The food festival circuit is a doozy, these days. And with how exhausting each event is, it’s easy to fatigue early on. There’s dealing with the line wait in front of the popular stands, but there’s also the prioritizing that goes on to ensure you’re getting the good stuff before you get full. The sold-out Tacolandia stood to be no different.
I remember the anticipation we all felt when the Baja chefs came to Street Food Fest at the Rose Bowl in the summer of 2011. It was just the ingredient needed to take the festival to a new level. Not only would we be having access to some of the best street food in LA at one place, we’d also be experiencing the best of Baja.
Thanks to Reverse Coyote Bill Esparza, there’s been quite a bit of sharing going on across the California-Mexico border. We Angelenos get to reap the benefits at Playa, the playground of Sedlar’s latest experimentation. As he is currently changing the menus here, we’ll get to go straight to the sources of his inspiration thanks to this series.
Cue the installment going on now, starting with Sabina Bandera Gonzales of La Guerrerense, who will be cooking with Chef Sedlar now until tomorrow, Tuesday, September 18th – though the menus for each installment will actually be available all week long. Sabina brings dishes her top seafood stand seasoned with a variety of unique salsas. A la carte menu items are $5-$18 and include:
- Tostada of sea urchin ceviche with clam on top
- Tostada of sea snail ceviche with slices of sea snail on top
- Tostada campechana (tuna fish ceviche with scallops, octopus, shrimp and sea snail on top)
- Campechano cocktail (Cup of shrimp, octopus, scallops and sea snail)
- Codfish ceviche (cooked in olive oil with vegetables, olives, capers)
- Tostada of tuna smoked pate with scallops on top
It was my second invitation to Mexico by the famed Baja tours star Bill Esparza, a.k.a. Street Gourmet LA, and not one to be taken lightly. This particular mission: The 10th anniversary celebration of La Querencia, Chef Miguel Angel Guerrero YagÃ¼es’ famous spot in Tijuana. It was aptly named Festival of the Hunt,Â with game meat being the hallmark of 9+ courses in all.
The chef, for whom it is no coincidence that he is also a diver, hunter, and fisherman since his diners see his catches on their platters at La Querencia, had just returned from an expedition in preparation for this event. And so we enjoyed duck, goose, deer, pheasant, quail andÂ rabbit all for the purposes of this 12-hour, round-tripÂ adventure in Mexico. That’s how I roll.
The wine pairings were an unfortunate component of the dinner, and were actually disruptive to our enjoyment of these carefully crafted dishes by Chef YagÃ¼es. After awhile, my fellow diners Bill,Â Chuy (whoÂ was a wonderful translator)Â Tomo and I stopped sipping the wine so we could really taste what we were eating.
I loved this fiery-turned-sweet jalapeno, which encased rabbit escabeche. The pickled mixture inside the brown sugared jalapeno lay upon zags of a bright, delicious beet vinaigrette. It was definitely a dish for the senses; I licked thisÂ plate.
Another favorite of mine was a very unordinary meatball soup. In fact, it was an etouffe of pheasant breast meatballs and white fava beans. I don’t remember the last time I had pheasant, but the taste of these particular meatballs really shone against the mild-yet-still-flavorful tomato based soup and substantiveÂ fava beans. It’s probably the most flavorful breast meat I’ve had – very rich, tender and not gamey as an unexperienced palate like mine might expect (and yes, despite the theme of the night and cuisine of the restaurant). The texture of the soup was really played up with thanks to the addition of crispy onions. So delicious!
Last, but not least, was the linguine dish topped with Blacktail deer – probably the heaviest tasting meat of the night. The sparkling wine reduction and linguine were a great way to complement the shreddedÂ Blacktail, with the subtle,Â smokey charcoal notes bringing everything together. The portioning of this was perfect, with the 9+ course dinnerÂ culminating with this.
All in all, this was a really enjoyable one-off experience with some really extraordinary plates coming out ofÂ the kitchen. I’m told that there is a particularly spectacular scallops dish that is regularly on their menu. So until my next visit, La Querencia…
Av. Escuadron 201, No. 3110
(between Bl. Sanchez Taboada and Bl. Salinas)
Only pork could be worthy motivation to spend a mere 8 hours south of the border. Last night’s trip was my first time crossing that border – and it was well worth it. Bill of Street Gourmet LA guided Jo of My Last Bite, Fiona of Gourmet Pigs (ha ha) and me around that Northern Mexican city and I can vouch that he is an invaluable guide to have.
The flyer said “Pork 5 Ways” and indeed, there were 5 chefs, but there were more than 5 ways in which pig was prepared. My favorite dish was the dessert – and I loved that it being dessert was nary a reason to cop out of the theme. It blew my mind in execution.
The BuÃ±uelos itself was a crunchy, crispy wafer with hints of cinnamon and sat on top of braised, soft pork belly. The pork belly itself wasn’t marinated in anything especially remarkable and was allowed to stand on its own, with the assembly on the plate carrying it through. The sweet agave syrup drizzled over the dish was just the right amount of sweetness to not make it saccharine. It was also infused with bacon, which matched the depth and heft of the dish. But the perfect touch? The ginger and lemon grass ice cream. The refreshing, cold notes of the ice cream brought perfect highlights, really finishing the dessert off nicely with some kick.
This dish was brought to us by Chef Paul Zamudio of Cabo San Lucas, who also prepared delicious pork cheeks sous vide – another one of my favorites for the night. I hope that the border doesn’t continue to separate his cooking from my palate – but I’m sure that Bill will see to it that it doesn’t.
By the way, this post is dedicated to Josh of Food GPS, whose love of pig consumption (and his detailing the best dishes in his Dose of Vitamin P series) has always inspiredÂ this particularÂ Tijuana crew. We were sad to hear of his recent week of disappointing pork dishes, and thought he had somehowÂ “taken one for the team” since our porkÂ dishes in Tijuana were so successful.Â So thanks, Josh.