Chef San Roman, originally from Mexico City, graduated from the École Lenotre de Paris, one of the few Latin chefs to become a member of the Culinary Academy of France. San Roman has been named the “Ambassador of Mexican Cuisine” of the world, and has travelled internationally to promote his country’s unique and varied food traditions. With over 250 awards and 30 years of culinary experience, he is in a solid position to introduce Southern California to the taste profiles of Urban Baja cuisine.
Fernando Gaxiola of Baja Food + Wine was instrumental in bringing Whole Foods together with Urban Baja cuisine and various Valle de Guadalupe vineyards to introduce the tastes and varietals of Baja Norte to the Southern California market. Acting on behalf of the wineries, Gaxiola worked with Whole Foods to bring wines from Monte Xanic, as well as other vineyards (ranging in size from small boutique winery Don Juan to L.A. Cetto, Mexico’s largest wine producer) initially to San Diego. Whole Foods Market provides quite a variety of Baja’s best wines in a range of prices.
Baja’s Secretary of Tourism, Juan Benjamin Tintos Funcke, kicked off the reception with a few words about Baja’s rich history of food and wine. “We have the margarita from Ensenada, Caesar’s Salad from Tijuana, delicious lobster from Puerto Nuevo. But now we also have vineyards spanning 8 wine-growing valleys, excellent restaurants, 62 microbreweries and a burgeoning artesañal cheese industry.” When we spoke to Señor Tintos later in the evening, he enthused about the overall development of Baja, though was quick to emphasize green-focused growth at a sustainable rate…mariachi music to this Gringo’s ears!
Next up were brief presentations from Chef San Roman and Hans Backhoff from Monte Xanic. Chef San Roman started with a statement that may still ring true with a lot of my fellow gringos. “15-20 years ago, no one would have thought of pairing wines with Mexican food. It was all about a taco and a cerveza!”. Hans Backhoff was introduced as the “…man who propelled Baja Wine” by setting a high standard for his operation and output at a time when the industry in Valle de Guadalupe was not necessarily known for quality product. When Mr. Backhoff started Monte Xanic, there were only 4 or 5 notable wineries. Now there are over 90!
After the presentations were finished, it was time to sample the Urban Baja menu. First up was a trio of Ceviche paired with Monte Xanic Sauvignon Blanc. The trio included fish (snapper), shrimp and portobello mushroom ceviches. All were very good (and fresh) and your Gringo was surprised at how much he liked the citrusy portobello ceviche almost as much as the seafood. Oh, and speaking of portobello, the new Urban Baja menu has PLENTY of choices for the vegetarian and vegan diners, an important part of Whole Foods’ market. You’d be hard pressed to find these vegetarian options south of the border!
Following the Trio of Ceviche was the Rustica Salad, paired with the Monte Xanic Chardonnay. The salad was a perfect combination of crispy mixed greens with grilled hearts of palm, tomatoes, asparagus and mushrooms, tossed with an artichoke lime vinagrette. Another one of the excellent vegetarian/vegan choices from the menu.
Next was Chef San Roman’s Flautas de Pato, Tender smoked duck served in a flour tortilla with chile de arbol salsa and a side of guacamole. This was paired with Monte Xanic’s Cab Merlot blend, which was a perfect complement to the duck. Closely on the heels of the Flautas were Jicama Wraps, thinly-sliced fresh jicama, filled with guacaolmole and tofu with a side of chile de arbol. These wraps were crunchy and would make a great appetizer for any of the offerings on hand.
Also sampled were the Baja Burger (a seasoned turkey burger with crispy prosciutto, Swiss cheese, cranberry cabernet jam, arugula, tomato and onion on a pretzel bun) and Molletes Tapas…a “Mexiterranean” style offering of mini bread layered with a spread of beans, mozzarella, asiago, Montery jack, and olive oil, with a side of sour cream and fresh made pico de gallo. Sort of like a Mexican version of the Italian Bruschetta, a prime example of the blend of influences captured by Urban Baja cuisine. We were served a mini version of the Baja Burger, but I could see how a larger portion would provide a very satisfying meal.
After sampling the Urban Baja menu, tipping our last glass of Baja wine and mingling with our fellow travel and food journalists and bloggers, El Gringo and his photographer wandered out into the aisles of Whole Foods in search of Baja wines. We selected a Santo Tomas Vino Tinto and Don Juan Meritage. Wined, dined and educated about Urban Baja cuisine’s foray into the Southern California organic market scene, we drove home very satisfied…and without a border wait.
Your Gringo in Mexico,