Tasting the Best of Baja at Javier Plascencia's Animalon
The resurgence of interest in Ensenada and the Valle de Guadalupe has brought the culinary adventurers back to Baja. When you start to do a little research to choose where to dine, one name pops up among the talented chefs of the region: Javier Plascencia
The late great Anthony Bourdain first shined a national spotlight on the food scene revival of Tijuana and Baja, making his first stop at Javier’s Mision 19 for some beef tongue sous vide. Since then, Plascencia has enjoyed many successes, including the seasonal pop up dinners served beneath an unassuming centuries old oak tree.
“The Animalon experience is the definition of my kitchen,” Chef Plascencia has said of his creation. “Using only products from Baja, my mission is to pay homage to local products and the Baja lifestyle.”
This season, Chef Oscar Torres joins Plascencia to create globally influenced cuisine inspired by Mediterranean, 'Franco-Afrique,' Indian and Southeast Asian foods.
About forty minutes south of the border and just beyond the last toll booth before getting into the center of Ensenada is the turnoff for the Valle. At Km 83 is the *Ejido*. It comes up on you fairly quickly. It even snuck up on our driver who had just left the farm earlier that day to come get us. After a quick u-turn, we were on the dirt road up to the property.
Driving through the gate of Finca Altozano, you see the other buildings housing varying levels of cuisine and price points for all gastronomic travelers to the left, goats and other farm animals to the right, and the giant oak tree just beyond it all.
We made our way over to the oak tree, ducking our heads as we popped in through the branches. Like the size of the moon up in the sky versus on the horizon, the size of the tree is deceptive until you are actually inside the dining area. It’s incredible to see how many tables and chairs fit under the shade of those ancient branches. We dropped our bags and cameras and followed our hostess and guide, Marie on a tour of the rest of the property.
Beyond the other dining areas where guests can find an oyster bar and menu items like chocolate clams with tuna, scallop and oak-smoked bacon, Risotto and Duck Confit in mole sauce, to locally sourced beef brisket and wood-fired tacos. Walking toward the garden iis the small out building that houses the oven where artisan breads are baked fresh all day. A large window allows for an up close look at the process. We walked further on to the garden where the herbs and greens for our evening’s meal grow in abundance.
There’s wine waiting for us when we return to our seats under the tree. Bread baked on site is brought out, along with honey sweetened butter and cracked sea salt. Our first shared plate comes and it’s a crudite that looks more like a floral arrangement than food. Petite root vegetables and leaves of greens “sprout” from a bed of ember roasted eggplant and olive tapenade “soil” set in a small, hollowed out log.
Next, we enjoyed the Kanpachi Crudo, spiced with earthy adobo and topped with seaweed, chayote, and creamy avocado and plated inside a traditional molcajete with blue corn crisps, followed by aged duck and pasilla chiles with sweet red cabbage and radish.
The final course was a delicious lamb barbacoa, baked in individual clay pockets. With one swift tap of the back of our forks, the waiters cracked open our casings, releasing the bouquet of aromas, inviting us to enjoy.
As if our senses hadn’t been delighted enough, our waiter brought out a box of smoked chocolates to share. The smoke and the sweet was the perfect ending to a beautiful meal under the old oak tree.
There are two ways to dine at this event. Choose from the eight course fixed dinner ($75) with optional wine pairings ($35), or browse the a la carte plates that range from $10-35 each.
Reservations can be made on their website at fincaltozano.com or by calling internationally to +52.646.156.8045.
- Written by Sugar Jones
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