The love for Baja California and Chefs Benito Molina and Solange Muris was beaming off of the diners at El Take it Easy in San Diego, on Monday night. A taste of their Ensenada restaurant Manzanilla and Baja’s beautiful ingredients were represented in an exquisite five course meal.
The evening started off with this litte gem. An amuse bouche consisting of a tostadita topped with abalone, achiote, and micro greens. The one bite wonder was washed down with a shot of El Take it Easy’s cocktail Condesa Güera. The little shot glass packed a punch as well with Gin, Cointreau, citrus, and an added dash of Tabasco hot sauce. The two preformed their own dance number in my mouth, and immediately opened up my palate for what was to come.
The first course was called Marine Surprise. Chef Benito Molina recommended starting with the fresh oyster and working your way around the plate in a clockwise fashion. So it began, a mini colorful adventure tasting the fruits and treasures of the ocean. On the plate was one of the tiniest Kumamoto Oysters that I have ever seen. It had a dash of soy sauce, and that was all it needed. Its natural flavors shined through, and set a nice tone for the rest of the tastings. After that was a piece of Yellowtail with a touch of ginger and serrano chile. This was a contender for my favorite of the plate. The brightest of the bunch was the Sea Urchin, with its striking buttery texture. To the left was a manila clam topped with smoked tuna. I just can’t get over how many flavors were packed into the few bites it took to finish it. The last and also a contender as my favorite were the barnacles. This was admittingly my first time trying these tiny creatures, and I was taken away by their odd beauty and delicious flavor. Every ingredient on the plate was incredibly fresh, and each had their own characteristics and personality representing them. There was a moment when I went off into my own memory of standing at the tide pools as a child. I will never forget the smell of the refreshing salty air. There you have it, a dish that took me right down memory lane.
The second course was a bowl of Shrimp Albondigas. The bowl was set in front of you with the shrimp albondigas, nopales, and chicharrones, and then poured over the top was a “Baja Cantina” shrimp broth. Don’t let the size of these meatballs fool you. These were literally some of the most flavorful meatballs that I have had. Each spoonful of spicy shrimp broth had a crunch from the chicharrón, and a bit of brininess from the nopales. The flavors came together and created their own symphony.
The third course was Antonio’s favorite of the evening. Valle de Guadalupe Quail rested on a black bean puree, and shared the plate with a Manila clam, and a mushroom salad with kimchi and adobo flavors. I truly think that quail should be on menus more often. Everything about this tiny bird is gorgeous. This quail was cooked perfectly, and full of its natural juices. An ideally constructed bite of either the clam or quail with the black bean puree, and mushroom salad was just divine.
As if I wasn’t already blown away by all of the courses before this, the fourth ended up coming out as my favorite of the evening. The dish was a lamb bolognese on top of a creamy risotto made from Ramonetti Cheese of Ojos Negros in Ensenada. The aromas of fresh basil, lamb, and cheese from this dish were just intoxicating. All though the dish was rich, I easily finished every last morsel on my plate. I literally don’t have words, I am just sitting here reminiscing and wishing that I had that very plate in front of me once again.
The fifth and final course was a Chamomile Panna Cotta. The velvety Panna Cotta was drizzled with Chamomile honey and sprinkled with cookie crumbles. An added color and burst of vibrant flavor came from the strawberries that shared the plate. The honey added just the right amount of sweetness, and actually made the dessert refreshing in its own way.
We had a wonderful evening at Benito y Solange’s Pop-up dinner. How could one not fall in love with the food from Baja California, after these incredible pop up dinners have taken place here in San Diego?
Pictured below is Olivier Bioteau of Farm House Cafe in San Diego, Chef Benito Molina, the lovely Keli Dailey, and Jay Porter of El Take It Easy.