Thursday, April 22, 2010

Chef Benito Molina Interview - Baja California's True Pioneer

Chef Benito Molina by Iker Muris
Benito Molina Photo by Iker Muris

Chefs Benito Molina y Solange Muris by Iker MurisChefs Solange Muris and Benito Molina photo by Iker Muris

Many of the young talented chefs of Baja California I have met over the years have named Chef Benito Molina as their inspiration and mentor. Regarded as one of the most important figures in Baja California's culinary movement Benito Molina is a true pioneer.

Without putting a label on Benito's style I would describe it as, Artistically crafted dishes utilizing fresh local seafood, combined with the best local and regional ingredients, prepared in innovative fashion while preserving Mexican tradition.

I had a chance to sit down and with Chef Benito at his Restaurant Manzanilla which he runs with his wife Solange Muris. Manzanilla is one of Mexico's top dining destinations.

At what point in your life did you decide you wanted to become a chef?

My mother and grandmother are from Campeche in the Yucatan Peninsula and some of my fondest childhood memories are spending time with them in the markets in Campeche. The colors of the food and the aromas of the fresh fish are forever etched in my memories.

I didn't realize this was something I wanted to do professionally until I was about 20. One night I was laying down looking at the stars in my grandparents apartment in Mexico City and something just hit me. At the time I was studying economics and working a 9 to 5 job at a bank. I think part of the reason I got into economics was the influence of the movie by Oliver Stone, Wall Street, you know back in the 80s when I was going to High School in California everyone wanted to be Gordon Gecko (Michael Douglas character in the movie).

By year two of economics I was really struggling with the advanced math stuff. On the social side of college I was doing very well, I mean I would host some of the best parties and of course cook at the parties, but I really started to dislike the academic side.

So back to that night looking at the stars, I began searching for what made me happy. Everyday at my job in the bank we went out to eat with customers and my boss had me choose the restaurants we would eat at, this would be the highlight of my day, this is what made me happy. I also started to think back to my teen summer job as a busboy at French Restaurant Maxim's Mexico City, those times in that bustling, frantic kitchen stayed with me.

My childhood memories in the mercado in Campeche, experiencing the different restaurants while I was working my 9-5 at the bank, and spending time in the kitchen at Maxim's all culminated into a life changing moment. The next day I quit studying at the University and gave my boss at the bank my 2 weeks notice.

I returned to Maxim's and Mr. Jean Yves Ferrer gave me a job in the kitchen. I was very lucky because the chef did not speak Spanish and I was the only one who spoke French and Spanish. My first task was cleaning a huge amount of shallots , that day I knew I would dedicate the rest of my life to the kitchen.

Who were the most important influences in your career as a chef?

Jean Yves Ferrer who opened the door for me at Maxim's, Michel LeBorgne co-founder of New England Culinary Institute's (NECI) were I went to culinary school, and Chef Todd English.

How has your cuisine evolved from your first experiences in the kitchen to now?

Radical changes, I mean the first time I really started cooking their was so much of a French influence. I still think french food is fantastic but of course now my cuisine has more Mexican influence. I remember some of my best experiences at Maxim's was making some fantastic tacos de lengua for the staff.

You are originally from Mexico City how did you end up in Ensenada ?

I have an uncle from San Blas Nayarit, he was a Marine Biologist and happened to work at an oyster farm when I was a little kid. He would come to the city with the oysters and for me it was a huge event, I probably displayed more emotion when he showed up with the oysters then I did on Christmas Eve.

I grew up on in the city with no contact with the wild, I would sit out on my 10th story terrace and all I wanted was to go to the ocean or live on a farm. My uncle would tell me about Ensenada and it sounded like such an interesting place.

While I was attending High School in Ojai California a friend of of mine who was from Ensenada invited me down for the summer, this was my first experience in Ensenada and I loved it. The next time I came down to Baja was with another friend whose father owned huge professional tuna boats. At this time I had already been excepted into culinary school in Vermont but I wanted to go on the tuna boat before I went off to school.

I spent a month and a half at sea on the tuna boat and it was one of the most beautiful experiences I have had. Several years later, after I finished culinary school, I returned to Mexico City when I received a call from a friend whose brother was looking for a chef in Ensenada. He arranged a meeting with his brother Hugo D' Acosta who at the time ran Santo Tomas Winery and La Embotelladora Vieja. I took a tour of the facilities and of the beautiful countryside of the Valle de Guadalupe and I knew this is were I wanted to be.

My childhood dream of living in the country or by the sea was about to become a reality.

What are your favorite destinations in Mexico to dine?

Oaxaca without a doubt, Mexico City, and Campeche.

Restaurants Manzanilla, Muelle Tres, and Silvestre are your babies, do you and your wife Solange have plans to open anything new in the near future?

