“This might be the only place in the world where you can enjoy sushi right next to grapevines,” Paulina Deckman, wife of chef Drew Deckman muses. “I’ll have to look that up, but it’s definitely the only place in Baja California and possibly Mexico.” It’s a sunny eighty-degree day in the Valle de Guadalupe. But at Deckman and master sushi chef Toshi Tsutada’s new al fresco sushi bar, Baja Omakase at Deckman’s en El Mogor, a soft breeze keeps it cool and gently rustles the aforementioned vines to pastoral effect.
Deckman’s story is familiar to frequent visitors of the Valle. The chef – known for his focus on the use of only hyper-local, sustainable ingredients – worked in kitchens across Europe, earned his Michelin star in Germany, opened Deckman’s in San Jose del Cabo and then migrated north to inaugurate his award-winning farm-to-table restaurant in Baja California’s wine country.
“This might be the only place in the world where you can enjoy sushi right next to grapevines.” – Paulina Deckman
Toshi Tsutada earned acclaim just across the border in San Diego at local favorite Sushi Ota. He moved to Tijuana in 2017 to open Toshi Toshi, which quickly became a hot spot due to his omakase of farmed seafood from nearby Ensenada. His strict edomai style was unique in a town known for Mexican and Sinaloa sushi — rolls that incorporate Mexican chilies and/or are smothered in thick, colorful, and cloying sauces.
The Birth of Baja Omakase
“We heard about Toshi Toshi from our oldest son who told us it was phenomenal,” Paulina Deckman recalls. “So, we visited and quickly became fans as well as friends.” When Toshi closed his bar in Tijuana earlier this year, he and Deckman partnered to create Baja Omakase in the Valle de Guadalupe, which opened to the public on November 8th.
Paulina continues, “We want to provide an authentic Japanese experience. The goal is to work with only local, responsible and sustainable ingredients. That means no tuna or salmon as well as the use of only in-season fish. It’s important to us to help make people aware of what they’re consuming. Who’s the producer? Where is the seafood from? Is it responsible?”
“We use both farmed and line-caught product.” – Drew Deckman
Super-fresh, sustainable, local seafood is the star of the show at Baja Omakase. “We use both farmed and line-caught product,” chef Deckman shares. “That means jurel (yellowtail) and lobina (sea bass) from oceanic farms in Ensenada, and callo de hacha (scallops) and almejas chocolatas (chocolate clams) harvested from the sands of Guerrero Negro on Baja California’s central Pacific coast.”
About that chocolate clam. No trip to Baja California Sur is complete without slurping raw chocolatas on the half shell with limon and a few drops of one’s favorite salsa. Toshi expertly shapes the hearty bivalve so it becomes one with the sushi rice, forming a seamless and delicious combination. The clam’s firm, smooth red and white meat is given a squeeze of lemon and a dash of soy. It’s flavor is perfectly complemented by a hint of vinegar and the granular texture of the rice.
Another standout of the five nigiri courses is the erizo (sea urchin) from Ensenada. It’s nutty, redolent of the sea and so luxuriantly creamy that it literally melts in your mouth. It’s perhaps one of the best pieces of uni this writer has had and also gained consensus as a favorite among guests during a recent soft opening.
Creative Sushi Dishes
The nigiri is preceded by five exceptional, more complex tiempos, prepared by both chefs.
Deckman’s dishes include: a toothsome, cubed callo de hacha nested within a crisp, house-made kimchi; a sublime tartare of Mexican wagyu marinated in bergamot served with pickled zucchini, snappy salicornia (sea grass) and meat jelly; and a postre (dessert) of matcha cake capped with wakame and kombu seaweed poached in simple syrup – the round has the consistency of fruit leather – served with lavender ice cream and butternut squash.
In addition to nigiri, Toshi delivers a crudo of hiramasa (yellowtail) with pepino del mar (geoduck) and percebes — a local barnacle that’s found fastened to a number of menus both south and north of the border. Toshi knows how to handle his hiramasa. His handroll of yellowtail is transcendent. The fish is combined with rice and soy and wrapped in nori (dried seaweed) that’s been lightly grilled over oak to give it a profoundly smoky essence and a pleasantly crispy character.
One of the best dishes of the omakase is one of its simplest — a trio of yellowtail, cabrilla (sea bass) and geoduck sashimi served with seiyō wasabi (“Western wasabi”). Although horseradish-based, the seiyō is the highest quality available on the market. According to Deckman, real wasabi currently retails at a cost-prohibitive $350/US per pound which makes Western wasabi all the more desirable.
Sushi Among the Vines
Baja Omakase features a twelve-course prix-fixe menu with no substitutions and no vegan or vegetarian options. Herbivores will be happier with some of the fresh grilled veggies and other vegan and vegetarian options available at Deckman’s right next door.
There are three seatings a day at 1, 4 and 7PM at the outdoor sushi bar which accommodates twelve diners. Cost for the omakase is $1,500 pesos (approximately $75/US). For an additional $1,000 pesos (approximately $50/US) there’s an option to pair three very good Mexican sakes from Nami – based in Sinaloa – and Baja California wines and craft beers.
It’s not often that one can dine on sushi made from such high-quality, local fish — taking comfort knowing that the indulgence is ocean-friendly. It’s rarer still to enjoy authentic and fusion Japanese cuisine in an outdoor setting framed by idyllic vistas of wine country vineyards, rolling hills and surrounding mountains. At Baja Omakase, two of the region’s most adept chefs have married edomai and the vibe of the Valle to create one of Baja California’s most unique – and responsible – culinary experiences.
Baja Omakase is located at the Badan-Mogor vineyard next to Deckman’s en El Mogor on the Ensenada-Tecate Highway Km. 85.5, San Antonio de Las Minas, 22766, Valle de Guadalupe, B.C., Mexico. Open Wed-Mon for seatings of 12 guests at 1, 4 and 7PM. Reservations required. +52 1 (646) 188-3960. www.BajaOmakase.com.