06.25.13 – Day 2 – This morning I am awakened by the same ocean sounds I fell asleep to. Indescribably wonderful. Sunlight pours into my gorgeous suite at Las Rocas Resort and Spa and all of a sudden I am swimming in a pool of morning sunshine and ocean breeze. I feel like I am waking up in some sort of heaven. I walk over to my balcony and my view is so different from what I saw last night. Everything is so lit up and colorful- I was not expecting this. I could have stayed in my suite all day- but there is too much to do and see!
We have breakfast at the hotel’s Café del Mar and while I play it safe with a traditional American breakfast, Lawrence Davis (Publisher of LA Splash) orders an authentic Mexican breakfast of chilaquiles, salsa-covered eggs, and refried beans. I take one look at his plate and I know I made a mistake. Note: When in Mexico, always order Mexican food- always.
Right after breakfast we are sent to a strip of art galleries where locals display and sell their crafts and creations. Stunning Mexican artwork is displayed outside of each shop lining the street, and catching everyone’s eyes with their vibrant colors and attention-grabbing designs. Lawrence gets very excited when he realizes that he can buy any of the massive, oversized lawn ornaments and actually bring them home with him- because remember: this is an international trip that does not require air travel (an exciting side not for those of you who love shopping when out of the country, but are often restricted because of limited baggage on airplanes). Lawrence ended up purchasing two gorgeous, aluminum, and hand-made, hand-painted adornments for his garden (you can read about it in his article Health Mate Sauna Review) from Herrería Estrada.
Next stop on the art strip is De Polo’s Gallery, which is a famous framing shop that sells phenomenal Mexican paintings. We are all instantly blown away by how unique the art in this store is- I’ve seen a lot of good work, but what I’m looking at right now seems unmatched. It is no surprise to us when we learn that celebrities such as Mel Gibson are on the shop’s list of clientele; he purchased several of the awe-inspiring paintings from De Polo’s Gallery.
Somehow we manage to walk away from this compelling art scene in exchange for our hotel check-in in Ensenada. Right upon our arrival we are told that this place that we are staying at, the Hotel Coral and Marina is the single best hotel in Ensenada. Being the skeptic that I am I, of course, doubt this completely. Those uncertainties soon melt away, however, upon entering the lobby. Only having proceeded a few feet into the building I am already astonished by the hotel’s gorgeousness. This must be the most beautifully designed interior that I have ever seen…and I haven’t even seen the whole place yet. That being said, I am so excited when the hotel staff offers to give us a tour.
The Hotel Coral and Marina is a five-star hotel featuring seven different types of rooms, including a “Honeymoon” suite with massage tables in the room, as well as three various “Presidential” suites. Each room that we walk into is slightly more breathtaking than the last…these hotel suites are nicer and more spacious than my own apartment. It will blow your mind how much room each suite offers- the ‘living areas’ are so open and roomy that these hotel rooms are more like miniature apartments. When we walk into the “top presidential” suite, I start losing count of how many rooms are in this room: two full bathrooms (one with a “hydro-massage” bathtub), two bedrooms, a bar, a dining room, a living room, and, of course, an incredible balcony overlooking an even more incredible view.
Every room at the Hotel Coral and Marina has its own balcony and view that overlooks the hotel’s pools, gardens, and its phenomenal marina. It’s hard to believe that the Hotel Coral could be notorious for anything other than its outstanding bedrooms but its marina is both massive in size and breathtaking in beauty. I’ve never seen anything like this: the hotel’s marina has 353 spaces for private boats to dock and provides and endless list of services to the people who enter, such as water, electricity, laundry services, security, maintenance and repair services, internet, cable TV, fuel (gasoline and diesel), shuttle transportation, etc. I really wish I had a boat…
The hotel’s garden is just as impressive as the marina and accommodates weddings and events (for up to 350 people). The beautiful outdoor area even serves as a venue for concerts and shows, where the hotel’s guests can watch from their private balconies! The Hotel Coral also has eight different event halls to accommodate events, conferences, and meetings.
**Side-Note: This hotel is the only one in the area that has conference halls!
After seeing the Hotel Coral and its marina, we are taken to its restaurant, Bistro and Cava, for lunch. The theme for the restaurant is Baja-native foods such as seafood and organic vegetables caught and grown locally- and all components of the meals made “in-house”, including the bread and the butter that is at our table! We start our lunch with a clam ceviche followed by an oyster with a truffle oil salsa. The delicious seafood theme continued with mussels and scallops in a chili-fish broth and my personal favorite course of the whole meal: fresh local yellowtail, with portobello mushrooms in a squash and carrot sauce- mind-blowing. And of course the meal is incomplete without dessert so we finish off with a vanilla-ice-cream-and-raspberry-jelly tiramisu. Perfect.
Now I am not a big fan of fish markets because live fish kind of freak me out, but Lawrence insisted that I go see Ensenada’s famous fish market and I must admit: it was impressive. Local fishermen display their daily catch on kiosks all over the market and locals get the opportunity to buy fresh seafood every single day. This is what Baja is notorious for: fresh, local food. The people around here don’t really import anything because there is such an abundance of seafood on Baja’s long coastline, as well as great land for farming produce. This fish market literally has every variety of everything, and if I knew how to cook this place would be heaven for me. For those of you who are more domesticated than I am and can actually piece a meal together, you must, I repeat, must visit this market while you’re out here!
