VALLE DE GUADALUPE, B.C. In 2014, acclaimed South African chef Ryan Steyn partnered with award-winning vintner Tru Miller to open El Jardin de Adobe, their outdoor campestre kitchen nestled on an idyllic, sun-dappled patio beneath olive and pepper trees at Adobe Guadalupe. El Jardin opened for their second season in April and we visited them recently to try out chef Ryan's new menu.
Though only re-legalized earlier this year for sale in here in California, chefs in Baja California have been doing some amazing things with the ingredient throughout our prohibition. Chef Ryan's amuse-bouche of foie gras is coated in a layer of hibiscus jelly, sprinkled with edible flowers and served atop a sugary bed of almond praline. The combination of crunchy and creamy, sweet and savory belies an Asian influence.
Chef Ryan's Peruvian ceviche of local yellowtail "cooks" in lemon and is then combined with an aji chili sauce and served with avocado, red onions and greens from the chef's garden. The aji adds a piquant heat to the dish and the toothsome yellowtail is cut in larger pieces than Mexican ceviche, typical of the Peruvian preparation.
El Jardin's new menu pays homage to some of Ensenada's well-known regional landmarks. Mercado Negro features several different types of shellfish, aligned in a row much like the city's seafood market stalls. La Bufadora (pictured) is a tiradito of geoduck, fresh garden vegetables and tobiko playfully arranged on plexiglass that's affixed to the top of a wooden box. The dish is served with dry ice in the box, which rises through the "blowhole" in the plexi - much like the waves through the rocks at the dish's namesake.
El Jardin's beef Carpaccio is an incestuous affair that blends elements of both carpaccio and it's close cousin, steak tartare. The meat is not cut and pounded quite as thinly as a true carpaccio, and in the spirit of tartare, the binding agent is served on the side here, simply as yolk inside its shell. Tip it over the succulent beef, and let it intermingle with the Dijon mustard, olive oil, onions, radish and garden greens. Delicious.
Chef Ryan transports diners to the Mediterranean with his hearty fettuccini and local mussels. Thick al-dente strands of house-made pasta are covered in a ragout of wine, lemon, garlic and butter sauce. Served with a generous amount of meaty, local mussels that are best dipped in the sauce before devouring.
From El Nido in Rosarito Beach to Tijuana's top modern Mexican kitchens, quail is a long-time staple of Baja California so it's important to get it right. El Jardin's quail is spot on, grilled to perfection on the outside and moist on the inside. The delectable bird is topped with fresh garden greens and edible flowers, and served with a side of stacked, salty pomme frites and sweet caramelized onions.
Fittingly, our postre was served in the same dish as the amuse-bouche that started our meal. And the bowl's content was of a similar Asian influence. A rich, creamy gelato of black sesame seed is served atop a sweet, cracked bunelo. The dense gelato is the perfect delivery vehicle for the main ingredient and the toasted sesame lingers long after the desert is gone.
To get to El Jardin de Adobe in the Valle de Guadalupe, arriving to the village of El Porvenir from the south, follow signs at the end of town to the left on a dirt road to Adobe Guadalupe. The guard will direct you to the restaurant. Prices are inexpensive moderate.