Manzanilla Restaurant Is On the Move

Manzanilla is a popular bistro with local, regional, national and international food and wine lovers. Recently they’ve relocated to the harbor area of Ensenada near the Migration and Harbor Master offices directly across from the boat repair yards on the north side of the port. Due to the fact that there is no sign or street address, I’ll give you exact directions for those coming from Rosarito into downtown Ensenada. As you enter the port area of downtown on Highway One you’ll see the harbor, and as you approach the first stop light you’ll see a sign on the right shoulder that reads: Migration. On the left side of the intersection is a Pemex fuel station. Turn right here, move towards the Migration office on the right side, look for a coffee shop called Cafe Tomas and park nearby. Walk about 200 feet towards the water and look for an arch made of 2×4’s on the right, this is the entrance.

This week I’m joined in my culinary research by two Canadian gourmet chefs, Brad Milne and Beemal Vasani of www.souschef.com. They operate a successful gourmet food outlet in Saskatchewan, pronounced sas KACH uh wahn, one of the Prairie Provinces of Canada, and home to the greatest wheat-growing region in North America. Its farmers produce about half of Canada’s wheat thus gaining the nickname of “Canada’s Breadbasket” ~ in fact ~ the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool is one of the world’s largest marketing cooperatives. Beemal and Brad actually live and work in the city of Saskatoon which has Saskatchewan’s largest population center. Saskatoon is located in Southern Saskatchewan and is surrounded by a rich farming region. Major oil fields were discovered here during the 1950′s bringing sudden change and prosperity to these prairies. Today, Saskatchewan produces about 25 percent of Canada’s petroleum, and is a leading oil producer of North America. Potash mining is a major industry in this province which is used in fertilizers, and has propelled Saskatchewan to one of the world’s leading producers of potash. Adding to their “economic resurrection” has been the recent discovery of high quality diamonds in the region and large amounts of mineral resources that provides almost all of Canada’s uranium. All this activity gives Beemal and Brad an opportunity to market their gourmet produces to an affluent community that appreciates “world class” cuisine, wine and premium food items.

Brad and Beemal are here in Mexico to research and invest in the abundant resources of Baja California Norte. Beemal’s family members have purchased a home in the oceanfront community of Medio Camino and will spend part of each year in our neighborhood. We’ve been touring the gourmet food sector in the region for a few days as well as exploring the wine country and sampling the gourmet cuisine of this region’s culinary wizards. This adventure has led us to Manzanilla Restaurant and into conversation with one of the owners, Javier Martinez. He explains to my Canadian friends that “we focus here on the use of fresh ingredients, local seafood, regional food products, all blended together with creative recipes, and well-suited to compliment our local wine products. We’ve created a casual and relaxed environment that caters to those who love original recipes, artistically prepared, using fresh regional products.” He further tells us that his menu prices range from $5 usd for starters (entradas) to about $27 usd for their amazing Rib Eye Añejo de Sonora. One of their signature dishes is Calamares Manchez, a supreme blend of fresh greens, beets, herbs, spices and tender pieces of local squid. As we explore this culinary wonder, we (gracefully) devour two other entradas ~ Tartara de Pescado and Ostiones Ramonetti. All three of us agreed that the Calamares Manchez is a “stunning delight” with good reviews for the Ostiones Ramonetti which is made from oysters grown in San Quintin and topped with aged cheese from Ramonetti dairy farms in Ojos Negros. Both Canadian chefs said they would improve the Tartara de Pescado with more spice flavors, but Beemal commented that “the Calamares Manchez presentation was sensational, well-balanced with flavors complimenting each other, and the calamari is cooked to perfection.” Although Brad is not a big fan of oysters in general, he commented “that the oysters were fresh tasting and the cheese topping was remarkable.” For those of you who have yet to discover oysters from San Quintin, you should note that they are winning international recognition and awards for their superior quality and taste.

Our international team of culinary explorers continued on with three main entrees: Albondigas de Camaron, Risotto de Mar, and Fedellini de Almeja. Beemal commented “the Albondigas de Camaron presentation was stunning. I liked the fact that the heads were left on the shrimp, as it appeared that the entire shrimp looked more like a small lobster. The shrimp had great flavor.” Brad felt “the shrimp may have been slightly under cooked, but I loved the visual presentation, colors and texture, with the salsa complimented the shrimp very nicely.” All three os us were delighted with the Risotto de Mar. Beemal noted, “it was fantastic, a very nice mix, great use of regional cheese, and perfectly cooked risotto. The Fedellini de Almeja was excellent, but cooled too fast before we could finish the entree. Brad suggested that “maybe the serving dish could be warmed to hold the heat better, or served with clam shells to hold the warmth.” Brad paired his meal with a 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Estacion, Porvenir which he said “paired nicely with all the dishes.” I experimented with two 2006 reds, Xecue Cabernet Sauvignon and Xecue Merlot ~ both good wines that are sold by the glass at Manzanilla.

Manzanilla has a good wine list with over fifteen options by the bottle and three wines offered by the glass. Some wines on their list that caught my attention were, 2005 Roganto Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 Roganto Tempranillo, 2006 Alximia Merlot, 2002 Callave Cabernet Franc and Merlot blend, and 2006 Octubre 3 Carignane.

This charming bistro is still in the process of moving and getting set up in their new location. They are open Wednesdays thru Saturday from lunch through dinner. The bar is a magnificent piece of furniture and adds real class to the dinning room and bar area. Beemal remarked, “I feel this is the first place I’ve walked into that has developed a character and ambiance. You know that a nice meal is coming. I’m a big eater and the portions presented here are perfect.” Brad adds, “they’ve taken a converted space and turned it into a nice venue with good use of available space and with the addition of a brilliant bar.” We ended that afternoon with three wonderful dessert items: Cascade de Chocolate, Creme Brulee and Strawberry Mousse del Dia. Overall we were pleased with the quality of the food, enjoyed superior service and enjoyed the new location. The dessert items were the grand finale for a remarkable culinary adventure, and we were blessed with one week of perfect weather in the 70’s. Beemal and Brad are back in Saskatoon where the temperature is about 40 degrees below zero. I’m wondering if they’re thinking about their new friend and the wonderful port City of Ensenada. I’m guessing these thoughts and memories are now “frozen” into their minds ~ and, we hope to see them soon. I appreciated their global perspective, knowledge of gourmet food and quality wine, generosity, and friendship.