Dinner – Friday, February 20, 2015

In the early aughts, Jair Tellez and his restaurant Laja were part of the vanguard of Baja California cuisine. He, in large part, put the Valle de Guadalupe on the culinary map. A few years ago, he decamped for Mexico City, where he has opened MeroToro. Today, Jair remains the culinary director at Laja, and (at least on this night) the restaurant still serves a full house of locals and tourists, but with the influx of fresh talent into this once quiet valley, is this stalwart still relevant?

Mixed lettuce and arugula, pecans, honey, aged cheese

Warm salad of vegetables
Turnip, kale, romanesco, cauliflower and string beans – all from the garden outside. Each gently cooked, and the whole dressed with a green garlic sauce. Magnificent.

Sauteed octopus
Peas, avocado, tomato
A stunner of a dish. Fantastic acidity in the octopus – perfect cooking.

Fennel ravioli, kohlrabi sauce

Tuna, piquillo peppers

Sonoran ribeye, kohlrabi puree, carrots, chard
Mexican beef – very lean but flavourful. The fat cap was especially good.

Grapefruit sorbet, mint, beets

Crème brûlée, blueberry sorbet, blackberry coulis
I wouldn’t normally praise a dessert like this, but it caught us off guard. The egginess of the custard was intense, and the fruits were remarkably good. No prizes for creativity, but this is as perfect a version of crème brûlée as one can ask for.

Laja is, to me, a reference point for Baja California cuisine – a showcase for the best ingredients the region has to offer (and I have no doubt they still grow or otherwise have access to the best produce in the area). The style of food is comforting and familiar, a snapshot from a time not too long ago. But in an area of rapid development, the Red Queen would say that “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place”. Will the restaurant evolve and continue to influence the culinary conversation, or will it step back (fade away?) and allow others to take the reins? Time will tell.

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