RestauRanting: Fuego In Baja Wine Country
IT'S THE DEFINITION OF FIRE
The culinary scene in Valle De Guadalupe is on the upswing. Renown chefs, winemakers and innovative entrepreneurs bring about unique establishments that make the Baja Wine Country truly, world-class. This esteemed region in the northern territory of Baja California is the epitome of farm-to-able... known worldwide for the area's quality cheeses, meats and amazing produce.
About two hours south of the U.S./ Mexican border, we dine at Fuego Cocina Del Valle after a day of exploring "La Ruta Del Vino" on a trip with Vinos De Baja Tours. This restaurant and wine bar, lies in the rustic countryside within Hotel Boutique Valle De Guadalupe.
After our vehicle comes to a stop on a dirt lot, we walk around a narrow pond... which is dry at the time. It has a wooden bridge that creates a passage from the resort to the farm. Ah, but we don't cross the bridge since the direction we are headed is towards the hotel lobby terrace.
A curved stairway leads us up to Fuego. The expansive terrace, painted of warm colors and sunflowers, features a fire pit lounge, bar and large wooden tables with bench-like seating. High overhead canvas tarps connect to the structure, sifting in the sunlight, making everything underneath it glow.
The scenic setup overlooks the courtyard where you will find the swimming pool, jacuzzi and loungers. To the far right, a vibrant field of crops appears endless, and in that horizon, is where the sun will eventually set. The serene vibe that I love about a wine country, is ever so present.
This campestre-style grill and wine bar offers the best products this land has to offer. The rustic cuisine emphasizes seasonal, local and fresh ingredients prepared in such a way that highlights all the natural flavors of the products... and by cooking over an open flame known as braseado.
This reminds me of the old Pace salsa commercial, where a cowboy holds a generic bottle of salsa and reads the label, "Made in New York City." If you are ever so inclined, let your curiosity lead you to the farm or the garden to see what the myth of farm-to-table is all about.
Our order is taken by a young friendly server, yet the unfolding progression of our dinner is presided by Salvador Aguilar. A simple man that we have come to respect for his great knowledge, humility and for providing the type of service that everyone in the hospitality business can only promise. He has been at Fuego for five years and it becomes clear to us that his interest lies whole heartedly, in his work.
Salvador mentions that the cellar carries a fine collection of wine, and only the best wine from local wineries. He proves it by offering us wine samples paired with tiny spoons of this and that—narrating the nuances and flavors.
The food at Fuego is not down-home Mexican. It is unique. For one, there are no "arroz y frijoles" on the menu. While I do select traditional dishes, I was curious to see how they would compare to what I know them to be. It was not a matter of putting them to the test by comparison, but rather, I wanted to experience the food I love in a different dimension.
Plato De Quesos Regionales
If there is one thing I love, it's Mexican cheeses. Queso Fresco straight from the makers, in Mexico, is to die for! It's similar to the one sold at the super-market, but believe me, there is nothing like the real thing, baby. When family members return from a trip to Michoacan, Mexico with a chunk of cheese for a souvenir, it's the best gift a foodie can receive. So if I'm in Mexico drinking wine, you bet I'm having some cheese... regional cheeses that is.
The Pacific bestows upon this region an unyielding supply of seafood, such as, oyster, king crab, lobster, horse mackerel, cod, grouper, clam pismo, etc. One thing you should know about me, is that seafood touches my soul.
A dish like Aguachile is one I like to make at home or order in restaurants. My version consists of lemon cured shrimp swimming in a pond of blended fresh jalapeños with cilantro, cucumber and red onion. Today, our dish showcases a less spicy version that allows the freshness of the seafood and vegetables to speak to my palate.
Tiraditas De Ahi Tuna
I was interested to see in what way the Ahi would materialize in Mexico. We receive a platter of flawless strips of Ahi prepared so simply, the fish melts in my mouth. The red fillet is contrasted by green veggies—cucumber and avocado creme—adding delicate flavors and textures.
Lately, I see octopus appearing on menus more often than ever, and I find it my duty to figure out why it has become all the rave. As you can see, it makes it on our list of dishes. I once had octopus tacos topped with aioli in Imperial Beach, California. To be quite honest, I wasn't impressed. I have heard from a few chefs that octopus is a delicate protein that not everyone knows how to cook... that's for sure.
Over a bed of black ink rice, our charred octopus sits so exotically in an intoxicating spiral. I don't recall the mention of the rice upon ordering, yet I welcome the dish with excitement. I knew immediately what it was. I have had my share of Spanish Paella Negra. The ink rice fits so well with the tender octopus and Pulpo becomes one of my party's favorite dishes.
Crema De Calabaza De Invierno
A bowl of squash soup, as vibrant as the garden it's picked from, has notes of honey and ginger. If you need sunshine in your life, this creamy soup will emit rays that will revive your soul.
Fertile turf sustains more than just organic gardens and grapevines. Fresh beef, pork, chicken and quail is contributed by family farms in the quality that visitors are willing to pay a premium for. I think Fuego gets it... We all want a Tom Hawk in our lives. Cooked over an open flame, our steak is juicy with a nice char. It is so meaty, you may want to share it with someone special. The dish is garnished with avocado chunks and paired with asparagus, cream and shaved cheese.
On a previous trip to Ciudad Mexico, I tasted the best Barbacoa in my life. There, they slow-cook a whole sheep in a giant pot for hours, creating meat and a broth that was out of this world. Today, the braseada technique created crispy layers on the fatty parts of the lamb. The meat is so flavorful and tender, it readily falls apart. I sweep up a beautiful deep chile rojo from the plate, and it gives me a taste of real Mexican flavor—bold and complex.
Pastel De Elote
Nightfall came too quickly. We were asked if there was anything we'd like to order before closing. Dessert, of course.
Maiz is a staple in Mexico and the Pastel De Elote seemed logical. A delicious slice of corn based cake was adorned with golden raisins, toasted coconut, dulce de leche and java syrup.
Artisan style cookies entrap a coop of sweet, greek froyo and lemon curd. The smokin' dessert was plated with bright flower petals. I cannot think of a better way to end the night.
Photos by Arianna Fajardo.
VINOS DE BAJA TOURS
Kevin Dean Morrison
FUEGO/ HOTEL BOUTIQUE VALLE DE GUADALUPE
Camino De Los Ranchos #1 Parcela #7
Ensenada Municipality 22750, Mexico