Laja: First Taste of Baja Med Cuisine
What do you think about when you hear the words “Mexican food”?
I am sure you get delicious mental pictures of tacos, tortas and tamales. Oh, and let’s not forget about a huge burrito stuffed with carne asada, rice, beans, guacamole, sour cream and salsa.
Whatever your idea of Mexican food is, I am sure you get a mouth watering feeling when you think about it.
But, let’s put this entire Mexican food thing into a different perspective.
Mexico covers an area of two million square miles (760,000 square kilometers). It has a population of over 125 million people, including numerous indigenous groups.
My point: it is very difficult to say “I know Mexican food very well” when we are talking about a country so big and varied. We foreigners (and to be fair, some natives too) have only explored the tip of the iceberg in terms of what this country can offer in terms of food.
I think that is why I love Mexico so much.
Since I do not live that far from the border between California and Baja California, I have been able to try a lot of specialties unique to the area. I have had my share of fish tacos, fish ceviche tostadas and lobster pan fried in lard.
On the other hand, I have not ventured at all in the type of concept the northern part of the peninsula is famous for: Baja Med Cuisine.
If this is the first time you hear this term, here is how Wikipedia defines it:
Baja Med is a fusion cuisine of Tijuana and elsewhere in Baja California, Mexico, combining ingredients of Mexican cuisine, such as chicharrón and cotija cheese, with those of Mediterranean, such as olive oil, and Asian cuisine, such as lemongrass. Baja Med dishes showcase the fresh produce and seafood of Baja California.
Maybe it is easier to grasp the concept with a few examples. Restaurants may serve risotto topped with salt-cured cactus and charred octopus or slow-cooked short ribs bathed in fig syrup on top of a black mole sauce.
A couple of weeks ago, I had my first taste of this cuisine at Laja, one of the restaurants that embodies the concept in one of the most pure ways.
Laja, located in the Guadalupe Valley, serves four and eight-course prix-fixe menus, which change weekly. The restaurant has its own garden and the rest of their ingredients are sourced from farms, vineyards and fields from the peninsula. The restaurant has been named one of the best of Mexico and Latin America.
My husband and I chose opposite four course menus. In that way, we had the opportunity to try all the dishes of the week.
We started with a lettuce and roasted turnip salad.
We continued with a white turnip soup served with cauliflower from the garden and pancetta.
Things started to get interesting when we were served roasted octopus in turnip sauce. I loved the presentation of this dish.
Then, we had ravioli stuffed with salsify (a root very similar to parsnip) and served with a spinach and parmesan cheese sauce. To be honest, I didn’t realize what I was eating until now (since I am translating the menu from Spanish to English).
Things got from good to great when we got a plate with swordfish, peas, radish puree, cauliflower and fennel. I haven’t had swordfish in such a long time. I didn’t remember how much I like that fish. The radish puree was great.
I got excited when the oven cooked quail arrived. It was served with broccoli rabe and young onions. The quails are raised in local farms. I tried to get them every time I go to the area.
It was time for dessert. First, we got grapefruit sorbet with oranges and black olives. This dessert had a lot of things I do not like. However, everything worked together very well. I am glad I tried it.
The other dessert consisted of choux pastry (prepared like a churro), banana ice cream and chocolate cream.
I enjoyed every single moment of this experience. The staff was extremely nice and accommodating (we brought three of my friends’ kids). At the end of the meal, the chef stopped by the table to say hi. He even gave us tips on how to cooked octopus properly.
I did not have plans to write about this experience but figured out it is a good opportunity to showcase another side of a country I love so much.
Other Baja Med Restaurants
- Chef Javier Plascencia’s restaurants (just Google his name, San Diego, Tijuana and Guadalupe Valley)
- La Querencia (Tijuana)
- El Taller (Tijuana)
- Manzanilla (Ensenada)
- Contramar (Mexico City, same chef as Laja)
- Merotoro (Mexico City, same chef as Laja)
- Corazon de Tierra (Guadalupe Valley)
What do you think of Baja Med Cuisine?