Probably half of L.A.’s food writing media was in Tijuana over the weekend as part of the Baja Culinary Fest 2011, “an international event that will allow the projection of Baja California [as] an important culinary venue with first class cuisine and innovative proposals” according to their website.
Fellow Mexican food reconquista writer Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet L.A. organized this whole trip for Angeleno “foodbloggers and friends of them”; he’s been the underestimated food city’s main food writing advocate for the last couple of years. The $205 ticket included this dinner, a two-nights stay at The Gran Tijuana hotel, access and almost unlimited food at the food festival component of the event, and a three stop street food crawl with Bill and Javier themselves. With the seafood intensiveness of the meals, free flowing booze and transportation, the ticket was a steal. It was obvious this was an event not really made up to make money but instead to really just spread the word that Tijuana’s “Baja-Med” exclusive cuisine and food community is if not the most bad ass of all of Mexico, then definitely comparable to it…
We arrived in Tijuana at around 7:30 PM and drove directly to Mision 19, the latest and hippest new restaurant of Chef Javier Plascencia, the city’s local food superhero. He organized this whole event and this particular dinner was the hottest ticket in town, combining the efforts of three different regional Mexican chefs, two different sommeliers and Julian Cox, the Mexican-inspired mixologist extraordinaire from Los Angeles. Amongst some of the high profile attendees were Lesley Barger Suter of L.A. Magazine, Barbara Hanson of Table Conversations, Garrett Snyder of Los Angeles Magazine and Search and Devour, Joshua Lurie of Food GPS, Matthew Kang of Mattatouille, Fiona Chandra of Gourmet Pigs, Esther Tseng of EstarLA, Caroline on Crack, Elina Shatkin of LA Weekly, Dave Lieberman of OC Weekly, Pat Saperstein of Eating L.A. and many, many others that I am too lazy to type out.
Everyone was pretty freaking famished. It took five long bus hours to get to Tijuana from Los Angeles on a Friday afternoon during peak rush hour. We waited around half an hour to eat once seated. My randomly chosen table mates and I were even starting to think of ways to cut and eat the centerpiece! A huevo!
Eventually, the food started to come out. I won’t poetically bullshit too much about each course as the food-writing norm goes, but I will share some thoughts on the dishes.
Wine pairing: JC Bravo-Palomino 2010.
Raw fish is always awesome as a first course, especially when the fish is local, fresh and as high quality as the hamachi on our plate. You can tell it was fresh because of that sinewy chew fresh sashimi has. I liked the fried charales as garnish, the little white fish were crispy and addictive like chips. Habanero was cool too.
Cocktail pairing: “Negrito Sandia” (Julian Cox)
The cow bone was split lengthwise, roasted and propped on a bed of coarse salt; it was topped with chunks of fresh Yellowfin tuna, micro cilantro greens and ultra-thin slivers of toasted baguette. I liked it, somehow the fish lightened up the beef fat. It could have been a little more roasted though; some of the luscious beef fat still had the texture of a fat looogie. Nonetheless, the cilantro was fucking brilliant with the marrow The best part was Cox’s cocktail that tasted like a fresh watermelon with Tajin sprinkled on it. I’m pretty sure that was everyone else’s favorite of the night too.
Wine pairing: Paralelo Emblema (2010)
The salad course couldn’t have come at a better time. The full flavored watercress greens paired with the toasted-amaranth-grain infused piloncillo vinaigrette was pretty awesome. The cheese was a standard stiff-curdle pressed farm cheese, known as a “cuajo” to Mexican cheese people.
Wine pairing: Pijoan Dominica 2009
Classic Sedlar! The popular chef brought his signature New Mexican-Los Angeles fangled dishes to Baja for this event. The corn flan was creamy and buttery as always, topped with chewy black quinoa and served alongside a piece of mystery fish that resembled cod in texture. The sauce underneath was a madras curry one, mmmm Indian flavored Mexican-esque food.
Quinto Tiempo: Sedlar
Codorniz de Valle Guadalupe: Chile verde/duxelle de champiñones
Wine pairing: Pijoan Dominica
Classic Sedlar again! The best part of this dish was definitely the chilito relleno, it was stuffed with a meaty ground mushrooms paste. The tiny local Cornish game hen was a tad underdone and still pink inside. I loved it actually, “Salmonella-risk is flavor!” I always say, but others seem bothered with it.
Wine pairing: Vino Shimul-Yumano 2009
The almond sauce smothering this was bomb, like a “vanilla” equivalent option to traditional Mole if there were such a thing. It was way lighter and easier on the palate than any Poblano or Negro. As the Mexican usual, the overcooked meat only served as vehicle for the minimalist, chunky almond sauce.
Wine pairing: Estacion porvenir-textura 3 2009
Despite the dessert like sweetness of this and undercooked beans (a turn-off…especially for beaners!), I actually really liked this dish. But then again it was properly cooked pork belly and chocolate on a plate, so when isn’t that going to be amazing?
Wine pairing: Viñas Pijoan-Leonora2009
The duck was the last savory course of the evening and was traditionally served with a bunch of sweet stuff to contrast the rich duck fat. Duck is one of my favorite animal proteins and I grew up on the crumbly peanut candy known as Masapan, so, the pairing of these two things worked finely for me. The persimmon was on the ripe side too, which was a plus.
The cheeses in this cheese course were all locally sourced from Valle de Guadalupe, Baja’s own wine country down by Ensenada. They were arranged from youngest to oldest, in other words, from least funkiest to most! The first one was like Monterey Jack, the middle one was a little more cakey and more nuanced, but the last one was the winner for the average cheesehead. The honey and guava jam underneath rounded out the creaminess of each. The añejo was some serious stuff, it was the cakiest of all and had a thick rubbery rind like a pair of super old, dirty Chuck Taylor’s, a little too funky for me but the camarada Garrett was all up in that shiiit!
I received the sweet component of this tasting meal with open arms after the savory onslaught. No one got credit for the dish but they should have. It was artfully presented and rationally thought out, each ingredient was served in paste form except for the Butterfinger-like crunchy salted peanuts. The calabaza de otoño paste had a camote-like flavor, the traditional Mexican dessert of yams cooked in brown sugar. It was described to be “like those chocolate bars that would melt in your pocket and accidentally make it better” by Garrett.
I came in buzzed off three Mexican craft beers and a tequila shot before the dinner and by the end of this wine-o dinner, I was pretty plastered. That still didn’t stop me from going upstairs and taking advantage of our open bar wristband, a Tamarind-Coffee Margarita and couple of Agavia tequila shots later, I was officially annihilated. Garrett and I ended up eating oysters at 3 AM somewhere in Tijuana and I woke up in my room’s hallway at 5 AM but one thing was for sure, this was certainly an “once-in-a-lifetime” type of collaborative dinner that I will never forget. It brought together skilled chefs from both sides of the border.
To Javier Plascencia for organizing this epic event and Bill Esparza for making the trip happen and deal with fifty hungry, impatient food-minded Angelenos who don’t know how hard it to make an event of this caliber run so smoothly as it did. I know next year’s will be even better and smoother.
Mision 19 “Cocina de Autor”
Misión San Javier 10643
Piso 2, VIA Corporativo
Zona Urbana Río
Tijuana, B.C., México
Tel: (664) 634.2493