Campestre: The End of Summer Ambulatory Dining Guide to the Valle de Guadalupe

Categories: Tijuana Sí!
Bill Esparza
Silvestre, Valle de Guadalupe

Fiestas de la Vendimia 2012 is now behind us, and we're emerging from our collective hangovers and recesses. If you are serious about Vendimia, then you're an 11-month employee--you cease all productivity in favor of great food and drink during the month of August. It's now back to normal in the Valle de Guadalupe, but for the depraved, one last tour of the sense remains: campestres, or country dining spots. 

Every past summer in the Valle de Guadalupe, Baja chefs have set up camp at various wineries and makeshift sites to cook in the month leading up to Fiestas de la Vendimia, and to hang around through September for the die-hard partiers, winemakers, and tourists out for one last summertide fling before it cools down. This year has been the best ever for the campestre scene, with more dining options than in previous years, and the establishment of several permanent restaurants by some of the top chefs in the region. These rustic picnic bench-style set ups are destinations for young, rosemary-herbed lamb cooked in a caja china, grilled Black Angus steaks from Sonora's Rancho 17 cooked on mesquite, or ceviche of geoduck and goose neck barnacles paired with a crisp, Mexican chasselas. Most of these nomadic kitchens will be open all of September and some may drift into October--here's a list of our top places to eat at now.

Bill Esparza
Chef Drew Deckman at Rancho El Mogor

Deckman's en El Mogor

Chef Drew Deckman has a hit restaurant in San Lucas, B.C.S., but in August he shutters his popular restaurant to cook on a campfire grill located at the Mogor Badan winery. I believe the sign on his restaurant reads--gone fishing! Deckman is a fisherman who earned 3 Michellin stars many years ago cooking in Germany--he was working in kitchens all over Europe before landing in Cabo San Lucas about a decade ago.

Bill Esparza
Deckman's en el Mogor 

Deckman's is the only campestre in the Valle in which the chef is there every night. Deckman even serves the food himself, as he has no waiters. His delivery is as tardy as a Mexican business meeting; it's clear the laid-back Cabo life has transported Deckman to a state of Nirvana. He even went through culture shock crossing the border to do an event in San Diego--"I tell my parents if they want to see me they can come to Mexico. I'm done with the States," said a sedate Deckman.

Bill Esparza
Geoduck and goose neck barnacles, Deckman's en el Mogor

The menu at Deckman's is a tasting menu, with an option of a 4-course meal, or a 7- course dinner paired with wines from Mogor Badan, craft beers from Cabo, or Durangan mezcal. This chef has chops, so I urge the full tasting.

Deckman displays uncharacteristic intensity when the subject of Mexican cuisine comes up--he uses 100% Baja ingredients, but "I'm not a Mexican chef", he insists. Yet, there is a familiar style of cooking that is more Mexican than his American counterparts--Deckman is a Georgia boy with a Baja soul.

His light ceviche of geoduck and goose neck barnacles is fundamental is its preparation with a ring of local olive oil, a scant acidity from tomato skins with trace fruit, and nasturtiums for a little punch and much appreciated color on the plate. This is the most flavor I've encountered from geoducks;perhaps it was the salty goose neck barnacles that produced the bold taste. The chef is in residence here making this an essential stop.
Bill Esparza
Encino, Valle de Guadalupe

     El Encino en Laja

     Andres Blanco and Chef Jair Tellez have summer spot on the Laja property that is a 
     traditional Baja parrillada featuring fine steaks from Sonora's Rancho 17, and an excellent   
     house made chorizo with fried potatoes. An Argentine style parrilla is available for larger
     groups, and the salads are always amazing at this garden to table establishment. 

Bill Esparza
Chorizo con papas, Encino

Bill Esparza
Finca Altozano by Chef Javier Plascencia, Valle de Guadalupe

    Finca Altozano  

    Chef Javier Plascencia has erected a northern Mexico-style campestre on his own ranch in 
    the Valle de Guadalupe, just past the Laja property, farther up the famed dusty road. 

    Plascencia has been dashing back and forth all summer from Finca Altozano to his 
    Tijuana base of operations and the Mision 19 kitchen. The menu reflects a northern 
    Mexico affection with a touch of the Valle de Guadalupe.

Bill Esparza
Frijoles vaqueros con polenta y jabali, Finca Altozano

Hearty plates like cowboy beans over polenta with roasted wild boar excite all senses
with buttery notes in between beans, corn, and boar. Don't let the Urban Cowboy presentation fool you--this is unadulterated country fare. 

Bill Esparza
Tortillas al grill, Finca Altozano

There are several tacos available from grilled lamb, to beef cheeks, to Sonoran style
beans and cheese tacos; local quail is also on the menu done with a Baja Med touch.

As with all of these campestres, you'll find the winemakers and chefs hanging out and cutting deals over bottles of wine, and Cuban cigars.


Bill Esparza
Ladies choice, Silvestre, Valle de Guadalupe

Our final stop is at Chef Benito Molina's Silvestre, which has been in business for summers as far as I can recall. The impressive deck overlooking zinfandel grapes is
in the capable hands of Chef de cuisine, Miguel Bahena.

Bill Esparza
Silvestre, Valle de Guadalupe

The top plates here are Sonoran arrachera (like flap meat) with grilled cactus, and the fish of the day served with garden vegetables. One diner walked over to Bahena and declared that he had just tasted the best grilled squid he'd ever tried--anywhere in the world. 

Bill Esparza
Winemakers dine away the afternoon, Silvestre, Valle de Guadalupe

Silvestre always has a who's who of the Valle de Guadalupe food and wine scene in the house. On the day I stopped by, Pau Pijoan and Victor Torres Alegre of Pijoan and Torres Alegre wineries respectively, were sharing a table with family and friends on a perfectly warm afternoon given pleasant relief from a light breeze. Pau and Victor BYOB it, but there's a wine shop on the premises offering many Mexican labels to pair with bright ceviches, savory beef hoof tostadas, and cheese platters from the cave of Marcelo Ramonetti. 

Now that the Vendimia crowd has made way, it's time for one last throw in the Valle before the weather turns in late October. This is the ultimate country pop-up, Baja style.

     Deckman's en el Mogor is located at the Mogor Badan winery, take the Ensenada-Tecate 
     highway 3 to km 86.5 and turn right through the property's stone entry gate, Valle de 
     Guadalupe, B.C., Mon-Sun., 1PM-7PM, drew@deckman' for reservations

      El Encino en Laja is located on the Laja property, take the Ensenada-Tecate Highway
      3 to km 83 and look for the Laja sign, turn left onto the dirt road, and a right into the
      driveway, Fri.-Sun., 1:30pm-8:30pm, 011-52-646-155-2556,

       Finca Altozano is just up the road from Laja, take the Ensenada-Tecate highway 3
       to km 83 and look for the Laja sign, turn left onto the dirt road, drive about a half-mile
       past Laja and turn right into the Finca Altozano archway, and onto the property, Valle
       de Guadalupe, B.C., Tues. Sun. 1pm-9pm, July 31-Oct. 31, 011-52-664-166-6839

       Silvestre is located just west of the Pedro Domecq winery, take the Ensenada-Tecate
       highway 3 to km. 73, turn left up the dirt road about a quarter mile to the parking lot,
       Valle de Guadalupe, B.C., Fri.-Sun., 1pm-6pm, 011-52-646-175-7073  

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