Nov. 27 2015 03:41 PM

Elevated mariscos on the menu at Ensenada restaurant

worldfare
San Quintin Oysters with Mignonette
Photo by Michael A. Gardiner

The food at Muelle 3 (Blvd. Teniente Azueta 187, Malecon, Ensenada) isn’t traditional Mexican mariscos or modern BajaMed. But it’s exactly what you want in a dockside restaurant at a working Baja Mexico fishing port.

Somewhere between the perfection of Manzanilla Restaurant’s tiraditos and the rustic charm of roadside ceviches stands Muelle 3 (Pier 3). David Martinez started the eatery with his brother and Benito Molina (of Manzanilla), but bought them out several years ago. Chef Aldonéy García has continued with Molina’s culinary spirit (and some recipes).

As befits a restaurant located steps from fishing docks and the Mercado Negro market, the seafood coming off those boats determines Muelle 3’s daily menu.

It’s never a bad idea to start a Baja meal with oysters. These were from San Quintin, 185 kilometers south. What they lacked in size they made up for in deep, briny flavor. A classic mignonette, augmented by a hit of hot sauce, was the perfect accompaniment.

Molina’s influence was evident in the yellowtail tiradito. It was fantastically fresh fish presented with just enough manipulation—lime juice, soy sauce, a touch of olive oil and finely diced ginger and serrano chiles—to enhance its natural qualities. Perhaps it wasn’t presented with BajaMed beauty but those flavors were simple, pure and eloquent.

A mixed ceviche was at the other end of the traditional/new continuum. Featuring shrimp, octopus and yellowtail with a generous slice of avocado, chunks of tomato, onion and a lime-soy marinade, this was as close as García got to traditional mariscos. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Yellowtail appeared again on the menu, also seared with a soy-serrano-ginger sauce, accompanied by fried calamari and a green salad. Spectacular? No. It was the best ingredient available with nothing done to screw it up. That may sound like Muelle 3 lacks ambition. It doesn’t. It is its own ambition.

Mussels steamed with clams and served with perfect French fries is one of the best dishes at Muelle 3. García simmers the bivalves (mussels harvested from Punta Banda at the south of Ensenada’s bay) with tomatillos and fresh green chiles for a tangy, savory, slightly briny flavor profile. It’s moules et frites transported from Belgium to Baja.

The climax of Muelle 3’s tasting menu was a trio featuring a clam chowder, a cheese empanada and a smoked marlin pescadillo. The clam chowder was ordinary, at best, over-creamed and under-clammed. García’s “empanada” was a light affair of phyllo dough rather than the more traditional pastry. The highlight was the pescadillo, a cross between a quesadilla and a taco stuffed with savory smoked marlin. It’s an Ensenada specialty that is illegal on the Alta side of the border.

Muelle 3’s presentation might not scream “fine dining.” García may not be the next Baja super chef or the picture of traditional Mexican cuisine. The path he and Martinez have charted is a different one—a middle one. It’s everything you want and need in Baja seafood and nothing you don’t.

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