Creative Gastronomy Comes to Town

BY DANIELLE WILLIAMS

Tripping at Viaje is what I like to do on a mellow Sunday afternoon on the terrasse of the newer restaurant in town, VIAJE, COCINA DEL MUNDO.  Cool jazz from a 4-piece ensemble, a glass of Chardonnay, and having just polished off an order of enfrijoladas – a sort of chicken crepes in a luscious bean sauce redolent of pasillas chiles – takes me close to Nirvana, or maybe pig’s heaven with an ocean view.

Open with much fanfare in February, Viaje is located midtown Rosarito in the Quinta del Mar complex. You drive through the arch and it is a straight shot around the fountain.

The building had been a restaurant in a former incarnation some 15 years ago when it burned down.  In came Jerome Gombert, a talented and ambitious Frenchman with successful restaurant experience in San Diego (Vagabond in North Park).  He had the vision to turn the structure into the stunning establishment it has become. Assisted by designer Roderick Shade of Architectural Digest fame, he has created an airy, elegant, yet hip space. The design takes advantage of existing exposed structural elements: the cellar, the vintage tile and wide plank wood floor, and wall niches. It has two distinct areas: a refectory style room around an oyster bar with two dozen huge lanterns to offset the bare bone feeling; in sharp contrast you then proceed to an explosion of colors and textures for a 1001-nights feeling provided by kilometers of draped sari fabrics in the two cozy rooms adjoining the patio.

When alone, I sit at the bar for a chat with Jeser, the amiable bartender. As a bonus, it affords a full view of the open kitchen with pedigreed chef, Jonathan  Casas, and his team in action. Everything is prepared to order with mostly local ingredients: organic veggies from the Guadalupe Valley and seafood from Ensenada and San Quintin.

Viaje, meaning “travel” offers a culinary tour of the world with an eclectic selection of French, Peruvian, Moroccan, and Chinese preparations.  I have not tried it all, but the steak tartare is for me a near addiction: chopped to order fresh sirloin with assorted spices. Jonathan’s rendition of bouillabaisse, the French fish soup, is another favorite.  If you are fussy about your oysters, you’ll love these plump, sweet on the shell – the best anywhere.  My companions have raved about the various ceviches which  I have not tried yet, but looked like works of art.

Several times, the attendance was minimal making me think that Viaje has not yet appeared on everyone’s radar.  I have heard that some folks are intimidated by the exotic touch and fear high prices. In reality, the prices are reasonable and the place is unpretentious as is Jerome whose hospitality makes you feel at home. As of this writing, there is a happy hour from 5-7 on weekdays with music on Friday. Try it, enjoy it, and why not toss a coin in the fountain on your way out.

As Summer Draws to a Close Think “Sabor!”

As summer starts to wind down – wait – did summer ever really show up this year? Well, August is on its way out and that means Rosarito says an official “good-bye” to summer, as we do every year, with the popular White Attire event, “Sabor de Baja.”

And folks, “white” means white. Eggshell MAY be tolerated, but men, khaki is not white. And ladies, some leeway may be given to straw hats if it means you won’t be passing out in the late afternoon sun and drenching yourself in merlot.

The 7th Annual Sabor de Baja will once again be held in the beautiful gardens of the Rosarito Beach Hotel on Wednesday, August 28th, starting at 6:00 pm. Sabor will feature 25 of Baja California’s preeminent chefs pairing their fares with Baja wineries and a few locally produced artisanal beers. Among featured bistros are Casa Plascencia, Raices, Viaje Oyster Bar, Sokuna, El Meson, and Silvestre. Tickets are still available online through PayPal at SaborDeBaja@gmail.com. All pre-ordered tickets may be picked up at the Will Call desk the night of the event.

Gracious hosts Bo Bendana and Dennis Sein originally created this event to promote Baja California’s budding gastronomy and wine industries and to promote northern Baja tourism. Sure enough, Gastronomes attend Sabor de Baja from all over Baja and several states of the US.

All attendees will receive a commemorative wine glass. Everyone will also receive a ballot for the selection of the evening’s People’s Choice Award. So as you are eating and drinking your way through the evening, make a note of your favorite pairing. It’s easy. All of the choices are written on the ballot and all you have to do is circle your selection and place your card in the ballot box.

