CALL ME SWEET POTATO PRINCESS - I was having dinner with my friend Hunter White the other day, explaining my family tree and he very seriously looked at me and said: “Oh. Yes. I know what...
Monday, September 7, 2009
La Guerrerense:The Streetcart named Desire
It's been more than a year since I was first introduced to La Guerrerense by Benito Molina, my good friend and top Mexican chef.Another friend, Alex from chowhound, accompanied me on this trip and we enjoyed an amazing day partying with Benito in Ensenada and the Valle de Guadalupe. Our weekend report from this trip introduced many finds to the web, but La Guerrerense has remained a source of infatuation.
I remember Benito saying that he had dreams about La Guerrerense's tostada of sea urchin, topped with pismo clam and dressed with sliced avocado. I've ran into others at this stand that make regular pilmrimages from other parts of Mexico to eat these tostadas. Eventhough I've had everything on La Guerrerense's menu and am always trying new things when I'm in town, I too long for La Guerrerense's cuisine with wonder and epicurean lust at at random states of wake and sleep.
Sabina Banderas, the owner of La Guerrerense, will celebrate 50 years in business next year. Her stand is likely the only of its kind in Mexico, a seafood stand that eclipes all others from the Gulf, the Sea of Cortez, the Pacific, and the Caribbean coasts of Mexico.
After one bite, you are forever a prisoner of this haunting flavor,and curious complexity.
Ensenada is known for its own style of chopped fish ceviche, which you can find in all of the carretas(carts) in the tourist zone. Sabina makes the best one in town, and that where the comparison ends. Sabina serves tostadas of fish, shrimp,octopus, pismo clam,cod, sea urchin, sea cucumber,mussels,abalone,sea snail, crab salad and fish pate.
On the weekends, her daughter Mariana, a doctor during the week, is the cocktailer. She prepares cocktails, raw clams and oysters, and makes an insanely good prepared clam.Not usually one to ponder cocktails when all else is much more interesting, watching Mariana has made me a believer. This family has mastered the discipline of ingredients, seasoning, and the blending of flavors.
One look at the salsas is a precursor to what tastes are in store. The dense combinations of dried chiles, oil, and nuts in her "chilitos de mi jardin" is mesmerizing. They are so named because she wasn't sure which chiles they were, but they tasted great, so why worry.
Names like "chilitos diablito"(little devil chiles) and "chilito exotico"(exotic chiles) are creamy with concentrated heat and subtle spice notes.Lonely bottles of Tapatio and Yucateco stand alongside these regal sauces with time worn labels.Or, perhaps they are used at time to try and introduce fair play into the competition. In almost 50 years, not a single stand has dared take on La Guerrerense's progressive approach to cocktailing and ceviche.
My first love here was the tostada of sea urchin, topped with pink and supple pismo clam, and comforted by fresh, salted avocado.Sabina's tostada spreads are prepared at home, complex pastes of seafood, vegetables, and seasonings. Each offering has a different textural profile.This should be where you start.
The sea cucumber has a slight crunch, a delicacy quite rare in Mexico. A laughingly delicious concoction only made possible by the bounty of Baja seafood.
Ask for a half and half. Here the decadent cod with green olives, perhaps the most mingled of Sabina's inventions shares a stage with the buttery pate de pescado(fish pate).
Sabina surprised us one time with some botanas of caracol(sea snail snacks), so tasty with light cheese accents. The sea snail also is divine in tostada form.
All the ingredients are local here, as is the catch. The star of this tostada is the mussels, sought after by restaurants in Tijuana and Ensenada from the menus of the best chefs.A simple crab salad occupies the other half of this tostada, the kind your grandma makes,simple,yet shall remain unrivaled in all your attempts to find its equal.
There is a house agua de cebada, barley water, that is the perfect foil for the spicy salsas. A cool and sweet refresher and a palate cleanser for your desgustation.
Mariana's pismo clam styling is brilliant. One side is a dry cocktail, tender clam with pico de gallo, salted avocado, and a touch of ketchup. The other is brushed with bottled hotsauce and salt, and the upmost restraint is used with a gentle squirt of lime. These are good enough to eat unadorned, but Mariana makes a solid case for her preparation.
Her cocktails focus on the ingredients at her mom's stand. These are no afterthought, all elements are gently folded in, but efficiency remains intact. The cocktail is free of cloying ketchup, it's available if you want to lower the tone of this fine cocktail, but as is you will be rewarded by deftly cooked octopus, sea snail, and whatever your heart desires.
You'd think with such an exclusive cuisine, Sabina would have expanded years ago. By the looks of their work truck though, you get a glimpse into their soul. To them this is just a cart and they try to make the best food they can.You can put Tapatio on your oyster if you want, have a cocktail, or have a mind altering tostada of sea urchin, you still get the same smile.
The local talent of seafood has provided Sabina with an opulence not found in other parts of Mexico. Besides the restaurants of Benito Molina, and other fine establishments around Ensenada, Sabina's is the lone cart of aficionados. Fresh raw seafood items that would be stars in the finest restaurants in the world.
Back in July I was able to bring writer and restauranteur friends to La Guerrerense in Tijuana Cotuco sponsored trip. It was a joy to see all these food lover's devour these amazing tostadas, and raw shellfish.It's one of the best street food experiences you'll ever encounter.The prices are beyond reasonable.
located at the corner of Alvarado and First Street (Lopez Mateos)
Hours 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.Closed Tuesday.