Friday, August 30, 2019

Il Massimo - Ensenada - Birthday Dinner

The trip still hasn't ended.  I need to share with you the best Italian restaurant in Ensenada. The town lacks some high end restaurants.  We had had our fill of fish tacos and seafood.  That's what they do but it is a tourist town where people come from San Diego and disembark from cruise ships. 

We had searched quite a few places and checked TripAdvisor as well but there just didn't seem to be anything that would do for my 62nd birthday.  We had passed a place on the malecon or across the street from it and it looked like a cute little house.  It was called Il Massimo.  When we got back to our Airbnb we checked it online.  It looked a bit austere but had great reviews.  We like Italian and so we called for a reservation.

What a wonderful place.  The lights were low, it was romantic and there were locals eating there.  Always a good sign and some were government officials. 

The menu is just right.  We don't care for pages and pages of food items as it usually leads to a SysCo truck in the back unloading prepared foods that go into a microwave or a deep fryer.  We lucked out on this occasion.

Here I am enjoying a wonderful bottle of La Cetto Nebiollo 2016.  Truly an excellent grape and makes a delightful wine.

We started off our dinner with a caprise salad, different colors and tastes of tomato and cheese with balsamic and olive oil.  Very tasty.  They served homemade bread and in house pesto.  

Kinds of pasta are made fresh every day and they use a variety of flours for each one.  This was semolina flour, thick and  heavily textured served with chicken and cream sauce.  

We split two dishes, this was an arrechera.  Sounds pretty simple but it was a thick cut, cooked to medium and well-seasoned.  We compared it to the steak Kevin and Ruth treated us to at the steak house in Saltillo but with a different seasoning but the same quality of meat.

The chef, Massimo, whipped up a quick birthday dessert that we both savored after such a fun and interesting meal.  We really enjoyed this place and it deserves five stars for the food alone.  I love a chef who cooks for his guests and Massimo did that for us.  It was as if we had invited a chef to our house to cook for us.

After dinner, we asked Massimo, who is from Rome, for a picture posing with him.  A really nice guy and I hope that anyone who reads this blog has dinner at Il Massimo.  When we take our Baja rv trip, we will be sure to stop again and have another fantastic meal.

So, as you can see, this is how I entered my 62nd year of life on this planet.  I hope there is more to come and for many more years.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Ensenada - La Bufadora (Short Video)

While we still had the car until 11 a.m. the next day, we decided to drive out to La Bufadora.  We're not mappy guys so we just hop in and off we go asking along the way or following signs.  I assumed that since it was a blowhole in the shoreline cliffs we would be driving along the coast  Well, not so.  I was an inland route and it is the only one.  Bufadora gets its name from the Spanish verb "bufar", to blow extremely hard as some animals do.  There are only three in the world. 

We started out early as it was at least an hour drive.  Nice drive, quiet, early morning and some traffic.  Ensenada is not a large city.  Ensenada is also the county of Ensenada.  Baja California is the state and Mexicali is the capital.  Two states on the peninsula; Baja California and Baja California Sur. 

It was very foggy and the road was twisty and curvy.  We took it slowly towards the end as it was like pea soup.  

This is a must-see although I wouldn't spend all day here.  When we arrived we beat even the merchants that sell their souvenirs along the entrance to the Bufadora.  Parking was 50 pesos and there isn't any other place to park.  There is an rv park before arriving at the entrance, nothing fancy at all, in fact, rundown, but the view is spectacular from any of the sites. 

I assume this fella was hoping for some crumbs of some kind.  He didn't have to wait long.  Cars started streaming in from both the merchants and tourists.  It was just after 9 a.m.  We couldn't offer anything as we only brought a banana and some yogurt for breakfast. 

So much stuff, I guess they sell a lot.  Not my kind of business.  I watched these stalls open up as we walked to the water.  These people work so hard for such little money.  It's just not worth it.  One of the issues with Mexico is that people just don't want to go to school and the chain of poverty, so to speak, just continues.  They could all do so much better and also help bring Mexico into the 21st century.  Our current president has given short-term scholarships to 900,000 teenagers who don't study or work.  He wants small business to hire them and teach them how to do things like make bread, fix a refrigerator, minor electrical repairs, and other bull shit jobs.  We need people with higher education that can help Mexico compete with the Chinese, but I digress.

