So, needless to say I came back. I started riding my bike more, joining Jay for adventures in East TJ barbacoa. My buddy Ethan and I would drive down, park at the border and ride taxis around TJ like some 2-person Baja street food pub crawl. We'd always start at Tacos Fitos hopefully before they sold out, then beers or Palomas at Dandy del Sur, and who knew what would come next... maybe Mazateña up near Otay, surely Kentucky Fried Buches deserves a visit, Bar Suiso, or maybe Erizo if we felt like splurging. It was always a rush to decide on a given morning to head South, find myself on international soil, and soak up another part of what I'd come to realize was a true cultural phenomenon.
Eventually, Stacy and I would get to Laja in Valle de Guadalupe-- a pilgrimage of sorts that the Linkery folk had mentioned countless times. Plus, the aforementioned bottle of Quinto Bueno at Erizo was made by a vintner who also happened to manage the bar at Laja. The interconnected Baja food community was beginning to emerge. Heading to Laja, we were joined by fast friends Jaime and Donna, who each had an impressive depth of food knowledge from traveling to places like Copenhagen and throughout Central and South America. Eating with them is inherently intimidating, but through the grace, humor, and encouragement that is their natural presence as a couple, a shared meal quickly morphs into pure enjoyment with a side of mindfulness.
The sunset bled over the garden at Laja, and revealed a new frontier. A hidden gem, further out of reach than riding a bike across the border, and slightly more contemplative than the hot neon mess of TJ. I'm still not into urchin, but there was something powerful in the seafood informed courses, the understated service, and the clarity in presenting the Laja vision despite a near empty dining room.
Returning to Laja another time with Ethan and Stacy's old friend Linsey, we had a funny time and a more epic meal within a thick fog bank of red wine. The experience got weirder as local olive oil ice cream provided little satisfaction to taste buds, but strange fascination in its freezing melted butter texture. Cicadas buzzed in my head as darkness washed over the Valle on that warm late-summer evening. The place, the atmosphere, even the way vast amounts of time lapsed in the blink of an eye (or seemed not to pass at all), did not seem real. The most striking takeaway was the pace of this place-- the Valle's pulse would bore its way from my heart to my head.