It is no longer a secret that one of the great culinary destinations in our region is Mexico's Valle de Guadalupe. It did not remain a secret for long. There's the media-juiced star power of Javier Plascencia's Finca Altozano, the Michelin-starred juice of Deckman's en El Mogor and the utter perfection of Laja and Corazon del Tierra. It is hot and the foodie media is all over it."
So Roberto Alcocer and his Malva Cocina de Baja California (Km. 96 Route 3, San Antonio De Las Minas, Baja) are something of a rarity: a brilliant chef and great restaurant working a known patch of turf under the radar and beneath the glare of the media. This won't be a secret for much longer.
Like a number of the better restaurants in the Guadalupe Valley, Malva's “dining room” is outdoors, under an open palapa. The heady atmosphere floats over the Valle vineyards and is licked by the coastal winds. Our multi-course menú experiencia began with a duo of oysters, one grilled with a serrano-butter sauce featuring the flavor of the chile rather than its heat; the other raw in a mignonette sauce made with Chinese black vinegar. It was a subtly promising start to the meal, neither groundbreaking nor obvious, but about contrasting flavor profiles and textures.
The fireworks started with the next course—yellowtail crudo with jicama kimchi, a habañero mayonnaise and a nori seaweed garnish. With three such assertive elements I was expecting a powerhouse but received a finessed study instead. Rather than weighing down the kimchi yellowtail the mayonnaise served to elevate the crudo.
The highlight of the meal was the ensalada del huerto. The words translate as “garden salad,” but it was so much more than that. While salad dishes are less “cooked” than they are curated, this was very much both. It was a vegetable concerto in the key of pepper (sweet and shishito) with raw ingredients—most notably fresh figs—playing with pickled, puréed, roasted and toasted ones all tied together by vinaigrette. It was enough to restore the faith of a fallen vegetarian.
There was a luxurious cream of chicharron featuring nuggets of cheese melting in the soup. There was a perfectly roasted block of escolar over Southern-style grits and tomato purée with pickled onion and purslane. But if that salad was not the dish of the day those honors would have to go to lamb—slowly roasted in a wood-fired oven for 14 hours and then pressed into a perfect cube—sitting atop a creamy cauliflower pureé bathed in a reduction sauce from the same lamb. Deep. Rich. Profound. Perfect.
With a résumé that includes Sergi Arola's groundbreaking La Broche in Madrid, Enrique Olvera's Pujol in Mexico City (number 16 on the San Pelligrino Top 50 restaurants in the world), that Roberto Alcocer can cook should not surprise. That Alcocer and Malva are not more frequently mentioned at the top level of the Valle's culinary treasures—now that's a surprise. And that too might—indeed should—change soon.