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Aha! Laja!

Restaurant: Laja
Chef: Jair Téllez

We chose to have dinner at Laja the first night we stayed in Valle de Guadalupe. It’s only 5km north of the turnoff for La Villa de Valle on Route 3 so an easy outing after driving down from Los Angeles.

Laja reminded us of French Laundry due to being in a converted farm house adjacent to the garden used to source the majority of the vegetables. It is less elegant which to me is a positive as its more approachable (no jacket require, in fact the sommelier was wearing a t-shirt and shorts while jovially interacting with guests) and much less expensive.

We ate in the large dining room in the farmhouse. There is also outdoor seating with a grill menu we learned about. You can opt to sit outdoors under a sturdy old tree.

The menu is prix fixe. You have a choice of four (4) or eight (8) courses. As it was our first night we opted for the full 8 and left just full enough.

Here are photos of our courses.

Farm House and Me
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First Course : Orange and Carrot Gazpacho

One of my favorite dishes. The bread and olive oil base of the gazpacho came through in an assertive way to clearly claim its role in the heritage of the soup.

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Second Course : Arugula and Tomato Salad

Served a leafier arugula than I’m used to in the states, milder too.

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Third Course : Yellow tail sashimi

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Fourth Course : Garden vegetable cannelloni

Delicate, fresh, and tasty

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Fifth Course : Grilled Whitefish

Skin was so crispy, flesh so scrumptiously flaky.

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Sixth Course : Filet Mignon

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Seventh Course : Lemon Verbena Panna Cotta, mango sorbet, and one raspberry.

Lemon verbena panna cotta was divine.
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Eighth Course : Chocolate with cookie and Creme fraisch ice cream.

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First bottle of wine

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Second bottle of wine. Made by wine maker and sommelier of Laja Andrés Blanco20120704-165346.jpg

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La Villa de Valle in Valle de Guadalupe Wine Region Baja Norte

June 30, 2012 2 comments

La Villa de Valle

La Villa de Valle offers a bucolic escape from Los Angeles in Mexico’s premier wine region – Valle De Guadalupe in Baja Norte, Mexico.

I left after a breif three night stay and feel completely rejuvenated. La Villa de Valle is one of the few places I’ve stayed where upon departure I feel compelled to plan return visits. There’s so much to see in this world, it’s a trade-off to visit the same place twice, but I plan to use La Villa de Valle as my “country house” when I need to relax away from the city.

The magic of the property comes from three of its principals: the owners of the property, the villa, and the winery – Phil and Eileen Gregory – and their partner in the on premsises restaurant Corazon de Tierra – Chef Diego Hernandez. For those of you who don’t already know, Chef Diego Hernandez is a culinary rockstar.

Phil and Eileen are present and good conversationalists. We spoke with Phil on a variety of topics during our tasting of his wines that ranged from winemaking to the Baja economy. We learned that Eileen conceptualized the Villa and was the mastermind behind the appealing interior décor.

The open architecture of Corazon de Tierra that brings the diner right into the garden where much of the vegetables are sourced and the topsy-turvy architecture of the winery and tasting room are designed respectively by Claudia and Alejandro d’Acosta Turrent two architects who are also husband and wife.

These five (5) amazing people have collaborated on creating a fantastic retreat in the valley.

I’ve been talking a lot, let me take a breath and explain that Phil and Eileen run three businesses on the property:
• La Villa De Valle (Bed & Breakfast / Inn)
• Corazon de Tierra (Restaurant)
• Vena Cava (Winery & Tasting Room)

Phil and Eileen are quite industrious as they purchased the property simply to relax and entertain friends, but soon found themselves opening their home to paying guests in 2006 after their friends talked about how difficult it was fine to find a place to stay while wine tasting in the valley.