I love the coast of Baja and we are hoping to do a winter trip here in the near future.  I fell in love with Baja when I traveled in 1976 with my brother who was working on his PhD at the time.  We shared an apartment at the beach in Encinitas and I helped him in his office until he went to work at UC San Luis Obispo and I went to work in Sequoia Natl Park. That was a magical trip and that's when I fell in love with Mexico.  A beat-up 62 VW bug with the fenders tied on with clothes hangers. No pictures, but it's all in my head, even to this day.

Here is the bufadora in all its splendor.  It is constant and blows as high as 30 meters.

A short but enjoyable video that Juan shot of La Bufadora.

Your typical tourist with backpack and sunglasses. 

And who's this good-looking guy always with a smile on his face.  

With only three of these natural wonders in the world, you would think this place would appear similar to the wine museum I posted the other day.  Instead, because it is run by the Mexican federal government, the place is a dump.  This is why I believe in neoliberalism.  A concession could sold to a company, individual, or even world heritage site established, and we could all make money, provide jobs and maintain part of Mother Nature.  

Friday, August 23, 2019

Valle de Guadalupe - So Many Wines, So Little Time

I have been to the Valle of Guadalupe before but on a quick afternoon tour with a teacher.  I just checked the blog history and it was in 2009.  Wow, things have changed now with the museum and over 100 different wineries.

La Cetto is our favorite label and has a very long history, 90 years, in Baja California.  The name is actually L.A. Cetto.  The L.A. are the initials of the Luis Angel and the children and grandchildren alike have two first names that are L.A.  They have some very mature vines and continue planting.  

The next tour was at 2 p.m. so we had about 30 minutes on our own.  150 pesos for the tour and a tasting of two white and two red reserve labels.  We had a blast looking at all of the wines and of course, they sell gifts as well.  So much wine, you could just have it all day long and never get tired of so many different grapes, processes, tastes, and aromas.

Reading labels and finding some wines we have never tried.  

Our tour started right outside the door as the trucks were pulling up loaded with grapes.  To the left of the picture are giant steel vaults filled with grapes.  A giant crane picks up one end of the container and the grapes begin to fall into the macerator.  They go up the conveyer and as they enter the macerator the grapes are squeezed and the skins separated from the juice.  Some of the skins will be used in the wine process depending on what they are producing.

Moises, on the left with the baseball cap, was our tour guide.  He studied to be a chef and is now learning about wines.  Very knowledgable and able to answer any questions.  No one said much but we asked quite a few questions.  Good thing because there is so much to learn about the grape.

A look at the vineyards and an explanation of how grapes are grown.  Each row has a rose bush on the ends.  That draws the critters to the roses and away from the grapes.  The size of the truck determines the age of the vine.  There is only one short rainy season in Baja and the water is collected in underground tanks and is used throughout the rest of the year via a drip process.  Good soil, lots of sunshine and constant pruning.

To think that something so simple as a grape can bring so much pleasure to people through drinking a glass with friends, a good book, a cold night or a great meal.  

Kegs, barrels, and types of wood are also part of the process of winemaking.  Mostly oak is used.  

The best part of the tour.  Moises showed the group everything from holding a glass to cleansing the palate, oxygenating your mouth as well as the glass and checking the content or tears on the glass. We have done this many times before and one of the last times was with Lindsey and Dustin in Nova Scotia.  Always a good memory attached to our trips.   Many people in the group weren't wine drinkers but I think by the end of the tour they had gained a little appreciation for wine.  Our favorite wines from La Cetto are; cabernet sauvignon, nebbiolo, and petit sirah.  

Doña Lupe was founded in the 60s.  Good wines, lesser-known but they have a very good nebbiolo that is known for its chocolate flavors.   We had quite a bit of wine there as they serve you cheeses, bread, and more at no charge.  They have a large selection of wines and other products.  Their wines are quite expensive and we weren't sure why.  Mostly high schoolers working there, they did a good job but couldn't answer a lot of questions.

