Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Silvestre: The Ultimate Al Fresco Vineyard-side Dining, Baja Style

Our van turned into an unmarked vineyard and parked on a dirt road. The 25 or so of us food bloggers/writers/chefs/restaurateurs found ourselves at a place markedly different than the rest of our Baja adventure. Quiet and unassuming - I thought we were in the middle of nowhere, but follow Street Gourmet LA, our group leader.

Then we saw the small green sign on the tree, almost hidden behind the leaves. Silvestre.
We've tried two other of Benito Molina's restaurants down in Ensenada earlier that day, Muelle 3 and Manzanilla, but this one was it. If Thomas Keller has French Laundry, Benito Molina has Silvestre. Both in the wine country setting, but markedly different. While FL is classic French that makes you feel like a royalty, Silvestre is super casual. Hey, you're in Baja!

We walked pretty far down the road and I still didn't see any building that looked like a restaurant. That's because there wasn't one to be found. Silvestre is outdoor dining all the way through. The kitchen is an open air kitchen that's only covered with fabric to avoid the rain. Benito mans the kitchen every summer with the help of three people both in the kitchen and the dining area.
Right nearby you'll also see the outdoor grill - a rabbit was cooking on top when we got there.

And where do we fit in? It's like a picnic in the vineyard - foldable plastic chairs, long tables with very simple settings. And a wondrous view of the vineyard and the mountains in the distance. Gorgeous.
Jamaica and wine started to flow on the tables. The jamaica here is light and unsweetened. We started with a 2008 Filidith from Estacion, Benito's own Zinfandel. This was a clear and crisp white wine.
To get our appetites going were some jicama and cucumber with a dose of chili powder.
As I've mentioned, Benito had three total helpers at Silvestre, so not only was he cooking, he was also serving us our food and wine with that friendly smile of his.

Unlike our shotgun eat and run method we've employed throughout our marathon so far, Silvestre was assigned as our last real meal, to be enjoyed slowly and thoroughly, and we set out for a relaxed meal.

The meal began with a locally farmed bluefin tuna in soy sauce, olive oil, vinegar, serrano chile and garlic.
We actually saw this farm on the bus ride down to Ensenada - quite local, indeed, and tasted so fresh. The simple marinade was so flavorful yet remains not overpowering - a favorite of many of us during the night.

Next was a farm-raised abalone (4 year old) ceviche with tomato, green olive, white wine, and cream.
Another fresh and flavorful seafood preparation, this abalone was more tender than most I've had before. Rich and creamy, this became my own favorite.

Grilled rocot (ocean perch) with nopales salad.
This white fish was extremely moist and tender. It had a wonderful texture reminiscent of a butter fish. The mesquite grill gave a nice flavor and paired well with the pickled nopales (prickly pear cactus).

Yucatan-style pork shank with orange juice, achiote, anatto paste.
The tender meat was truly infused with the flavors of the broth.

Then came a plate of local cheeses from the an Italian family-run ranch Rancho a la Campana in the town of Ojos Negros just southeast of Ensenada. We had four cheeses: fresh cheese, pepper, rosemary, and aged.
I loved the texture of mexican queso - firm but tender and airy. Out of the four, my favorites were the fresh cheese and the rosemary. The aged cheese had a more intense flavor but was also firmer and did not have the same chewy texture.

The meal ended with a simple fruit bowl, lightly doused in syrup.
Benito's seemingly simple and casual cuisine at Silvestre mirrors the lovely al fresco ambiance. We took our time dining here, taking in the view of the valley and at one time even played in the rain. Come here on your summer vacation and just relax over some great food.

open Saturday and Sunday from June to October.
Located on Carretera Ensenada-Tecate HWY 3 at KM 83
Valle de Guadalupe, Baja, Mexico
(no I couldn't find an address, that's how awesome it was. How to make a reservation? I have no idea but I'm sure Street Gourmet LA knows!)



Mmmmm...abalone ceviche, very nice!!


Jeff Barry

Everything looks good there. I might have to go there sometime


I would've liked this meal if I wasn't so tired, but the food was definitely outstanding. I loved the tuna crudo, amazing dish.

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