Baja Chefs on the Move: Anniversaries, Expansions, and More!

Categories: Tijuana Sí!
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Courtesy of Manzailla restaurant

Tonight in Ensenada, one of the founders of Modern Mexican cuisine, chef Benito Molina will celebrate 14 years at Manzanilla with chefs Antonio Livier and Daniel Ovadia (Paxia, D.F.) at 8 P.M. When Molina first opened he was part of a small band of chefs that were the first generations of Mexican chefs that opened their own restaurants along with chef Enrique Olvera's Pujol in 2000, chef Jair Tellez's Laja in 2001, and chef Guillermo Berestain's Pangea in 1998. 

In those days, being a chef wan't a respectable profession in Mexico, and if you were a chef you wore a big hat and made Frenchy cuisine in a hotel--the Mexican cooking world in those years was still marked by the age of the Grandes Damas de la Cocina Mexicana, or grand ladies of the Mexican kitchen with chefs like Patricia Quintana, Suzana Palazuelos and Martha Chapa. They did beautiful presentations of traditional Mexican cuisine in their cookbooks and restaurants while the rest of the younger chefs made everything but Mexican cuisine.

In 2004, when the Modern Mexican revolution began, chef Benito Molina was right there in the middle of it--he had moved his restaurant from Mexico City to Ensenada and began to use local ingredients never before used in Mexican cuisine like sea urchin, geoduck, local olive oil from the Valle de Guadalupe and sea beans for amazing seafood dishes paired with the emerging wines of the Valle de Guadalupe.

It's happening tonight if you want to get in on a lively party and excellent tasting meal with 3 of the best chefs in Mexico. We wish chef Benito Molina a happy 14th anniversary and thank him for all he's done for Ensenada, Baja, and Modern Mexican cuisine.

Chef Carlos Valdez has just opened Kochi Kochi BBQ in the old Buffalo BBQ space and Buffalo has moved to a new address. Kochi Kochi BBQ is a younger and more approachable menu of Valdez's original brand of Baja surf and Sonoran turf cuisine and this is where you will be able to find the chef cooking the best steaks in Mexico and mouthwatering seafood. 

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Bill Esparza
Chocolata and pismo clams at Kochi Kochi BBQ 

Kochi Kochi is where you experience one of the best clam tastings in Mexico--La Paz is where you get chocolataspismos, blood clams, pen shells, blancas and more from the nearby islands. Everybody has live chocolatas in La Paz but none compare in quality and presentation, and talk about steaks?--forget about it. Valdez served a Mexican wagyu cooked on his Santa Maria grill that evaporated in my mouth--wagyu beef with salsa and Sonoran flour tortillas could form its own religion. 

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Bill Esparza
A selection of steaks including Mexican wagyu and heritage pork at Kochi Kochi BBQ


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Bill Esparza
A luxurious and rich queso fundido at Kochi Kochi BBQ

Of all the peninsular chefs, Valdez always has a strong presence of Mexican popular ingredients--his queso fundido is chicharron prensado sauteed in chile guajillo sauce with local cheese that has a fried cheese skin resting atop the crimson pressed pork jumble. It's paisa chic and delicious.

Thin seafood tostadas are served glistening from various dressings and dashes of house made ponzu that highlight the fresh catch of yellow tail. You can wash it all down with a Kochimato featuring artisanal Clamato juice, sea snail ice cubes and vodka which will have you demanding that all bars and restaurants make their own Clamato juice. It's brilliant, playful and tasty just like everything else on the menu. 

Buffalo has a higher price point but it's worth it when in La Paz to visit both restaurants so you can have the callo de hacha made with pen shell clams, firm pineapple clams and a touch of mezcal and Valdez's taco of shrimp, guacamole and crickets on a tortilla with chile guajillo colored masa. La Paz has is one of my favorite destination on the Baja peninsula and making the restaurants of chef Carlos Valdez will make your visit that much more memorable. 

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Bill Esparza
Bermejo, Hermosillo, Sonora

Tijuana's chef Javier Plascencia opened Bermejo a few months ago, which is the first Modern Mexican cuisine restaurant in the cowboy state of Sonora, Mexico's greatest surf and turf state. The restaurant located in the heart of Hermosillo's hotel zone highlights the local seafood products from the Sea of Cortez(Bermejo is the original name of the Sea of Cortez), the cattle ranches and nearby pueblos magicos on the Rio Sonora. 

The restaurant design pays tribute to the Sea of Cortez with a modern eco-design accented by driftwood lit by an attractive back bar that has a nice selection of Bacanora, the local spirit of Sonora made from the agave Pacifica, also known as the agave yaquiana


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Bill Esparza
Shrimp tostadas sprinkled with chicharron dust

After a refreshing Bacanora cocktail with can enjoy some of the best callo de hacha in Mexico harvested in nearby San Carlos, or pen shell clams that are also called callo rinon (kidney shaped clams) lightly garnished or on a tostada with chicharrones and chile chiltepin, one of the regional spices of Sonora. 


Burritos de guisado are one of the culinary favorites of Sonora--Bermejo has duck confit in a house made hoisin sauce inside of an artisanal flour tortilla. 

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Bill Esparza
Lanja de pescado at Bermejo

The lonja de pescado, or fish market is a grilled piece of fish paired with crispy chinchulines, or chitterlings that salts the fish and adds a contrasting texture, a chayote cream and a raw salsa verde for acidity. The aged rib-eye explodes with the proud flavors of Sonora from a buttery cut of Angus steak from Rancho 17, a famous Sonoran producer of beef. 

Dessert ends the meal with a dragon fruit ice cream that is both delightful and palate cleansing. When you're in Hermosillo there's so many fascinating local foods that will be on your checklist, but Bermejo is required dining.       

Bermejo, Bl. Fco Eusebio Kino 177 Ste. L-17, Hermosillo, Sonora, 011-52-662-215-2087 

Kochi Kochi BBQ, Av. Madera, La Paz, B.C.S., 011-52-612-122-7277

Manzanilla, Teniente Azueta 139, Ensenada, B.C., 011-52-646-175-7073, remanzanilla.com

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