We also visited Sol de Medianoche.  This vineyard had some interesting wines, for us, not very well developed.  Also, like Doña Lupe, they were into selling other grape related products and have restaurants.  Not a very nice place but apparently they pack in the crowds on weekends.  I think mostly partiers.  

Overall, the experience was fantastic.  We wish we could do it for a week and we just might.  There are a few primitive campgrouds in the area as well and it would make a fun week.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Valle de Guadalupe - Wine Museum

I was going to post about the vineyards but the museum was so overwhelming and informative I decided to share those details today and the wineries tomorrow.

We hung around the house in the morning for a bit and took the bus down to the marina which is really an extension of the downtown area.   We hadn't had breakfast yet and we found a small place with a few tables inside.  Juan asked me to take a look and decide.  I opened the door and the aroma of great Mexican food filled the air.  There were less than 10 tables and all but two were taken.  I knew this was going to be good.  Chorizo and egg and I ordered an omelet with the best-refried beans in a long, long time.  Served up with some super thin flour tortillas. 

After, we walked over to the malecon to pick up our rental car.  Everything was ready and in order and off we went.  In the end, it was the best decision ever.  Public transport can take you to the five small towns in the Valle de Guadalupe but there is no way to get to the wineries from there.  Most people use motorcycles, company transport or bicycle depending on how far they have to go.  Uber would have left us with an impatient driver and out in the valley it was hot.  Plus we used the car this morning for the hour-plus drive to La Bufadora (blowhole).

Off we went on Hwy 3 to the Ruta del Vino.  You can't get lost in Baja!

Before we reached the vineyards we wanted to see, (there are several small vineyards, countless actually along the highway) we saw the museum.  The car steered itself into the parking lot.  By looking at the picture below you wouldn't expect much.

The place is huge, and the architectural design fits right in with the desert surroundings and the vineyards.  Grapes and vines are literally everywhere on the route and you just can't seem to see beyond them.  It's like going to Tequila or parts of Jalisco and seeing acre after acre of blue agave.

You actually enter through the staircase that goes underneath the building as this second floor is used for display and events such as weddings.  You can tell, this is not a government-run museum and that it is heavily supported by winegrowers.  

The museum is chock full of information about the history of winemaking, the process, colors, flavors, grapes, you think you know about wine but after this trip, you find out that isn't necessarily so.  Did you know wine was first developed in Georgia?  In this picture, they feature La Cetto and Domecq which were the two major wineries we wanted to visit.

Aromatic descriptors or flavors that can be found in wines.

Organoleptic sensations are the aspects of food, wine, liquors and even water that help us describe the taste, flavors, smells that stimulate our experiences.  You really get that in wine.
 Colors of wine have a wide range and depend on several factors.  Most of it has to do with the skin and the process of maceration, fermentation and filtration. 

This was new for us.  We were looking through the glass cases of different labels and types of wine.  This clear bottle was included with the reds under Cabernet Sauvignon.  This is a distilled liquor made from wine that is similar to Tequila and has an alcohol level of 38%.  It is called grappa and is very popular in Europe, so if you've been to Europe you probably know all about it.  Served as an aperitif. 

The art gallery is at the end of the museum and there are some very interesting paintings.  Here are a few examples.  It exemplifies the history of the grape and wine.  

This is an excellent representation called Vino y Asada (wine and grilled steaks).  It truly shows what wine and grilling have to do with Mexicans as well as others, being together, sharing the experience of tasting and drinking wine, mixing it with other flavors such as meat and seafood.  For me it is about the experience, sitting around, enjoying a glass of wine whatever it may be and listening to others stories, adventures and hearing laughter.

The last room is a homage to the country of wine origin, their traditional winemaking process of burying large clay pots in the ground, still done today and you can see examples of those from several thousand years ago.

I see this picture of myself and I can't believe I have lived 62 years.  Where did the time go?  I used it enjoying my life and I hope doing some good for others.  I'm hoping for many more like maybe 52 more years, I always have had in my head I would live to 113. 

I'm hanging in the shadows, I like it better that way.  You can see all of the vines in the background.  Truly amazing.

Leaving the museum after quite a learning experience.