chocolate hippos

valle de guadalupe day 1

20 years ago I went on a day trip to Tijuana, and haven’t since been back to this area of Mexico.  Yes, I’ve been to many other places in this beautiful country.  But it wasn’t until my friend Lesley Tellez told me about the Valle de Guadalupe and its bounty of wineries and farm to table restaurants that I decided to return.  For those of you that don’t know, Valle de Guadalupe is also known as “Little Napa” and has over 50 wineries and is growing at a very fast pace.

We arrived late in the day on Thursday, me being slightly depressed after having said good-bye to Chelsea in Portland earlier that day.  We crossed the border in Tijuana and drove along Mexico’s stunning Pacific coast for about an hour before turning off onto the “Ruta del Vino”.  I was expecting a more Napa-like landscape, but Valle de Guadalupe reminded me more of Mendoza 15 years ago than anything I’ve ever experienced in Napa.  Although the main thoroughfare through the wine country is a paved highway, many of the hotels and wineries are on dirt roads just off the Ruta del Vino.

After a dusty 10 minute drive on a very bumpy dirt road, we arrived at our oasis in the desert, La Villa del Valle.  As of now, this is one of the nicer places to stay.  And it is nice, but if they tried a little harder, they could truly be a first class boutique hotel.  A glass of wine upon arrival.  Sound proof the walls/doors.  Owners that seem interested in all of their guests.  Little things, but its the little things that make a difference.  If I open my hotel here, I’ll let you know.

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Exhausted after a day of traveling and eager to start drinking wine, we changed and headed downstairs for a quick happy hour glass of wine in the comfortable living room/den area.  After playing with the dogs and a bit of chit chat with other couples staying in the Villa (they have 6 rooms), we headed over to the hotels much talked about restaurant, Corazon de Tierra.  Diego Hernandez is the brilliant chef behind Corazon de Tierra, and he is certainly helping to change the way the world looks at Mexican food.  There is no menu, just a fixed charge for 6-7 courses of whatever was fresh at the market (or from their extensive garden) that day.  For those of you that think Mexican food is all about tacos and spicey food, I hope this post changes your mind.  I will do my best to describe the following dishes, but my spanish translation skills, especially after a few glasses of wine, still need some work.

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This was a Smoked Rock Cod on a Masa Cracker with a Fresh Herb Garnish.

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Roasted Oyster with Rancho Cortez Cheese and Serrano Ham.  My pictures do not do this food justice.

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The bread was served with a pesto made from carrot greens.  Not only do they strive to use only local ingredients (the vegetables are grown outside the restaurant), but they use every part of the vegetable possible.

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If you’ve ever watched Top Chef, you know what Geoduck is.  And if you know me, you know I’d never eat Geoduck.  Google it and you’ll see why.  But chef Hernandez changed me with his Geoduck Ceviche with Cucumbers and Mint.  Yes, I ate it…..and liked it.  The briny geoduck matched perfectly with the crunchy cucumbers and cool mint.

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The tomatoes in this dish were so outstanding, I ate 3/4 of them before realizing I hadn’t taken a picture yet.  This was a salad of Smoked Tomatoes with Crispy Rabbit, Purslane and Goat Cheese Cream.  Goat cheese in Mexico is better than goat cheese anywhere else, I promise.  And these tomatoes….perhaps the freshest, sweetest tomatoes I’ve ever had.

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Once again, I took horrible pictures of this meal.  My apologies.  This was Pan Roasted Sea Bass with Grilled Baby Eggplant and Some Delicious Sauce.  Fresh and perfect.

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Seared Duck Breast with Mole Negro and Roasted Vegetables.  The duck was perfectly moist and not fatty; the mole strong and spicy, just the way I like it.

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Yes, I know the picture is blurry, but I wanted you to know about the lovely Pomegranate Granita with Frozen Grapes.  A perfect palate cleanser.  Which makes me wonder, why aren’t more chefs cleansing my palate.  I love this stuff.

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I can’t even tell you what was going happening on this dessert plate, except that there was Beet Panna Cotta and it was fabulous.  Sweet, earthy, creamy.  And all of the other stuff on the plate was perfect…the ice cream, the nougat-like stuff.  A perfect ending to a brilliant meal.  Mexican food…who knew?

Off to bed, as tomorrow is a jam-packed wine tasting day!

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