sopa fría de tomate rostizado. The cold soup of roasted tomato was clean and direct with some smoky notes and highlights of fresh basil pesto.
Pescado del día a las brasas con calabaza almizclera cremosa y verduras asadas. Fish of the day was seabass grilled till the herb-crusted skin was crispy. A luxurious, creamy butternut squash puree was swirled on the plate to sauce the fish fillet and grilled asparagus, sweet pepper and carrot.
Costilla del cerdo con puré de papa y verduras asadas. Meaty pork ribs seasoned with adobo were cooked over fire until just shy of tender. But they were so delectable, we did not mind a bit of chewiness. A base of rustic mashed potatoes tied together the presentation with grilled vegetables.
Plato de queso de la región. Cheeses of the region made from cow&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;#39;s, goat and sheep milk were accompanied by local honey.
Panecillo de almendra con salvia blanca de monte. The individual-size almond cake with sage reminded me of a denser version of a French financier. The coconut-flavored cream was dreamy.
We brought our own wines. No corkage was charged.
Our dinner at El Pinar was my second experience with a campestre style seasonal restaurant in Valle de Guadalupe. I continue to be amazed at the level of cooking that emerges from these minimalist outdoor kitchens centered around a wood-fired grill. We were the last customers of the evening other than a friends and family group. Chef Ismene presented most of the dishes herself and explained the ingredients and preparation to us. It was wonderful to have such a direct connection. She was also a wealth of information for where to buy the best local ingredients.
How much did this cost? Not enough for the warmth of the experience and the soulful cooking. The menu with the catch of the day was 395 pesos (USD 22) and the pork rib menu was 465 pesos (USD 26).
One of my goals for eating in Ensenada and environs has been to try as many female chefs as I can. So far, this strategy's paying off handsomely.
El Pinar de 3 Mujeres | Cocina de Ismene
Carretera Tecate Ensenada Km. 87
Valle de Guadalupe
Check for seasonal opening hours (generally Friday through Sunday, 1pm to 6pm)
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