The Villa is off of the Ruta de Vino (Hwy 3) and hardly any distance at all from Ensenada. The surprise for those used to California’s developed wine regions is that La Villa de Valle, like the other Valle de Guadalupe wineries, requires navigating a series of dirt roads. Right at the Highway 3 Kilometer 88 marker you’ll turn onto a dirt road (left turn if you’re coming from Ensenada and a right turn if you’re coming from Tecate). You’ll follow signs posted at each of the many intersections along the dirt road that eventually brings you to the property. If you didn’t leave your cares behind when you crossed the border, let go of them as you leave the paved highway.

The Villa is a two story building on top of the higher hill on the property. Therefore there are great views of the valley and mountains. There are plenty of places to grab a private seat outside on the patio or inside in the inviting lounge. There are five (5) rooms with balconies, and four (4) that are large enough for chairs and a tin fire place. We stayed in the fifth room and enjoyed standing on the verandah, but secretly wished we could be sitting. If you’re able to book a balcony you have the choice to enjoy the view in second-story privacy – though with only 6 rooms the entire experience feels private and romantic.

Erin and I like Eileen’s aesthetic. Therefore we felt comfortably at home lounging in the public areas. The premier place to lounge in my opinion howerver is around the pool. Couples can grab pairs of loungers under palapas or a day bed with reed shades. The pool is located below the main house at the end of a winding stair case “protected” by a 20-foot tall gate (lacking any wall or fence) that acts as an entry way to the pool area. The landscaping is beautiful, especially the use of local boulders to create personal spaces. There is a deep Jacuzzi (in fact you can stand and rest your arms on the side in one section). There is also a precious cactus that looks down on you as you’re soaking in the hot water.

Breakfast every morning is a treat as it’s served at Corazon de Tierra – a restaurant many come to simply to eat. Each morning the kitchen lays out granola, yogurt, honey, a selection of fresh cut fruit, and a selection of scones and other bake goods. Just as you’re thanking the heavens for the wonderful continental spread the waiter let’s you know the hot dish for the day. Twice we had delicious chilaquiles with eggs (the first day with a green sauce and the third day with a red sauce) and the reamining day eggs were served with a mushroom sauce. Then you get surprized by some house baked bread and butter. You’ll leave wondering why this doesn’t happen at your house.

Phil & Eileen can book many different things for you to do. Erin took advantage of a morning yoga class that two couples had arranged in the AMAHZING yoga studio beside the pool. I asked to have a driver, Raphael, through La Villa de Valle, take us around wine tasting in a mini-van for 1000 pesos M.N. I highly recommend this for two reasons. First, you don’t need to worry about drinking and driving. Second, if you don’t speak Spanish it’s great to have a local help you enjoy the experience. Most wineries have someone who speaks English, but our driver was more fluent than the majority of the people serving wine which lead to deeper conversations.

Okay. I’m still enjoying Baja and in Ensenada. I’ll write about my dinner at Corzon di Tierra. I also need ot post some photos to share with you how incredible this place looks.

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Baja Road Trip 2012

San Ysidro Border Crossing into Mexico - Cropped

I’m thrilled to be embarking on my first road trip into Baja California, Mexico. It fulfills an intention I’ve had since being a teen-ager.

I’m relative inexperienced when it comes to travelling through Mexico. I first visited the country in 2002. I started at what I considered to be the heart of the country and flew directly to Mexico City. I spent a few days exploring neighborhoods and then Executivo bussed myself to Oaxaca city. I enjoyed several days in Oaxaca before second class bussing myself to Puerto Escondido on the southern Pacific coast. It was a tremendous vacation conducted on public transportation. I did not return to Mexico until 2011 courtesy of Bill Esparza “aka Street Gourmet LA” who coordinated a bus trip down to Tijuana to enjoy the First Annual Baja Culinary Festival.

Now it’s 2012, and as you can see from the pic, I’m driving myself across the San Ysido border between San Diego and Tijuana. I’m on my way to Valle de Guadaupe and Ensenada to spend the week.

Granted this is only dipping my toe into Baja, but it is a good start and encouraging me that I’ll have return trips where I drive father south and see both the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico sides of the peninsula.

I welcome any recommendations for what to do while I’m here.

Categories: mexico