An asparagus salad with bacon, squash puree and cauliflower puree.(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)
Smoked tuna with avocado puree and onion ash on a fried round of corn dough from Corazon de Tierra.(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)
An amuse-bouche of beet meringue topped with goat cheese, beet puree and mint.(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)
The seafood risotto with oysters, clams and uni.(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)
Roast chicken with rosemary from Corazon de Tierra.(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)
Just arriving at Corazon de Tierra, a restaurant just off highway 3 in Baja California’s Guadalupe Valley, is a reward. You will need to brave a series of winding, seemingly endless unpaved roads full of ridiculous potholes. Trust that after one road zigzags in three directions, you’re still going the right way. And make sure your vehicle is capable of off-roading. Because all that thrashing around in the car — seriously, hold on — is well worth it.
Corazon de Tierra, owned by Eileen and Phil Gregory, adjacent to the Vena Cava winery and a gorgeous six-room hotel, is a farm-to-table Mexican restaurant, in every sense of the over-used term. There is no other way to describe how chef Diego Hernandez takes the vegetables and herbs grown on the restaurant’s property and turns them into five-course meals.
Hernandez — who is also a partner at Wendlandt Cerveceria in Ensenada; the executive chef and owner of Troika, a food truck on the Vena Cava winery; and chef and owner of the now-closed Uno in Tijuana — changes his menu daily, depending on what’s sprouting out of the dirt, just outside the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows.
A recent dinner included an amuse-bouche of shards of pale pink beet meringue topped with a dollop of goat cheese and a sweet beet puree; rounds of fried dough topped with smoked tuna, avocado puree and onion ash; a salad of asparagus, peppery lettuce, bacon, squash puree and cauliflower puree (plated like a piece of modern art); a seafood risotto with uni, clams and oysters; a bowl of vegetable broth with dill and swordfish; crispy bits of squid with corn “dust” in a neon green sauce made from sorrel and chlorophyll; a crispy-skinned roast chicken with rosemary; and for dessert, fennel ice cream with strawberries and lemon crumble.
Sunset in the dining room is breathtakingly beautiful, and the bullfrogs below provide a soothing soundtrack throughout the evening.
The presentation and service are both what you’d expect from any of the top fine dining restaurants in the states, but with a quarter of the price tag. The multi-course dinner is 880 pesos per person. So, depending on what the exchange rate happens to be that day, it comes out to around $46.
And because the restaurant is located on a winery, there’s plenty of wine to pair with your meal — just ask for a bottle recommendation.
If you can’t make it south of the border (maybe plan a trip over a long weekend), you may still be able to sample Hernandez’s cooking. He says he plans on opening a restaurant in Los Angeles in the near future.
Rancho San Marcos S/N, El Porvenir, 22750 Ensenada, B.C., Mexico
+52 (646) 156-8030, www,corazondetierra.com.
Will travel far for food. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @Jenn_Harris_