When Jaime and I started planning my return to Ensenada nearly five years after my previous visit, he asked if I wanted to go back to any of the places I’d already tried. The casual, harbor-side eatery Muelle 3 was top of my mind for a repeat. I adored lunching on the clean and simple preps of the freshest local seafood in 2012. Not to mention the tortilla española that beats out versions in Spain or its well-selected wine list.
We slid in before 5pm upon our Tuesday arrival in Ensenada to a full house at Muelle 3. No matter, a couple glasses of aromatic white wine enjoyed outside under the pergola while we waited for a table kick-started our mood adjustment to vacation mode. As one of the last parties before closing, we had more attention from owner, David Martinez, who answered my questions about the day’s menu.
Ceviche de la Casa, a must order here, was a mixto of the fish of the day (yellowtail for us), octopus, clams, shrimp, cucumber, tomato and avocado very lightly dressed with fresh herbs and a whisper of soy sauce. With only a hint of lime added à la minute for a seasoning lift, the seafood remained naturally sweet, tender and uncured. More fresh limes along with coarse salt and red chile flakes to adjust to one’s own taste were on the table along with tostadas. With my own extra squeeze of citrus brightness, this ceviche has been perfection both times.
Another tried and true was the Sashimi de Pescado. Slabs of buttery, well-trimmed yellowtail marinated in local olive oil and a few drops of soy sauce were flecked with pinpoints of serrano chile, fresh ginger root, black sesame seed and red chile pepper. In marked contrast to the Baja kitchens that too often drown dishes in soy sauce, Maggi, ginger and too much sriracha sauce, the well-judged hand at Muelle 3 understands that less is more when fusing strong flavors from the Far East.
For our second course, Pulpo-Huitlacoche. Disks of cross-cut octopus tentacles sautéed with juicy corn kernels and stained by the black-as-night corn smut looked quite fearsome but tasted so truffle-y and regal. Variations along a corn theme segued to the basil-scented, rich yet rough-hewn polenta and the toasty, fragrant corn tortillas.
El Pezenvuelto, our third course, turned out to be a tour de force showing off the kitchen’s creativity and technical chops. A fillet of yellowtail, the pescado del día, layered with chorizo de abulón and encased in Vietnamese rice paper was sizzled on the plancha until the thin wrapper crackled and turned dark brown. Still, the lean fish interior was barely cooked through to remain succulent and toothsome, absorbing the smoky spices and mollusk sweetness of the housemade chorizo. Surrounded by a meaty-tasting broth of octopus and alubias blancas (white beans), the crispy envelope perched safely above the liquid on an island of emerald green spinach, dice of carrot and alubias. Close to monochrome in presentation, the taste spectrum of this dish was reined in tightly as well. Instead, this was a study of timbre rather than a composition of many disparate flavor notes, eliciting extra resonance and tonal shadings from a few elements to harmonize on the plate and glide seamlessly across the palate. Textural differences provided the necessary contrast . . . the shattering crispness of the delicate rice paper, creamy white beans, nubby abalone, silken spinach, and the transition from liquid to solid phase. A deliciously subtle and sublimely satisfying dish.
When I praised El Pezenvuelto, Martinez mentioned that he had served this to his older brother Javi who owns Boules restaurant. Apparently, the brother was not as taken with the dish. He has continued to keep it on the menu, confident that certain customers will seek it out. I’m glad he has, as this dish demonstrates how Muelle 3 has progressed from strength to strength in the evolution of its cuisine while preserving the affordable price point and hip vibe.
Muelle 3 will be ten years old on Tuesday, August 1. At the time of our June visit, Martinez had not yet decided how he would mark the 10th anniversary, but all are invited to join in the celebration. I’m sorry that I can’t be there myself. However, I look forward to what the next ten years hold in store.
Bl. Teniente Azueta, 187
Closed Sunday and Monday
Easy parking in the adjoining pay lot
More photos from Muelle 3:
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Day 1 in Ensenada:
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