Destination Dining: Animalón Seasonal Pop-up in Baja
The rain had cleared by early afternoon and I knew that the Mariachi-costumed man dancing on the 5 South freeway overpass meant only good things ahead.
We were on our way to Baja California’s wine country, Valle de Guadalupe, for dinner at Animalón, Chef Javier Plascencia’s seasonal pop-up restaurant on Finca Altozano.
Dizzying cliffside views of the Pacific Ocean dissolved into vineyards and olive groves as we wound inland through the valley. We made our way along a wide dirt road edged by charming farmhouses and wineries over which bolder-scattered mountains framed the sky. Grazing sheep, sprawling grapevines, and a bountiful garden signaled our arrival at Fina Altozano.
An oak tree, over 100 hundred years old, sat flanked by an outdoor kitchen, a wood-fire grill, and modest sign for Animalón.
We were warmly welcomed by our hosts and taken inside the ground level treehouse.
Leather wrapped chairs in soft neutrals surrounded elegant tables set with knotted napkins nestled amongst twisting branches. Floral accents and lantern draped boughs complete the magical scene as we took our seats for dinner.
Each element of the meal here is meant to celebrate the region’s exceptional ingredients, all sourced from nearby gardens, ranches, and coast. A vocal advocate for the region, Chef Javier Plascencia’s pop-up restaurant aims to deliver this personal mission on each plate.
Animalón's Executive Chef Oscar Torres, a Los Angeles native, embraces this mission as his own, delivering a six-course prix fixe dining experience grounded in its surroundings.
Every detail recalled this purpose down to the fresh farm bread, aged honey-butter and flaky sea salt that started our evening.
We were mesmerized by the whimsical Baja styled crudité served in a carved wood log. An ember roasted eggplant with olive tapenade “top soil” sprouted petite root vegetables, greens and flowers as a theatrical centerpiece.
The kanpachi crudo, spiced with earthy adobo and topped with briny seaweed, crunchy chayote, and creamy avocado was plated inside a traditional molcajete with blue corn crisps that mimicked the texture of the volcanic rock vessel; poetic expression of the region’s resources and the chef’s creative point of view.
The meal progressed into deeper flavors with aged duck and pasilla chiles tempered by subtly sweet red cabbage and radish.
My favorite course was our final dish: a richly spiced lamb barbacoa, baked in clay, opened table side, and served with paper-thin tortillas, pickled onions, and bright spicy salsas.
Assembling each taco was a satisfying ritual immediately rooting me to the surrounding land and its people.
I needed no further convincing, I knew I'd be coming back to Animalón for a taste of the bounty of Valle de Guadalupe, and to experience the beautiful culture a mere 85 miles to our south, but a world away.
Plan Your Destination Dinner at Animalón
Location: Carretera Tecate - Ensenada Km 83, Ejido Francisco Zarco, Valle De Guadalupe, 22750 Ensenada, B.C.
Menus: Six-course prix fixe tasting menu for $75 per person with optional $35 wine pairing, an a la carte menu is also available.
Timing: Wednesday to Sunday, seatings at 5pm and 8pm.
Reservations: email@example.com | +52 (646)156-8045