Finca Altozano, Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico 16/20

A LOT of investment has gone into the vineyards south of the Tijuana border with California. There are almost twice as many these days, perhaps a 100 all told now, clustered on either side of the B road south of Tecate. Turn off down the potholed, rutted, dry mud side road and about a kilometre later you come acorss this open air restaurant which showcases most of the wines and also offers a showreel of the local cooking from a humble potato and tomato broth:to a whole suckling pig.

You are not quite in the open air, but under a roof construct overlooking the farm and the valley

A waiter takes you to a table, sets up some hot bread,  salsas and explains that it is left to right in terms of  heat, green to white. I manage level one. It is a big, boisterous, gregarious ranch-style place, and hardly qualifies as somewhere-you-have-never-heard-of if you live in the Baja. Busloads come out from the city to see the wines, so do locals in search of a celebration and a few tourists from SoCal. Like these two:

The menu is long, from slow preparations through tacos up to grills of different meats from milk fed lamb to quails etc. There is a certain chauvinism at work here. We can also do this. The difference perhaps here is that the audience is highly discerning, enthusiastic, appreciative and proud. Locals I suspect can navigate this menu as easily as the back streets. They take their food seriously and can be fierce critics.  Although meat takes pride of place, it was the fish that stood out for us, a beautiful ceviche of tunawith avocado and red onion on a taco; and this rare fish which was priced in fact more than the suckling pig a kind of bass – the Pacific waters here have an abundance of different fish – .served with warm tortillas and garnished with cucmber, lime and dill, you might almost say Scandi save the temperature is 32 degrees.

Brussel sprouts were griddled in the pan and covered with a grating of white cheese.

And probably just to show it can be done on the Pacific coast a couple of nods to the Mediterrenean –  a Serrano style ham and peppers cooked in the wood oven

Strangely, for me, it was perhaps the most obvious and the most colourful of the tacos with the beef shredded so finely in the middle and the whole thing deep fried into a cornmeal sandwich that worked least well but maybe that is the local preference. A bit greasy for me.

The house wines were Merlot and Chardonnay of a level that you might pay £15+ in a UK supermarket, which indeed you may be doing soon.

Around the corner was a second cafe housed in an old silver diner which I took to be a kind of coach driver’s canteen, albeit the rivalry was fierce so that they insisted we try the potato soup, pictured above – as if to say, if you really want the real, everyday thing…

 

The bill was £25 each. Some might say other places (Compestre, Corazon de Tierra, Laja perhaps among others)  do this dish better. Or that one. Maybe they do, but as a showreel of the best things available down the peninsular it is a hard act to follow. Other places nearby require the organisation to book ahead and a be a little more formal but may offer matching food and wine meals. For a wine and food adventure Guadalupe is probably the top ticket at the moment.

Another bit of travel advice is that the drive inland up to Teacate rather than Tijuana is wild, rugged and inspiring. We got into Mexico from SoCal easy-peasy, but we could not get out on the Sunday night because the traffic jam was so long and had to get a hotel in Tijuana and try again the next morning which was OK. Be warned. Better and cheaper to fly in and out through Mexico and cut out the USA, if you can.

http://www.fincaltozano.com

 

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