There are two tiers of tickets on sale this year. VIP Gold tickets sell for $90 each, and holders of these are treated to early (5:30 pm) entry and reserved seating for the evening. Silver tickets are $70 and you take your chances with seating options. Now I don’t know about you, but I do most of my noshing while walking between food booths. This is NOT a family-friendly event, so all ticket holders must be at least 18 years of age. Live entertainment will be provided, with time for dancing a bit later in the evening.

A professional judging panel selected by chef Bo Bendana and her husband Dennis Sein will meet earlier in the day to evaluate all of the entrant’s food and wine or beer pairings. The Judge’s Panel will award the Best Wine and Best Beer awards, as well as the coveted Best of Sabor being awarded to the finest wine (or beer) and food pairing of the evening.

Remember, white attire is not a suggestion, so prepare your attire while summer fashions are still available. I will be attendance in a new white dress (as I do every year) because I had a run-in with a wicked glass of cabernet last year (as I do every year), and there was no removing those stains. My suggestion to you is to bring along a purse (or pocket) size spray of your favorite “wine erase” product. It’s that or your dress goes into a tie-dye vat for your next Woodstock remembrance party like mine did.

If you missed out and didn’t get your tickets in time, the next Sabor de Baja is already scheduled for Wednesday, August 26, 2020, so mark your calendars now.

Rene’s Reopens In New Location

It’s baaaack! There was much celebration this Semana Santa (Easter Week for you Gringos) as the door was finally opened at the new Rene’s Sports Pub with a grand opening three-day celebration this weekend.

For all you newbies, Rene’s Restaurant and Bar was a Rosarito institution, opened in 1924, and the first operational business in the Rosarito area (yes, even before the Rosarito Beach Hotel). The original Rene’s closed its doors several years ago and was later reborn as a casino.

Rene’s was my first Baja bar. After purchasing a house there (right behind the bar) I returned nearly a year later and the bartender remembered me and my drink of choice. I lived in the campo at Rene’s for many years (no drinking and driving for this lady!) That was one brilliant bartender!

Rene “Chato” Ortiz is now continuing the legacy with Rene’s Sports Pub now on Rosarito’s main boulevard, across the street from the Rosarito Beach Hotel, between Banorte and the ice cream parlor. I asked Rene why he decided to open at this location and he replied that he wanted to be in “the historical zone of Rosarito.” Smaller and more intimate than the original, there is comfortable indoor seating for 25 – 30, but all seats have an excellent view of the many televisions, all tuned to a variety of sports (Judge Judy available upon request). Hence the “three-day” grand opening… there simply was not enough room to allow everyone who wanted to participate in this important event to be accommodated in just one day. Outdoor seating will also be available for diners/drinkers.

Speaking of dining, Rene’s opens at 8:00 am (until 9 pm) with a variety of Mexican favorites including soups, birria, beef, and fish tacos, chiles rellenos, and chicken and pork tamales. The bar opens at noon for your imbibing pleasure.

Joining Chato at the bar is Rene Jr and cousin, Oscar Ortiz. And some old familiar faces will be joining in the fun, but you have to stop in and see who they might be. Specialty drinks and Happy Hour times are being determined now (hey, did I mention this is a brand new bar?)

Drop in. Reunite with old friends. I’ve visited several times already (researching this article of course), and always run into an old timer like myself.

Rene explained he is “coming back to the brand” of Rene’s by opening here, close to the original location. But look for a second locale in the future. Rene is contemplating another (bigger) bar with a craft brewery theme, partnering with local craft breweries.

Parking isn’t great, so grab what you can. But don’t grab the blue handicap space unless you have an official placard, and stay out of the designated spaces of nearby businesses. Cops are cracking down on unlawful parking.

Don’t Miss The Seashells and New Wine Festival

Like every year, the Seashells and New Wine Festival opens the path of the regional wine festivities and although it’s not an official “vendimia” event because it’s a couple months before, its organized by Provino (the same guys that bring you the official wine parties) and its definitely a “mustn’t miss” for the season.

This year, the celebration will last for a whole week (packed with workshops, guided tours, lunch and dinner events in Ensenada and the Guadalupe Valley), starting on Monday, April 29 and ending with the main festival on May 5th on the grounds of Marina Coral Hotel.