The deal is not sealed yet but we plan to open a special place in Tijuana, we already have the space picked out.

Im from San Diego, when you come to our town what is your favorite place to dine?

Sushi Ota for sure, I mean I dream of Sushi Ota.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Quick Day Trip In Tijuana

I'm out of state for the week but before I left I made sure I spent a few hours in Tijuana. Here is a little picture post.

Cabeza Tacos at La Chuleta Cento Tijuana
Tacos De Cabeza - La Chuleta Tijuana

Cerveza Tijuana Brewery
Cerveza Tijuana Brewery -TJ Beer

Cerveza Tijuana Beer Flight Sampler
Cerveza Tijuana Beer Flight

Mexican Microbrew from Beer Box Zona Rio Tijuana
Poe Beer - Beer Box Tijuana

Tacos De Costilla de Res Taninos Wine Bar Zona Rio Tijuana
Tacos de Costilla de res - Taninos Wine Bar Tijuana

Salsa for the Tacos de Costilla
Salsa For Tacos - Taninos Wine Bar Tijuana

Full write up on Beer Box Mexican Micro Brews to come...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

El Agave Gastro Bar - Mezcal for the Soul

Since first reporting about Ensenadas El Agave Gastro Bar back in October I've been anticipating expanding my knowledge in the world of premium Mezcals. I finally made it out to El Agave a few weeks ago and now It is time to profess my love for this fine spirit.

I remember my first introduction to Mezcal, I was probably in my early twenties bar hopping somewhere in Tijuana. I just remember some bottle with a worm inside that tasted like gasoline. Unfortunately most people are first introduced to a cheap, diluted, chemically altered, mass produced Mezcal,as I was.

The purity of true Mezcal has a distinctive soulful earthiness, floral undertones and elegant smoky qualities. As the gracious host "Chava" pulled down the obscure artisanal Mezcals from all over Oaxaca State, I noticed each had its own distinct character and purity.

El Agave Mezcal Bar

El Agave Gastro Bar - Ensenada

My notes became jaded after a few Mezcals, but I did manage to jot down Pierde Almas Mezcal as being one of the favorites of Ms. Masa and I. Pierde Almas is a double distilled spirit, primarily derived from three different species of agave, Espadin, Dobadaan, and the prized Tobala.

Pierde almas

As the Mezcals kept coming I was served some fresh botanas, the first was a simple house made guacamole spread on a tortilla.

El Agave Guac

If you follow my blog you no my love for stuffed chiles so when I looked at the board and noticed "Chiles de Agua" I just had to order it. Roasted Chiles de Agua stuffed with Oaxacan Cheese in a Black-Bean Purée. Spicy with herbal notes and the perfect accompaniment for my Mezcals.

Chile De Agua Oax

I was hoping to get some gusanos de maguey (which I love) but they were all out so I ordered some Chapulines, seasoned lemon and garlic roasted grasshoppers.

El Agave Chapulines and Mezcal

El Agave Chapulines

If you want to experience what an outstanding Mezcal and world-class spirit tastes like, check out El Agave Gastro bar. The owners Laura and Chava are super friendly and will be more then happy to give you a taste of Oaxaca. For more information you can visit my original post here.

El Agave Av. Ruiz #230-a (2nd and Ruiz)
Tel (646) 175-7467

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tijuana Nightlife

I ran across ran across a video by Kathleen Kilpatrick I thought Id share. The video describes the changes in Tijuana Nightlife specifically the Calle Sexta transformation.

TJ's New Nightlife from Kathleen Kilpatrick on Vimeo.

In other Tijuana news a popular video of mine got yanked off You Tube based on copyright grounds. I guess this big media conglomerate had issue with little ole Masa Assassin using a minute and forty seconds of one of their songs in a taco video. Ive been making videos for years and always use background music, I'm not sure what to think of this. I don't even use full songs and the quality is low.

Oh well I'm sure its a matter of time before this gets yanked so I'm in the process of coming up with different background music, meanwhile I'm open to any suggestions.

I don't want to type the name of the company because they are probably scouring the web but it sounds like Warmer Musaq Poop. I just read an article about someone who had a similar experience and wrote about it in detail here. Here is my video from the original post on Fitos Tacos Tijuana.

Worlds Fastest Taco Stand - Tacos Fitos Tijuana Mexico from Masa Assassin on Vimeo.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

El Sarmiento Restaurant Ensenada - Coastal Excellence in Baja

During my ride home back to San Diego from Ensenada this past weekend, I just had to smile. After spending the last few days in Ensenada, I could not have capped off my trip better then the meal I had at El Sarmiento.With breathtaking views, exceptional service, and a great chef El Sarmiento is a perfect addition to the culinary scene in Ensenada.

