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A Journey Into Paradise

Dining in Baja Mexico Wine Country

07 December, 2015

Situated approximately 90 minutes south of San Diego,Mexico’s emerging Baja wine country encompasses the Valle de Guadalupe area of Ensenada,offering visitors access to boutique hotels,more than 100 wine producers and a number of exceptional restaurants.

Two dining options in particular stand out from the crowd and were recently featured on Eater.com. Namely Finca Altozano,which features an open-air dining room and kitchen framed by sheets of corrugated aluminum siding,and Corazón de Tierra,which is part of the 70-acre La Villa del Valle boutique hotel and winery. 

“The Valle and its stark,fertile beauty have become beacons for culinary pioneers designing their own culture around the terruño (roughly the Spanish language equivalent of terroir),” writes Bill Addison for Eater.com. “Creature comforts can be found,but the place doesn’t yet feel commercialized or completely tamed.”

While most of the main routes are paved,many of the side roads are still dirt and row after row of vineyards extend into the distance to the distant mountains. The weather here is nice all year,so the open air dining at Finca Altozano might appear a bit rustic at first glance,but don’t let that fool you! This local favorite is home to a smattering of wooden tables on a covered patio and features a variety of delectable meats sizzling over an open flame on the asador rotisserie grill. Tijuana native Chef Javier Plascencia,who also runs a small yet thriving restaurant in Bonita closer to San Diego,operates Finca – a place that permits his truest expression as a culinary artist. 

“Most of the restaurant’s vegetables come from out back; meats and seafood arrive daily from local farmers and purveyors,” writes Addison. “The flavors are recognizably Mexican but stripped down.”

Popular items include lamb and suckling pig slow cooked in a caja china roasting box,the campfire-scented quail with mushrooms and pancetta,as well as the Pismo clam smoked in an oak barrel and accented with fennel,Serrano chile,herb butter and queso fresco. Of course,the tacos made from whole-wheat tortillas are also fabulous,while the grilled octopus in a marinade of soy,citrus,ginger and peanuts is reportedly to die for.

By contrast,Ensenada native Diego Hernández-Baquedano’s Corazón de Tierra features menu items crafted from its very own winery,beehives,vegetable garden,olive trees,free-range chickens and other animals,as well as fruits from its own citrus orchards. Found on the La Villa de Valle property,the restaurant serves guests at the property’s boutique hotel,as well as visitors and locals. 

“Corazón’s dining room feels casual – mixed woods,comfortable chairs covered in bright prints woven by the region’s indigenous communities – but the kitchen’s steel gleam and cooks’ intent demeanors relay Hernández-Baquedano’s lofty ambitions,” writes Addison. “His mentors include Enrique Olvera of Pujol in Mexico City and showstopper Cosme in New York.” 

There is no set menu here. Instead,guests are served a set,seven-course progression that changes every day. Incredibly,just $68 will get you both lunch and dinner,while wine pairings can be added for just $30-$45. Popular menu items have included smoked yellowtail on a masa and flour tortilla cracker with avocado puree,south-of-the-border oysters Rockefeller,creamy fennel bulbs and a potato puree with charcoal oil.

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