The seashells and new wine festival represents an homage to local ingredients, with different activities that take the public to know, first-hand, how local sea products are handled, transformed and paired with local wines, reflecting all the goodness that this vast region brings to our tables.

Tickets cost 900 pesos (about 50 dollars), and you can get them online clicking here https://festival-de-las-conchas-y-el-vino-nuevo.boletia.com/. A wine glass that you’ll use for tasting more than 120 different bottles of local wines is included. Food samples from participating restaurants are also available and don’t have any extra cost.

If you don’t want to get your tickets online, you can also buy them at:

  • Hotel Coral & Marina
  • Viñas de Liceaga
  • Bodegas de Santo Tomás
  • Finca La Carrodilla
  • Lomita
  • Maglen Resort
  • Madera 5
  • Cuatro Cuatros
  • Hacienda Guadalupe
  • Cava Maciel
  • Decantos
  • El Cielo
  • Hotel Misión Santa Isabel
  • Muelle 3
  • Corona Hotel & Spa
  • Corona Del Valle
  • Viajes Kinessia
  • Acuacultura Integral de Baja California
  • Tienda de vinos La Contra

You can find the full program for all the events, online at: https://provinobc.mx/eventos/.

Samples are limited, so make sure to get there early to try everything! See you there.

 

Local Winery Honors Prominent Women

El Cielo Winery, located in the Guadalupe Valley, celebrated last month the contributions of women to the wine and food production by offering them awards during a gala dinner in their restaurant.

Marcos Flores, president of the Mexican Association of Sommeliers and Gustavo Ortega, founder, and director of El Cielo Wines presented the awards to 7 women, that with their professionalism, dedication and commitment to their crafts are revolutionizing the world of wine and gastronomy.

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“It’s an honor for me to be able to host these successful women in the world of food and wine to celebrate them. I’ve always admired women for their fortitude and dedication bringing a different vision to great projects as are the ones in wine production.” Stated Ortega during his welcoming speech.

El Cielo is planning to award different women every year, and on this first year the ones honored were:

  1. Lourdes Martinez. An experienced oenologist, born in Ensenada but with several years of experience studying and working in France, she co-founded “Bodega Henri Lurton”, named after the owner of Château Brane-Cantenac in France, Henri Lurton, with whom she decided to interpret the graciousness of Baja’s nature and terroir by producing excellent wines.
  2. Tru Miller. Owner of Adobe Guadalupe winery and pioneer of wine tourism in the valley. Dutch by birth, Mexican by heart. She founded the winery with her late husband Donald A. Miller in the nineties, planning on dedicating herself to breeding horses while her husband focused on the vineyard part of their property. After he passed, she successfully took over the wine part of the business too, improving on her husband’s legacy.
  3. Laura Zamora. An oenologist born in Ensenada, with more than 30 years of experience in high-quality winemaking, she was the first woman responsible of the winery Bodegas de Santo Tomas. Her success is based on the depth of her knowledge of the vineyards, the elaboration process and the different phases of production. She now runs her own winery aptly named “Casa Zamora”.
  4. Gina Estrada. Outstanding Sommelier, ambassador of El Cielo wines, Ultra-premium Emma Gin and spokesperson for Louis XII cognac, she is vice-president of the Mexican Association of Sommeliers and general manager of @GinaSommelier, a national leader in consulting for the wine and distilled beverages industry. She is certified by Court Masters Sommeliers and has been a judge in numerous beverage ranking contests.
  5. Myrna de Liceaga. Owner of Viña de Liceaga, a project that started with her late husband Eduardo Liceaga in San Antonio de las Minas back in 1982, she has successfully grown the legacy of her husband, receiving numerous award along the way. Her “wine forest” is one of the most sought-of venues for all kinds of events in the valley.
  6. Chef Sabina Bandera. Creator of “La Guerrerense”, the most famous seafood street cart in Baja and the world, having earned prizes in street food competitions worldwide. Originally from the state of Guerrero, she arrived at Ensenada at a very young age. Better known as “La guerita” or the “little blonde” Sabina is the star of her business. She offers 14 different kinds of ceviches and cocktails. Her street cart has grown into three restaurants in Ensenada, Mexico City, and Monterrey.
  7. Chef Yerika Muñoz. Renowned Chef with years of experience on international cuisine, with lots of influence from Peruvian cuisine, she is a goal-oriented woman with a passion for food that solidifies and structure her life. Yerika works only in what she believes in, and every day continues to conquer more palates.