Chef/Owner Guillermo Jose Barreto just opened a few weeks ago and already has the local food and wine enthusiasts buzzing.Guillermo comes to Ensenada from Mexicali were he runs the successful "La Piazza". Guillermo studied the culinary arts in Italy, and has been inspired my chefs Benito Molina (Manzanilla/Muelle Tres/Silvestre) and Jair Tellez (Laja/Merotoro). Guillermo definitely brings a new and exiting twist to the local Baja scene with his use of fresh local ingredients and his classic Italian training.

When I first stepped into El Sarmiento I was embraced by the rustic charm. Small, cozy, and a stones throw away from the pacific ocean, whats not to love.

el Sarmiento outside

el Sarmiento inside

While we were waiting for some friends we were served a delightful potato soup. Potato, and leek, with hints of smoky bacon and bleu cheese.

el Sarmiento soup

For appetizers we each ordered the taquitos de lengua (tongue tacos). Simple and well put together. One tender slice of beef tongue complimented with cool cucumbers and guacamole topped with a mouth-watering pickled radish laced with serrano. An exciting rendition of tacos de lengua and worth the visit alone.

el Sarmiento lengua

The juicy shrimp skewers paired perfectly with asian chili sauce and green onion oil.

el Sarmiento shrimp

At this point I wanted to shoot myself because my camera was acting up, perhaps it was operator error, or maybe it had something to do with all the mezcal I had the day before. Unfortunately pictures I had taken of two standout dishes did not come out. One dish was a whole kilo of sirlion, so tender you could cut it with a fork, and the other was the fish of the day. The fish of the day was a table favorite. Fresh Yellowtail with chile oil, white wine, tomatoes and fresh parsley.

I really love Chef Guillermos chile oils and sauces. The yellowtail chile oil was a blend of three Mexican chiles, and I'm still thinking about the sauce that came with the sirloin steak. The sauce was a concoction of green onion, habanero, almond, and olive oil. Another great dish that put the chile oils to good use was the veal.Delicate tender veal topped with grilled (on applewood) asparagus and prosciutto.

el Sarmiento veal

El Sarmiento also bakes fresh bread daily and makes some amazing pizza. Everything is prepared in a Wood-fired oven.

el Sarmiento wood fired oven

el Sarmiento bread

el Sarmiento pizza

I highly recommend the cheesecake parfait. I would describe it as upside down guava cheesecake with almonds and sage incredibly delicious.

el Sarmiento Cheesecake Guava Parfait

We really enjoyed our time at El Sarmiento and look forward to the next visit. We had baby masa with us on this trip and she loved it, the place is very kid friendly. She loved playing outside, and in her words the "yummy" pizza. Of course I couldn't help but to think what a romantic spot this would be to enjoy without kids. Great food and wine with the picturesque backdrop of the Baja Sunset.My fellow food blogging friend Tania captured the beauty of the sunset very close to the location we were seated.

Baja Sunset By Tania Livier
Photo by:Tania Livier

El Sarmiento is opened Wednesday - Saturday 230pm-11pm
and Sunday from 1pm to 7pm. Major Credit Cards Excepted/Staff Bilingual
The location is adjacent to a wine shop (La Contra) and a neighboring restaurant.
KM.104 Scenic Highway 1 No 5826 El Sauzal, Ensenada BC Mex

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chile Rellenos - Dried Stuffed Ancho Chiles with Plantains and Cream

One of Mexicos most best-known dishes Chile Rellenos (stuffed chiles) is often prepared with fresh poblanos fried in light batter and heated in tomato sauce but there are many regional variances on this popular dish. Jalapeno, manzano, dried pasado, pasilla de Oaxaca, and chili ancho take your pick.

Although I'm a big fan of the battered poblano recipe I wanted to try something different with the poblanos dried cousin the chile ancho. I was soon inspired by a creation of Ricardo Munoz Zurita on the Rick Bayless show "Mexico - One Plate at a Time". How can I go wrong with a the culinary genius of Ricardo Zurita. Ricardo is the chef behind Mexico City's Azul y Oro and author of 4 cookbooks including the 600-page Encyclopedia of Mexican Gastronomy.

This recipe was not listed on Rick Bayless site and the exact measurements were not discussed so we pretty much had to eyeball it and take notes.

Stuffed Chile Ancho with Plantains and Crema


Serves 10

12 Chiles Ancho (Always purchase a few more then you need some might fall apart when you are removing seeds and veins)
4 very ripe Plantains
4-5 Garlic cloves crushed
1 whole chopped onion
3 chopped roma tomatoes
3/4 pound of panela chesse
1 small piloncillo cone
1/2 cup of grated piloncillo
dash of salt
dash of pepper

(Piloncillo is an unrefined sugar from Mexico produced in "cone" shapes of various sizes)


1 pound of Mexican Crema

Dissolve the whole cone of piloncillo in hot water, cover the chiles in the hot water, pushing them down into the water so that they are totally submerged. Soak for 10 min, Ricardo recommended 5 min but we did not achieve the level of softness we were looking for. You also do not want to soak the chiles to long or they will get to soft and fall apart.