After the fish market we are sent to Bar Andaluz, which is a historical landmark in Ensenada. This gorgeous building is coated in Mexican history but the significance lies in the legend of the bar: bartender David Negrete is said to have invented the margarita here at Bar Anduluz. If you want a truly authentic margarita, this is your go-to spot! While my college professors may not necessarily be excited about my historical finding, I’m sure my college classmates are.
Now we are taking an hour or two to stroll through Ensenada’s shopping strip: a full street lined with shops and boutiques on either side. We get to see all sorts of authentic Mexican crafts, clothes, souvenirs, and art for sale- there is literally something for everyone here. The crafts are all hand-made and we are lucky enough to be able to watch the process; Lawrence gets me a bracelet with my name weaved into it and I get to see it being made, by hand. Within minutes the Mexican salesman/artist has created a personalized masterpiece for me, out of thread! In my treasure hunt, I also find beautiful jewelry and hair clips that are unlike anything I’ve seen in the States. The best part? Most of these wonderful treasures are sold for quite a bargain. How could I possibly resist that?
Now we head back to the hotel’s marina, and while all of the boats are privately-owned, the hotel’s owner sets us up for a private ride on his boat! For anyone interested in taking a boat ride, the Hotel Coral can have it arranged with some of the private owners!
We are literally riding off into the sunset, sailing away from the setting sun and the beautiful Baja coastline. The only other time I’ve ever seen sunsets so striking and colorful was when I was in the Mediterranean. Take my word for it: there is nothing like a Baja sunset. The colors in the sky make me wish I could pour it all in a glass and drink it. This is that special hour in Baja where the city, the ocean, and the sky all glow in a heavenly shade of 24-Karat-gold. Marvelous. Unbeatable. Unforgettable.
I’m pretty sure Lawrence had to drag me off of that boat, otherwise I would have never left- it was all too beautiful to walk away from. However, it’s now dinner time and we are sitting down at the Bistro and Cava with Chef Juan José Gomez; we get to sit down with the renowned chef, as his dishes are served to us- excellent. Gomez begins by explaining his ideology behind his creations; he utilizes what he calls “the Peninsular Concept”, which means he creates dishes that only use ingredients found in that particular region of the country. Gomez says that this is a healthier approach to dining and that using this concept is also better for the region’s economy.
“The Peninsular Concept is related with our ethnicity- it is related with all the item and products that we have in this peninsula.”, Gomez explains, “The ocean, alone, provides us with almost eighty percent of all the produce we need for this cuisine…I’m taking the best of this ethnicity…the best of this culture.”
Chef Gomez confirms that all vegetables used in his dishes are 100% organic and locally-grown; he says that they essentially don’t import anything at all, and actually end up exporting a lot of the produce.
**Side-Note: The Peninsular Cuisine Concept is recognized by UNESCO as a “heritage”.
Chef Gomez tells us that he came up with this concept fifteen years ago and explains, “I had to express my reality through this type of cuisine.”
Our first course is served: yellowtail with a reduction of sucrose and olive oil. Chef Gomez caught this fish yesterday from his boat. The first dish is both simple and delicious. Gomez tells us “I’m not pretentious with this type of cuisine because it has to be natural – I mean it has to look good for your pictures! But the taste is what I really care about.”
I am getting curious about what started Chef Gomez on his food-venture and when I ask, he tells me “My beginning was just like everybody else’s- washing pans and pots!”. When asked if he was ever classically trained, Gomez says “the real cuisine is found in your heart, not in a school.”
Next plate? Fresh mussels with four different salsas- all made from veggies found in the local garden. Chef Gomez insisted that we put our forks down for this plate and eat all of the mussels by hand. He told us that the metal in our silverware will ruin the flavor by changing the pH of the food- he tells us that, “You don’t make love with anything in between, you make love flesh-to-flesh- so make love to your plate!” Well, I think he must have been right because this dish is absolutely phenomenal.
Our next course is probably my favorite dish of the entire trip so far: shrimp wrapped in a white mushroom “paper” with a fresh garden herb sauce- just incredible. Who would have even thought to use mushroom as a wrap? Chef Gomez, of course. As I enjoy his creation he tells me “this [food] is not an idea- it is an expression of how I feel.”
The next course is a chicken breast with tomatoes, plantain, and a mango sauce- all organic, followed by a dessert to “clean the palate”. Just when I think the adventure of a meal is complete, Chef Gomez orders shots of Herradura Tequila to the table- he insists that the alcohol helps break down all the food. Before I sip my tequila I ask Gomez what his plans are for his Peninsular Concept and he tells me that he wants to “present this concept to the world at the next international culinary conference in January 2014” and that he wants to see his cuisine go global, “everything goes global now.” Well, I’ll drink to that. Cheers.
Here are links to ALL FIVE DAYS of my wonderful trip to Baja California:
Photographs by Lawrence Davis