All the food for the night was prepared by Chefs Sabina Bandera and Yerika Muñoz, paired by Gina Estrada with wines selected from Adobe Guadalupe, Casa Zamora, Henri Lurton and El Cielo.

Cooking Like A Mexican

Beef tortillas?

The richness of Mexican food comes from the country’s many states that, but especially the little towns and settlements that make up each state. In Mexico, food is different from one state to the next, and even when a dish shares many ingredients with another, the way of preparing it makes it a completely different dish. Mexican food also owes its variety to the utensils used, and since Mexico is one of the oldest civilizations, most of the utensils are still made from stones, sticks, shells, bones, etc.

Metates are the great-grandparents of blenders and food processors. Much like the Molcajete, which is more widely known, metates are made from volcanic stone, called basalto. Before metates, pre-Hispanic Mexicans would grind ingredients directly on a huge slab of stone, eroding little dimples in the slab as time went by.

Each metate gives a different flavor to what is ground on it. The metlapilli is the part that is held by hand to grind on the metate. Molcajetes are typically used for salsas, metates for mole and tortilla masa; but anything can be ground on them, from seeds, vegetables and fruits to meats, clay, spices and natural pigments. Everything made in a metate is said to have the wisdom from the stone and the person who made it. The metate is a very special artifact to master, and not everyone who knows how to cook knows how to use one, but almost always someone who can work a metate is a wonderful cook.

Pacholas are one of the most ancient dishes in the state of Jalisco first appearing in a seventeenth-century cookbook, and even though Pacholas share all the ingredients with hamburger patties, meatloaf and meatballs, they are a whole ‘nother thing once you taste them. It is one of the dishes that has been left to die with time, because metates were abandoned for blenders and food processors, which were cheaper and easier to use. This dish was made from previously ground meat, grinding it finer in the metate and leaving it to dry before frying.

Jalisco is better known for its wet food: tortas ahogadas, sopes ahogados, and pretty much everything soaked in a bland salsa. Pacholas, however, are such a delicate but delicious dish, one would think of it as dry, but the double process that the meat goes through has a special effect on the proteins, making them one of the most valuable dishes of the region of Jalisco.

We’ll also make a salsa this time; the typical salsa made in Jalisco for all dishes  usually makes food wet, but in this case,  adds flavor and a nice presentation.

 

For the salsa:

 

1 pound of broiled tomatoes, pureed.

2 spoonful of white vinegar.

½ spoonful of oregano.

1 medium onion, finely chopped.

Salt and pepper to taste.

½ cup of water, as needed for a thin consistency. This will depend on the water from the tomatoes.

A pinch of sugar.

For the pacholas:

 

10 pepper corns.

2 cloves of garlic.

2 spoonful of cooked, refried beans.

½ spoonful of dried oregano.

½ pound of ground meat (a mixture of beef and pork is best but can be modified as preferred).

½ cucharadita de orégano seco.

Salt to taste.

1 cup of vegetable oil.

 

To make the salsa:

 

In a blender, place all the salsa ingredients and puree into a smooth, thin salsa.

Place in a dish to serve along the pacholas.

To make the Pacholas:

Grind pepper, garlic, beans and oregano into a paste.

In a large bowl, combine with the ground meat.

Add salt and mix again.

If you can find a molcajete, you can look up how to use it, but I’ll break it down for you below; if not, grind in the food processor until very fine, then make small balls and flatten between two parchment papers with a rolling pin.

Make round or oval thin patties, as thin as you can, about 5 millimeters.

Leave to air dry, covered with a paper towel, until not sticky to the touch anymore.

Fry in a pan with enough oil to cover.

Serve with the salsa, some guacamole and warm tortillas.

Tips and tricks:

To use the metate:

Cure. First, place a handful of uncooked rice and grind until powdered. This will fill whatever pores are left, and smooth out any unwanted bumps. Brush rice powder off and discard. There might be some stone powder in there, that will make your teeth screech unpleasantly.