Remove the chiles from water and carefully make a slit on one side and remove veins and seeds. Make sure the stem does not fall off and try not to tear the chile.

Bake the plantains for 10 min at 350

Chop tomatoes, queso panela and onions, crush the garlic and ground 1/2 cup of piloncillo. Remove plantains from oven and chop into cubes.

Heat oil and saute onion and garlic. Add tomato and cook for 5 min. Add plantains and cook for another 10 min. Add piloncillo powder, pinch of salt and pinch of pepper and mix well. Remove from heat and add queso panela.

Add 2-3 tablespoons of filling to each chile ancho. Fold crease over and place on a plate with crease down. Garnish with Crema and Parsley.

As I was shooting the final shots I caved in and took a bite.

Stuffed Chile Ancho with Plantains and Crema

The Chile Ancho is mild in spice and has somewhat of a fruity flavor. The flavor profile of the ancho played well with the plantains and we were very pleased with the results. I have been craving Chiles en Nogada but they are not in season yet so this was a nice alternative that is much easier to make. I guess we will have to go for the trifecta and feature the ever so popular battered Chile Rellenos soon.

Chiles en Nogada

Chiles en Nogada

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Restaurante UNO Tijuana - Showcasing Baja California's Talented Young Chefs

********Closed********* This talented Chef is now at Corazon De Tierra in Valle de Guadalupe, Ensenada After several months away from Tijuana what was one of the first places I couldn't wait to get back to? A restaurant in Gastronomic District? No not exactly, the very first place that came to mind was near the Agua Caliente Racetrack and it was none other than Restaurante UNO.

UNO Logo

My wife and I wanted a special, relaxing and intimate dining experience and UNO did not disappoint. Just like our first visit the service was exceptional.UNOs kitchen is run by two young and talented chefs Ricardo Hiroshi Uno and Diego Hernández. On this particular day Diego Hernández was at the helm.

During childhood visits to the markets in Toluca Mexico, Diego Hernández became fascinated by the colors and aromas of the food products. Diegos grandmother was a great cook and she was a key factor in sparking Diegos interest into the culinary world. At the young age of 18 Diego began to work with pioneering chef Benito Molina at Manzanilla Restaurant in Ensenada. Diegos time in Ensenada with Benito opened his eyes to the wonderful regional products of Baja California.

Fresh fish from Ensenada, salads from the garden, pork from ranches in Rosarito, beef from Hermosillo, wine from the Valle De Guadalupe, we could not decide on what to order so we asked Diego to showcase his talents and went for the Menu de Degustation. Degustation turned out to be an 8 course meal that represented all the best the region had to offer fused together with the chefs creative techniques.


A shot of Mexican amber beer with shrimp, clam, and mussels.

Uno Shot - Dark Beer, Shrimp, Clams, Mussels.


Smoked oysters

Baja Oysters


Pork Tocina with black habenero, crema, masa and avocado balls, on a bed of white beans.

Tocina- Pork On a bead of White Beans, Crema,


Chocolate Clam roasted habenero soup with smoked bread laced with lemongrass shavings.

Chocalate Clam Soup with Smoked Lemon Grass Bread


Arugula green bean salad with queso fresco

Arugula Green Bean Salad with queso Fresco


Jurel (Yellowtail) in a chile sauce of chile cascabel, peanuts, and sesame served with fresh vegetables.

 Yellowtail in Chili Casacabel Sesame Sauce


Lechon en Adobada with a puré of serrano and avocado, emulsion of corn and fried beans.

Lechon en Adobada, pure of serrano avocado, corn emulsion, and fried beans.

OCHO was actually a creme brulee I gobbled up so fast I didn't get to snap a picture.

So their you have it, another unique dining experience at Restaurante Uno. Everything that came out of the kitchen was a great pleasure of the senses but I must say, my favorite dish would have to be the Pork Tocina. Succulent pork with little corn masa balls are you kidding me? Everything about this worked like a symphony. The spice of the black habenero, complemented by sweet corn masa balls, cooled with fresh avocado and crema with the subtle white beans providing the canvas for the art.

Come experience the talent of the young chefs in Baja.

Av. de Las Ferias #5202, Col. del Bosque C.P. 22o34 Tijuana, B.C Mexico.
Reservations (664) 681.3203

View Larger Map

UNO Website (Spanish)

UNO Blog
UNO Facebook Page