Grind a tomato until all the skin is broken. This will help disinfect the metate, because of the tomato’s acid.

Rinse. DO NOT ADD SOAP.

Place the metate on the floor, and kneel in front of it. The higher part of the metate should be against your knees and the lower part should be farthest from you.

Place the ground meat on the higher side, not all of it has to be there at once, if its easier it can be little by little.

Place the grinding stone (metlapilli) in the middle of the metate, and start rocking it back and forth about one inch on each side.

If done correctly, the double ground meat should start collecting on the lower side of the metate; if not, it’s just a matter of practice.

Keep grinding until the edge of the Pachola starts sliding off the edge of the metate, that will be enough meat.

Slide the pachola off and place on a cooking sheet to dry.

Follow the rest of the steps to cook.

Cooking Like a Mexican

BY ALEJANDRA BORBOLLA

Buñuelos

December in Mexico is about eating, sharing and caring. One of the most important things about Mexican food is dessert, and even though I don’t write much about it, I think it’s a good opportunity now, calorie counting being tossed to the winds and all.

Buñuelos is a recipe as old as colonized Mexico. One of the oldest known recipe books belongs to Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a poet, dramatist, scholar and nun who was born around 1651. Her mother was a creole, and her father Spanish, but they did not have a large income. From when she was a little girl, she was hungry for knowledge, mostly self-taught from burying her nose in whatever book she could find. She also taught herself to read when she was three years old, or so the story goes. This was a time when girls were not allowed to go to school. Her mother knew she was bright, so she sent Inés to Mexico City to live with relatives. She was called to be a lady-in-waiting in the court of the viceroy’s wife.

A few years later, she was at the point where she either married or became a nun. So, she became the latter. We don’t know what was going on on the boyfriend front, but apparently not much. She joined the barefoot carmelitas but only stayed there four months, because she became sick. After recovering, her stark room at her new convent became the meeting point for intellectuals and poets, and Luisa Manrique, another viceroy’s wife (who, rumor has it, had a huge girl crush on María Inés). In her room, she also performed scientific experiments and had an amazing collection of books.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, woman with too many names was a poet, a dramatist, a scholar and a nun who invented  buñuelos, which got her on the 200 peso note. But didn’t get her a husband, which oversight got her into a convent.
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, woman with too many names was a poet, a dramatist, a scholar and a nun who invented buñuelos, which got her on the 200 peso note. But didn’t get her a husband, which oversight got her into a convent.

Sor Juana was well known for many things, most of those controversial. Most men who were in the same niche as her would publish “pseudonymous” letters trying to convince her to stick to her religious duty rather than using her brain. She wrote mostly poetry, about love, erotism, (She’s a nun, what does she know? Possibly her reason for going into the convent should be looked into.) She also wrote about morals and psychology. (One of her most important poems is written in tiny mice type on the 200 peso note, along with her portrait, which we’re hoping was taken on an unusually bad day).

But today we’re talking about this iconic woman because along with her other talents, she was a great cook. Her recipes were perfectly aligned with poetry, and delicious. Her culinary expertise, however, started at her family’s home back when she was a little girl, before all the nunsense. (haha, see what I did here? Nun-nonsense? I’m hilarious!)

The cooks at the hacienda kitchen were indigenous women from Oaxaca, so she grew up with both Spanish and indigenous cuisine.

Buñuelos de rodilla are a special buñuelo, which grandmothers used to shape with their bare knees, literally. In the olden days, buñuelos were actually called “puñuelos” because they were kneaded with the fists, called puños. The heritage form this dish comes from Iberian Christians, aka Spaniards, who had several recipes, including cheese, rice, pulque and milk.

Buñuelos were invented by the working class of the southern Spanish peninsula looking for a cheap, sweet, warm treat they could have in the winter when the economy wasn’t exactly thriving.

Every state has its own buñuelo recipe, ranging from bright orange colors, sugar coated or syrup, fried in lard or oil, served in corn husks or in paper. (Remember what I keep telling you: Mexican cooking is very regional.) Buñuelos are a sweet treat that is usually found around the church square of cities and towns, sold by street vendors at special times like Christmas, revolution day, independence day, day of the dead, etc.

In Oaxaca, buñuelos are eaten on a plate that will be thrown and shattered on the floor later, once it breaks in a million pieces, a wish will be granted for the next year. It’s not every state that observes that tradition.

Big batches are the usual when making buñuelos, because even though they are very cheap, it is very much worthier to make a lot of them at one time, because it’s not like people are going to eat just one, trust me.

To compliment this recipe, I’ll give you a short, sweet drink too, which is atole de masa, a thick hot drink that is not too sweet to balance out the flavors. Atole and buñuelos go together like mash and gravy. This is a completely Mexican drink, which was made ceremoniously by the Aztecs, and some rural communities still drink it in their every day lives. Sometimes, a cup of atole is all they have throughout the day, until they come home to have a hearty meal. The main ingredient is masa, the dough that is the base for tortillas.

For the Buñuelos:

2 cups of all-purpose flour

2 cups of sunflower oil

4 oz of water

½ stick of butter

½ teaspoon of star anise

3 tablespoons of sugar

1 pinch of salt

1 pinch of cinnamon

How to:

Shift flour and sugar together, along with the salt and cinnamon.

Heat up some water in a pot, and add the star asnise. This liquid will be what gives buñuelos their signature taste and fragrance.

Add the butter to the dry ingredients, preferably at room temperature and start mixing. Using your hands will be faster and easier. Wash them first.

Once the butter and flour are mixed together, start adding tablespoons of the anise water, slowly, until a firm and homogeneous dough is achieved. The perfect consistency is when the dough is not sticky anymore, and is stretchy.

Leave the dough to rest for ten minutes, sprinkle with a lot of flour to prevent a crust from forming.

Once the ten minutes have passed, form little balls about the size of a lime, to make the buñuelos. (I’d recommend to slather some oil on your hands)

With the help of a rolling pin, form the buñuelos (You can try and shape them with your knees, but I don’t think you’ll make it.

Once you have formed the buñuelos, and are about as thin as a folded paper, you can start frying them.

Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.

Atole de masa

Ingredients:

½ cup of masa, can be store bought or made from maseca.

4 ½ of warm water or milk

1 stick of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

2 small cones of piloncillo or 1 cup of sugar (it’s not meant to be sweet, but you can add more to your taste)

How to:

Dissolve the masa in a cup of milk or water, depends on what you’re using.

Simmer the rest of the water or milk in a deep pot, and slowly add the dissolved masa.

Add the cinnamon, vanilla, sugar or piloncillo and bring to a gentle boil.

Mongolian Grill Changes Owners

On October 2nd a couple with a local and international family history bought the building and took ownership of the Mongolian Grill. Their family ties go back deep in the history of Southern California, in Mexican history and in the history of the city of Rosarito in particular.  Julio and Juliana Ramirez are the proud new owners of the Mongolian Grill.

Julio’s grandfather was a true charro.  He rode his horse sporting a sombrero carrying a pistol on his hip. Most people were wary of him because he was a tough character. He wandered into this area from Jalisco with his family, who have now lived in Rosarito for generations. When Julio was seven years old his grandfather gave him the house that he lives in today. It is located west of Ortega’s restaurant down by the beach. At that time the only establishments in Rosarito were the Hotel Rosarito and the El Nido restaurant. His grandmother’s side of the family includes members of the Kumeyaay tribe. The tribe’s traditional lands occupy both sides of the border from Temecula to as far south as Ensenada and east to Tecate. Today the tribe owns and operates the Pala Casino.

Juliana’s great grandfather was the Vice President of Mexico under the dictator Porifio Diaz.  His name was Ramon Corral Verdugo. Corral had a very illustrious political career in the State of Sonora, holding many offices including Governor of the Federal District. From that office he became Secretary of the Interior and Vice-President of the Republic from 1904 to 1911.  In his later years he moved to Paris where he was treated for cancer. Unfortunately after the operation his cancer was deemed incurable. Since he could no longer serve Mexico he decided to submit his resignation. He signed his resignation letter in Paris on May 10. 1911.

Julio and Juliana are both dual citizens: United States and Mexico.  Julio worked for many years at a subsidiary of General Dynamics which built ships in San Diego.  He was a welder.  He was good at it and made great money while Juliana raised their daughter at home.  But being a welder was not his dream job. Both of them always wanted to own a restaurant.  They had often come down to eat at the Mongolian Grill and loved the food.  When they discovered that Lee and Chris wanted to sell and travel the world they jumped at the chance to fulfill their dream.

The Ramirez’s say they are not going to change the menu, which they love, in any drastic way. But they may introduce a couple of new items. They want to improve the appearance of the restaurant to make it more homey and welcoming. They want to add booths for privacy on the left side and are upgrading the chairs and other tables for better customer comfort.  They are seeking a permit to add a patio out front and to make the entrance more handicapped friendly.  They hope their customers will stay awhile enjoying the food and company, not just eat and run.  Both Julio and Juliana are very warm and easy to talk to. So drop in to the Mongolian Grill and enjoy their famous bowls of meats and vegetables. You can choose your food yourself, packing the bowl down to overflowing. Then the chef cooks your food on a large flat top grill, mongolian style. Fantastic!  Try their pizzas as well: they are absolutely delicious

The Mongolian Grill is in front of the La Jolla towers, 3114 Carretera Libre at Km 29.5. Call 661-100-6244.

 

Ensenada’s Restaurant Scene: Il Massimo Cucina Italiana

This week we visited Ensenada’s newest authentic Italian food establishment; it’s a small, fresh and well-lit restaurant called Il Massimo Cucina Italiana, brought to us by owner and chef Massimo Zaretti, born in Rome, Italy, and raised there until his family migrated to California when he was 13 years old.

This is his first restaurant, although he is no stranger to the restaurant business, he grew into the restaurant business as his father was a successful restauranteur until his retirement, and Massimo himself has amassed more than 20 years’ experience working in such prestigious restaurants around the world as the St. Regis in Thailand, the Grand Hyatt in Singapore, the Hilton in Tokyo, The Wolfgang Puck Catering in Vegas and many more.

His cuisine evokes the freshness of the Mediterranean Sea, which is reflected all-around in the classy setting he offers his clients, an ambiance embellished with bright colors and pictures of Italian seas and Rome.

As we entered the restaurant, Massimo opened the door and greeted us, checking in with us and other clients during our dinner.

The wine list offers a small but reasonably priced selection of local wines from our valleys, which Massimo says will be expanding as he gets to know more of the local wines. You can always bring your own bottle of wine by paying a service fee of $8 USD or buy one bottle from his list and he will waive that extra fee for the one you brought.

My wife and I started our dinner with a couple of delicious mini-Caprese appetizers, freshly made pesto and bread that was brought to us, on the house, while we waited for our real appetizers: Tentacolo di Polpo which are octopus tentacles marinated and lightly fried in olive oil, accompanied with fried leek slices. I have tried variations of this appetizer in different places around Baja and I will have to say that these were the best, crispy on the outside and tender and flavorful on the inside.

Since we liked the mini-Caprese we decided to go for a full-size one which traded the halved cherry tomatoes for slices of locally grown heirloom tomatoes and basil, fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of Pesto, very refreshing.

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For main dishes we decided to go with the pasta, choosing the Cannelloni al Forno, which are made-from-scratch cannelloni filled with a mixture of ricotta, spinach and béchamel sauce covered in an incredibly delicious marinara sauce with cheese; you can’t go wrong with these!

We finalized our meal with a Panna Cotta de Rosa, which melts in the mouth leaving a delicious rose aftertaste, and Massimo’s own Tiramisu made with Nutella and banana slices instead of the usual coffee and cocoa flavors.

At the end of your meal, the staff will serve you one of the house’s aperitifs, which depending on what is planned for the day, could be limoncello, arancello or chocolate liquor.

The recently opened Il Massimo is going straight to the top of my authentic Italian restaurant’s list. Not only does this place offers great food at very reasonable prices (entrees go from $9 to $13 USD), but they offer great service, something that is not always easy to find around here.

Il Massimo is open Tuesday to Sunday from 1 PM to 10 PM and is located in Boulevard Costero #987 right next to Subway. Reservations can be made by calling (646) 977-7089. Parking space is available alongside the restaurant.

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